Community of Practice-Wrangling

Between 2007 and 2010, I started a community of practice for people who work with biodiversity information systems. At the outset of the project, I was not a member of the community. I did the project as a community of practice wrangler contracting to the Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System programme aka TFBIS. Now the community is established and I have become a part of it. Here are some reflections on my experience of starting a community of practice — and on why I will continue to work in the area of biodiversity information systems. Continue reading

Is Email Killing Collaboration?

There’s a lot of talk about alternatives to email. But if you look at people on their computers, most of the time they’re not using Web 2 or Enterprise 2. They’re using email. We use email because everyone uses email. It’s the only online communication tool that everyone uses. So we’re stuck with it.

And email is fantastic for one to one communication. It’s brilliant for one to many communication. But for many to many communication, it sucks. So when you start using email to collaborate in groups of 3, 4 or 5, it hurts. It pokes you in the eye with a fork. So you stop. And collaboration stops. And lies bleeding on the floor.

But no-one talks about this. We’re too busy talking about Web 2 and Enterprise 2. Meanwhile the use of email keeps growing. It’s an elephant in the room. Well I’m breaking the silence about it. Continue reading

The Christchurch Earthquake — Community, Local and Online

As you may know, OnlineGroups.Net has an office in Christchurch, as well as in Wellington and Canberra.

The Christchurch office of OnlineGroups.Net was based in a CDB building called Kenton Chambers from 2004 until December 2010. Kenton Chambers suffered only very minor damage in the 4 September 2011 Christchurch 7.1 earthquake, so we, and a bunch of associated businesses were all happily occupying the building until Christmas.

On Boxing Day 2011 a shallow 4.1 magnitude earthquake occurred right under the Christchurch CBD. Small earthquakes are like fire crackers. If one goes off across the room, it’s funny. If you’re sitting on it, it hurts. The Christchurch CBD was sitting on the Boxing Day ‘quake. Outside the CDB, it was hardly worth interrupting a sentence for. But in Kenton Chambers the smaller ‘quake was more violent than the big one. This time, the building sustained much more damage, so we were out. Continue reading

Shared Pages and Files in Email Groups

Today, Google announced that they plan to turn off the pages and files features in Google Groups “to focus on improving the core functionality of Google Groups — mailing lists and forum discussions”. Google Group members have until November to find a new home for their files and pages, and until February 2011 to retrieve them before they disappear. To facilitate this, Google has added a bulk export feature.

Admitting that this may inconvenience some users, Google reminds us that we can share pages with Google Sites and share files with Google Documents, both of which allow a Google Group to be used to control access. Continue reading

Impersonal Computing

What I create — be it a blog post, a tweet, a design for a page, or code — is an expression of me and my culture. Sometimes I can clearly see the work of an educated middle-income male p?keh? in something I made:

  • The choice of a photo with a fern suggests a New Zealander.
  • The use of the term “Riparian” implies that I have an education, and that I am more than a little pretentious.
  • All the beige people in a row points towards someone of European extraction.
  • The environmental theme to the text indicates a bleeding-heart liberal.
  • The typeface, Deja Vu Sans, indicates a Linux-user (make of that what you will).

All this, and more, comes across despite me trying to figure out and reflect what other people need and want. I suspect that I generally miss the mark. Continue reading

Google Wave

In May last year Google released
In August Google announced that they were
it down.

Wave was an editor that allowed multiple people to edit the same
document at the same time.
It was similar to the editors that appeared in the
labs during the early 1990s.
In this post I examine why Google Wave should have been the
perfect system for me, and why I never got beyond looking at
introductory video (and it was not because of lack of advertising). Continue reading

Press Releases

I have an idea: a browser plug in that measures the similarity between a page on a news site and a known press release. I doubt that it would have to be very sophisticated: my ol’ favourite TF-IDF algorithm could generate the keywords and compare them to a database of known press releases. Give the page a score from 1 (a verbatim copy of the press release) to 5 (an original article).

[I promise to make a nice post about Google Wave on Monday.]

Working from Home: Time Management

Back in 2008, I shifted my working days to Tuesday to Friday in the office, then from home on Saturdays. Overall it worked well, but some Saturdays were harder than others. I wasn’t sure why, but on those days I found it particularly hard to concentrate, and ended up having to work on and off all through Sunday, too.

A handy article published by A List Apart, comprising tips from readers for working from home, was the first step towards improving the situation. I was intrigued by the different approaches that worked for different people, many of which were simple common sense. One piece of advice that I put into practice straight away was the “Apply technology” section. (Let’s be honest — what geek needs an excuse to apply technology to any of life’s problems?) That got me on to Remember The Milk, a fantastic task-management tool which has long since taken over from my scrappy, often-updated, paper to-do lists. Continue reading

An Email Address and an Inbox for a Group

The main weakness with email is its main strength. The wonderful thing about email is that every individual can have an email address and an inbox. The terrible thing about email is that a group can not have an email address or an inbox.

Email is an individual-centric medium. That makes it a great medium for one-to-one, and one-to-many communication, but a rather poor one for many-to-many communication. This creates a dilemma. Much of our work and learning takes place in groups, in discussions with multiple contributors, and multiple concurrent conversations. Email is the default medium that people use for online communication, but collaboration tools are often web-based, with poor support for email. At best, you can be notified by email of new posts, but you must visit the web interface to make your own post. Continue reading