The Three Requirements for Collaboration

There is no doubt that online collaboration technology has got better in the last twenty years. But has that resulted in more collaboration? Certainly, it looks like people spend more time hanging out online, but is the technology itself what makes the difference? I have seen enough instances of “build it, and they do not come” to know it is not. No matter how awesome your technology is, it does not make people collaborate. What does then? Here’s how I think about it. Continue reading


GroupServer 1.0 Beta is Released

GroupServer is a web-based open source web-based mailing list manager developed by OnlineGroups.Net. If you know OnlineGroups.Net, you’ll know that GroupServer is its engine. For that reason, we’re pretty excited to be able to call GroupServer “1.0?”, and to make it available for free download.

We have released GroupServer before, but we try not to talk about that now. Like most software developers, we want our product to be perfect before anyone sees it. Well, it isn’t perfect now, but it’s a lot better than the previous version. Continue reading


Creativity

I am not sure if Malcolm McLaren is right about failure and creativity in this interview with Andrew Denton― but he provides food for thought.

I was taught that to create anything you
had
to believe in failure, simply because you had to
be prepared to go through an idea without any
fear.
Failure… was a wonderful thing.

Goodbye, Malcolm, and thanks.


The First Review

My earlier post on the Apple iPad discussed how the new device was not a new device: all of the stuff we are excited about is the same paradigm we have had since the 1970s. However, a review in the New York Times gives me hope that the iPad may be more than a new type of personal computer.

[The] Scrabble app shows the whole board without your zooming or panning: a free companion app for your iPhone or Touch is called Tile Rack; it lets you fiddle with your letters in private, then flick them wirelessly onto the iPad’s screen

I think it is odd that this sort of interaction was not mentioned earlier…


We have the Hardware…

I have been thinking about the Apple iPad, specifically how it relates
to other devices.
I then recalled my undergraduate course in human computer interaction,
and the work that was done on ubiquitous computing.
I looked about me, and realised that I was surrounded by devices that
were restricted to a few research labs fifteen years ago.
The hardware is all there, with a few differences, but we are a long
way from the vision of computing that came out of the last decade of
the 20th century. Continue reading


Web, Geek & Crafter Hangouts in Christchurch

If you are a geek, or have geekly inclinations, there are a bunch of opportunities to hang out with web people in Christchurch.

The Valley in Christchurch meets monthly for casual web-related conversations that lead to bigger things.

The Christchurch Web Developers and Designers meetup also happens monthly.

There are informal beers at the Twisted Hop pretty much every Friday after work. If you’re new in town you’ll have to guess whose table to crash, or get in touch with one of us.

We Effusion Group folks often have lunch together in the CBD around 12:30.
You’d be welcome to join us. Get in touch for an invite.

The Christchurch Creative Space, is a geek crafter hangout, currently happening twice a week.

If you’re looking for a place to work while you’re in town, check the OnlineGroups.Net hotdesk.

Finally, if you are suitably inclined try searching Twitter for #christchurch and #tweetup :-).


Hot Desk Available in Christchurch

Due to the off-shoring of some of our team (Alice and Michael, but more on that later), some space has been freed up in the OnlineGroups.Net Christchurch office. Even though Marek and William from encode and Tracklr are using the adjoining office, and Julian Carver hot-desks here some of the time, things have become a little quieter. The buzz and what’s happening on Twitter and don’t quite make up for warm bodies and the bouncing of ideas that happens in a room.

If you are visiting central Christchurch, even if just from the suburbs, and you’re looking for a place to open your laptop, swing by. Anyone who wants a (mostly) quiet place with warmth and wireless, to work for a few hours, is welcome. If we get on and you’d like to make it a regular thing, then let’s talk about that.

We’re in 409 Kenton Chmbrs, 190 Hereford St, Christchurch, Aotearoa (New Zealand). You can phone on +64-3-377-5377 and +64-27-431-4928.


GOVIS 2009: two clouds, two topics, two presentations, and two conferences.

Now that I’ve cleared the backlog from spending last week at GOVIS 2009, here is my impression of it: two. There were two clouds, two topics, two presentations, and two conferences.

Two Clouds

From the opening keynotes to the closing ones, GOVIS was overshadowed by two clouds: the recession, and cloud computing.

In his opening address, Hon Dr Richard Worth, Minister of Internal Affairs and Land Information announced that the NZ economy is expected to lose $50 billion in the next few years, and that permanent budget cuts would be made across the state sector. This meant a move towards front-line service-delivery, enabled by collaboration between government agencies, including the sharing of data and IT services.

The shadow of this cloud could be see in the half-empty auditorium, and the cancellation of the keynote from SSC with a “not ready to talk” note. GTS had already been moved from SSC to DIA. Rumours were that further restructuring of the SSC would affect quite a few of the ICT people there.

Cloud Computing, and its web of data was mentioned by pretty much every presenter as a major disrupter, both by reducing the cost of enterprise IT, and by opening up new data-sharing possibilities. It seems that the horror of locating government data somewhere in the sky, and paying by the minute, is being eroded by talk of 80% cost-savings.

Two Topics

The two hot topics at GOVIS were open data and public engagement. These are two sides of the same coin. Broadly, one allows government data to be used by the community, and the other enables government to hear what the community think and want.

The open data message conveyed by Laurence Millar in his last blog post as Government CIO was echoed by many speakers at GOVIS. If you have the data, and it’s easy enough to open it up, there is no reason why not to. And if you do, there’s a chance that someone will do something innovative with it, maybe even something that generates income and tax revenue. At least other government agencies will be able to get it without bothering you, and you might just increase your transparency.

Of course, it is not always easy to open up data, or even to share it between agencies, and there were many conversations about the problems and solutions around this. Ironically, most of the stands in the trade show were focused on data security and protection.

The second major topic was public engagement. The public are using social media, so government can too. Forums and other social media can be used to let the public see the human face of government, and to increase dialogue between government and the public. The message here is pretty much Cluetrain for government.

Two Presentations

There were two main presentations at GOVIS: “it’s alright to use social media” and “you’re a dinosaur if you don’t”.

The Thursday morning keynote from Fergus Hogarth of the Department for Families and Communities (Govt of South Australia) provided low risk but effective effective examples of the use of social media for engagement, mainly within the department. I expect that these made sense to many of the government folks who are relatively new to these concepts. Matt Crozier of Bang the Table also provided several examples of effective online consultations.

The message from Stephen Collins of acidlabs was more urgent: participate or be hyperisolated. Joanna McLeod and Matt Lane, both of SSC also gave engaging demonstrations that if you aren’t doing social media now, you are starting to be bypassed by the real world.

Two Conferences

The most exciting part of GOVIS for me, however, was to be in the #govis09 Twitter backchannel. Whatever was happening on the stage, there was a lively conversation in the audience. What do you think of this? What’s going on in the next room? What do the people who are not at GOVIS think of this? These conversations liberated the participants from the usual constraints of passively ingesting whatever the sage on the stage is saying. You didn’t even have to be at GOVIS to participate. This heralds a new model for conferences. The conversations in the corridors are happening the whole time, and the corridors have no boundaries.


OpenID, Facebook Connect, and the Neglected CardSpace

As a developer of GroupServer, which shares many features with
social networking systems, the release of
Facebook
Connect

caught my eye when it caused a buzz on
the
tech
wires.
This follows on from the noise whenever a major
player — such as
Google,
Yahoo!
or
MySpace
— announces an OpenID
implementation.
Unfortunately, I have more reasons to dislike Facebook Connect
than OpenID, and I am not a fan of OpenID.
All is not lost:
CardSpace
from Microsoft is an excellent federated identity and
authentication system, which provides all the gains of OpenID
with few of the drawbacks.

I have three issues with OpenID.
The main issue is with usability: to log into one
site (the service provider) you must go to another site (the
identity provider).
This mapping problem inherent in OpenID is a serious one;
in my experience Remember me confuses many, so I hold out
little hope for those users overcoming the mapping issue without
extensive training.
In addition, OpenID is not very open.
While Google, Yahoo! and MySpace implement OpenID, they only
implement the identity-provider side of the protocol —
locking people into their systems using an open protocol.
Finally, the use of a
url as an
identifier may confuse many, as they are not normally seen as
user-identifiers.

Facebook Connect is little different to OpenID.
It has a small advantage of using a Facebook ID rather than a
url,
but without the virtue of being an open system.
Just like the OpenID implementations of Google, Yahoo! and
MySpace, Facebook is the only identity provider.

In many ways, Microsoft CardSpace system is very similar to
OpenID, except the identity provider is the
browser
rather than a site.
This gets around the mapping problem, as the user is already
using the browser.
In addition the browser can provide a better user-experience
as it has access to a rich desktop user-interface toolkit, and
can gather existing data from external identity providers
(think LDAP, Active Directory, or even OpenID).
While Facebook and Yahoo! can claim millions of users, the number
must pale in comparison to the number of people who use Windows
and Active Directory.
This gives a far more corporate feel to the entire system:
imagine being able to add the workforce for an entire company to
a site and not have to worry about user data or authentication.
Instead the company can control all the identity and
authentication, as they need to anyway.

For once, Microsoft are being very open about a protocol,
providing
extensive
documentation.

And do not let the Windows put you off, as
The
DigitalMe Project
has an implementation of CardSpace for
Firefox.
Indeed, I suspect that Microsoft will have trouble locking the
protocol down, as most of the service providers will be on
non-Microsoft platforms, so anyone will be able to write a
client.