The Uncountable, Perpetually Emerging Web

May 29, 2009

Robert Scoble’s reflections about why it’s best to avoid terms like “Web 3.0” is accompanied by this terrific list of the kinds of changes we see rapidly emerging all around us right now:

1. Real Time. Google caught the Wave of that trend today BIG TIME.
2. Mobile. Google, again, caught that wave big time Wednesday when it handed Android phones to everyone at its IO conference.
3. Decentralized. Does Microsoft or Twitter demonstrate that trend? Not really well.
4. Pre-made blocks. I call this “copy-and-paste” programming. 
Google nailed it with its Web Elements  (I’ll add a few of those next week).
5. Social. Oh, have you noticed how much more social the web is? The next two days I’m hanging out on an aircraft carrier with a few people who do social media for the Navy.
6. Smart. Wolfram Alpha opened a lot of people’s eyes to what is possible in new smart displays of information.
7. Hybrid infrastructure. At the Twitter Conference this week lots of people were talking about how they were using both traditional servers along with cloud-based approaches from Amazon and Rackspace to store, study, and process the sizeable datasets that are coming through Twitter, Facebook, and friendfeed.

I’m not sure I’m yet a huge fan of Robert’s suggestion to replace version numbers with years (there are some drawbacks to any numbering system), but his point is well taken:  because what we can do and how we can interact online is in a state of perpetual change and emergence, it makes much more sense to think in terms of what is current/contempary and what isn’t than it does to think in terms of version numbers that are inevitably overused, and that inevitably oversimplify all that they attempt to capture.  

AxisPortals Aphorism:  The wave of the web constantly emerges.  A flow can’t be pinned down with a number.


Healthcare Organizations are All a-Twitter

May 6, 2009

Just a Tweet Away | Articles & Archives | Healthcare Informatics.

Key article in the May, 2009 Issue of Healthcare Informatics.

AxisPortals’s favorite passages:  

I don’t want them just to know what our strategic plan is or what our IT plan is.  People like to work with people, and so this is a mechanism of letting my personality show, along with what we’re trying to accomplish as a healthcare organization, and as an IT organization.–Will Weider, CIO Affinity Health System, and Ministry Health Care.

And

Some might argue that e-mail is sufficient for staying in touch with employees, and that social media is just another obligation for already busy executives, but Weider, who receives hundreds of e-mails every day, says he can better manage his time with sites like Twitter by more quickly sorting through messages.  By limiting posts and direct messages to 140 characters or fewer, the site forces users to communicate as efficiently as possible.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Social media personalizes communication, and supports institutional growth and education.


Community Health: Digitized and Widgetized

May 5, 2009

Over the last few weeks, AxisPortals has been deeply impressed by the public health community’s embrace of the digital, particularly in the form of widgets, but also in the form of embeddable audio and video public service announcements and press conferences.  

Initial fears of swine flu, and the accompanying gallows humor concerning the “aporkalypse”  rapidly gave way to solid information and education about H1N1 influenze prevention and treatment.

Digitized, widgetized information–prepared by authorities and designed to be portable and shareable–largely accounts for that movement away from hysteria and toward the calm dispensing of useful information. Consider these examples:


Information spreads quickly online.  Indeed, it spreads quickly enough that producing the bit of information that succeeds in becoming viral is every online marketer’s dream.    Often, the most successfully viral information is either sensational or just plain silly,  as was the case with the following picture of a toddler kissing a pig, which flew around the internet at record speed:

Public health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services are wise, indeed, to take advantage of social media and multimedia to promote education and awareness.   

An awareness pandemic?  That’s the one form of pandemic we can all happily embrace.  

AxisPortals Aphorism:  If you want to spread a message fast–and make it portable and engaging–digitize it, widgetize it, and certainly don’t hesitate to Twitter about it, too.


Social Media Meets Main Street–Or Does It?

April 16, 2009

Don’t miss Robert Scoble’s great piece on how leading tech bloggers and tech gurus often utterly fail to communicate effectively with Main Street businesses.  Here’s his question, which is part lament: 

It’s to the point where I’m wondering if I’m missing something. Is anyone doing a good job of explaining how to bring a business into the modern age?  

AxisPortals suggests taking the time to read the ensuing comments, as well. There, Ken Camp proposes a provocative alternate take:

I’m not convinced every business needs or wants the web. It’s a tool and has value, but if the return on the value is minimal for a business doing well . . . the ROI/ROE may not be worth the investment to embrace social media.

Five minutes on Twitter means encountering scores of tweets pointing to web sites and blog posts about how to increase social media followers or how to transform a blog into a money making venture.    That can get to be a long five minutes.

In many respects, tech blogs and the tweets that relentlessly point to them form an enormous (and growing) echo chamber of tech-to-tech noise. There’s not much opportunity for a Main Street type business owner who is not interested in becoming the latest and greates tech guru to learn anything of specific value to his or her business enterprise.  Worse, the chatter can be confusing.  

It strikes me that to the extent that tech bloggers really aren’t connecting with business owners, this is true because tech bloggers deal in broad trends and issues. Conversely, how (or whether) a blog, a Facebook presence, or other embedded web interactivity can serve a given business is all about particulars.  

Exploring those particulars with a business owner, and guiding a given business toward building an overall IT profile that is effective,  economically feasible, and flexible enough to evolve along with the business requires rolling up the shirt sleeves and digging in.  It’s a matter of nitty gritty details. It’s a matter of practice.  

Often, too, it’s a matter of teaching.  

It can be difficult for tech leaders and trend setters who are wont to focus on a much bigger picture to manage this down and dirty teaching effectively. Imagine your favorite tech guru taking on the following teaching tasks: 

  • Defining Social Networking: Never mind that “Web 2.0” is a term so overused that many of us are loathe to invoke it yet again.  There are still plenty of folks who just don’t get it.  At all.  A person who wants to persuade a business to have a go at the thing will often have to begin with the basics, and then to cope with the inevitable fears and objections:  Won’t interactivity open my product up to criticism?  Won’t this all be terribly time consuming?  Won’t this entail giving away ideas and approaches that I should be selling?  Won’t my competition too easily be able to take my measure?  
  • Defining Blogging:  Yes, most folks have at least heard the term, but an incredible number of them still haven’t the faintest clue, really, about what a blog is or what one can be.  Even the bits and pieces that typically make up a blog will likely have to be explained.  Then comes the challenge of explaining and demonstrating that blogs can actually function in many different ways–practically as many as a person can dream up.  
  • Explaining Search Engines:  Again, everyone uses Google, but few grasp even the basics of how to get a site to show up in search results.  I’ve seen business owners spend hefty sums on web sites that are not only poorly organized and difficult to navigate, but also unlikely to yield desirable results in any popular search engine. Often, these sites are, at first glance, rather pretty.   Not many folks are really equipped to lift the hood and kick the tires, and that lack of technical knowledge makes them vulnerable to the allure of sweet little flash effects that ultimately can’t hide a paucity of content.  The secret?  A person really doesn’t have to be able to make heads or tails of the “neath layer” to make smart administrative decisions.  It’s enough to grasp what ought to happen when the name of the company or its chief operatives are entered into a search engine.  Still, even acquiring that basic end-user ease and confidence can require instruction.
  • Pushing Past Text-Based Understandings:  Not long ago, a business acquaintance who was working on developing a new website proudly informed me that, because he’d selected the basic “look” of his new site, he was essentially finished–well over half way home, he figured, and he couldn’t wait to be done. When I asked about the content and how it would jibe with the look he noted that not a shred of content had yet been developed.  In my experience, this colleague is fairly typical of business owners who are actually attempting to engage with today’s web.  In short, as these things go, his understanding is fairly advanced.  Notice, though, the difficulties.  First off, he’s thinking that a web site is the whole of the task, and that web presence is something that can be finished.  You create the look–just a container, really–and then you stick content inside of it, and then you publish the thing, pass the web address around, and that’s it.  I suggested that there was a good way to go yet, and explained that, unlike a print publication which is developed in toto and then distrubuted, web presence (of any sort) is never really done, and is constantly being distributed even as it’s in the process of being constantly developed.  Sounds simple, but that’s a great big new idea for lots of business owners, who are often deliriously happy just to have a reasonably sharp looking website up and running, and who often pay a pretty penny for sites that will be designed once, published once, and entirely forgotten about for a few years, when the whole process will begin again.
  • Halting the “Just Throw Money At It and It Will Be Okay” Phenomenon:  It’s all too easy for folks who are just looking to make money to take advantage of the technologically interested but overwhelmed.  It does seem to me that someone who is really interested in helping businesses discover how to thrive with today’s web tools has to begin by being ethical.  Not everybody really needs every single shiny new toy, and there are plenty of free and inexpensive tools that are well worth exploring.  The deeper cost of becoming a technologically sophisticated business–taking the time to explore these things first hand, to seek the support of more experienced users, and  to develop an approach that suits the business’s goals and culture–is intimidating.  It can seem easier to write a check.  Plenty of folks out there will take that check and leave the harder work undone.
  • And so on:  Working with a group of partners or a sole proprietor?  A former C-Suite type gone entreprenuer or a self-starter from the get go?  A family business or start up? Are there any tech savvy folks among the trusted employees, or no?  Has the owner historically managed his or her own web site?  What other kinds of advertising and marketing campaigns are or aren’t already underway?  Is there a dream of rapid growth, here, or a happily boutique mentality? How clearly defined are the product or service lines?  What kinds of networks (digital or otherwise) have already been established?  All of that really matters.   Which basics to teach and which services to champion depend on the answers to such questions, and no matter which direction proves best, sheparding a business into the technological present requires tact, patience, and a deep appreciation for what it means to be a beginner in this sphere.

There are plenty of folks out here who are, indeed, working hard to bring businesses  into the modern age. That’s the very service AxisPortals sells.  It’s fun and satisfying work, but in some essential ways, it’s not really a tech blog deliverable.  

(AxisPortals is, though, a huge fan of CommonCraft’s series of “In Plain English videos, which promote exactly the sort of learning that’s wanted here, and in delightfully approachable fashion.)

AxisPortals Aphorism:   Bridging the chasm between the Tech Bloggers and the Main Street Merchants requires remembering the very beginnings that Tech Gurus all too easily forget. 


Social Networking Fatigue

February 18, 2009

For well over a year now, social networking fatigue  has been in the news, and it’s not hard to see why.  After all, attempting to participate fully in multiple social networks–LinkedIn, Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, Spoke, and on and on–would get tiring.  Add to that efforts to keep a blog, a podcast, and a website going, and it quickly becomes easy to see why some have opined that social networking fatigue is the next big hurdle facing these sites and services.

Meanwhile, AxisPortals has been, it seems, receiving more social networking invitations than ever.  Well over a year after some of the earliest advocates of social networking started complaining of burnout, it seems that more and more professional adults are discovering these sites for the very first time, and just beginning to explore their business potential.  How can relative newcomers to the social networking scene avoid fatigue?

Some suggestions:

  1. Explore First:  Before committing yourself fully to any social network, try playing around with several versions to see which of them best suits your style and your purpose.  Keep in mind that what you may have heard about a given site is no substitute for experience, and that it can take some time to grow familiar with the functions and local expectations of that particular space.  AxisPortals suggests using a screen name as you explore, and asking colleagues who are familiar with that space to add you to their friend lists so that you can get the best the possible feel for its possibilities.  If you explore first, then when it comes time to pare down your social networking profiles, you’ll be making an informed decision.

  2. Just Say No:   Many sites and services offer new members the option of issuing invitations to everyone in their address books.  Almost always, it is possible to turn off this option, and it’s a good idea to do so.  Netiquette dictates that it’s in poor form to abuse your contact list that way.  Meanwhile, if you are on the receiving end of of a mass invitation, please understand that it is not only okay to say no, but often wise to do so.  If you don’t really know the one who is extending the invitation (and AxisPortals assumes that almost all of us have some fairly distant contacts in our address books), then you needn’t feel even a twinge of regret over simply deleting these things from your inbox.  “Just say no,” after all, is one of those bits of advice that tends to deserve high ranking on most any list of suggestions for avoiding burnout.

  3. Clarify Your Purpose and Your Audience:   Exactly what do you want to accomplish with your social networking activities?  If your goal is to stay connected to friends and family, and you intend to make your interactions fairly casual, then it may be that a Facebook account is perfectly suited to your needs.  If you are looking mostly for professional connection, then concentrating your efforts on LinkedIn or Spoke might make the best sense.  If your business demands that you be a leading source of breaking news in your area of specialty, then you might find that some combination of Twittering and blogging works best for you.  On the other hand, do keep an open mind.  You may think of Facebook, for instance, as strictly youth oriented and not at all relevant to the business world, but the over 30 population is actually the most rapidly growing demographic  on the site.   As usage increases across all age groups, corporate presence on social networking sites expands in kind.  It seems natural for youth oriented Pepsi to have both a Facebook and a MySpace presence, for instance, but you’ll also find H&R Block and Hewlett-Packard on Facebook.  Local businesses, too, have found that establishing social networking profiles can be an effective marketing strategy.  So, explore a variety of sites, and know what you want to accomplish, but don’t automatically rule any site out. 

  4. Set Boundaries:  AxisPortals suspects that boundary blur is one of the leading causes of social networking fatigue.  Colleagues who are college professors, for instance, often note that they aren’t exactly sure how to approach friendship  requests from students.  Since the way that we interact with friends and family members is often quite different than the way we interact with our professional peers–or with  students, teachers,  employers, and employees–it makes sense to set some clear boundaries, and to guard them.  No matter which of the sites you utlimately choose to make your social networking home, you might consider setting up one profile for your business or your professional persona, and a separate profile for your personal interactions.  That way, you never have to worry that the casual tone and the personal details that are right in one setting will bleed uncomfortably into settings where they aren’t as appropriate.  You might also spend some time thinking about how you want to address your privacy settings.  It may be best for your personal details to be available only to close friends and family members, but for your business information to be readily available to all.  Some online marketing experts would disagree with this approach, but AxisPortals is going with common sense and personal experience, here:  I do want to hear which conferences my professional peers are attending,  what kinds of projects they’re working on , and which books are influencing them at the moment, but really don’t care to know what they had for lunch, much less how much they’ve had to drink.  From a rhetorical standpoint, it makes sense not to dilute your professional voice that way.

  5. Have Realistic Expectations:  Social networking is a rapidly evolving phenomenon.  Setting up a LinkedIn profile or establishing a Facebook page won’t turn you into an instant millionaire, and a new blogging or microblogging account will take some time to establish in an already crowded marketplace.  So, do keep your expectations realistic, and do understand that the time you devote to social networking is a long term investment.  Even if it doesn’t pay off in immediate profit increases, it will pay off in deeper and subtler ways for a long time.  Actively participating in the Web 2.0 revolution puts you in the enviable position of being able to make informed decisions about the role of technology in your personal and professional lives.  An added bonus: social networking humor will make a whole lot more sense to you.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Don’t burnout, but do begin.

 


Health 2.0

February 9, 2009

The February issue of Healthcare Informatics surveys the top tech trends for 2009.  Take particular note of the “Health 2.0” sidebar in the patient portals section:

“[H]ealthcare companies are looking at how other Web technologies–such as blogs, Wikis, and social networking sites–can play a role in patient interactions . . .Web-savvy healthcare organizations are studying ways to adopt technology to interact with patients to self-manage, and to interact with one another in social networking situations . . .’This is about being inclusive, and allowing people and providers to collaborate in new ways.'”

This is the sort of observation that tends to make AxisPortals very happy, because it promotes general business understanding that Web 2.0 technologies and approaches aren’t strictly social and aren’t just for kids (more on that in my next post), but are fundamentally part of the way we live now, and must therefore be fundamentally part of how we concieve of business now, as well.

Web 2.0 Central Concepts

Web 2.0 Central Concepts

AxisPortals Aphorism: Web 2.0 is good for healthcare, and it’s good for the health of every business.