Why design means compromise

Catching up on podcasts, I was recently listening to ‘An hour with Bill Buxton’ recorded at Microsoft’s Mix conference in 2010. Bill Buxton is Principle Researcher at Microsoft Research and an early pioneer in human-computer interaction

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From PowerPivot to Pivot

Hot on the heels of announcing the new PowerPivot for Excel at the SharePoint conference recently, Microsoft’s Live Labs have announced another new tool with a very similar name: Pivot. So it seems we have PowerPivot for Excel and Pivot for the web.

There’s no mention of whether or not the products are technically related or just share the same name. What they do have in common is the goal to easily visualise massive amounts of data.

Side note: I wanted to embed the video (you can see it on the Pivot web site – link below) but the embed code provided didn’t work. Wish Microsoft could use a simple standard for embedding like everyone else…


Programming Office

The reaction to a previous post – Rethinking Office – has been interesting. Quite a few people have argued that Microsoft won’t make an online version of Office available until they absolutely have to, because it will destroy sales of the full product. It makes sense to protect the full product, given it contributes a third of total revenue (generating a nice $4.7bn in the last quarter). But I think it’s a mistake to assume that an online version of Office will cause Office sales to plummet.

I’m not a Gartner or Forrester and haven’t conducted a huge amount of research here. But with the 100 or so customers I have talked to during the past 12 months, not one has the remotest intention of moving all of their data into ‘the cloud’ any time soon. Privacy, compliance and security concerns are the top 3 reasons, closely followed by reliability and speed (or lack) of Internet connections. They want to be able to do some work in an online environment but not everything. That’s why I think Microsoft is crazy not to plug this gap now, whilst it is still so immature. The only people likely to switch completely to online tools are those who almost certainly aren’t paying for the product anyway. But demand for online capabilities is beginning to grow. The collaborative features provided by Google Docs is gaining traction within education – i.e. the next generation to enter the workplace. People are looking for tools to publish docs online – as being demonstrated by the popularity of tools like Slideshare and Scribd (acquisition prospects?)

Not only does Microsoft give the impression of ignoring demand for online features, they are not doing a great job of promoting what the products can do for business. Here’s a simple example. I am currently building a new portfolio management system for a small financial services business. Their information-working habits have barely changed in the past 10 years. A simple review of their current processes and it became obvious that we could reduce their administration overhead by approximately 25%, all but eliminate the potential for errors, and do analysis to highlight business development opportunities. How? Automating manual processes and calculations. What with? A combination of Access, Excel and Word. Access will hold the database, forms and reports. Excel will be used to create a performance dashboard and real-time summary report. Word will be used for mail merge (currently completed manually – there’s the first fix)

Target return on investment (ROI) – 6 months.

Why use Office? Simple. I can use macros and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications – built into Office and therefore doesn’t require specialist developer tools) to automate as much of the data entry as possible, including workflow-driven forms to manage business processes and automatically generate client letters pre-populated with data. Data validation rules will capture and correct anomalies. By building the solution inside of Office, the administrators will still have access to all the other standard features. For example, they can create queries, ad-hoc reports and custom mail-merges (such as creating a targeted newsletter) without requiring me or another technologist to come in and do it for them at cost. I don’t have to second guess every possible requirement and charge them for developing features they might not use as much as they initially think. The user interface is consistent and familiar-ish (I’ll be spending half a day with them to help acclimatise to the new ribbon system), and, to save my bacon, is Microsoft’s responsibility to support. I can concentrate on making the forms, reports and processes as user-friendly and intuitive as possible. The programmability side of the application is a lot more mature and secure (especially macros) than in the 1990s.

There isn’t an online alternative to rival this capability, yet. The nearest appears to be Zoho. They are building online versions of traditional software applications covering just about every type of information-related activity you can imagine. Last week, they announced support for macros, programming and advanced functions such as pivot tables. The barriers to adoption? The reasons already given for not wanting to go fully online, product immaturity and lack of a partner network to help implement and customise the service. That’s probably going to change.

What’s interesting at this moment in time is the growing perception that Microsoft isn’t focused on software any more. Perhaps in part because of the news coverage. Steve Ballmer is the CEO and all he talks about is… Customers don’t know about the benefits offered by new versions of Office. They’ve never seen the visualisation features within Excel. They haven’t heard of Office Business Applications. Some still haven’t heard of SharePoint. And some that have don’t really know what it means. They can’t find examples to relate to or events to attend that might explain it all (‘Too techie’). They don’t notice the ‘people-ready’ adverts, different to the ‘realising potential’ ads from last year and the ‘dino-heads’ from the year before. They can recognise an IBM advert, just show the blue borders and they can recite their favourite line: ‘…so who’s responsible for getting this fixed?’. They joke about the PC vs Mac ads. They’ve seen an iPhone (Windows Mobile? Not so sure). They do know Microsoft is competing with Google and was trying to acquire Yahoo…

Anyone remember the scene in Jurassic Park, where the park warden explains the challenge of avoiding Velociraptor? You focus on the Raptors you can see up ahead. The one you didn’t spot comes in from the side and eats you.

The Vista Blue Monster

You may or may not have heard of The Blue Monster. It started life as one of Hugh MacLeod’s business card cartoons. It evolved. A simple picture conveyed the feelings of so many people who work within Microsoft but who are rarely heard or talked about:

Today, the New York Times has an article describing the Vista debacle – They Criticized Vista. And They Should Know – in relation to the law suit that has kicked off from customers unhappy that their machines were marketed Vista-capable when the sticker should have said Vista-incapable. The law suit has led to the release of a number of internal Microsoft emails and those emails show The Blue Monster has been around for a while but is too often and easily ignored:

The minimum hardware configuration was set so low that ¨even a piece of junk will qualify. It will be a complete tragedy if we allowed it¨ – Anantha Kancherle, Microsoft program manager

¨It would be a lot less costly to do the right thing for the customer now, than to spend dollars on the back end trying to fix the problem¨ – Robin Leonard, Microsoft sales manager

Maybe the lessons will be learned this time. Maybe more internal people need to follow Robin’s and Anantha’s lead. Be prepared to take the risk and speak out when you see the company make a wrong turn. Don’t just wear the t-shirt.


Technorati tag: Blue Monster

SPC2008 – BillG Keynote

Having sat in on Bill G’s keynote at the Office DevCon 3 weeks ago, it was interesting to see what would be in the SharePoint conference keynote… Has to be said, the content had a bit more zing. Yes, the ‘last day at the office’ video was played. And as always, the Q&A threw up some great quotes.

Usual disclaimers. These are my scribbles taken live at the event. They are not a transcript, no guarantees regarding accuracy, etc. Enjoy.

Technology Trends

Same mega trends highlighted as at the Office DevCon. Talking about BI benefitting from chip improvements. Lowering storage costs enabling recording/indexing of media content. Natural user interfaces such as touch, pen and speech will transform apps. See MS Surface being integrated into meeting tables, white boards. Building up to the online services announcement:

“Historically, software was tied to a specific piece of hardware. Now software is becoming much more abstract, distributed across resources.”

Business Productivity focus areas:

  • Unified communications
  • Social computing
  • Enterprise search
  • Business intelligence

Comparing SharePoint Pie to Office suite 15 years ago. Previously, people had separate client applications for word processing, number crunching, presenting. Packaging the tools into a suite and lowering the cost made it easy to assume that everyone had the required tools to open and work with relevant content. Today, SharePoint is taking the same approach with server applications. Currently, many organisations have separate tools for business intelligence, search, web content management, CRM etc. SharePoint is tying them all together. Not necessarily about winning in each category, but creating a broad infrastructure that makes it easier to get stuff done. Simple scenario – rich new visualisations created within Excel 2007 that you can publish up to a web site hosted on SharePoint.

Software + Services Platform

Running software on-premise versus subscribing to a hosted service ‘in the cloud’. There are trade-offs in terms of ownership, resource management etc. It means that some elements will stay in-house (at least for a while), but other elements are straightforward enough to be hosted elsewhere. Expecting many organisations to have a hybrid scenario, a mix of installed software and subscriptions to hosted software in the cloud.

Announcing SharePoint Online and Exchange Online: Microsoft Online Services

Opening up the beta (previously, was private beta for customers with more than 5,000 seats). Aiming for general availability by end of year, regardless of organisation size. At the high-end, working with Coca Cola Enterprises, taking all their SharePoint work and putting it into an online environment. The new environment is a strong fit for the kind of work they are doing.

Demo of MS Online Services – John Betz: Login to MS data center – Microsoft Online. An administrator will get an admin view, e.g. add users, set roles, enable account and assign licenses for services to be made available for account. Can sync internal applications with online services (e.g. enterprise email synced with online mail). A sync tool for connecting to internal resources, including AD. Means you can external accounts to the GAL. (Assuming they act as external recipients)

For end users, the sign-in client looks similar to logging into an instant messaging service. The first time the user logs in, will have option to connect online service with user’s Outlook profile to auto-sync email. The quote from John Betz:

“the promise of enterprise class software being delivered as subscription services”


Microsoft has three levels of search:

  • Entry level = Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express
  • Standard = Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
  • Specialised = FAST

Announcing availability of Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express today

Search Demo – Richard Riley: Showed Search Server delivering federated search results, including integration with Symantec Enterprise Vault. Presenting a customised results page, with images presented alongside structured results (similar to the example in To click or not to click). Demo’d FAST, showing a preview pane within the web page built on Silverlight. Very nice demo. (Looks a lot like the Album preview you get in iTunes.)

Back to Bill:

Talking about business data connectors letting you get to information of all types. Search is great when it gets you to documents but becomes more powerful when you can also get to structured data sources.

Looking ahead, people shouldn’t have to worry about where the information comes from. The software takes care of connecting to the backend information stores. The SharePoint environment will enable new ways of interacting with data. Modelling is an important focus area – simulating what’s going on in the enterprise. This approach should reduce dramatically the amount of code that needs to be written. Currently at the early stages but it will make the value of information even more impactful. (He’s talking about declarative programming – see the Office DevCon Keynote Q&A for more information.)

Q & A

Q – Data access and data storage – concept of universal data access still isn’t there. Is it going to change in Office 14? And what about the Exchange storage engine?

A – Storage unification is a big deal at MS. A big opportunity to simplify the programming and admin model and ability to do integration. In SharePoint, you’ve got these lists that are better than tables in some way, but in SQL you’ve got the flexibility and scale that goes beyond what you have in lists. What’s the answer? Want to have the capabilities within SQL as a native capability within SharePoint. In the next version of SharePoint, we’re taking a big step in terms of putting a table from SQL into SharePoint and enabling those richer capabilities. The direction is straightforward – we want list semantics to be in the database engine itself, without giving up the reasons we invented lists – the approachability and ease of use. On to storage unification. (Side note: Bill said that SharePoint has always been built on SQL… Er, no. He must have forgotten about the first version being on the Exchange web store.) AD had its own way of doing distribitued info replication. Now moving more to a metadirectory – will be based in SQL and then do replication out to the stores that do distributed login capabilities. Exchange has its own store, SQL doesn’t do the hierarchy stuff that Exchange needs. To model that hierarchy, we need SQL to cope with tables within tables. Tnat will simplify the underlying store. But no timelines.

Q – When do you plan to go relational with data store: allow nested tables, relational dropdowns within SharePoint?

A – Lists today are pretty powerful, were built for the kinds of things people do in SharePoint. The idea of tables within tables – we’re taking a big step towards that goal in SQL 2008.

Q – What’s MS plan in being ahead of competition, i.e. Google Sites and Team Edition

A – SharePoint is about end users and being able to get their work done. Hilarious – Bill said “the day they announce the product is it’s best day… I may be biased…” It’s great that people have choices. The breadth of work required to build the likes of SharePoint is very high…

Q – MS-Yahoo?

A – We are very serious about competing in consumer search. We’ve learned alot about how to build up the data center in terms of hundreds of thousands of serv
ers. Needed as we host Exchange and SharePoint. But also need to develop what we can offer in terms of software management that can also help customer data centers. Shouldn’t have to have people on call 24 hours a day (i.e. software needs to be self-healing). That’s what we are working on in our data centers. The boundary between desktop search, SharePoint and web search is blurring – we are going to see more solutions drawing on all these different areas. It shows our bullishness about search and software regardless of whether or not MS-Yahoo happens – that is speculation at the moment.

[Update: 04 Mar 08] See the comments for a link to a YouTube video covering Bill’s comment about Google. You can view video of the keynote, and find the official viewpoint over on Microsoft’s web site – SharePoint Conference 2008 Virtual Press Room

Related posts:

Technorati tag: SPC 2008

Microsoft Enterprise Search Product Comparison

I’m using the following table in the Enterprise Search workshops I am currently delivering on behalf of Microsoft. People seem to be finding it useful so I thought I’d post it here. It is an expanded version of the table you can find on Microsoft’s web site (see end of post for link). The table is not a comprehensive list of all features and aims to highlight the differences between each product from a search perspective. (SharePoint Server 2007 has additional features not listed here.)

(Click to view)

Windows SharePoint Services and Search Server 2008 Express have identical licensing requirements. They can only be installed on Windows Server 2003 SP1+ or later. That means you will need a Windows Server license but nothing more. If you perform a basic installation of either, you get the database included with the Windows license – MSDE for Windows SharePoint Services, SQL Server 2005 Express Edition for Search Server 2008 Express. If you perform an advanced installation of either, you can opt to use the full SQL Server product instead.

(Tip: You can also use SQL Server 2005 Express Edition with Windows SharePoint Services, but you have to download and install it first, and then use the Advanced Installation to tell Windows SharePoint Services to use it – SQL Server 2005 Express Edition was released after Windows SharePoint Services and has replaced MSDE.)

Search Server 2008 licensing has not yet been announced by Microsoft. Given it is effectively a subset of SharePoint Server 2007, I’d guess it will be a per-server license but we’ll have to wait and see.

SharePoint Server 2007 requires a per-server license and per-client access licences (CALs) for internal use. There are two versions – Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition.

Search Server 2008 is due to be released during the first half of 2008. The new features being introduced (you can download the release candidate if you want to play with them) will also be made available to both editions of SharePoint Server 2007.

If the FAST acquisition does go ahead, expect to see Microsoft’s search strategy expand deeper into enterprise information assets.

Related blog posts:


Microsoft Enterprise Search Announcements

Yesterday, Microsoft announced some changes to their enterprise search strategy. To read all about it, go to www.microsoft.com/enterprisesearch. Here’s the summary:

New Products

Server-based enterprise search solutions are now available in three flavours:

  • Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
  • Microsoft Search Server 2008
  • Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express Edition

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS) is the full blown platform for information and knowledge solutions that includes features for information management, collaboration, portal and indexing/search

Microsoft Search Server 2008 (MSS) is a dedicated search server. It’s the same indexing and search technologies provided within MOSS 2007 but without all the other features. In other words, if you’re using MOSS, you do not also need to buy MSS. MSS used to be known as the mouthful that was Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 for Search. MSS does not have the full set of search and indexing features provided within MOSS. Specifically, you do not get People search (dependent on MOSS for providing user profiles and MySites) and you do not get the Business Data Catalog (indexing structured applications – dependent on MOSS for managing application integration and authentication)

Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express Edition (MSSE) is a limited version of MSS that is being made available as a free download. Yup, Free. No licenses required. If you choose to use SQL Server Express as the back-end database (also free), then the only license you will require is for the operating system – Windows Server 2003. MSSE has all the features of MSS. The only limit is that it is a single server solution. If you wanted to scale it to multiple servers (e.g. dedicated server for indexing, dedicated and load-balanced servers for processing search queries), then you would need to upgrade to MSS.

New Features

Also in the announcement, but less easy to spot, is the introduction of some new features within enterprise search:

  • Federated Search Connectors
  • Streamlined Installation
  • Unified Administration Dashboard

Federated Search connectors will enable you to submit a search query to multiple different indexes – both local and online – and bring back results grouped by the different index. (It is not possible to bring them all back together as a single results set because different indexes apply different ranking algorithms). You can build your own or download add-ons from the new Search Connectors Gallery. They are not yet available, but partners listed include: Business Objects, EMC Documentum, Endeca, FAST ESP, Handshake Software, OpenText, SAS, and Symantec

The Streamlined Installation process (think wizards) should make it a lot easier to set-up and configure an enterprise search solution using Microsoft technologies.

The Unified Administration Dashboard will provide a better user interface (UI) for administration and maintenance. Currently, within MOSS 2007, the search settings are somewhat buried in the Central Administration console. The new dashboard should make it much easier and quicker to keep track of your search infrastructure

What’s the deal?

There is a fourth product in this Microsoft-specific playground that also warrants a mention, the underlying platform that serves MOSS 2007 – Windows SharePoint Services (WSS). With this announcement, organisations planning information management and collaborative solutions have some new choices:

  • If you want to build an internal enterprise platform for information management and collaboration, MOSS 2007 remains the product of choice if you go down the Microsoft route (naturally there are other vendors also in this space)
  • If you are less concerned about enterprise stuff and are more interested in building agile collaborative workspaces that operate independently of each other, chances are you would be looking at just using Windows SharePoint Services (WSS). By adding on Search Server Express Edition, you would now be able to search across all of those different workspaces using a single query. (WSS alone means you can only search within one site at a time.) This provides a rich solution with no extra licence fees required other than Windows Server 2003 (WSS is provided as part of Windows Server 2003)
  • If you are not, for whatever reason, using or planning to use MOSS 2007, you can whack Search Server Express into your environment for minimal cost. No limits on what you index, as long as one server can cope with the load
  • And what about Search Server 2008? Well, if the Express edition is not enough and you need to scale your search infrastructure, you will need to upgrade. But if you are that serious about your search solution, chances are you’ll be interested in social networking (people search) and collective intelligence (combining structured and unstructured sources of information). I’d wager that route will lead to MOSS rather than MSS although it will depend on the different licensing costs involved versus the calculated benefits

Introducing Federated Search Connectors is a big deal, at least it will be for the customers I have been working with. At last, Microsoft is providing a solution that acknowledges there is life outside The One Index. (It’s similar to the early days of Active Directory – The One Directory – later being extended, thanks to Identity Management solutions, to connect and synchronise with other directories.) As the volume of information being indexed continues to grow – internally as well as out on the Internet – it becomes much harder to maintain high relevance within results from a single index. The most effective solution is to send a search query across different indexes that can be individually tailored to serve up the best possible results.

The only thing you can actually get your hands on today is the release candidate for Search Server 2008 Express edition. The new features are not yet available for MOSS 2007. When will they be? Well that’s for Microsoft to announce but I think we can expect to see updates available in early 2008. No vendor wants its free products to have more features than the licensed versions…

I should include a disclaimer: I’m an independent consultant running Enterprise Search workshops funded by, and on behalf of, Microsoft. I’ll be delving into some of the finer details within this announcement within future events.

[Update: 09/11/07] The announcement has also been covered over on the product group’s blog: http://blogs.msdn.com/enterprisesearch/

Filed under: Microsoft Search

Technorati tags: SharePoint 2007; MOSS 2007; Enterprise Search

Google and Microsoft looking alike

Interesting post over on Nick Carr’s blog – The loose ties that bind – talking about Google’s strategy to capture 100% of users’ data and the possible implications.

The Google strategy is simple – make storing your data online the default behaviour:

“…As we move toward the ‘Store 100%’ reality, the online copy of your data will become your Golden Copy and your local machine copy serves more like cache…”

This approach makes a lot of sense and probably worries a few of their competitors (makes you wonder why they didn’t buy Flickr and Del.icio.us…). Increasingly there are far more benefits to having your information stored online than having it stored locally on a computer – instant accessibility from any device for starters. But you still want to be able to access that information locally without always being connected to the Internet. For example, I don’t want to require an Internet connection to review my calendar or contacts, regardless of the device I’m using (currently they are stored on my laptop, PDA and mobile phone, with synchronisation software between the laptop and other devices).

But this approach has both pros and cons.

The benefits are simple – having all your information stored online in one location makes sharing data across applications and devices much much easier. There can be both productivity (reducing clicks to complete tasks, instant synchronisation across devices) and intelligence (new insights from analysing data, mash-ups that combine data sources) gains that are simply not possible when data is stuck in separate silos, be they software or hardware barriers.

The costs are also quite simple – the more you rely on integrated products and benefit from them (those productivity and intelligence gains), the higher the cost of switching to alternatives. You become dependent on the vendor who provides you with convenience.

Google isn’t the first to exploit this approach. Microsoft has long been criticised for integrating products and leading customers down the dependency route, initially using proprietary tools and formats and latterly using integration between desktop and (web) server products like SharePoint. Will using the Web and open standards make the situation any more palatable to those critics?

Microsoft Digital Day – Part 2


This post covers the second half of the Microsoft Digital Day event held on 20th October 2006. The morning sessions were covered in Part 1.

In game advertising; what the trends are in gaming, why games are such a powerful media, how marketers utilise dynamic ad platforms and how effective these can be

Presenter: Mitchell Davis – Massive

(Massive produces in-game advertising and was recently acquired by Microsoft)

I’ve always wondered when in-game advertising and product placement would begin to take-off… it seems it has. It is a logical step as people spend more and more time inside virtual worlds.

Mitchell produced a slide showing game software growth. Online and wireless games are currently way below console games but have already overtaken PC games and are growing in popularity

Graphics are reaching a standard where the virtual world is becoming realistic. The upcoming Xbox game Splinter Cell has taken over 100 developers over 2 years to build, costing $25m. But console games are increasingly looking like replacements for movies. The game Grand Theft Auto achieved $359m in sales, the equivalent of Spiderman the Movie, released in the same year. And people spend far longer playing the game than watching the movie…

…and game players do not multi-task, a big difference to how we often watch TV. When playing a game, you have to be 100% focused on the task or you lose/die (depending on the game). Hence ads are far more likely to be picked up by eyeballs inside a game than on the TV.

Online games are beginning to clock up more hours than traditional console games. In the online game World of Warcraft, some people are now spending over 100 hours per week on it. (At this point, I had a thought – this is like The Matrix in reverse. We are actively plugging ourselves into the grid to the point we could rent out our physical shell because we are barely using it.)

Massive has approached in-game advertising in a similar way to traditional methods. Instead of creating an ad that is permanently embedded in the game (e.g. as you reach the final stage of the level where you have to kill a zombie coming out of a tunnel, the tunnel always has a poster above it advertising a coffee brand), ads are run as campaigns. The ads can be placed in different slots throughout the game, for defined periods of time. They can be geographically targeted (including language-specific ads) and even do time-dependent advertising (i.e. only show the advert at certain times of day within the time zone where the game is being played).

Mitchell described a test campaign that was recently completed. The campaign saw a 14% increase in brand favourability from those exposed to the ad versus the control group, a 11% increase in purchase intent and a 12% increase in ad likeability. The audience was redominantly 13 – 34 year old men (95%)…

…and that, I think, is a challenge for the advertising industry. Tom Peters and others have been talking for an eternity about the need to target women, because over 80% of purchasing decisions are made by women. Not many computer games are currently targeted at women.

But to finish, Mitchell dropped a great quote:

“Whether the game is pirated or not, they still see the advertising!”

It sums up why advertising is becoming increasingly attractive to software companies who sell proprietary software. If you can earn revenue from advertising instead of software licences, the piracy problem just disappears. It could also be a potential business model for community-built open source software.

Traditional Media embracing digital

Presenter: Simon Waldman – Director of Digital Strategy and Development, Guardian Media Group

I am quite a fan of The Guardian because I think they have done a great job of embracing the Internet and emerging trends influencing how we consume news. And this session summed up how they have succeeded.

The Guardian’s mission is “To be the world’s leading liberal voice”. In other words, to go beyond being a physical newspaper you pick up.

One of the experiments they ran last year was to create podcasts with Ricky Gervais (he who created The Office). It led to over 4 million downloads and brought links to the news site from unexpected places – lots came from iTunes, podcast networks, sites like Technorati… all these people had never before visited The Guardian web site.

The attitude at The Guardian is that content must be high quality, distinctive and easy to find. The majority of challenges are around that last point. If you aren’t easy to find, then you are going to disappear – and being easy to find means being out there on the web.

Simon described the 3 characteristics that have emerged from the Internet (you could try and argue Web 2.0 but let’s not):

  • people want to create and communicate, ideally both at the same time
  • people want to control their media – what they want, when (and where) they want it
  • people want to challenge the established order – enough is enough

…and people will do it whether we let them or not. (Whilst the ‘we’ referred to mainstream media, it could equally be applied to governments too – I think (hope) politics is going to be disrupted beyond recognition over the next 10 years)

Simon gave a simple and incredibly clear example to demonstrate the change. People are wrong to compare Wikipedia with Britannica – Wikipedia isn’t aiming to be the same as Britannica, it is 180 degrees to the left of it. Encyclopedias are top-down authoritarian. Wikipedia takes a different approach and serves a different purpose.

Simon talked through some of the different ideas that have been tried by The Guardian:

Obituaries page: The Guardian opened up a section called ‘Other Lives‘ – anyone can write an entry for someone they know who has died, regardless of the so-called importance that would normally determine who gets an entry.

Commentary blog: On the Commentary section, anyone can participate and leave comments – journalists are contributing alongside everybody else rather than being positioned as some kind of authority on the site

Working across channels: The Guardian has a travel site – Been There – people contribute with their experiences, and The Guardian then rolls up weekly to highlight a specific location within the newspaper.

And they have been looking into the world of video-reporting, kitting out journalists with camcorders to capture moments that you would either miss or would struggle to report well in writing. A sample was given – camcorder footage of Cherie Blair in the audience at the recent Labour Party conference. You had to see it to believe it (which I think demonstrates his point). 🙂

The session closed with an audience question – how do we currently consume news: Online only = 14%, Print only = 8%, Mix of both = 78%. Not surprised at the numbers. The web brings about new ways of consuming content, but in some scenarios, the best format has already been invented – paper.

WPF Reader offering a highly-differentiated visual experiences

Presenter: Michael Cooper – Director Strategic Relationships, Advanced Reading Technologies, Microsoft

This session focused on the New York Times Reader that has been recently announced.

In a nutshell, the reader does a better job than a browser at managing news layout to fit different screen sizes, and to navigate content. There are no scrollbars – all navigation is based on cursors (e.g. left – right moves between stories, up – down scrolls through the story. Columns are added or removed (and news stories repositioned) depending on screen size.

The New York Times web site currently averages 4 page views per session. The aim of the reader is to increase the time the reader spends on the site, to create more advertising opportunities. Ad placement within the reader is dynamically driven – the ad message can be optimised based on the story it is displayed within (click through goes to different locations depending on the message – e.g. an insurance company can advertise different types of insurance in different sections. Where you click on the ad affects the type of insurance promoted and forms to be completed). The layout is also dynamic in that it can change as you go back/forward – the same page can display different ads in different places.

In trials with the reader, page views per session jumped to 80.

I have mixed feelings about this reader. The navigation elements are similar to the offline experience provided by AvantGo, where you can synchronise content from multiple different sources and read it offline. It certainly demonstrated well, but I’m not sure that I would use it. It would be useful to be able to download a digital edition of a newspaper, but I just want a simple link off the web site – ‘download offline’ – where I can quickly sync the content to a device when I want to… and I don’t want the whole news, I want to choose sections I am going to want to read. And I don’t always just want one paper, I want a mash-up of the different sources I like to read. You get halfway there with news feeds, except most news sites insist on only doing partial feeds which are rendered useless when you are offline. And to finish, the ability to view in newspaper format is only suited to a laptop or tabletPC (i.e. you need a reasonable amout of screen space) – useful when I am at home or in the office, but not when out and about travelling. Mobile devices need a different layout to newspaper style.

Subscriptions are also broken when it comes to newspapers. When I’m travelling on public transport to meetings, I will often buy a newspaper at the station to read on the journey. But I don’t buy the same news paper every day. That’s easy to do when you pay for the item on the spot. But the web sites want you to pay monthly subscriptions – those subscriptions add up to a lot of money if you aggregate all the news sources that you read… and the cheeky publishers still push adverts at you, littering the page and slowing down page load times, even when you’ve paid to access the content…

Still some work to be done in this area…

Microsoft’s vision, strategy and commitment to the online advertising industry

Presenter: Steve Ballmer – CEO, Microsoft Corporation

Some of the comments made in this presentation align with a lot of what was said in the Gartner podcast recently published.

Microsoft is very much repositioning away from the enterprise perspective (much of the last 10 years has been spent persuading businesses that Microsoft is an enterprise-level supplier) to ‘from the end user to the enterprise’. This covers the two traditional areas – desktop and server – plus the two new focus areas – entertainment/devices and online services.

Whilst the ‘G’ word wasn’t directly mentioned, Steve compared Microsoft’s current search position to that of their spreadsheet position 15 years ago, when Excel was challenging the established leader – Lotus 1-2-3. (Oh how the memories flooded back, there wasn’t much you couldn’t do with the ‘/’ key in Lotus 1-2-3). The focus back in the early 1990s was on building a suite of applications (Microsoft was simultaneously targeting the word processor market, then dominated by Word Perfect). Fast forward to today, and search is broadening out into a set of investments, spanning software and devices, digital advertising and a ‘Live’ platform on which to build it all.

Steve talked through the dawn ’til dusk scenario referenced in other sessions – mapping the various Microsoft products and services to the different activities in the home and at work.

If you think the above slide looks like Microsoft overload, you would not be alone. One of the audience questions started with a reference to “the slightly scary 16-hours a day with Microsoft slide…” 🙂

Steve closed his speech with an overview of the plans for AdCenter and a review of statistics from the various services. Some snippets: 243m Messenger users, 465m unique MSN visitors, 60m Spaces, 261m LiveMail users.

Some interesting comments cropped up during the Q and A. Steve’s favourite future scenario – being able to tune in and watch his old high school’s TV channel covering a live basketball game. This is the potential when the Internet enables TV to move to millions of channels. (It’s nice to hear a positive view on having more channels to choose from instead of the usual negative assumptions.)

This post is filed in the Library under Research > Talks

Technorati Tag: Microsoft Digital Day