Rabbicorn – an example of NPIRL

[Update: 10th March 2010] Bryn has created a great machinima telling the story, embedded below

Bryn Oh has been at it again. An amazingly talented artist specialising in immersive experiences in Second Life, this time has been let loose on one of IBM’s regions, creating an interactive story about the Rabbicorn (and a great example of NPIRL – not possible in real-life)


If you have a Second Life account, I highly recommend visiting both it and Bryn’s own region Immersive: (these links will launch a teleport within Second Life if you have the viewer software installed):

If you’re not into Second Life, here’s a video demonstrating Bryn’s work both at Immersiva and a tour around Rabbicorn at IBM 3, created as a proposal for the Ada Lovelace project:

And here’s the video of the Rabbicorn:

Tags: virtualworld | blog

Exploring Virtual Worlds

One of my pet research projects during the past 10 months has involved dabbling in virtual worlds to understand if/when they will become a mainstream technology. The outcomes from the research will be publishd at a later date. In the meantime…

If you have heard about Second Life, it’s more than likely you’ll have seen it gain press attention for all the wrong reasons (if you really want to know, see here and here for examples but be warned, one link involves flying genitalia).

Beyond the simple fact that any world, real or virtual, will bring out the good and bad in human nature, virtual worlds offer a range of interesting possibilities. From copying real life to doing stuff not possible in real life to integrating and complementing real life, virtual worlds can assist education, communicatio, process simulation and prototyping new ideas. The research I am currently working on includes experimenting with 3D taxonomy management and syncing data between a virtual office and SharePoint site…

Here are some examples of the work people have created using virtual worlds:

World Builder from Bruce Branit

An aware winning example of integrating the virtual and the real including Minority Report style user interfaces

Attaining Presence: 4Jetpacks4 and Bryn Oh

A great example of ‘not possible in real life’. Both movies show how much easier it has become to create professional looking short animations with everyday tools. Bryn Oh is an amazing artist/builder

NHS Training for Innovation

Not as professional looking as the previous examples (devil is in the details, as usual), this is a video of the NHS training hospital in Second Life (developed by Imperial College, London)

Related posts:

References

Web 2.0 will thrive but not yet a while

When economies started to collapse in the second half of this year, many blog posts cropped up heralding the death of Web 2.0. I think Web 2.0 will thrive in this economic downturn. Just not yet.

The sort of start-up that has a wafer-thin business model overly dependent on advertising will struggle and many will disappear (and quite a few won’t be missed). Investment in new ideas will become much harder to secure. But Web 2.0 is about more than creating a widget, tagging a picture or poking a friend.

Web 2.0 has yet to scratch the surface of business processes. Whilst consumer habits have changed dramatically since 2000, most organisations internally still look the same. And so they will continue during most of 2009. Going into a recession, the instinctive reaction is to freeze. Stop doing anything and wait to see what happens. Few people would start a new project or reinvent how they do business at this moment in time. And those who would ought to think twice. However, once we are well and truly up to our necks in recession (what we see right now is just the beginning), then businesses will start to rethink the management and processes that led us down down this path. It is at that point that Web 2.0 has the potential to play a significant role.

In short, the next few months will undoubtedly bring more doom and gloom stories about Web 2.0 and related technologies (let alone everything else going on in the world). But the wise will use this time to get organised for when the shock of the recession eases and people start paying serious attention to what happens next.

Technorati tags: Web 2.0 | Enterprise 2.0

Nlab Social Networks conference

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending the Nlab Social Networks conference, held at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. Big congratulations to Sue Thomas and all involved with organising the event. What was particularly great about this conference was the level of networking that took place between sessions. Arguably, we could have done with double the time allowed for coffee and lunch. Unheard of at your average conference…

All the sessions were great but three stood out for me (a.k.a. I took some notes). Here you go:

The Future of Work: Amplified Individuals, Amplified Organisation – Andrea Saveri, The Institute for the Future

Andrea introduced a new term (for me, at least) entering the workplace: Amplified Individuals (perhaps a flavour of AI that will really happen…) Amplified Individuals are highly collaborative, highly improvisational and highly augmented.

Highly Collaborative: Able to tap in to and contribute to the intelligence of crowds. Act as social filters for massive amounts of information (demonstrated in the use of tools such as del.icio.us, Flickr, Diff, Friendfeed etc.) Enable the use of prediction markets (see related blog post: More on idea markets)

Highly Improvisational: Create ad-hoc resources and infrastructures, as and when needed to achieve a specific goal. Have the motivation and know-how to bypass traditional constraints and form new relationships within and across organisational walls. Serena Software are a great example of this, what started with ‘Facebook Friday’ (see related blog post: Web Wisdom) became their new intranet (see recent news: How one CEO Facebooked his company, Fortune)

Highly Augmented: Employ systems, tools and hacks to enhance cognitive abilities and coordination skills (the drug Provigil, aka Modafinil, crops up again).

Amplified Individuals possess Superhero powers for business, including:

  • Mob-ability – ability to work in large groups, a talent for organising and collaborating with many people simultaneously
  • Influencing – able to be persuasive in multiple social contexts and media spaces
  • Ping Quotient – your responsiveness to requests from other people for engagement
  • Protovation – fearless innovation in rapid, iterative cycles (i.e. prototype first, discuss requirements later…)
  • Multi-capitalism – fluency in working in different capitals: social (reputation), financial, intellectual, natural (green)
  • Signal/Noise management – able to filter meaningful information
  • Co-operative radar – able to sense, almost intuitively, who would make the best team for a particular task (across employees, partners, customers, etc.)

Bioteams: What we can learn about nature’s social networks – Ken Thompson, Swarmteams Ltd

It’s difficult to describe Ken’s session, because it mostly involved an experiment requiring audience participation. And my inability to use my mobile phone (ruins my Ping Quotient) at anything more than a snail’s pace interrupted note-taking. You can try it for yourself at the Swarmteams web site. It’s an interesting concept. You create a group on a web site. People can then join the group by sending a text message from their mobile with the line ‘join group username’ (e.g. ‘join nlabs joiningdots’). The web site sends out a question, and everyone in the group receives it on their phone and can send a response back, all via text messaging service. (Great, given I have 3 billion unused text messages on my phone contract.) And the web site gathers all the messages together in a single folder. It’s a little like Twitter. And is a great way of organising groups on the fly for a niche event, or to gather feedback on a given subject (i.e. a perfect tool for those Amplified Individuals).

What was most interesting was Ken’s reasoning behind this idea. The use of short instant messages to communicate (or, rather, synchronise) is common place in nature – the bee’s waggle, fireflies flash, ants waft pheromones. Be it motion, or emitting light, sound or smell, most animals have the need and method for instant short-term communication. Humans do too, but few organisations recognise, acknowledge or take advantage of the tools freely available…

If you’re interested in the connection between nature and business, here’s some books I have enjoyed on this subject:

Social Networking beyond the Dogma: Let’s Make Some Money – Jim Benson, Modus Cooperandi

Wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the title of this session. But Jim delivered some grounded comments about why businesses should be using social networking tools. His use of concept maps, rather than traditional slides, to convey his message was very effective. I’m planning to try something similar when I get the chance (it reminded me of a comment Euan Semple made a couple of years ago, about how the software interface for collecting knowledge should be like walking through a village…) Here’s a sample of what was said:

  • Small businesses do not need more stuff to do… but they do need advice, peers, customers and partners, all of which comes from communities
  • Communities create value through participation, which takes time
  • Time is expensive therefore invest it wisely
    • Understand intangibles, which include more clients, future services and business partners
    • Employ judgment – in the use of social tools like networking sites and review sites
  • Learn – your community, your limit, your market – by experimenting
  • Start now – small and directed, what fits immediate needs and your personality

Finally, Steve Clayton did a great kick-off presentation about how Microsoft has approached blogging and social networking. My non-amplified self sulks at giving him links when I’m wallowing in the lower ranks of Technorati 🙂 but his presentation is available online. Multiple hat tips to all the speakers. They delivered some great content and I have captured a mere sound bite of it here. And thank you to everyone I met on the day and have chatted to since on Twitter, some great conversations all around.

References:

And hat tip as always to Wikipedia for assisting with references. (Even if I did have to navigate past the band Fire Flies to locate one of the pages.)

Related Blog Posts:

Filed in Library under: Social Networks

Technorati tags: Social Networks | Social Computing | Collective Intelligence | Smart Mobs

Friday thought: do books matter?

Over the past month, I’ve listened to Baroness Susan Greenfield three times. First, reading an article in The Sunday Times. Second, in the audience at one of her talks. Third, hearing an interview on the radio. The same topic came up at all three events (not surprising, since she has a new book to promote) – the effect new technology is having on learning. Or, rather, the disastrous effect new technology is having on learning.

And I have to say, I disagree with her argument and pessimism. Now she is a professor, at Oxford no less. And I am a mere mortal without so much as Bachelors degree to my name. But her belief seems to be that books are absolutely essential to educational development and learning. If you don’t read books, you’ll never progress beyond the mentality of a young child. It’s a wonder how we ever invented books in the first place…

Central to the argument is that children are now flitting between multiple different information mediums, nibbling lots of content but never chewing it properly before swallowing. And those pesky computer games are distorting our perception of reality. (I’d argue that, if anything, it has the opposite effect – making reality so depressingly clear that people prefer to live in the virtual.)

I agree that lots of nibbling is no substitute for a good book, if you want to dive into the theory and history of a subject. Just as books and computer games are no substitute for real-world experience. But I’m not sure the future being painted is quite as apocalyptic as the baroness believes. Computer simulations introduce all sorts of possibilities and new ways of learning. Imagine if we were living in the time when writing was just invented. The theory then would have probably been along the lines: “Writing words down will destroy the art of story-telling. It will ruin our ability to bond and form emotional connections with one another, to learn first-hand from our elders, transforming our identity of who and what we are.”

Agree, disagree? Here’s a link to one of her interviews – iD: The Quest for Identity in the 21st Century by Susan Greenfield (The Sunday Times, May 08)

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.

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”

Search

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