I Like the New Google Reader

I like the new Google Reader. I have been using it since yesterday. I am still exploring it a bit. But I think it kind of feels cool. I especially like the ability to add new tags to blog entries. The UI feels just right. I like the sharing option. Need to try to put it in my blog.

Here is Scoble on Google Reader.

The documentation on the Reader is a bit spotty. I explored a bit and found that when you click on Share, it goes to the Shared virtual folder. There are two levels of sharing in the Google Reader. One is sharing your blogs with public. Another is sharing with selected people. That is not explained very well in any obvious place I see.

I like the Edit tags option. You can add your tags to blog posts. This creates a new folder in the reader. But what happens later? After this post is read, and disposed of?

I also like the way you can associate certain feeds with multiple folders (I guess the Edit Tags is a short cut to do that).

Anyway, I have switched completely from bloglines and am happy so far.

Invisible Engines

It is about software and the impact of software platforms on economy and how they create multi-sided markets.

Think of software platforms as ring leaders of ecosystems in which a few or many companies can participate to reach users.

multi-sided markets as platforms that serve two or more distinct groups of customers who value each other’s participation. Examples: EBay provides markets for both buyers and sellers, dating club clients are both men and women, shopping malls serve both retailers and shoppers, and operating system companies need both end-users and application developers. Increasingly, thanks in large part to technology and the Internet, multi-sided markets are becoming more common.

An interesting article on How Software Platforms Revolutionize Business.

Wikiness?

Wikis are rapidly becoming popular. They are also morphing, slowly. If you look at JotSpot, it is not much like the original Wiki from Ward. They are serving a larger community and becoming repositories of useful information. Wikipedia definitely did a great job of increasing awareness of wikis. Now there are WikiQuotes, WikiBooks, WikiMedia and many wiki like products both open source and commercial.

Companies like eBay, Whole Foods use wikis. Most of the Open source documentation is available as wikis. So what makes wikis so attractive? What is Wikiness, if there is such a thing.

From a philosophical point of view, wikiness is the ability to provide community generated, edited content. Some members of the community put in more than others, but a lot of people contribute. If you find something wrong in the content of a wiki, you can fix it. If you know a topic only vaguely, leave a dangling link and someone will create the content. It is all informal collaboration. It is all asynchronous. You contribute what you can, from your knowledge. If you feel strongly correct the original text. If not, just leave a comment, that may start a discussion, which may result in revised text. Wikis are scalable since almost anyone with an Internet connection can view and edit content. In a way, it is the interactive, inter-creative web Tim Berners Lee visualized.

So what can we learn from Wikis? How can we take this wikiness and infuse it in other applications? How can we leverage Wikiness?
Here are a few thoughts:

1. We can borrow a few concepts from wikis – wikiwords (or some conceptual equivalents), backlinks, collarborative editing, built-in search, history of changes and put them in applications.

2. We can make our applications as easy to use as Wikis. WikiCalc is already moving in that direction for spreadsheets and Google Spreadsheet does a bit of that.

3. We can use Wiki as a platform for building content. They are already the preferred tools for low end content management systems.

4. We can make them a container of components – Twiki and JotSpot already do this. But we need a better, more universal component model, something that is not proprietory to one system. This will allow us to put different types of media on a wiki page.

5. We can add a feature to the browser that makes it a virtual wiki. You can browse any page, add comments and corrections to it and the browser can create a shadow page in your system or on your server. So when you retrieve the original page, the modified/enhanced page appears magically. This new page gets a new URL which you can share with others.

Wikis are too good to be left alone as independent applications. We need to take some of their attributes and fuse them into other products as well.

Any Ideas?

My Top 5 Apps

My friend Jamie Dinkelacker used to say that everyone uses about 3-4 apps most of the time (his actual words were “3.5 apps”). It is not difficult to list a set of apps you use most frequently and figure out the top few. I think the number is more like 5-7. Here is my list:

  1. Firefox Browser
  2. Search Engine
  3. RSS Reader
  4. Wiki
  5. Email
  6. Microsoft Word
  7. Instant Messenger

In an interesting twist over the last few years, RSS reader and Wiki have moved up, overtaking Word and Excel. My RSS reader (in addition to digg.dot.us) is my main source of News. I find myself using Wiki more than Word or Excel. My use of Excel was mostly to manage various lists. Now I use a Wiki.

Here is an interesting blog from 43Folders- What is Your Killer App? which explores a similar theme. The comments on this post are almost as interesting as the blog itslef.

Some observations:

  • Browsing and Searching have become such regular habits, I did not even think of listing them first.
  • The way I consume news has changed dramatically. I pull news using RSS readers and search for specific items of interest. I check diggdot.us (a mashup of digg, slashdot and del.icio.us) several times a day, read blogs a couple of times.
  • My note taking, making lists, keeping track of resources activities changed subtly. Instead of using a Word processor, I now use a personal wiki.
  • I interact with my family more, but electronic interaction (through mail, IM) is more than phone (both our kids live in different states). I think we share more things (jokes, items of news etc.) now, than before.
  • Interaction with colleagues has changed as well. There are more IM sessions and email threads and somehow, they seem more convenient than meetings. Meetings, when they happen are more efficient since most of the mundane stuff is covered already.

Five years ago this was very different. It will be interesting to see this list five years from now.

Don’t Blog, Write On a Wiki Instead

Interesting advice. Need to try it out. Fan mail sounds good. From How to Dissuade Yourself from Becoming a Blogger.

  • Rest easy in the knowledge that it’s perfectly okay and respectable to not have a blog at all.
  • If attention and validation are what you’re looking for, know that you will get neither from blogging. As above, very few people will ever know that your blog (or you, by proxy) exists. The remainder of comments posted to your blog will be sappy treacle, which you won’t trust as being sincere anyway.
  • Consider writing on a wiki instead. Unlike most blogs, wikis like Wikipedia and wikiHow are read by millions of people each month. Several wikiHow authors receive “fan mail” messages every day from appreciative readers. In addition, many authors discover that they enjoy the wiki collaborative writing process more than writing in solitude.

PlaySpace

The Institute for Play promotes Play To Learn. A PlaySpace is an area where you can learn by exploring. While we encourage it in the early part of education (PlaySchools), we seem to drop it as a complement to the more traditional learning methods. Incorporating play into learning is not easy. First there is the issue of the mindset of teachers and parents about play itself. A second issue is the delicate balance between play to entertain and play to learn. I first came across the concept of playing to learn, when I read Seymour Papert’s

Here are some snippets from Kirby Urner on Computer Lab as a Playground.

So a computer lab is like that too: it’s possible to get in trouble, mess up, attract peer pressure, make friends, make enemies. The interactions are complex, especially if you factor in broadband and so many relationships with remote others, via IM, elists and the rest of it.

Fortunately, this isn’t about monoculture. Computers have the potential to amplify the indigenous, to anchor the key memes, whatever these might be.

the computer lab itself is used in both modes: lots of free “play time” when you’re encouraged to explore your own favorite topics; other time when you’ve picked from a list, and now stick with it for awhile, learning the discipline (same as in sports, learning judo, kung fu, archery or whatever — takes practice, teachers, and a dutiful frame of mind).

Seven Reasons I use Wikipedia

About a couple of months ago we were discussing about Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britanica. My brother-in-law was wondering why people would use Wikipedia instead of the Encyclopedia Britanica (which is perceived to be more accurate). I can cite my reasons.

  1. Wikipedia is accessible (if you have access to internet)
  2. Wikipedia is more easily searchable (if something is in Wikipedia, it comes up fairly high up on popular search engines)
  3. It is easy to provide a pointer to a wiki page on the topic. My blog on Palindromic Numbers was based on following such a link from a discussion forum.
  4. Wikipedia is dynamic and growing rapidly (it is constantly being updated). I track some of my favorite pages using InfoMinder
  5. It is free and the content is under GNU Free Documentation License.
  6. Wikipedia-ness (if there is such a thing) inspires lots of other similar useful projects:

    Wiktionary
    Dictionary and thesaurus

     

    Wikinews
    Free-content news

     

    Wikiquote
    Collection of quotations

     

    Wikibooks
    Free textbooks and manuals

     

    Wikispecies
    Directory of species

     

    Wikisource
    Free-content library

     

    Wikiversity
    Free learning materials and activities

     

    Commons
    Shared media repository

     

    Meta-Wiki
    Wikimedia project coordination
  7. The back links to a page some times provide a rich source of references. To find what refers to a page, try clicking on the link to the left titled “what links here”. For example, for the Math page here are the backlinks.

Feel free to pitch in and add comments on why you like or don’t like Wikipedia.

Integration of E-mail with Wikis

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about using wiki as an email storage. Looks as if this is not such a novel idea, after all. I saw a news item today about a company called Mindtouch that provides a connector from Outlook to wikis. Here is the info from the KM World article titled E-mail goes Wiki.

MindTouch says its Connector for Microsoft Outlook is the latest enhancement for the MindTouch Managed Office Server (MOS), which the company describes as an onsite Wiki appliance specifically designed to meet the information management needs of small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The company further explains MindTouch MOS sits behind a customer’s firewall, allowing companies to maintain control of their data by keeping it on their own networks.

Here is what MindTouch lets your organization do:

  • Easily find, share and act upon information
  • Build a repository of past documents for re-use
  • Eliminate version control issues
  • Always use the most current information
  • Collaborate on projects
  • Automate processes
  • Capture and share best practices

As people get comfortable with the notion of collaboration with wikis, we will see more connectors and better integration with other information sources.

Wiki Text Books

Wiki Text Books is a project from Global Text to bring 1000  free text books to the world.

Free textbooks for everyone—that’s the goal of the Global Text Project, an initiative spearheaded by Rick Watson, a professor in the University of Georgia Terry College of Business. Watson’s goal is to produce a library of 1,000 textbooks that will be created with wiki technology and will be made available to students around the world.

Inspiration for the project came from a course Watson taught in 2004. He was unable to find a suitable text for a graduate-level XML course, and so he designed a course where the students wrote a textbook of their own. The project worked well enough that the textbook was used in subsequent classes, and each class made corrections and improvements to the text.

It is nice to see wikis being adopted for such high impact applications. Wikis are some of the simplest and easy to use tools for creating collaborative applications. The really cool aspect of this approach is the ability to keep updating the content and improving it.

There are other similar projects. Wikibooks is one of them.