I’m Blogging at OnlineGroups.Net Now

February 25th, 2008

After blogging here for three and half years, I have joined the OnlineGroups.Net team, Alice, Michael and Richard, to blog in the new OnlineGroups.Net blog.

We’re using that to share our thoughts and conversations, so that the people and ideas behind OnlineGroups.Net are more visible on our site.

OnlineGroups.Net in the News

September 23rd, 2007

The Sept. 19 issue of the NZ Herald quotes me as saying “Email has won”. It’s not actually my quote, or anything to do with lottery scams. It’s the reason that we’re doing OnlineGroups.Net and GroupServer. Email is the tool that is most used in people’s attempt to collaborate online, but it sucks for many to many messaging and file-sharing. The main problem is that email has no shared entitity for a group, and that’s what we provide. With GroupServer and OnlineGroups.Net, the group has a name, a url and an email address. Its messages, files, membership information are all visible online, to authorised users. People can participate in group conversations and file-sharing using both email and the Web. And all this can take place on a website that has regular pages and custom presentation. Sounds simple, yes? Well it’s taken us nearly four years but we’re nearly ready for prime time. Rebuilding registration is our last nasty task before we’ll be ready for tens of thousands of users. We’re also rebuilding the way groups are displayed, and adding a CMS/wiki-equivalent module. With plans for a release before Christmas, and to attract new site administrators to OnlineGroups.Net, you should be hearing a bit more from us online.

Is there anything worth watching on NZ TV?

September 23rd, 2007

New “web 2.0” NZ TV listing site http://throng.co.nz works like I’d want a TV listing site to work, if I wanted a TV listing site. It shows what’s on now, soon and tonight, with weightings for popularity. That’s three out of four, but Throng also tells me “Members may personalise their listings to highlight their favourite shows and hide ones they’re not interested in.” Thing is tho, most of what’s on TV, I am not interested in. What I want is to see the odd rare thing that I might actually be interested in watching. So, rather than just hide all of it, I think I’ll ignore Throng. If there’s something on that you think I’ll really like, would you please let me know.

So Simple a Kid would Get It

May 14th, 2007

Every month, a few of us meet up for dinner and geek conversation. We call it the Valley in Christchurch. Well, this month we were joined by a couple of actual valley guys, Peter Weck and Hans Brough from Simply Hired. They’re nice guys and we had an interesting conversation: interesting because it was mainly about us, and Christchurch and New Zealand. But we did find out a little about them, and to express their gratitude and generosity, they gave us tee shirts.

I am thinking about branding at OnlineGroups.Net right now, so I took particular interest in what they had on their tee shirts. I was impressed by the simplicity of the message: if you hate your job, then you’ll love our search. I figured that anyone would get that message, even without the graphics, and that even without the words, the graphics would get most the message across, too. I decided to test this with a four year old. I showed her the back of the tee shirt and asked “in this picture, who would you rather be, the elephant or the person?”.

“The elephant” she replied. Horrified, I asked why. “Because the elephant gets to stand on the stool”. Darn, that makes sense. Determined to salvage some dignity for us adults, I asked the same question about the picture on the front of the shirt. This time, she preferred to be the person. Why? “Because the person gets to hold the shovel.”

How to Turn any Geek into a Good Teacher, Instantly

April 22nd, 2007

The complaint I most commonly hear from people whose tech-savvy loved one, or other tame geek, has attempted to help them learn to use a computer is:

They did everything so fast that I didn’t have a chance of figuring out what they were actually doing.

The cure for this is extremely simple:

Don’t let them touch the computer.

Not the mouse, not the keyboard, and not even the screen. This forces the geek to find a way of assisting you to do the things that need to be done. Advanced users of this technique can even try not letting the geek point. Make them describe things in terms that you actually understand. Obviously this can be difficult so they will need to begin by taking an interest in you.

Tell me what you are trying to achieve.

Describe what you see on the screen.

Bear in mind that this does not apply to consulting. There are times when you want your geek to make the computer work, and to set it up to work in useful ways. Getting your internet connection configured, for example. So let them work away on the computer until it’s done. Make sure they tell you why they are doing stuff, but never mind about what or how.

How do you know whether it’s a matter for training or consulting? Simple again.

If it needs to be done more than once a week, it’s training.

Once you know all the stuff that needs to be done more than once a week, extend the period out to a month.

Geek and Wrangle your way out of Bitching

January 19th, 2007

All jobs in the World are some combination of three basic jobs.: geekery, wrangling and bitching. Actually, there is only one job: geeking and wrangling your way out of bitching.

All jobs require domain knowledge. It does not only apply to computing. It applies to building, opera singing and housework. In each case, particular knowledge is required to do the job properly. Which kinds of fastenings work best with particular materials. The historical and cultural context of a song. The cleaning product that is most effective for each surface. And why.
Domain knowledge doesn’t make things happen. Engaging and organising people, resources, and yourself, does. Managing materials, staff and contractors. Getting to the front of the stage and relating with the audience. Vacuuming without unplugging the vacuum cleaner. Wrangling is mainly learned though experience.
Bitching requires neither technical knowledge or leadership. You do it so that geeks and wranglers don’t have to.

Roles at OnlineGroups.Net
We are typical. Michael is Geek and I’m Wrangler. We both do plenty of each other’s job, and a fair bit of bitching, but we specialise. Alice recently joined us to do ‘support’ (you can’t write ‘bitching’ in a job ad). But her job is really to geek and wrangle herself out of bitching. No-one likes doing it, you don’t learn much and it’s not worth much. But if you systemise and automate enough, there’s hardly any to do. Our strategy is to sell high value services, systemise them and sell lots, and then give them away, growing new people up through those layers.

Use the Mouse with your Left Hand

January 18th, 2007

One of my new year’s passions is to be gentle with my body. If you use a computer a lot, and want to be gentle with your body too, use the mouse with your left hand. It hurts less. I am about to present two compelling reasons for this. I believe they are irrefutable (please tell me, if you think you can refute them). And it only takes a day or so to switch. I can go both ways now, but use my left hand far more than the right, even though I am right-handed.

Mouse and Keyboard in the Right Place

You use your Right Hand More on the Keyboard than your Left
Most keyboards have navigation keys, and a numeric keypad. Because these almost always protrude to the right of the keyboard, the right hand gets to operate these (and ‘backspace’), as well as its share of the alphabetical character keys. If you use your right hand for the mouse as well, your poor right hand is dashing all over the place, while the left sits idle. Give your left hand a share of the work. You can’t move the navigation and numeric keys, but you can move the mouse.

Mouse a Long way to the Right

There is More Room for the Mouse to the Left of the Keyboard than to the Right
If you like to have the alphabetical keys equally easy to reach by your right and left hands, the navigation and numeric keys already stick out to the right, leaving a mousepad sized gap to the left. If you use the mouse with your right, you must reach even further to the right.

Keyboard to the Left

Participative eDemocracy is coming to Canterbury

October 10th, 2006

I am working with Ron Kjestrup of Plains FM to launch an online public issues forum in Canterbury.

We’re going to use the approach taken by E-Democracy.Org and in the public issues forums in Minneapolis, St Paul and Roseville, Minnesota and in Newham and Brighton & Hove in the UK. OnlineGroups.Net has worked closely with Steven Clift and Tim Erickson from E-Democracy.Org as they have used GroupServer for all their online groups over the last few years.

The next step is to set up an independent and non-partisan steering team to support the forum. We are holding a public meeting for people who are interested in participative edemocracy, to introduce them to the public issues forum concept and to form a steering team.

If you are local, please support this initiative by publicising the meeting to people who are advocates for public participation in the democratic process. You can print and display this notice about the meeting (PDF, 37kb). And if you are interested in eDemocracy, please come along.

Although this project will help to build the profile of OnlineGroups.Net, it’s not commercially driven. I am doing it because I think it’s a good idea and I’d like to see it succeed.

Adoption of Collaboration Technology

October 5th, 2006

Collaborative technologies provide the opportunity to collaborate. People use them when they have the motivation to collaborate. If the motivation is high enough, and the existing opportunity is low enough, the technology doesn’t have to be that great (eg SMS). If the technology we are offering, however, is worse than what people are used to, then they won’t adopt it.

In the adult world, the default is email. If nine out of ten people adopt the new technology and one keeps using email, everyone has to keep using email. That’s why we built GroupServer and OnlineGroups.Net to use email.

In the youth world, there is no default. It’s a highly dynamic mix of SMS, IM, social networking and MMORGs.

So what do you do if people won’t adopt your technology? I think do as the Halcum folks do and adopt theirs.

OnlineGroups.Net is Open for Business

October 3rd, 2006

After nearly four years developing the underlying open source technology GroupServer, we decided that it’s too good to keep it to ourselves. Sure, there are variouls successful GroupServer sites but we figure that lots of people don’t want a whole installation, they just want some groups or a site. So we decided to build a site where they can have that. After many months of polishing the interface and building the ‘shop’, OnlineGroups.Net is open for business.

OnlineGroups.Net allows you to create your own site and then add online groups. Sites and trial groups are free. Our online groups work equally via email and the web. There are other tools that provide this but we believe that OnlineGroups.Net has the most usable interface. What other tools don’t do is allow you to have your online groups on your own site. With a little help from us, OnlineGroups.Net sites can be completely customised.

We want to have tens of thousands of sites running on this service so that we can make GroupServer better faster, and build our specialised services business. So please, start a site and try out our online groups, tell us what you think of them and, if you like them, spread the good word (web feed).