A blog looking at business communication, knowledge management, scripting tools, OS technology news and other things of interest to mobile tech workers. As I find interesting news this will also contain pointers to thoughts related to configuration managment, change management and general software development.
Announcing edittwiki 0.1, an external editor launcher for the popular TWiki wiki. This is similar in spirit to the editMoin tool for MoinMoin wikis. I wrote this in Jython and compiled into a java jar so it should run on a wide set of operating systems. It features a configurable editor setting so you can edit TWiki topics using your favourite editor (including html editors) and works with TWiki installations that are password secured.
This is the initial release, so please be gentle! and feel free to provide feedback here or via email to etaekema-at-earthlink-dot-net.
Best and simplest argument for protecting and building up the public domain I've heard yet. David Weinberger to Microsoft:
When it comes to creative works, we are not "consumers," and we are not users. Rather we appropriate creative works, that is, we make them our own. We apply them to our own context. We get them somewhat right or entirely wrong. They become part of us. That's how how we learn and how culture changes. But that means that creators should lose control of their works as quickly as possible. Obviously, creators need to be be paid for their work, but not for every bit of value they create: You shouldn't have to pay me if you re-read my book or lend it to a friend, even though you are getting more value from my book. Tough noogies on me. A pay-per-use system and allowing artists to control their works much past launching them into the world will kill culture.
Personal Information and Knowledge Management in the Google Age
Where we ponder how filesystem based document management is being replaced by webservers, wikis, search engines.
When we started out organizing our files back in the day when PCs were young we naturally used the filesystem to do it. We created directories that made sense and helped us find information we needed. As we got better and better at producing more and more files and documents, and vendors gave us improved directory naming capabilities, we created even more extensive and nested directory structures.
Then PCs joined with other PCs on a network and it wasn't just our own directory structures anymore, we created group directory structures to store all of our files together. All these documents became organized into a nice directory structure for easy access.
This was great! Except its not. Or at least it isn't any more. With the advent of 100 Gig hard drives even for laptops the potential for creating directory structure that is meaningful and helpful even for personal use is all but gone. We have too much information to bury it down inside a hierarchy out of sight. Combine that with the growth of spam both intentional spam in EMail and the sheer volume of documents that don't necessarily need our immediate attention, and we end up with a filesystem organization that is a mess and impossible to really use or maintain. It becomes a stale archive of hardly used documents.
Enter Google. Google has rapidly become the central organization tool for bloggers. Can't remember where you stored that bookmark, link, idea, whatever? Google it... Now Google is approaching EMail organization the same way. Don't bother with a huge set of nested folders to organize historical EMail. Nested folders that need constant care and attention. Just store all of your email in a flat archive and let the search engine find what you need. Automatic tagging of email based on predefined searches let you organize your inbox so it is easy to deal once with email ... and then forget about it until you need to search for it. File it and forget it.
Or Furl. Furl is a specialized archive tool for web pages you are interested in keeping around. It basically stores copies of web pages and their metadata for you and then allows you to search your collection of copies. It even gives you recommendations for other documents you might be interested in based on the documents you've stored recently.
Even though Furl lets you categorize your saved pages, once your archive reaches a certain size, the categorizaton becomes more of a publishing tool and you find yourself relying on search tools to find what you are looking for. An effective search tool is again the key and the recommendations are based on metadata created without any additional effort beyond storing the page in the archive.
Or Wikis. Wikis are built around a completely different organizing model. Self organization that emerges from the users' interaction with the system. Wikis are by nature a flat archive of topics with links between them. Full text search makes it all available.
This is where I think we are going for Personal Information Management. In the end, the sheer volume of data we need to comb through makes us entirely dependent on full text search of our data and non hierarchical organization models like wikis.
Jon Udell has been thinking about a Google PC that ends up dropping traditional methods of organizing documents and information and instead relies on a search spider that indexes the whole PC. Here is where he is going:
On the Google PC, you wouldn’t need third-party add-ons to index and search your local files, e-mail, and instant messages. It would just happen. The voracious spider wouldn’t stop there, though. The next piece of low-hanging fruit would be the Web pages you visit. These too would be stored, indexed, and made searchable. More ambitiously, the spider would record all your screen activity along with the underlying event streams. Even more ambitiously, it would record phone conversations, convert speech to text, and index that text. Although speech-to-text is a notoriously imperfect art, even imperfect results can support useful search.
A side effect of this approach is that the metadata about your files (which files are important, related to each other, etc) arises out of the use of the files themselves which means that the system gathers the metadata with little effort on the users part. This I think is a super critical key to Personal Knowledge / Information Management.
In the same vein, Bill de hÓra writes about how he is getting away from thinking about his content's organization preferring a fire and forget approach:
Well, over the years I've moved away from a place where I would think hard about how to file everything away (where what I could do was predetermined by the file system at hand). I haven't be able or willing to do that for years - there's too much to classify and too many ways to classify it and I'm not paying myself to be a librarian. Then consider that folder based classification doesn't help with retrieval anyway unless you carry that classification scheme in your head all the time. Life's too short.
I prefer the fire and forget mode that is enabled by giving things URIs and putting them behind web servers. Everything else I've tried or seen was too complicated. I could imagine never classifying or sorting anything based on folders within a couple of years, preferring something like a Topic Map instead to tag the files with metadata - not that as I user I'd actually care how it's done.
Recent experience building a taxonomy into a wiki at work has me a little sour on structure. It appears to be helpful for people who are really new to the wiki, but after using it for a while, you gravitate towards either the What Changed RSS feed or the full text search tools to find what you are looking for, or at least an entry point into the topic you are interested in. Then you follow the links from there.
My own efforts to use a Wiki as a Personal Information Management tool has shown me that even for my documents, having a flat structure that is logged (in a what changed sense) and fully searchable really pays off. If we could apply it to my whole laptop, that would be even better.
The single most important factor in keeping my travel enjoyable ... is reducing the items I take with me to the absolute minimum. It has the side benefit of being good for my back and getting in and out of airports, trains and buses at maximum speed which means I am travelling the minimum time required. Here is a site dedicated to refining this essential Road Warrior skill:
There's no question: overpacking easily heads the list of biggest travel mistakes. Thus this Web site, offering exhaustive (some might say exhausting) detail on the art of travelling light, living for an indefinite period of time out of a single (carry-on-sized) bag.
It is amazing how much content that was only available to me as a student by browing the stacks and periodical archives in the university library is availabe for free over the internet. This changes research methods dramatically. I don't need to be located close to the campus anymore.
For example here is FreeFullText, a list of all the journals whose content is available for free on the 'net.
FreeFullText.com provides direct links to over 7000 scholarly periodicals which allow some or all of their online content to be viewed by ANYONE with Internet access for free (though some may require free registration). The issue(s) which are available for free are indicated for each title on the alphabetical periodical lists. The design of this site is optimized for users seeking specific articles for which they already have the citation. If some of the articles you need are not available for free online, you may obtain them for a fee through a document delivery service, such as Pinpoint Documents. If you wish to "search" for articles on a particular topic, please use a bibliographic database such as PubMed. This site does not attempt to list ALL periodicals on the Internet, only those which offer free full-text content. Titles will be removed from this list if they cease to offer any free full-text content.
So you need to send someone a large presentation and don't want to do it via E-Mail because vpn is just to slow? Use Dropload instead. It is a temporary, secured dropoff point. You upload your file and indicate who (email address) can retrieve the file ... after 48 hours it is deleted. Sounds like great idea to me. Here is the site self description:
Dropload is a place for you to drop your files off and have them picked up by someone else at a later time. Recipients you specify are sent an email with instructions on how to download the file. Files are removed from the system after 48 hours, regardless if they have been picked up or not. You can upload any type of file, mp3, movies, docs, pdfs, up to 100MB each! Recipients can be anyone with an email address
Here is something to make GMail even more useful. It is a small program to send mailto: links to GMail! Just installed it and it seems to work great. Here is the description:
G-Mailto is a utility that automatically associates "mailto" email links on the web with GMail. So clicking a link like this: Email me! will open up the GMail compose window instead of opening up something like Outlook Express that doesn't work with GMail (yet).
I've been a loyal SharpReader (written by Luke Hutteman) user for some time now. I have made extensive use of the Blog This plugin and use it for organizing my RSS reading for both this public blogs as well as internal company reading and and blogging. I have to say that it is a fantastic aggregator and as worked flawlessly for me. As a Road Warrior (as the headline of this blog suggests), I spend a great deal of time on the road and the "offline" nature of SharpReader has been great as I can get caught up while I travel. That combined with PyDS, my blogging tool of choice means I can read and blog from any altitude. Since I have benefited from SharpReader so much, I thought I'd pass on a few suggestions for future features:
Add more filtering options, namely to filter based on whether the item is locked or not. This would make it easier to find that one critical article I wanted to blog but can't manage to locate ...
Add a search capability that would search the RSS feeds already downloaded ... see the above suggestion for why.
Add a tagging or saving feature so that articles of interest could be set aside for further research and easily found. Perhaps something like a best of list.
Support for firefox so that using it as the browser to display the websites outside of SharpReader works better (currently gives me an error message and also opens an IE window ...)
Basically, SharpReader is working too well. I have a huge set of feeds that I want to keep track of and I find that I need some more tools inside of SharpReader to do that. I offer these suggestions as my humble input into the development of this fantastic tool. Thanks Luke and keep up the good work!
Elias Torres is so happy with GMail that he has written GTray, a Google Mail notification tool that lives in your windows system tray. Makes GMail even better! This is from last month but since I am just getting going with my GMail account, I am just getting setup. It works great.
I happened across this very interesting use of a Wiki ... hosting the text of a talk with in place links and comments. Shows a different side to Wiki use than what I am used seeing, where the topics are much smaller. I have to say it works very well.
I've added a Google Site Flavored Search to my blog. so I can play with this and figure out if it is valuable for the narrow range of topics typically covered here. Its located in the sidebar so you'll need to go the site if you are reading this through syndication.
What it is supposed to do is tailor your searches to categories that are related to my blog but the choices for categories that were available when I set it up were a little broad.
Its an interesting service though. Another first for Google.
I have to share this blog even if it is a little off topic. Its too good to pass up. Jones is a wonderful writer and story teller whose prose I have enjoyed for years. Now he has a weblog. Hopefully you will enjoy his wonderful stories as much as I have and do. Here is his self description:
I am a famous country western songwriter. I am color-blind. I didn't mean to become a songwriter, let alone a country music songwriter, but as it turns out, it's not very hard. I wish I had never taken up smoking. There's no business like show business. Apparently. I'm also a budding photographer. Being color-blind, I tend towards B&W photography. Imagine that.
Keep your stick on the ice uncle Wiggy and keep the stories coming!
Andy Hunt is getting spammed on the Pragmatic Programmer Wiki and is looking at using Bayesian spam filters normally used for email to detect spammers on his wiki and blacklist them! Its too bad things are coming to this.
If you only read this blog through syndication, you might not notice that I have added topical links as a sidebar to each of the categories that make up this blog. I have been using Furl to track my bookmarks for some time and have found it absolutely indispensible as a personal research tool. My bookmarks are available as both RSS feeds and html views for the public. To see what that looks like check out the html view and the RSS view.
I have now discovered that I can display categories of my furl bookmarks in my blog. I use PYDS as my blogging tool of choice and its use of a powerful templating system (Cheetah) I was able to quickly setup PYDS to display a sidebar of interesting links that matched the category of the weblog you happen to be looking at! Now when you look at the Jythonic cateogry, you see Jython and Python specific bookmarks in the sidebar. When you look at Biblio, you see bibliographic and academic writing tools related links in the sidebar.
The transformation of my blog is not yet complete but you get the general idea. Now all I need to do is add the RSS feed to match the links and I'll have an automatic linkblog that is driven by my actual web link management tool! Cool!
If anyone is interested in what the PYDS customization looks like, post a comment here and I can post the changes.
I've been listening to Dr. Lessig's Free Culture available from the Free Culture AudioBook Project which got me thinking about what the appropriate copyright approach for this weblog would be. Coincidentally, the Creative Commons organization has created a new web tool that allows you to easily choose an appropriate Creative Commons licenses, as well as a easily add it to your content. For now I have put this weblog under this license which allows for the following:
You are free:
to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work
to make derivative works
to make commercial use of the work
Under the following conditions:
Attribution. You must give the original author credit.
Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
I am not sure if this is necessarily correct for a weblog. Does anyone have an thoughts on this?
I have had a passing interest in academic publishing, bibliography management and research tools for the humanities. Recently I have taken up my hobby again and wanted to get caught up in the field. So I have been tracking various feedster queries for the last month looking for good blogs about those topics. Today I hit pay dirt. Feedster churned up a post to Clay Reddings Blog entitiled Bibliography creation and XML.
Now, I haven't yet absorbed his comments yet, but his entry pointed me to Bruce DArcus blog which is a treasure trove of thinking around what bibliography management tools should look like today. I find his WikiBibBlog idea facinating (combines a wiki, a blog and a bibliographic database). From there, there are all kinds of links into the topic.
This really shows the value of something like feedster. It may not be as comprehensive as Google, but what it can do is provide a link to an intial blog which in turn links to others etc. And that allows you to find something far more important than just a static page somewhere. You can find an active community talking and publishing around your search topic. Feedster is an amazing personal research tool.
Apparently Bloglines and blogdex are the best backtrack link reporting tools around. I was wondering how you tracked people linking in when the posts ran of the front page. Neat. In the examples linked to here, Bloglines comes out ahead with the most links. Not sure if that makes much of a difference given the size of the readership I have here.
There seems to be this emerging pattern for a blog with a deeper accompanying tool for more indepth interactions and community. Chris Corrigan is exploring this using blogs and wikis together. That is something I have also begun experimenting in my post Integrating Weblogs and Wikis. I think that this pattern emerges more quickly behind the firewall as the community of people commenting on blog entries can be more diverse. An intranet situation might cause a community to evolve more quickly around a set of blogs.
Really it does ... at least if you are flying on American. Even the Admirals Club closes at 8:30 ... Starbucks too ... all the food court ... Sheesh! And as far as I could find only the Admirals Club had a TMobile hotspot I could get ... I had to cut my work short as I waited until my 9:40 PM American Eagle flight. 8:30 PM ... unbelievable!
This is a little gem that I can not live without anymore and its all Sebs fault. He has written a bookmarklet to submit the words highlighted in your browser as a search to google. Way cool. All you have to do is highlight a few words, hit the bookmark and up comes the google search! I tested it in Mozilla 1.6 and it works great. Thanks Seb!
I've often participated software development process design activities where a new software team or organization sits down writes down their policies and procedures. As organizations get more and more dispersed thanks to outsourcing and globalism etc, the people involved in the this effort are often in different places of the world. The typical way these documents are developed includes a barrage of email discussions which eventually get out of control and then rounds of meetings via teleconference or videoconference ensue to sort of out the mess.
This is a problem for Captain Wiki! Really, the group edit, influence of groupthink to produce consenses, quick editing by anyone, fast comment and review that characterize wiki communities would have a tremendous impact on speeding up the effort not to mention improving the overall quality of the documents.
The css-discuss wiki has pretty much looked after itself since its inception a year and a half ago, thanks to a small but active community of `wiki gardeners`.
I hadn't heard the term wiki gardener before and ran across this reference to it over at Simon Willison's weblog. So I did a little poking around which lead to the Theory of WikiJungles:
There is a theory that any Wiki which has more than 10 contributors, but less than 100 will eventually become a jungle of pages that nobody can make heads and tails of. With less, the people usually know it well enough to understand the structure, but with more than 100 active users WikiGardeners will appear.
A Wiki Gardener according to the same source is:
a person who goes around the wiki, correcting typos here, rearranging things to be more readable there.
In general, good WikiGardeners are liked and respected, since they have the magical ability to take a jumble of pages and create good, readable text out of them.
Anyone can be a WikiGardener: If you see a typo or a spelling mistake, feel free to correct it! If you feel up to it, rearrange a page, or split a long page to smaller pages, or if you think some page belongs to some WikiCategory, add a link to it. If you make a mistake, don't worry about it, since everything you do can be restored.
Neat idea. I'd much rather be a gardener than an editor.