Sunday, July 16, 2006
Microsoft and Gnomedex6 - Thoughts and Opinions


So I've let Gnomedex soak in and have meditated on it and I've decided to write up my near-final impressions of Gnomedex6 and how it may apply to Microsoft and Microsoft product teams.

This wraps up everything but thoughts around Second Life.

What follows are my personal opinions and insights.


Standards for easy in and out: Marc Canter is a big standards fan, and his time on stage was spent discussing standards. He sees adoption and use of standards as a way of owning data and being able to get it in and out of various programs and web properties. He harassed Jeremy Zawodny from Yahoo! for Yahoo! being locked in and not being able to get your Yahoo! data out.

First: I think data transportability is a lot more important than rigid adherence to standards. Of course, I'm jaded: when the web was new and Netscape was indulging in <BLINK> and Microsoft in <MARQUEE> we needed the W3C to knock some heads around and get things straight. Same thing for XML, XML namespaces, and XSLT and XPath. All good efforts supported and implemented by industry getting back on their own interim work (e.g., XQL). Those standards were needed. Now? Well, XSD was the turning point for me, especially seeing of how people can design their XSD schema and then discover no consistently good handling for it within the available implementations. XQuery makes me somewhat ill. And XHTML 2.0 and onwards makes me tilt my head quizzically and ask: why? It seems as though the answer is, "Just because one day there might be an XHTML 2.0 so... why not today?" What industry partners are clamoring to implement what XHTML 2.0 will give us? Hell, we're having a hard enough time getting CSS 2.0 to be happy.

So, that's just a small point: the standards can't be just for the sake of a committee getting together and implementing a standard, especially pre-emptive standardization. It has to arise out of a real and present need, perhaps replacing something organic that is smoking and tearing apart at the duct-taped joints. But, smoking aside, that works and provides real-world use.

Second: easy in and out for data. I think Microsoft can be a, well, standards bearer here. How about first being able to archive my blog? Next: how about being able to migrate my blog and associated comments? How about migrating my social networking data from Friendster to MySpace? Good. Next up would be a way to easily get data out of a site, edit it within say Word, and then put it back into that site. Say I want to edit my MySpace profile. How easy is it to get into Word, edit, and back? Something beyond the clipboard as it currently stands. Perhaps something more associated with a Live Clipboard that is micro-format aware and can serve as the adapter between the cloud and the client.

If Microsoft tools can exist as a part of the lifetime of data's existence, the tools can become an important foundation to manipulating and moving that data around. The data becomes the platform we operate within. But we have to be open to not only consuming and editing a user's data but also allowing that user to get the geeky-goodness of their data in and out directly. And a good implementation can always result in an industry leading, practical standard.

Attention: so I do recommend reading the following short paper: The Attention Economy The Natural Economy of the Net - this is a good paper to reflect upon given that it helps you understand sites like Memorandum and how they are doing a temporal aggregation of what people are writing about and linking to and rolling that up as a moment of: "Hey, this is what people are currently paying attention to."

Attention, in today's society, is power. The economy aspect of it, though, it what causes people to stumble as they ask, "How do I turn attention into money?" Well, how does a famous person turn attention into money?

As for the geekier aspects of attention, I've tried to conjure up a deeper understanding of Attention before: Eric'o'theque! Attention! After the first day of Gnomedex6, I wrote some unfortunate things regarding Mr. Gillmor's Attention Operating System talk, but it still escapes me, excepting the above paper, what's so super and beyond the obvious related to attention. It seems like simple data mining, like what Amazon does for each customer, and what attention strives to do is empower the user to data mine themselves and, if they choose, anonymize and share their attention so that an aggregate set of web-space sites can be unioned together to see what people in general are paying attention to.

As for Microsoft? Eh. Well, it would be useful if Sharepoint could create a page representing the sites and subsites that I have been visiting and using. What forms do I frequently fill out? What lists do I tend to edit? Digital bread crumbs aggregated over time and use. Then, I guess, knowing my organization, they could find associated sites within my reports, my peers, and my management (should my boss be on vacation and I need to fill out a report my boss usually does once a week). There shouldn't be any privacy concerns there since I'd only see information I have access to.

For Internet Explorer: should there be a way to do a more indepth history feature? Something I could push-up and push-down between the four different computers I use during the day would be nice. Call it "Live History" - oh yes, enjoy the oxymoron! - and provide a rich web page experience where I can review and organize where I spend my digital time, merged across participating devices. The most important thing is that I can let it roam, keep it updated, and access it from any computer. This would be something beyond the hierarchy of OPML.

Online life is exceptionally chaotic and a lot of data tracking a person's usage is collected. Perhaps there is something to the poor person bouncing around everywhere to opting in to having what they pay attention to collected and data mined and repurposed for themselves. And that's probably all fine and good until the lawyers get involved. Fine. Be sure to encrypt it.

Niche-ification: you could say that Web 2.0 right now is an explosive growth of niche solutions looking to do well in a particular small, passionate problem space and then grow into other spaces. This is related to one aspect of The Innovator's Dilemma, where it notes that new breakthroughs are usually a groundswell movement that start small. This is pretty opposed to swinging a billion dollar bat: instead of going after a single one billion dollar sure bet, are you willing to go after one hundred ten-million dollar bets, gambling that in addition to a small chunk of profit in the millions you'll also have one to five percent of those be a breakthrough innovation that brings in future billions?

Well, that might be me taking Chris and Tara's talk further than it should. Right now, however, is a grand time for starting up niche businesses, sexing them up with Ajax and Web 2.0 monikers, and being able to get a presence to build on. How does this apply to Microsoft?

I'd seriously bet that Microsoft technology is absolutely absent from these niche gambits. If anything, it's 100% LAMP: Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl/Python/PHP (which, I guess, is more LAMPPP). Microsoft's loss here? Explosive growth for one of these niche gambits is not going to risk transitioning technology to a Microsoft equivalent toolset.

Marc Canter was walking around with a lei necklace of giveaway USB drives containing the LAMP-centric source code to the People Aggregator he was evangelizing. If Microsoft was to create a "niche-in-the-box" toolset, what would those tools consist of and would it be free? Would it be as directly straight forward as LAMP? Obviously the "L" equivalent is WinXP Pro or W2K3 and it's not free. And the A would be a feature of that OS. Database? The goodnews is that the "P" equivalent is pretty well covered with .NET technology, the SDK, and the free VS environments.

But it's not easy for people with startup mentalities to eschew LAMP for a Microsoft equivalent to go from prototype to beta to release. We're losing mindshare in the innovators market, and people are investing more time learning Python and PHP over C# and ASP.NET. Those tools have the gravity well. We don't.

User design innovation: this was Dave Winer's talk and it has me thinking. When the next rev of your product starts (or you're designing a new product) what do you do to be confident regarding the high-level impact of the feature set you're going to implement and deliver? Some people talk to key customers. Some people look for new markets that the feature set would allow growth and dominance.

How much comes from direct, everyday users? Now, the Innovator's Dilemma (again) would say watch out for giving people what they want because maybe they don't really know what's best for themselves and you're limiting yourself by listening to your customer. Is that always true? And with more people indulging in online transcription of their every thought, isn't it easier to find users and groups that could have good influence regarding what your product does? And if they start taking proactive engagement in specifying what they want (and want fixed), would you engage and listen to them?

I'm not sure how much each Microsoftie is engaged with tracking how users are responding to our products, other than what we see rolled up in articles and reports. What if each person had to go out and find a reaction, pro or con, to their feature in the real world, and write it up, along with deciding if there was anything actionable and why they came to that decision? I'm pretty interested in getting more involved in our community efforts right now and seeing how much of that can become part of everyday life for Microsofties.

Anyone But Microsoft: so to wrap this up: what was it like being a Microsoftie amidst the echo-chamber + VC + Web 2.0 innovation crowd? Personally: I didn't feel relevant. And I didn't feel Microsoft was relevant as anything else than a disrespected boogie-man. Even if we're running on probably 80% of the laptops there, Microsoft and its technology was more something to endure vs. being excited about and use and leverage and profit from. This only burns my biscuits because I saw a number of the attendees present as individuals I respect and that I've been following for years. They've influenced me. And I see them as influencers to others going forward. And to them, Microsoft is the butt of a sad, sad joke. I disagree.

I certainly want to change this, though I have to do my own reality check whether there's anything Microsoft could ever do for some crowds or if they are happily situated in their own space. But still. Kaliya tried to invigorate the crowd to develop innovative community solutions because if they didn't "Microsoft would." Booga Booga! But... is that so bad? Whatever happened to win-win?

- - - - - -

I've (sort of) been asked to clarify this:

Online life is exceptionally chaotic and a lot of data tracking a person's usage is collected. Perhaps there is something to the poor person bouncing around everywhere to opting in to having what they pay attention to collected and data mined and repurposed for themselves. And that's probably all fine and good until the lawyers get involved. Fine. Be sure to encrypt it.

What I mean by that is the common issue of moving data off of a private computer into the cloud.

While on a private computer, it requires a warrant to access for any sort of legal action.

Once in the cloud, it's far more accessible to legal entities.

So, any data that is perhaps being pushed off my computer and then being pulled back down needs to be protected, either through anonymization or through encryption.
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