Open Source

Lessons From Our First “Social Media” President

The enormity of the shift that occurred last night is still sinking in. Feeling the spirit of millions that have been moved and are primed to tap into vision and get behind this new leader was certainly profound. Ironically, it wasn’t until I saw a man in a live TV shot last night whom I’ve had zero affinity for in the past — the Reverend Jesse Jackson — shedding tears in Chicago’s Grant Park in the midst of tens of thousands of others, did it sink in how amazing this was for the African-American community.

Not that I’ve been unaware of Obama’s black 50%, but it’s been totally irrelevant since I, like more of us than ever before, realize that we’re all connected and in this together. What’s mattered to me is his vision, my belief in his intention for change, his certain inclusion of everyone, a refreshing intelligence, and the world-class thought leaders he’s already brought close to him as he crafts strategy.

What will be hyper-analyzed over the next several months, however, is that the Obama campaign leveraged the internet, tapped into the social media zeitgeist, and engaged with people in ways never before possible (and because so many of us are already connected with social media), and there are key lessons here for every company, organization, movement or individual wanting to sell, build brands, move an agenda forward, or build an ecosystem.

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iTunes & The Paradox of iPhone App Choice

In a book that I read two years ago, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, psychology professor Barry Schwartz’ premise is that in today’s producing and consuming world, too many choices do the opposite of what you might think (that a staggering array of choices in every category would actually meet everyone’s needs and increase consumption) but rather that too many choices created a paralysis in people about making a decision and decreased consumption! (You can watch him explain the essence of his premise in this 19 minute July 2005 TED video).

In this post at GigaOM, 7 Real Reasons Why iPhone is a Smash Hit, Om Malik mentions this statistic (in bold) which I wasn’t aware of, “Apple says that in 102 days since the iPhone Apps store opened, nearly 200 million iPhone apps have been downloaded. There are about 5,500 apps available on the iPhone Apps store.

Sigh….5,500! I get weary even thinking about trying to sift through that many applications!

My personal paradox (and a problem experienced by developers I know as they try to sell their apps), when I’m seeking an app in the Photography category, for example, it isn’t the information presented for me to determine the value of the 114 iPhone apps available in that category, but rather it’s the laborious and time consuming way I have to click through iTunes and view each one, trying to make a decision about buying it by looking at a few screenshots or jumping out to the developer website in order to get more info.

After my initial enthusiasm with the explosion of apps for the iPhone and buying a bunch and downloading numerous free ones, I’ve found myself paralyzed with the volume of apps. But it’s the crappy and sloooow shopping experience (whether it’s in the somewhat slow iTunes browsing or the horrendously slow App Store browsing on the iPhone itself) that’s my biggest issue so guess what? My purchasing of apps has slowed way, way down (as has my browsing for and downloading free apps).

Apple’s iTunes shopping experience is pretty bad overall, whether it’s buying music, movies, TV shows or iPhone apps, or the one that has agitated me for a couple of years, subscribing to free podcasts (and with ~25,000 of them, finding good or new ones is too daunting to bother). There is just too much content and it’s too difficult and time consuming to make a choice.

Time to overhaul iTunes, Apple, and give us a Genius on steroids for iPhone apps.

Acquia Launches: Supported Drupal Social Publishing

Today is the official launch of Acquia, a commercial company dedicated to supporting Drupal, the social publishing system.

Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal (who some say is to Drupal as Linus Torvalds is to Linux) joined forces with Acquia in order to realize the vision he had — and the one the community and ecosystem is striving for — with Drupal. Buytaert had this to say this morning about the services they’ll be offering:

The Acquia Network (previously code-named Spokes) is a hosted service that helps you with site management (update notifications, spam blocking, cron service, modification detection, etc) and provides real-time visibility into the health and usage of all your Drupal sites that are connected to the Acquia Network.

Second, the Acquia Network gives you access to Acquia’s technical support team. Whether it is an installation question, a development question or a configuration question, our Drupal experts are ready to provide you with technical support. The kicker? Acquia Network subscriptions are available for every budget — including a free community version. Give it a try!

Third, we are also releasing Acquia Drupal today. Acquia Drupal (previously code-named Carbon) is our Drupal distribution that bundles some of the best, most essential Drupal modules for building social publishing sites. Acquia Drupal is available for free, and all our bug fixes and improvements go straight to the module maintainers on drupal.org. Acquia Drupal defines the collection of modules that you can get technical support for.

I’m installing this distro right now and will be comparing it to Acquia’s promise of a Drupal system that has the fit-n-finish power users demand, pre-configuration to jumpstart a deployment, theming that goes beyond the typical fugly Drupal themes, all in an attempt to accelerate adoption and support us all so we’re successful with a powerful publishing system (and platform) like this one.

Moodle Makes Its Mark

Today’s accelerating adoption of open source software (OSS), and the shift from desktop to web applications increasingly built on top of OSS, is being embraced by individuals, the non-profit sector, small, midsize, and even enterprise businesses.

As more of us get connected via the internet and through web applications, seek ways to make our collaboration more powerful, shift our old serial and linear processes to ones that are parallel and associative, OSS is a key building block of internet and web technologies and applications. OSS is also gaining momentum globally and affecting all industries and institutions, even educational ones.

That said, educational institutions often lag the private sector in adopting new technologies until proven, especially the Kindergarten through senior high school (K-12) levels. K-12 is often seen as risk-averse and needing clarity about the efficacy and pedagogy of using any particular technology. It must be proven and the benefits to learning and student achievement crystal clear before any technology is implemented, especially OSS.

On the flip side, higher education is a hotbed of OSS use and many projects have origins in colleges and universities. One could argue that our public institutions taking risks, researching new possibilities, and pushing against the membrane of the future is at least as important as their educational mission and has contributed code and thought leadership in OSS.

Though I’ve been aware of the OSS learning management system called “Moodle” (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) for some time, I was both delighted at what I discovered at the U of MN and surprised (stunned might be the better word) by its adoption within Eden Prairie schools where my son attends high school.

There are lessons in this story for all of us about how two very different educational organizations recognized that collaboration, human connection, and the move to parallel and associative learning is at the core of education going forward, and took calculated risk with the OSS Moodle to meet new needs.

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Google Chrome Announced

As I’ve been closely observing the rich, internet application space with Adobe AIR, Microsoft Silverlight, Mozilla Prism and what ‘might’ come from WebKit (and SproutCore), imagine my surprise to learn today from Phillip Lenssen’s Google Blogoscoped about the release of this comic book to announce the WebKit-based Chrome (site not yet live), the new open source browser soon to debut from those search engine guys.

Though some question whether this is real or not, it makes perfect sense to me as the next evolution in browser technology and to stave off attempts by others (cough, *Adobe and Microsoft*, cough) to control the direction of the live mesh, web services and the containers that application and content value will be delivered within going forward.

As commercial-yet-open source advocates, Apple and Google both seem to be making high level and directional moves. Google with Gears, both with WebKit, and what many see as Apple’s key, strategic move: not allowing Flash to be delivered on the fastest growing mobile platform out there, the iPhone, since doing so would help to accelerate this container over the arguably leaner and less CPU-intensive Javascript.

What does this mean for you if you’re not a developer?

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Will Comcast crush internet innovation?

If you’ve been following the story about net neutrality, Comcast’s games with bandwidth throttling and the FCC rebuke of these practices, then you’ll really want to know about Comcast’s decision to place a 250GB per month ‘cap’ on your use of bandwidth.

My favorite blog that discusses this issue, Om Malik’s GigaOM, had these two posts that are a must-read if you care at all about this issue:

a) 5 Questions About Comcast’s New Bandwidth Throttling Plan by Stacey Higginbotham

b) Memo To Comcast: Show Us the Meter for Metered Broadband by Om Malik

While I completely understand that Comcast has a business to run, shareholders to please and profits to make, it is also crystal clear to even a casual observer that they now hold too much power in residential broadband.  Read More

WordPress: Too many variables?

UPDATE: The post below was originally published on my Typepad blog which I converted to WordPress in 2009.

This blog runs on the Typepad hosted service (the smartest decision in 2004, IMHO) but I’ve become a fanboy of WordPress and quite fond of this project over time.

Like any ‘relationship’ one enters into — be it a friendship, love or even a partnership — nothing is perfect and not without ups-n-downs, but I’m seeing this lack of perfection in WordPress and other open source projects and wondering how the sheer number of variables with plugins and such can continue.

My other blog, Minnov8, runs on WordPress. One of my fellow geeks on the team is a WordPress junkie and knows the platform incredibly well. Since I was out of the country the last week and half, he graciously agreed to upgrade our 2.5.1 installation to the new 2.6.

I was really keen on this upgrade since the image uploader for posting in the admin area of WordPress didn’t work and many, many people were experiencing this issue. Since I had to FTP the images for posts in to our WordPress content directory and then hardcode a URL link to the image in each post, my fellow contributors were sending me their content and I was uploading and posting. What a pain!

Checking the Minnov8 blog Wednesday evening at about 9pm (in my highly jetlagged state of mind), I discovered that the 2.6-driven site — which had been working for 24 hours without a hitch — was no longer displaying the theme! I put up a “closed for maintenance” page and invested three hours trying to get it back online but to no avail.

My colleague and I both invested about four more hours each the next day (yesterday) trolling the WordPress forums and trying out fixes proposed there, deleting database tables, going through each PHP file with a finetoothed comb, turning off all plugins (and double-checking which were ‘version 2.6 compliant’), and rechecking the clean-coded theme we’re using to ensure that wasn’t the problem.

I finally got so frustrated that I wholesale deleted the entire WordPress installation and re-uploaded the entire WordPress software along with my saved content files and database backups.

It got restored and is now working…but neither of us has a clue why and it might as well be magic.

There’s a pretty big gap between someone who uses a hosted service like Typepad and WordPress.com, and those of us who choose our own hosts and install the software ourselves. The amount of “gotchas” in the latter is such that often a person needs to be highly technical or experienced in order to rely upon installed, open source software and the supposed ‘support’ that comes from a discussion forum most open source projects deliver, but the upside of the installed software (vs. the more run-of-the-mill looking hosted stuff) is too great to choose the former.

With an ecosystem of developers creating plugins, themes and other extensions for WordPress (and the same holds true for other projects like Joomla and Drupal), one needs to approach an open source install or upgrade with the same attention to detail a programmer and developer would with exhaustive testing before going in to production. Unfortunately, most users don’t have the time, the wherewithall or the desire to do so.

If guys like us can’t get stuff like this to work without hours of futzing and tweaking, imagine someone with half our combined skills doing so AND having a site offline that they’re using for a mission-critical site for their organization or business.

Social Publishing Systems: What about We, the Participants?

We’re living in a time of the greatest shift in human (and machine) connection and communication any of us over 30 years old will experience in our lifetimes. Social media is proliferating, networks of people exploding, self-publishing, microblogging and new communications channels like Twitter emerging, and for the most part, the enterprise isn’t playing in most of these areas.

As a former content management systems (CMS) guy (was with Vignette during the dotcom heyday), I’m in an interesting spot between grassroots social media use by individuals, non-profits and small business and my enterprise clients trying to determine how to play in this shifting landscape. These clients are trying to figure out how to engage all of us connecting and communicating, and just finding more efficient ways of publishing content with a CMS or portal isn’t cutting it.

Social publishing systems are needed.

This morning I read Jeremiah Owyang (Sr Analyst at Forrester Research: Social Computing) who had this post entitled, “Social Software: Here Come The CMS Vendors.” He begins by discussing his oft-repeated theme of the volume of white label social networking providers, and ends with a premise about the major CMS vendors, “I’ve started to notice more of the ‘traditional’ CMS and Portal players that already have deep footprints into the corporate web teams that are inching into this space.

What are the trends, what are CMS vendors likely to do and what should be offered?

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TapeDeck: Easy Audio Recording on Mac OS X Leopard

Nearly every day, I come across something someone has created that I find delightful and useful. Today was no exception as I read DaringFireball, a blog I follow, and was led astray by a link that simply said this:

The Road to TapeDeck 1.0

Chris Liscio on the development of TapeDeck.

Intrigued, I followed that link, read the post, downloaded the application, and was instantly aware that they’d done what so many developers struggle with: cut to the core essence of what an application needs to do and deliver just that.

As we all know too well, Apple has mastered this and famously leaves out many, many features usually packed into applications, operating systems or — in the best example to date — from a smartphone. Rather than try to boil-the-ocean, Apple takes a thimble full of seawater, puts a candle under it, and it’s boiling in no time since the mass market demands ease-of-use with those “ahh…that’s just right” set of features and functions that don’t overwhelm the user.

I’ve added the video below to whet your appetite for TapeDeck and encourage you to go download (and maybe buy) this fun application:

 

Minnov8: Showcasing Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology

If you’re out in the Bay area or on the other coast in New York or Boston, it’s pretty easy to be smug about your culture of risk-taking, pool of top talent, and strings of successful, world-changing innovations. But as the world continues its acceleration to one that’s increasingly connected and ways of collaborating make distance irrelevant, smart people will pop up everywhere and I’m convinced we’ll see a flattening of the geographic advantages these pockets of innovation represent.

Six of us were bugged that there was so much going on in Internet and Web technology innovation right here in Minnesota, that when I suggested we start our own blog to showcase that innovation, there were nods of agreement and a willingness to dive in and make it real.

The biggest reason we were all interested in this blog is that these showcases and interviews are what we wanted to read and there wasn’t anything like it out there.

The result is Minnov8: Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology. This past weekend was the biggest Barcamp yet, Minnebar, and over 400 people showed up to present, learn and participate. Rather than recreate everything on this blog, why not take a peek at Minnov8? This and this post are ones that will recap what took place.

Wherever you live and whatever space you care about (e.g., technology, education, greentech, etc.) and where there are a critical mass of people willing to leap in and work together as multiple authors, I’d encourage you to start one of these…it’s pretty simple to do and fun to boot.