Archive for the ‘Commentary FWIW’ Category

My Lifetime Identities

I recently visited a new city for a few days. I had to stock up on groceries and the clerk attending to the “12 items or less” checkout asked me if I had a frequent shopper card to get a sizeable 50% discount on one of my items. I did not have a card, so right at the checkout, in the fast paced flow of “12 items or less,” the clerk used here POS terminal to enroll me in the chain’s loyalty program. In previous experiences I wouldn’t bother completing an application for a loyalty card because the process had too much “friction;” wait in line at a Customer Service counter, fill out paperwork, hand it back in, and in return get a plastic identity card assigned with a random number I would never remember. But this time was different. No paperwork, and I was able to choose my own unique identity code.

The store did not make me use THEIR (meaningless to me) identity to be tracked in THEIR system. This is good… If I visit the chain again, all I have to do is tell the clerk my mobile number and I’ll receive the benefit. (BTW… they don’t know this is a mobile number, to them it’s just my unique identity.)

Aside: US telephone numbers were engineered for easy memory.

Read more…

Yahoo’s “Back to the Future” Moment

I understand why Yahoo CEO Melissa Meyer “pulled the plug” on remote team members. I groaned when the news broke, but it’s the right decision for Yahoo now. And it’s not an indictment against distributed teams. She needs to show the world a different Yahoo than the one we see today. Yahoo is trying to execute a make-or-break turn-around, which means everything about the “old” Yahoo needs to be questioned, including policies that once gave Yahoo an edge in recruiting against their Bay Area competition.

Until a few days ago, Yahoo, along with many other Silicon Valley tech companies, embraced the “work from where you’re most efficient” model. But now Yahoo no longer has the luxury of a robust stock price and gilded image, and if there can be a positive gained from this HR policy change, it has to be investigated. The “shoulda-woulda-coulda” post-mortem will not suffice if there is no happy ending to the Yahoo story.

Aside: Many pundits are speculating this is a calculated move to rid Yahoo of slacker “dead wood” employees. Or it could be that Yahoo doesn’t really know who in the ranks are “the makers versus the takers.” The real answer is probably all of the above. The thinking is filter out the slackers by forcing everyone to commute to the office.

Harnessing the power of a distributed team is a balancing act. Not all people can or should work physically separate, but some job roles, especially individual contributors, can actually be more successful if people are allowed to “create” in the environment most suited to their individual work style. Cracking the distributed team code isn’t hard to decipher. It’s one part awesome communication and one part mandating a company-wide collaboration style that treats the distributed folks as first class citizens. When everyone is distributed then there is no problem, it’s only when the “center of gravity” shifts toward a central location. Sometimes it takes more effort to work this way, but that is offset by the gains of an all-inclusive, productive, dispersed team.

I’ve been observing legacy IT behemoths like IBM, HP and Microsoft push their white collar workers into home offices. Steelcase, Knoll and others are redesigning office furniture systems for the teams of the future. It’s all about fluid designs that promote ad-hoc meetings, less about being anchored to a stationary desk. These designs all assume people are working remote to some extent.

If Yahoo seems “broken,” it’s not because remote people stifle innovation. There are larger systemic issues at play and lot’s of history to unravel. But who knows, maybe a serendipitous hallway conversation between two “Yahoos” that don’t normally see each other might yield the great epiphany that saves the day. Still, pulling people into the office feels like a knee jerk “austerity measure” that might cause more harm than good.

I am Grateful for the iPad and 4 Tech Services

Expressing “gratitude” is one way to ensure “more goodness” continues to come your way.

Here is how my life is measurably improved because of iPad, Audible, Streaming Video, Google Services and Prezi.

iPad – 2nd Generation, WiFi + 3G model

The second generation iPad with 3G is a great tablet. Light, good battery life, and pretty good screen. The 4th generation models haven’t lured me to upgrade… yet.  The iPad is now my “go to” device for reading web content, blogs, Twitter, and watching video. And that’s how I realize many positive benefits. For example I use my iPad while exercising on the elliptical. With the abundance of streaming video for entertainment I have doubled my hours per week working out. The iPad is a great platform for giving a presentation. The pinch to zoom visual enhancement provides an interactive quality you don’t get slinging PowerPoint slides. Below are the five services that enhance my daily life routines.

Audible – Listen to the Written Word

I drive a 2+ hour commute several times a week. With Audible I listen to books for education and entertainment. Currently “reading” Walt Disney’s Biography. Without Audible, I wouldn’t be able to do much reading. With Audible, I am guaranteed at least 3-4 hours a week of reading time. And a recent cool factor enhancement is the ability to sync audiobooks to the Amazon Kindle. With sync, I can listen to a few chapters, switch to the Kindle and read a few chapters, and then resume in the audiobook.

Streaming Video Apps – PBS, HBO GO, ABC, Amazon Instant Video

The iPad plus many streaming video apps has improved my physical health. Because I am exercising many more hours a week. Previously my barrier to exercise was the boredom factor. With video, I am able to catchup on favorite television shows, discover new video content, and watch documentaries that I might otherwise miss. It’s amazing the amount of video content available just within a few apps. My favorites are PBS, HBO GO (you need to be a HBO cable subscriber), ABC, and Amazon’s new Instant Video app (you need to be an Amazon Prime member). I am never lacking “entertainment” while exercising.

Read more…

My Friction-Free Life Courtesy of Google Services

Over the weekend it struck me how different (i.e. frictionless & efficient) my information work-flow has become because of all the Google services I use. It’s part of my “cloud-first” mindset when thinking about creating and sharing content. And I use the term “content” in the broadest meaning; email is content, a document is content, this blog post is content, even a “tweet” I consider content.

Here is how I got started with “cloud-first” thinking:



1. Gmail

April Fools Day 2004, almost nine years ago, I made a dramatic email paradigm shift. I left Outlook and jumped whole heart into Gmail. With Outlook I obsessively organized incoming email into byzantine folder structures. Projects, customers, personal, business. For some reason whiling away the hours organizing my email made me feel good, but that was in reality a ”false high.” And to top it off a wasted effort; the folder structure became stale over time.

Gmail, with it’s folder-free, conversation-centric, fast search approach to email management was the complete opposite user experience and it just “clicked” for me.

“How could I have not seen this before?” It took thinking outside the (in)box to transform email. No more dragging to folders. Simple tagging works better. Conversations threaded automatically. Woot!

2. Google Apps

In 2007 I started using Google Apps for content creation. A similar eureka moment occurred. Just like moving from Outlook to Gmail, moving from Word + Excel to GApps Docs + Spreadsheets was a fresh, modern approach to collaborative content creation. There was so much friction in the old world. Working on a shared document required emailing the file around or keeping track of versions on a file share. With GDocs the editing was in place, versions maintained, and collaboration speed increased. Now I get hives when someone sends me a Word file looking for comments and edits.

We’re fast approaching the era where the “file,” residing on a file system, will not be the default work product unit. It will be a shared document in a collaboration space designed for multi-user editing.

It took some patience with Google as they incrementally improved Gapps. But today it’s pretty good and getting better faster.

Read more…

8 Coud Predictions for 2013

A few publications asked for “2013 Cloud Computing Predictions.” Sonian has been at the center of “cloud” since 2007, so I have a unique perspective to share. So despite the obvious prediction… (there will be ”clouds” in 2013) below are eight realistic expectations for the state of cloud computing throughout the year 2013.

1. The definition of “Cloud” will become clear
The years 2008 through 2012 started the “cloud computing” conversation, but there is quite a bit of “cloudiness – pun intended” about what the term cloud really means. Commodity-priced public clouds like Amazon Web Services and Rackspace compete for mindshare with hybrid and private cloud wares from Citrix, VMWare and others. Each camp uses the same terms interchangeably, which confuses the IT decision maker. The truth is, most businesses will use a combination of public and private cloud services. This is because there are some use-cases where the public cloud is simply the best value per IT budget dollar. And there are other examples where a unique requirement calls for a private cloud solution.

Throughout 2013 the public cloud providers will do a better job to differentiate their offerings from private cloud vendors. Public cloud vendors will showcase economics and security postures that will be very appealing to mid-size businesses. As more medium-sized organizations find cloud success, even enterprises will start to investigate their cloud options.

2. Enterprise IT will embrace cloud computing with at least  three production or research and development projects using a public cloud
The past five years of physical server migration to server room virtualization pave the way for the next big wave, which is to use “cloud” for some IT workloads. Many businesses have identified a few projects where testing public cloud is budgeted and planned for 2013. Applications that consume large quantities of storage or have dynamic (elastic) compute needs are the first ideal candidates.

However, many IT decision makers do understand we are at the beginning of a decade long migration, and there will be a lot of experimentation before massive wholesale cloud adoption is mainstream in the Global 2000.

3. The “Virtuous Cycle of Cloud Computing” will become obvious
Cloud computing represents new thinking on the “economies of scale” factoring into very large infrastructure purchasing dynamics. For example, as more customers use cloud compute and storage, the cloud vendors in essence, make larger purchases. Buying more lowers their costs, which in turn, allows the cloud vendors to drop prices. Lower prices encourages more customers to buy into the cloud, and the cycle repeats itself.

The IT industry has never before witnessed the positive effect of large bulk purchases, shared across hundreds of thousands of IT consumers. This will commoditize services for a very large buying audience. The closest allegory might be when government sponsors research (examples: the Internet, NASA) and then the private sector continues the innovation after the research phase.

Read more…

Synchronize Your Open Chrome Tabs

I have been using Chrome’s new “Open Tab on Remote Device” capability ever since it was first introduced months ago. It’s a great productivity compliment to “pinning a tab.” From any device I use on a regular basis (Macbook Air, Mac Mini, iPad or Android) my open Chrome tabs are synchronized and available. This is different from synchronized bookmarks. This provides a whole new level of fluidity between the devices where I access the Internet. And pretty much all my information processing and content creation is via a web browser.

For example, if I leave a web site/app open on the shared Mac Mini in the kitchen I can continue to access the same site on my personal Macbook Air, or any other device that supports the Chrome browser. (Today that now includes all iOS devices.) This functionality is not some third-party add-in, but rather a fully supported built-in feature.

Here is what the UI experience looks like from my Macbook Air:

This is the “Open a new tab” screen showing my frequent sites. Notice the “Other Devices” at the bottom?



Here is the Chrome settings screen:

Tick the “Open Tabs” option to enable this great new feature.





Put Your Thinking Cap On

Recently the Sonian management team held a one day offsite meeting to consider “strategic direction.” We self-imposed limited outside distractions (email, phone, web) and at the end of 8 hours felt good about our progress and next steps.

After the meeting we enjoyed each others company over a meal at the local steakhouse. All five of us commented how the day “flew by” and attributed some of that feeling to the fact we had a chance to put our thinking caps on and step out of the constant inbound barrage of email, phone, tweets and other stimuli. Think back on any recent gathering of high tech executives and a consistent conversation theme you probably heard was “lack of quality time for deep thinking.” For me, an airplane trip without WiFi is an example of the last time I disconnected from the technology, cleared my head, and tuned my inner signal to noise ratio filter to allow the big ideas to come forth through the chatter.

As an industry we are our own worst enemy. There is a stigma associated with “disconnecting.” Colleagues expect an instant reply because our technology is fast and reliable. Real-time instant communication has us all camping out in our various inboxes (we have many: email, IM, SMS, voicemail, feeds) with trigger fingers on the reply button. We’re fearful of being the one cog gear in the “works” that slows progress.

So what to do? We each need to realize the value of “deep thinking.” We need a physical and mental space to step into for  valuable focus time. I vision a virtual thinking cap. Place the cap on your head and the noise, distractions, and stimuli fade to the background. Each of us will have a different type of virtual thinking cap, based on how our brain’s are wired. And when we are successful, something wonderful happens: a light bulb moment occurs when a great thought comes forward. That’s a sweet reward for donning your thinking cap.

Update: 5/30/12 – I stumbled upon this dialog between Matt Mullenweg and PandoDaily discussing the increasing “distraction problem” and how the great technology we’re creating might eventually stifle our collective creativity. We need to support each other to find more eureka! moments.

A comment to the PandoDaily article reminds us how Marc Benioff got the epiphany to start; while swimming with dolphins. That’s an awesome thinking cap activity.


Cloud Servers Are Not Our Pets

This post is inspired by a recent conversation with a fellow cloud computing enthusiast from the West coast.

We were engaged in a spirited discussion comparing IT trends pre and post cloud adoption. My friend jogged a memory about “naming servers.” Strangely I remembered most of the names for the “important” servers in my life. Every company I was involved with had a server naming scheme. Planets, cartoon characters, cities, sometimes funny names and sometimes purely functional.

Before the cloud we treated servers like pets. In the cloud we treat servers like cattle.

Before “the cloud” we treated our servers like pets. We named them, cared for them, upgraded them with kit gloves, and “fixed” them when they broke. We projected personalities onto the machines that served files, email, firewall and other crucial enterprise IT services.  Some servers always seemed to be troublesome, and others problem-free. An impromptu midnight scramble coaxing a failed email server back to life was always drama filled. Would the server past POST? Would the SCSI RAID subsystem mount? Fingers-crossed and sighs of relief  when clients could finally log back in.

In “the cloud” we treat our servers like cattle.  Numbers instead of names. When cloud servers get sick, we “kill them” (no offense to PETA). We don’t fix or upgrade. We bootstrap new and replace. There is no sentimental bond between us humans and our inanimate cloud servers. Instead we experience transference  by naming and projecting personalities onto our software components and the clusters of cloud servers that run the software. Indeed our software contains developer DNA, so why shouldn’t a server cluster exude the personalities of the principle contributors? Or morph into something totally unexpected because our genes intermingle with cloud DNA.

What were some of your favorite server names?


My Blogging Process

I’m achieving a personal milestone with this blog. Until recently, I have alternated hot and cold, creative sprints followed by weeks or months of posting neglect. But now I am entering a period of sustained writing cadence. Re-reading the past year’s written material I see my posts are mostly medium-length essay style, about 800 to 1,200 words per post. The occasional expansive pontification as well as a short burst here and there. Basically whatever I am thinking about at the moment.

I am pleasantly surprised to see a correlation between blogging and presentation quality. Maybe I should have realized this before, but I have noticed when I give a presentation on a theme that I had previously blogged about, the presentation feels more successful (speak more passionately & authoritatively, better audience engagement, “at one with my topic”). But of course this should make sense, since the blogging effort forces my brain to get a full 360 comprehension, and the physical act of typing out a thought stream organically cements the concepts for easier recall at the podium.

Content Creation Mechanics

My writing workflow starts with a text file containing a list of potential topics or post titles that sound compelling to me. Before an item gets on the list it may be scratched out in a small Circa notebook that I carry around. For some reason I have not gravitated toward writing notes on my smart phone. Probably because most ideas pop into my head while I am driving, and writing the idea on paper  is safer than typing at 70 MPH.

Ninety percent of my writing is in a Google Doc. It’s best for how I work. If I am on an airplane I’ll write the text in Textmate. And rarely, in a “We’re doing this live, folks” manner, I’ll write a post directly into WordPress.

Google Docs allows me to start a post and then continue to edit from any computer or my iPad. Most writing is at the shared computer in the kitchen in the early morning or on my Macbook later at night. With GDocs, I never have to worry about losing work. I have been burned a few times by composing directly into WordPress and losing the session and the text.

Read more…

The Cloud Storage Wars, Part… ? (I have lost count)

GDrive is coming… GDrive is coming… GDrive is coming!

Wait… wait… wait… we’ve heard this before, right? GDrive is eminent because tantalizing mysterious screen shots and hints of the phantom service observed in source code & robots.txt files tell us so. But when GDrive does finally arrive (no one doubts it will eventually) will it be a yawn or a yelp of applause?

I love Google Docs, so anything Google does to blur the lines between GDoc content and file-system data will be appreciated. I already have a workflow that would make any Rube Goldberg fan beam with pride. My little Frankenstein is a combination of Dropbox, Cyberduck/Amazon S3, Arc 2, all syncing cloud, Macbook and iPad. GDrive will surely create more options.

When GDrive launches, the “cloud storage” landscape will look roughly like this (pardon me for missing a vendor in my quick search):

Primarily Consumer & SMB Focused

  • Dropbox
  • Microsoft Skydrive
  • LogMeIn Cubby
  • SugarSync
  • Sharefile
  • OxygenCloud
  • Pogo Plug
  • iCloud
  • MokaFive

Primarily Enterprise Focused

  • Egnyte
  • Nasuni
  • TwinStrata
  • Accellion
  • SpiderOak
  • VMware Octopus
  • AWS Storage Gateway

Serves both Consumer and Enterprise with dedicated focus

  • GDrive (If Google Apps integration is available)
  • JungleDisk

Wow… this space is getting more crowded every Techcrunch news cycle. There are plenty of folks pontificating who ultimately “wins” this war. My guess: There will be less than a handful of major providers and less than a dozen minor players.

[Aside: Being a minor (niche) player doesn’t have to be a negative. Many a successful startup serve niche audiences.]

The majors will be Microsoft, Google, Apple and two others. Maybe Amazon, but not sure if AWS is a “major” on it’s own or because it will be supporting all the minors behind the scenes. The majors may buy a startup like Box or Dropbox. Otherwise Box and Dropbox both become large minors, distinguishing themselves with super sweet user experiences. The majors all have big eco-system-platforms that feed customers to their cloud storage aspiration appetites.

Read more…