Staff

What’s Next?

There are some habitual failures in my chosen profession caused by the intermingling of idealistic futurism and pragmatic business models and well as often hostile interaction between visionaries and those fearing change. The failure I’m speaking of is the inability to clearly and meaningfully involve our clients in the release of new products into their lives.

The hype-machine coming from professionals glamored by a new innovative product or from businesses needing to answer to their shareholders on matter of profit are forced into an arms race of noise that influences our clients to retreat rather than engage.

The first of two announcements this week comes from Microsoft. Bing is their latest answer to Google’s dominance in the web search market. They’ve put a great deal of thought and considerable technical expertise into improving users’ search experience in a way that is evolutionary without being bound by other projects (like Wolfram Alpha or more pedestrian attempts like About.com.

The real genius will be Microsoft’s ability to shape the answers to questions users ask. I don’t mean this in any sort of malicious sense. I mean that like the Yellow Pages, they can enable and facilitate economic activity via their approach to user experience. I’m all for the local coffee shop being in Bing, so when I search in an unfamiliar place, I don’t have to settle for the ubiquitous Starbucks.

Google’s announcement of their new Wave platform came later in the week. Built on open, media-rich standard HTML5 and designed to put into the hands of users a synthesis of communication currently only available in a diverse set of competing closed-development products, Google Wave is a standard for developing products and a new communications protocol for those products.

Microsoft’s offering of Bing is inwardly focused. Google’s Wave is outwardly focused. Microsoft is launching a product that is superior to their current search product, but they do so to drive more traffic past their advertisers. This is an innovation in their advertising model; not so much an innovation in web search.

Information is only meaningful in context. That’s why most people I know these days when they come across a word or concept they don’t understand google “wiki” to see if wikipedia or other smaller wiki projects have articles that could uncover the mystery.

Google Wave is about enriching context. Bing is about channeling information into a specific context. This doesn’t make Bing bad, but it illustrates why Wave is to be evaluated on a completely different scale.

No doubt Google has already considered a number of ways to monetize Wave, but they are hoping to develop a new platform for interactivity, not the redirection of it. They are seeking to innovate what we do and how we do it, expanding user experience to occupy a greater share of what our computers are capable of, but not presently enabled for our use.

The hype-machines are troublesome because they create noise. To the average non-professional computer user not only do these two announcements drown each other out, but a dozen or more non-trivial announcements from other companies chattered away in the background as well. What’s my advice to you? Even with something with the potential of Google Wave, avoid the hype. Be patient and wait for the potential to be realized into something that actually affects your lives.

I believe Google Wave will have a significant impact on distance education, virtual office hours, academic social networking, scholarly collaboration and even administration and departmental management. Perhaps not as great as email itself, but then email is part of the evolution required to develop Wave. When real products with real applications arrive in the coming months, I’ll share them.

Until then, don’t worry about the hype, even mine.

Web Apps and Google Chrome

For the readers out there that aren’t aware of it, Web Applications (Web Apps) are entering the mainstream in a major way. One can find scores of apps that do a variety of different fun – or even useful things. Take, for instance, Google’s Chrome browser. Chrome allows you to make your own web app as simply as adding a bookmark. What would one do with a Chrome App? A number of things.

One way I use my Chrome Web App is with Dictionary.com. I am a frequent visitor of Dictionary.com. When I learned what Chrome could do, it was one of the first Apps I made. What Chrome does is create a modified browser window that sits on your desktop. You get to see the web content but the traditional menu bar and navigation buttons are missing. See the image as an example.

When I need to look up a word, I just click the icon I saved to my desktop, and am instantly on the Dictionary.com page. I look up my word and simply close the app, just as I would close Microsoft Word when I am done with it. This is extremely useful to me, and Dictionary.com isn’t my only Chrome App. The load speeds are superior to a similar desktop application, and I can take it with my wherever I go, without worrying about licensing and user privileges.

I use Chrome to make a variety of apps, from Dictionary.com to HootSuite (Twitter) and Facebook. Give it a shot and see how it suits you.

Get Chrome

Workplace Culture

In what way is workplace culture all that different from any other kinds of culture? For most of us, the workplace is the most structured environment we visit regularly. Certainly there is an assumed basis for making value judgments on the use of resources.

In business this is usually thought of as ROI (Return On Investment). We can judge whether purchasing a new delivery truck will result in more efficient deliveries and a greater capacity for sales, for example. Academia has to worry about the bottom-line and often has to accomplish similar business objectives as the private sector, but frequently with less money and a more qualitative mission statement.

For a place like Pepperdine you can’t put a price on culture.

Most people who come in contact with Pepperdine, even for a short visit for a conference or special event, recognize its unique pairing of the physical beauty of the campus with the inner beauty of its community. We’re no stranger to USN&WR or other systems of appraisal that can be used to evaluate our work, but some things like culture defy measurement. But make no mistake, culture is experienced by everyone.

I used to car pool. A former co-worker of mine rode with me early in the morning along the pleasant beaches of Malibu. We have very different musical tastes. Since we arrived early it was common to continue our musical debates across our desks. We’d try to find more and more unusual material that could fit our disparate musical tastes.

One fine Friday morning I happened upon Stevie Wonder’s, Superstition in my collection and it was an instant hit with him. Neither one of us is a particular fan of Funk, but we ended up finding a number of tracks we really enjoyed. A tradition was born, Friday Five Minutes of Funk. Though my friend no longer works here, the tradition has continued, encouraged by other employees. As schedules shift from time to time or someone arrives early, they encounter this tradition and get excited about it. It’s a fun way to get your energy up for the last push of the week. I’ve mentioned it on Facebook and other places and almost universally the idea is received well.

What does this have to do with technology (apart from the fact that technically I’m playing music over the internet on my PC and sharing the multimedia experience with the office)? Technology enables not just critical business functions but culture. It’s a tool, not just for managing accounting data, writing papers and scheduling classrooms, but for communities to relate to themselves. Phones may have been overshadowed by email, but both are specialized tools. There are other tools as well. I hope to post regularly about those other tools and how they can be used, for business processes (yes) and for pedagogy (certainly) but also for culture.

Pepperdine isn’t the only special place so I hope others can learn from what we do here to make their place special. But most of all I hope to share with and learn from other folks at Pepperdine about what makes this place great. It’s people.

I’d like to share a bit of our cultural value with you. Here’s your Friday Five Minutes of Funk.