Articles about computer software, hardware, and the internet.

Adventures in Seattle Tech Meetups: Part I

I've been in Seattle for about a year now... because of my travel schedule, I haven't had a chance to do much networking with the local tech community. Until last night, that is!

I asked some of the guys from Minne* back in Minneapolis if there was anything like their group out here in Seattle. Graeme pointed me to a few twitter feeds and stuff to get started.

I decided to follow Seattle 2.0 on Twitter, which pointed me to the Hops-and-Chops happy hour. Thursdays at 7pm at the Auto Battery, a bar that Yelp tagged as "LOUD". Hrm... I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I arrived: how will I know it's them??? Luckily there was one big table with skinny 20-somethings, and I overheard the words "Ruby" and "Rails", so I introduced myself.

One of the guys -- Leo -- told me about his experience the first time he came there. His technique was to wear a painfully geeky t-shirt and walk around until somebody invited him to have a drink. Nifty trick...

The Hops-and-Chops crew appeared to be 70/30 blend of geeks to entrepreneurs. Two guys there said this was typical, and also pointed me to Seattle Lean Coffee... but they warned that there weren't going to be very many developers at that one: more entrepreneurs and "connectors". Not surprising... I'd wager these factors kept the techies away:

  • morning meeting
  • mandatory pants
  • no beer

The Hops-and-Chops guys are also having a BBQ on Monday as well, and with luck it wont be rained out! Hopefully I'll eventually stumble upon something more like Minne* around here. My first reaction to the Seattle scene is that there appear to be tons of miscellaneous meetups and not much central co-ordination. A few dozen folks here and there, and maybe a big event with a few hundred... Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, the last MinneBar un-conference sold out 1200 tickets!

The Seattle Bar Camp was held a few weeks back. I was bummed to miss it... But, since I was in Budapest at the time, I had a good excuse!

If anybody has any other recommendations, please leave it in the comments... then hopefully there will be a Part II in this series!

CORRECTION: looking around I now think they were pointing me to Open Coffee and not Lean Coffee... I'll check out both of 'em just to be safe.

Has Oracle MIX "Suggest-A-Session" Jumped the Shark???

Jump The Shark: (verb) a term to describe a moment when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity.

Oracle MIX is a social software app to connect people in the Oracle universe. It was launched back in 2007 by The Apps Lab so people could network and stay connected during (and after) Open World. It was at the time the largest JRuby on Rails site out there. It's a decent site, and you Oracle monkeys should check it out...

I believe in 2008, they decided to try something new: allow the community to "suggest a session" for Open World. They had ten slots at Open World, and everybody was encouraged to submit a session for consideration, and vote on what they liked. The ten sessions with the most votes would get to present at Open World.

This was also a great idea... It was the ideal place for sessions outside the mainstream to get a voice at Open World... technology that might be too "bleeding edge" for a general audience, but is the bread-and-butter of geeks who only hit one conference per year. Social software, mashups, open source, installing Oracle on a Roomba... you get the idea. If you want to do a mainstream talk about a mainstream product, then submit it through the normal channels to the Open World committee... If your session isn't picked, then it probably wasn't good enough.

This model worked fine in 2008, 2009, and 2010... but I think something went really REALLY haywire this year...

MIX, being an open community, allowed people to take the voting data and mash it up in interesting ways... Greg Rahn over at Structured Data did exactly this, and presented his data analysis of the votes. Just looking at the data I saw a lot of anomalies, but to me the smoking gun is this:

  • Number of users who voted for exactly one author: 828
  • Number of users who voted for ALL sessions by EXACTLY one author: 826

Well, that ain't right... once you dig further, you see what probably happened: the Oracle MIX community has been invaded by a spammer...

Specifically... somebody out there has a mailing list with a few hundred people, and contacted them all asking for votes. Probably repeatedly. I don't know about others in the MIX community, but I personally got three such emails begging for votes... One of them was so shady it probably violated Oracle's Single-Sign-On policy. The line between self-promotion and SPAM is fuzzy... but it was clearly crossed by a lot of people this year.

I know what you're thinking... must be sour grapes, eh? But no, I did not submit a MIX session. Oracle was kind enough to approve both of my Open World presentations this year, so I thought the gracious thing to do would be to leave the MIX sessions for the community... so I'm very disappointed in the behavior of these people.

The rules as-is are broken... based on Greg's data, 200 people at Microsoft could all vote for sessions like "Reason #6734 Why Microsoft Rocks and Oracle People are Big Fat Stupid Heads"... and they'd win every slot.

All communities have this problem... once they become popular, they become valuable. Once they become valuable, some people try to extract more value than their fare share. Many large sites implement some form of moderation or karma points to keep cheating to a minimum... I think it's about time MIX did the same. I have a few ideas for "guidelines":

  1. promotion via tweets and blogs is allowed and encouraged
  2. mass communication via emails or social networks will be considered "social spam," and grounds for disqualification
  3. "down-voting" like Digg should be enabled to further prevent spammers from carpet-bombing their way to the top
  4. sessions should be outside of mainstream Oracle talks: sessions similar to ones given at Open World are discouraged
  5. a maximum of two talks can be submitted on behalf of an individual, organization, or community group
  6. a maximum of one talk can be selected on behalf of an individual, organization, or community group

Of course, this isn't perfect... the top 10 slots could still go to people with 1000 employees, and therefore 1000 reliable votes! Probably the ideal situation is to randomly select some Oracle ACEs to be the judges every year, based on community input. Not ideal, but really hard to rig...

So... how many of you feel like you were "spammed" this year?

UPDATE: Oracle is soliciting opinions for what worked and what didn't this year. If you have an opinion about what should be fixed, please leave a comment on their blog or contact Tim Bonnemann directly.

Presentations From Collaborate 2011

In case you weren't able to make it to IOUG Collaborate last month, you can feel free to peruse my presentations in the privacy of your own home ;-)

My first one was on UCM implementation patterns... or in general, what customizations/integrations are common for UCM, and how do we do them? That was pretty well attended:

I also presented on the Top 10 Security Vulnerabilities in web applications. This is my own take on the popular OWASP Top Ten presentations on the same subject. Many thanks to the OWASP people for compiling the top ten, and getting the word out about security:

In addition to these two, I gave presentations on managing a multi-language web site, and a fourth one on the next generation of Oracle Collaboration Tools, also known as Oracle Fusion UX Applications. Oracle was kind enough to give me a sneak peek at Fusion UX, and I was quite impressed, and volunteered to help spread the word.

Enjoy!

Countdown to IOUG Collaborate 2011

It's less than one week away!

I'm giving 4 presentations at Collaborate 2011 this year, but by some cruel, cruel, cruel twist of fate, all four of my presentations are on Wednesday... Seriously, like back-to-back starting at 8am. Yeesh! I apologize in advance if I bump into you on Wednesday and then run away... I won't have much time to chat with this schedule:

  • 8:00am: Implementation Patterns for Oracle Universal Content Management
  • 9:15am: Fusion Applications User Experience: Transforming Work into Insight
  • 10:30am: Top 10 Security Vulnerabilities in Web Applications
  • 1:00pm: Creating and Maintaining an International Web Site

Talk about variety! I'll start you off with some general UCM information, then show off the next generation of hyper-connected Oracle collaboration tools, followed with a reality check about how evil hackers read your email, and wind down the day with practical tips about managing a ginormous global web site.

If you'd like to meet up and talk tech, come on over to the Bezzotech booth! We're at booth 850, which is just in front of the big Oracle demo pods... we'll have videos of the software we'll be launching soon ;-)

If you want to meet up, follow me (@bex) on Twitter. I'll be sharing my location frequently...

How-To Component Samples for Oracle UCM 11g

Finally!

For those of you who don't know, the HowToComponents are a collection of "basic-advanced" customizations to Oracle UCM/ECM. They are very small samples that show off how to plug-in custom Java code. Everything from custom IdocScript, custom security checks, custom services, and Java filters. I originally made them about 10 years ago (while working at Stellent) to help people kick-start projects that needed to build upon them to make more advanced customizations.

A lot of things changed over the years... luckily, the HowToComponents still (mostly) work! I was mainly surprised that a 10-year old Yahoo web service still reliably delivers stock quotes... Mostly we just recompiled and repackaged them, with a few changes...

First, a new security feature in 11g requires a token to be present in every we request. So, we needed to add this code on pretty much all of the web forms:

<input type="hidden" name="idcToken" value="<$idcToken$>"/>

Also, the code for adding new items to the menus changed quite a bit... look at the resources CoreMenuItems and CoreMenuItemRelationships in each component for some sample code.

Also, the DynamicPrefix component no longer uses the validateStandard filter event to change the Content ID upon check-in... that's because in 11g you have to use the new event preComputeDocName. You can still use validateStandard for most metadata alteration/validation... but the dDocName is special and needs to be treated differently.

FYI, to compile these components for 11g, be sure to use the correct To compile, the libraries are here:

<Fusion-Middleware-Home>/Oracle_ECM1/ucm/idc/jlib/idcserver.jar

These components are only "semi-official." The folks I know at Oracle didn't have time to polish these up for 11g, so we at Bezzotech decided to step up and do it ourselves. The code is licensed as Apache 2.0 code... which in short means: do whatever you want, except blame us for what you did!

You may download the HowToComponents from the Bezzotech Library page. You can download previous versions (7.5/10gr3) of the HowToComponents from the Oracle UCM Samples page.

Enjoy!

Jeopardy, Watson, and Why Artificial Intelligence is Still Pointless

I'm generally considered a "cynic" when it comes to the value of Artificial Intelligence in general (and the Semantic Web nonsense in particular). This tends to get me into heated disagreements with people who have careers in the field... or those who cling to Jetsons-type fantasies of having Rosie the Robot doing their dishes.

I frequently respond, "you already have a robot that washes dishes. It's named Maytag."

The most recent breakthrough in the field is the highly impressive computer named "Watson," which after several years, and millions of dollars of R&D, was able to beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy... or to be more accurate, the computer was faster than a human at clicking the buzzer when it came to answering questions that were from previous episodes of Jeopardy.

Interesting? Of course! Practical in any measurable way? No...

Let me be clear: the human language "fact mining" technology in Watson is impressive. And many have discussed the possibility that it could be used by doctors or lawyers or hedge-fund managers who need to react quickly to find the "right" answer. Well, I got a couple of monkey wrenches for ya:

  1. There is rarely "one right answer" in medicine for why you have a tummy-ache.
  2. Other than patient history, there is no study that says greater access to information would yield to better patient health... and a great number that have found the exact opposite. Like the explosion of unnecessary surgery since the invention of MRIs.
  3. If a lawyer or hedge fund manager ever used Watson to uncover "the truth," it wouldn't take long for somebody else to make software to game the system, making it practically worthless without massive human intervention (not unlike Google's losing battle against SEO Spammers)

I could go on and on... or I could just point out that after IBM's Deep Blue 2 defeated Kasparov at chess, IBM shut down the program, denying Kasparov the rematch he wanted. Why? Well, Deep Blue 2 was incredibly expensive to build and maintain... and other than good PR for IBM's hardware, the machine had practically no value.

Why does it have no value? Because with a laptop and $50 worth of software, just about any experienced chess player could beat Deep Blue, or it's rival Hydra. These machines just did brute-force analysis, and didn't have a "hint" about what strategy would be optimal. Somebody who knew what he was doing -- aided with a very small shell script -- could beat any supercomputer on the planet. Which is kind of the point I've been trying to make all along:

Artificial Intelligence isn't impossible, its just impractical. Deeply, deeply, deeply impractical...

The point is not that human minds are better than robots. It's just that until my Roomba has some petty cash to spend -- and a desire for something other than electricity -- the economy will be driven by human needs. Whereas it would be cool to have a general-purpose supercomputer that looks like a human and does your dishes, or beats the pants off of you at Jeopardy, it's always going to be more cost-effective to create single-purpose machines that increase human ability to meet human needs...

So... what kinds of tools would these be? Let's talk medicine: what kinds of software would actually improve human health? It seems pretty obvious: keep patient history in a secure, portable repository... and have your doctors read it!! Or perhaps a big database of drugs, and how they interact with other drugs, to ensure no side-effects? Or, perhaps a database of standard medical processes and procedures that have scientifically proven their efficacy? Or maybe slap an RFID chip in the leg to be amputated to avoid hospital error? Any of those would cost a heck of a lot less money than the Watson project and yield immediate benefits...

Watson is -- quite frankly -- a solution in search of a problem...

Putting Enterprise 2.0 To Work

There's always been a lot of buzz around the concept of Enterprise 2.0... We know all about the features, but what are the benefits? What are people actually doing with it, and how successful are these projects? Should you be concerned about the potential risks?

Andy MacMillan -- Oracle VP and collaborator on my second book -- will be presenting a free webinar about Putting Enterprise 2.0 to work, along with Doug Miles of AIIM:

When: Jan 26, 2011 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EST
Where: Online!

They'll be presenting AIIM's latest market research on the subject... I'm hoping to see some hard numbers about who is doing what, what works, and why...

Don't forget to register for the conference!

5 ECM New Year's Resolutions

Happy new year! Most people use the first post of the year to go over their own blog statistics of popular posts... but since my blog's fiscal year ends in April, I decided to do new years resolutions instead. Below are 5 ECM maintenance tasks that I'd recommend:

1) Test your backup plan!

Yes, I'm certain you have one -- whether it's written in stone or just in the minds of your administrators -- but the only way to be sure you have a backup plan is to simulate an outage, and see how long it takes you to get up and running.

2) Eliminate some metadata fields

You know you have them... custom fields that seemed to make sense at the time, but now are not used at all. Go through your custom fields, see which ones are commonly used, and which ones are not. Odds are good that you can eliminate the unused ones... although be sure to make a backup before you delete information!

3) Normalize your metadata model

This is similar to #2 above... How many metadata fields are either blank, or only have the default data? Do you really need them? Do you still have items tagged as being authored by people who are no longer employees? Isn't it about time to simplify and clarify the values in your option list, and re-tag all items with the new values?

4) Audit the security access of your users

Who has what access to which pieces of content? If you are like most people, a lot of your users -- especially power users and test users -- have more access than they really need. Be sure to go through your LDAP repository, and make sure people don't have more access than needed.

5) Create a report of popular content

One good way to improve user adoption is by creating reports on "what's hot." Another option is to run reports to see what people have the most popular content, and then share with your team. There's nothing like a little competition to encourage people to contribute higher quality content ;-)

What additional resolutions would you recommend? Find the comments...

Web Conference: One-Click Web Content Management

Quick announcement...

This Thursday -- November 11th -- Oracle is having a web conference on One-Click Web Content Management. This is the principle behind the new Universal Content Management 11g release for Site Studio. If you're curious about what's new in UCM 11g for your existing applications, you should register for the event.

This is the technology behind what was once called Open WCM, and is now called Site Studio for eXternal Applications (SSXA). These are a collection of web services that allow you to embed new or existing Site Studio content into new or existing applications with JSP taglibraries. The primary benefit here is that if you want the ability to change the text on a web application -- without having to redeploy your WARs, JARs, or EARs -- just plop down a couple of tags, and you're good to go! This is one of my favorite new features in UCM 11g...

The web conference is at 11am PST / 2pm EST... join if you can!

Oracle Owns Java, And The Masses Are Restless

This year was the first time that Java One and Oracle Open World occurred at the same time... which meant I got to meet a lot of folks who reeeeeeeeeaaaallllly looooooooooooooove jaaaaaaaaavaaaaaaa. Naturally, they are a bit skittish about Oracle now being Java's primary caretaker. A lot of their attitude comes from fear, uncertainty, and doubt... so I'd like to give my thoughts.

Firstly... I'd like to make it clear that people seem to be holding Oracle to a higher standard than other companies... Let's compare Java to 2 other relatively popular languages:

  • .NET: The backbone of new Microsoft applications. Changes to the language are fully controlled by one company, but with an open source implementation (Mono) --
  • Objective C: The backbone of all Apple products (OS X, iPod, iPhone, iPad). Changes to the language are fully controlled by one company, but with an open source implementation (Cocotron)
  • Java: The backbone of most enterprise software. Changes to the language are fully controlled by one company, but with several open source implementations (Apache Harmony and Open JDK being two)

Why are people only freaking out about the last one on that list?

The new Open JDK initiative is a good start... this was announced at Java One 2010, but it appears that Oracle has been working on it for quite some time. It's also very telling that IBM Joined the Open JDK initiative.

Some are afraid that Oracle will drop the Java Community Process (JCP) and go their own way. Well... perhaps. Will Java grow better and faster without the JCP? Based on how long Sun took to get Java 1.6 out the door, I'd wager that Oracle is probably going to streamline the process... the roadmap for Java 1.7 and 1.8 is pretty aggressive, and Oracle seems dedicated to speeding up the development cycle. That of course means that not everything you want will be in Java 1.7... but on the plus side, you'll get it faster!

Also... I want to make this clear: Oracle is far too invested in Java to think they can ignore building a consensus.

Think about it... Java is popular because it is a nice blend openness and enterprise sponsorship. According to some estimates, Oracle software revenue is 2/3 reliant on Java. What would happen if they tried to skip the consensus-building aspect of the Java community? Folks like IBM, HP, SAP, Intel, AMD, and Google might start looking elsewhere for their platform of choice... If this were to happen, Java would become less popular... They might fork Java, or just do something completely different. That path would ultimately hurt Oracle, and they are smart enough to know it.

Does Oracle's ownership of Java give it an advantage? Of course! Oracle will be putting cool new features into Java that Oracle customers want, and Oracle Java products that use these new features will have a head start... not to mention access to the original engineers. This feedback loop does benefit Oracle's Java applications, but it also ensures better Java.

But we need to keep this in perspective... Oracle is just one of several organizations that pay developers to improve Java, and an organization's true influence on open source projects is directly proportional to the number of great developers they dedicate to it... If Google or IBM decided that they absolutely needed new features in Java 1.7, there's a very simple solution: hire developers that can make it happen. If your company is paying for the code, it's a heck of a lot easier to get the community to agree with your ideas...

In all, I think Oracle's dedication to rapid releases of Java is a good thing... They have said they want to update the JCP, but have also said that they will continue to build consensus. Also, it would be bad for Java, and bad for Oracle for them to not build consensus... and everybody knows it.

Site Studio 10gr4 Samples

Since the Oracle 11g launch, they've been shuffling around where their samples are. And if you Google for them, you'll find nothing but broken links. Luckily, if you search for "10gr4" on Oracle's site, you will eventually find your way down to the official Oracle Site Studio Samples page.

There's a few viewlets, some documentation, and some sample web sites that demonstrate the 10gr4/11g way of designing web sites. It's a much better process than the old 7.5/10gr3 way of designing sites, but it will take some time to wrap your head around it.

Probably some time soon they'll have some info on one-click WCM with existing web applications... but that might take a few more weeks ;-)

Creating and Maintaining an Internationalized Web Site

It's alive! I put together this presentation to help folks who might have questions about how to create and maintain a website in multiple languages, and multiple countries. Big surprise: it depends!!! This presentation gives you some warnings, and a lot of questions you need to ask in order to get started.

I talked through a bunch of problems and risks, and how to mitigate them... I also covered a few ways to help cut the costs of translation, including the crowd-sourcing approach with Lingotek's software. I came across those guys a few months back, and thought that it was a pretty good idea: engage your employees, partners, and the rest of your community to help you select what items to translate, and actually do the translation. We recently made an integration with the UCM system: send Bezzotech an email if you want to learn more...

Open World: 3 Weeks Away!

As mentioned by Jake, Oracle Open World is nearly upon us! As usual, the hordes will descend upon Moscone Center in San Francisco September 19-23. I'll be there on the 16th to get a pre-briefing with Oracle along with the other Oracle ACEs. I'll only be giving one talk this year, but I hope you'll be able to make it!

Creating and Maintaining Internationalized Web Sites (S315784)
Time: Sunday, Sept 19, 3pm
Location: Moscone West L2 room 2007

There aren't many published best practices on doing this kind of thing with Site Studio... and it's kind of a tricky problem. Every company has a different need for localized web sites, and they almost alway have different needs when it comes to keeping them up to date (not to mention budgeting for translation!) There are several add-on tools that can help you keep your site updated, and I plan on going through a few.

UPDATE: my presentation is now online for your consideration... be sure to "like" it on slideshare.

Social Media: How to Make it NOT Useless

Many companies have been adopting Social Media and Enterprise 2.0... some of them because it sounds cool, some because they have money to burn, and others because they actually have a strategy. But eventually, the big boss will come around and ask, "What are we really getting out of all this time and energy? Let's calculate the ROI!"

At this point, you might want to brace yourself for disappointment...

I'm not saying this because most Social Media strategies I've seen are useless... just that they would be hard to justify if you break it down into black an white ROI. According to a recent report by Forrester research, the ROI calculations are fine, but they provide an incomplete picture.

For example, some online retailers found that if a product has online comments, that reduces the return-rate. Whether the comments are good or bad, it doesn't matter. People buy more of the good ones, and avoid the bad ones, which overall improves margins.

However, there are other things that are more difficult to quantify... like has you brand improved among your audien

  • Has having a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn helped us recruit better candidates more quickly?
  • Has having a presence on Twitter enabled us to enhance our brand, and improve Google rank?
  • Has having a Blog enabled us to genuinely connect with our audience, helping us whether the publicity is good or bad?
  • Has our social media presence enhanced brand awareness and/or loyalty?

If you only use metrics that measure hard current ROI, then you might be neglecting the value of reducing future negative ROI.

(hat tip Mike Melanson)

Oracle 11g Webcast

It's time again for the Oracle UCM Community Webcast... and this one will of course focus on what's new in 11g. I strongly encourage you all to attend this one, since you'll be able to get answers for all your burning questions about 11g that you have been afraid to ask... as well as the ones Oracle wasn't allowed to answer until after the release!

You'll need to register for the event in order to attend. Be sure to log in with your company's email address so Oracle knows who you are!

Americas / EMEA Web Cast

  • Date: June 30, 2010
  • Time: 9:00am US PDT / 12:00pm US EDT / 16:00 GMT
  • Length: 1 hour

Asia / Pacific Repeat Web Cast

  • Date: July 1, 2010
  • Time: 12:00pm Sydney AEST, 10:00am Singapore
  • Length: 1 hour

So... what questions do you plan on asking?

Apache mod_rewrite for Oracle UCM Users

Kyle had a useful tip a while back about a little-known feature in Oracle UCM: the WebUrlMapPlugin which allows friendly URLs for Site Studio pages. It's extensible, which means you can add your own friendly URLs to the map if you wish.

For example, you could make the URL http://example.com/file/foo automatically redirect to the GET_FILE service to download the item with the content ID of "foo." You set this by going to the page "Administration > Filter Administration > Edit Web Map Urls," then assigning the prefix /file to a map like this:

<!--$cgipath-->?IdcService=GET_FILE&dDocName=<!--$suffix-->&allowInterrupt=1&
        RevisionSelectionMethod=LatestReleased&Rendition=web&noSaveAs=1

Looks a bit hairy... but those are all the parameters you need to run the service. You can see why some URL aliases come in handy! Kyle has some more suggestions on his blog post.

This is fine and good for internal UCM products... but it can be somewhat limited. This map looks like it supports IdocScript, but you actually only have very limited token replacement functionality...

If you are using Apache, a better option would be to use mod_rewrite. This is an extremely powerful add-on module to Apache that allows you to "rewrite" URLs to make friendly aliases. It's one of the few Apache modules so popular that it has it's own book!

There are some good cheat sheets and beginners guides available for mod_rewrite... but lets' just dive in for a quick tour.

To get started, first we need to enable the module. This is almost always installed with Apache, so installation should be simple. Append the following code at the bottom of your httpd.conf Apache configuration file:

# load the rewrite module, if its not already loaded
<IfModule !rewrite_module>
       LoadModule rewrite_module /usr/lib64/httpd/modules/mod_rewrite.so
</IfModule>
# turn on rewrite debugging so we can figure out when redirects don't work
RewriteLog "/apache/logs/rewrite.log"
RewriteLogLevel 3
# turn it on
RewriteEngine On

Now, mod_rewrite should be running... the next step is to create a RewriteRule to match the pattern. The mod_rewrite module uses Regular Expressions to match patterns in the incoming URLs. If a pattern matches, then the rule applies. The first part of the rule is the pattern to match, the second part of the rule is where to redirect the URL to. A very simple example would be this:

RewriteRule /file/foo /bar

This rule would redirect all URLs that look like http://example.com/file/foo to http://example.com/bar. Once we add regular expressions, however, things get more interesting... instead of just matching the word "foo", let's say we wanted to redirect ALL of the pages to http://example.com/bar. The rule below would accomplish that:

RewriteRule /file/.* /bar

The "." character says "any character," and the "*" character says "zero or more of the previous character." So, this rule will match everything under http://example.com/file/, and redirect it to http://example.com/bar. Of course, this isn't terribly useful... so lets see if we can make the same file download URL as above.

First, let's add some security... the global wildcard is usually discouraged, because it does actually grab everything, and unless you really know what you're doing it can be a security hole. A better option is to use a token for just characters valid for a content ID... Which means lowercase "a" through "z", uppercase "A" through "Z", the numbers "0" through "9", and the underscore and dash characters... so we do this:

RewriteRule ^/file/([a-zA-Z0-9_-]*)$ /bar/$1

Hopefully this doesn't look too alien... Firstly, the ^ character represents the beginning, and the $ character represents the end of the URL. We then put the allowed characters in brackets "[a-zA-Z0-9_-]" and the "*" says "zero or more of the characters in that range." We put this whole thing in parenthesis to turn it into an "atom".

Once we match the pattern, we can re-use the "atom" in the subsequent redirect URL. The "$1" token represents the first atom found in the pattern... so our URL above will redirect http://example.com/file/foo to http://example.com/bar/foo. For complex redirects, you can use multiple atoms in the same rewrite rule, which can be extremely handy for organizing quick links to content.

Finally, we need to change "/bar/$1" to something that will actually download the file... so we will redirect to a content server service instead, like so:

RewriteRule ^/file/([a-zA-Z0-9_-]*)$ 
        http://%{HTTP_HOST}/idc/idcplg?IdcService=GET_FILE&RevisionSelectionMethod=Latest&dDocName=$1

Ta da! Now the url http://example.com/file/foo will redirect to http://example.com/idc/idcplg?IdcService=GET_FILE&RevisionSelectionMethod=Latest&dDocName=foo.

To support URLs of the type http://example.com/file/foo.txt, you'd modify it to look like this:

RewriteRule ^/file/([a-zA-Z0-9_-]*)\.([a-zA-Z]*)$
        http://%{HTTP_HOST}/idc/idcplg?IdcService=GET_FILE&RevisionSelectionMethod=Latest&dDocName=$1

This rewrite rule has two atoms, but we only need the first atom, so we just ignore the second. However, we could get clever and use a different rewrite rule depending on the file extension... or we can just ignore the extension since the content ID is all that matters.

What Almost Everybody Gets Wrong About Collaboration

I've used dozens of collaboration systems... none of which really stood out to me. It wasn't that they were difficult to use, it's that none of them actually solved the human problems that limit our ability -- and our desire -- to actually collaborate.

It wasn't until recently that I came across a talk from Clay Shirky, which explained pretty well what was missing... Clay spoke about human nature and software and asked a very important question: why do some kinds of sharing work well, while other fail?

Well... one reason is that according to anthropologists, there really is no one thing called "sharing." We humans -- like all primates -- have three distinct ways that we share... and our brains are wired to do different things based on what kinds of sharing we are doing.

For example... I want you to imagine that a little old lady is walking up to you on the street. She makes direct eye contact, and gestures that she has a question for you. I want you to take a deep breath and genuinely imagine that she asks you one of the following three things... and take note of your emotions:

  1. she asks you for money,
  2. she asks you to help her cross the street,
  3. she asks you for directions to the bus stop

If you are like most primates, your initial gut reaction to #1 is something like "NO! MINE!" Your gut reaction to #2 is "eh... OK..." And your gut reaction to #3 is "Absolutely! I'd be happy to!"

Why??? All three are sharing, aren't they? Not quite... millions of years of evolution have wired us to react differently to different kinds of sharing. The examples above each demonstrate one kind of sharing:

  1. Sharing Goods: the gut reaction it to feel bad when you give somebody else your goods... because then you can't use them anymore, and you might not be able to replenish them. Even generous people have this initial reaction.
  2. Sharing Services: people are more generous with favors, because they don't lose anything physical... merely their time. However, before sharing your time, everybody does a little mental math. Do I have the time? Is this worth my time, or should I delegate to somebody else? Shouldn't I be compensated for my time?
  3. Sharing Information: people are most generous when it comes to sharing information... it takes little measurable time, it costs nothing, and sharing information makes us feel good. We feel good, because we feel like we've helped out one like us, and made the world a better, more knowledgeable place.

Clay used the example of Napster to illustrate his point... it took a goods sharing problem (can I have your CD?) and a service sharing problem (can you make me a mix tape?) and turned it into an information sharing problem (can I download all your already ripped albums?). People were sharing their albums online because it made them feel good.

Like monkeys with iPods...

The problem with most collaboration software is that collaboration software relies too much on "service sharing" to get people to take action. I post some information on a place for "sharing" and to make it better through input from others... but in order for that to happen, first you need to read it and understand it. That's sometimes not a big deal, but in many cases it's a significant time investment.

To make matters worse, some of these systems even make it difficult for you to do the mental math for you to determine whether reading my document is worth your time... Is this for an important project? How important? Do you need my expertise for all of this, or just a few pages? Should I be charging your department for my time? Not only is this still a "service sharing" problem, but a pretty tough one at that...

Ideally, a good collaboration system would obey the 2 minute rule. Getting information is still something of a service... but if it's a service that can be performed in under 2 minutes, it will probably "feel" more like an information problem... which makes it more likely to be done. If it takes more than 2 minutes, then it feels like a service problem, and then we're back to the mental math problem...

Getting down to the 2 minute rule is tricky... you could opt for a system like Aardvark, which tries to match simple questions with the right person to answer it... Alternatively, you could force people to jump through a few hoops first before asking a question; essentially making it easy for people to answer your question. If people can estimate the difficulty of the task and the value provided by the solution, then it's easier for them to do the mental math for the tougher problems.

Neither of these are new concepts... in fact bug tracking systems for successful open source projects use a blend of both. They'd have to, or their entire model would collapse! Although I have yet to see any enterprise level collaboration system truly adopt these concepts... probably because the enterprise is something of a captive audience. If you're lucky youll have a system that focuses on ease-of-use and good training... but adapting to human behavior isn't always high on the list. Would people still use your collaboration system if you didn't pay them? Probably not... which usually means a problem...

Hopefully the big push to "Enterprise 2.0" solutions will get more software companies thinking about making software that's a natural extension of human behavior... Maybe in a few years we'll have Aardvark for the enterprise... but I'll take my standard curmudgeony "wait and see" attitude ;-)

The World's Oldest Computer

Sometimes people ask me, "what does your company's logo mean?" When I founded Bezzotech 4 years back, I wanted a symbol that says "high-tech and new", but also something that says "old school rocks!"

After a bit of thinking, I realized the answer was simple. There was only one appropriate symbol, the computer invented by the ancient Greeks: the astrolabe.

An astrolabe is essentially an analog calculator. You would set it according to your latitude, and point the rule at a well known object in the sky: the sun, the moon, the north start, etc. Depending on what you picked, you could calculate the time of day, the time of year, or your location. It could be used for things as simple as calculating when to plant your crops, or as complex as a geographic survey of an entire city. Advanced ones had charts on the back to help with math calculations, and conversions.

It was originally invented in Greece in approximately 150 BC, and spread quickly through Europe and the Middle East... They aren't very common today, but 2000 years ago they had approximately the "cool factor" of the iPhone. One Persian astronomer wrote a book on the 1000 different uses of an Astrolabe. Technically, the astrolabe has more apps than the Google phone...

You can make a simple astrolabe using paper or wood... but of course the most beautiful ones are made from brass. In the old days, an educated person would not only know how to use an astrolabe, but they could build one as well. This presentation from the TED conference covers how it was used, and how amazingly resourceful our predecessors were with them:

So what do you think? Does my logo look like an astrolabe, or is it just a cool gear thingie?

Blog Year In Review

As usual, I'm celebrating the end of my blog's fiscal year on April 29, 2010... because that's the day of my first blog post. Also, I didn't want my "end of year" post to be drowned out by everybody else's end of year posts...

Anyway, at the end of my blog's year, I do some analysis on what posts were the most popular. I use Google Analytics on my blog to collect this info, ever since I found other engines to not be what I needed... see my post on how many hits does your site really get for more info.

Overall, the blog is still doing well... I got 182,364 page views, which is about 15% more traffic this year than last year... below are the top posts of 2009, according to Google:

So.. although this may seem a bit early -- or a bit late -- happy new year! And hopefully you're following you new years resolutions.

Bezzotech and IRA Merge Into One!

This shouldn't come as a surprise to my clients, but it might to a lot of my readers...

About 6 months ago, Jason Clarkin (from Impement R Advantage) and I had discussed joining forces. We talked a lot about the kind of firm we could build together, and what kind of new software we could create. We started working very closely together to make sure our business styles were similar, and that our skills complimented each other's well...

Once comfortable with that, we decided to pull the trigger an make it official. We are now one company!

We decided to make the big splash at IOUG Collaborate... together, our company is giving three UCM related talks this year:

  • Sesion 418: The Top 10 Things Oracle UCM Customers Need To Know About WebLogic. Tuesday, April 20 3:15 p.m.
  • Session 422: UCM as the Repository, Presentation Layer of Your Choice: The Future of WCM. Wednesday, April 21 8:00 a.m.
  • Session 107: Impact of Oracle UCM on Organizations. Thursday, April 22, 11:00 a.m.

Also, be sure to swing by our booth: #1743. We're right by the big Oracle booth near a few other UCM vendors. See you there!

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