Articles about computer software, hardware, and the internet.

Twitter is Sooooooo 18th Century...

Just in case you think that Twitter is cutting edge, the good people at the Wall Street Journal are here to set you straight... On their blog they interviewed Cornell professor Lee Humphreys, who did an analysis of the striking similarities between Twitter and 18th century diaries.

Personal journals were not always about writing long prose about everything you did that day... most of them contained very short one-sentence updates:

"Before the end of the 19th century, diaries weren’t considered private or introspective. Instead, people wrote semi-public diaries that were often shared among faraway family members and others. And space was at a premium; by the mid-1800s, popular “pocket diaries” were only about 2 inches by 4 inches and were intended to be more mobile than earlier books."

Take for example somebody I just started following recently: John Quincy Adams. Yep... son of John Adams and the sixth president of the USA, John Quincy is up on Twitter. The Massachusetts Historical Society is taking his personal diary verbatim and placing it up on Twitter... 200 years to the day AFTER he originally wrote them, and most of them fit into the 140-character limit just fine! Call me nerdy, but that's pretty cool.

One of my favorite lines from the article is this:

Dr. Humphreys said the research serves as a good reminder that not everything in new media is entirely new. "It’s helpful to put things into historical context," Dr. Humphreys said. "It’s amazing how much human nature hasn’t really changed all that much."

Too true... when Twitter first came out I thought it was a silly concept... why would I Tweet when I could Blog? The point it, despite the number of blogs out there, not many people enjoy writing... but everybody like keeping up-to-date with friends.

But of course, that's what Facebook is for ;-)

Should Product Managers Know How To Code? Steve Jobs Couldn't...

Last week I was in a spirited debate with @jkuramot over at The Oracle AppsLab about whether or not Product Managers need to know how to code.

Jake says yes, I say no... Primarily because we disagree about what a product manager actually does...

First, I think I should answer the question, what the heck does a Product Manager do all day long??? Most of the time when my wife tells people she's a "proDUCT manager" they think she's a "proJECT manager"... which isn't even close. I've met quite a number of Product Managers, in different industries, and I can safely say that most of them do significantly different tasks... And many of them disagree on what their main focus should be.

Why such contention? The best explanation I ever heard was this: a product manager is more or less the CEO of a product line. Which means that pretty much anything that will help your product, you should do... which means a million different things in a million different situations. In order to be successful, you need to know a little bit of everything -- what features to add, what new markets to attack, what sales people need to sell -- in order to be an effective Product Manager.

Rich Manalang did not like that definition, saying it was too broad... he preferred the idea that a Product Manager is responsible for just the "life cycle" of the product. In other words, vision, design, creation, testing, support, and end-of-life decisions. In my opinion, this definition is far too narrow... it's far too "developer centric" in that you focus mainly on new features, training, and support... but neglect such very important things like what effect does the existence of this new product have on the rest of the company? An individual Product Manager might not know this... but hopefully somebody on the Product Management team does! If not, then nobody is building the path between a successful product launch, and a successful company.

If the Product Manager isn't responsible for that critical task, then who the heck is???

Back to the original question... do technology product managers need to know how to code? I say, emphatically no... It's a useful skill to have, don't get me wrong... but I disagree that it's a requirement for everybody on your product management team.

Let's be clear -- programming skills are primarily useful to a Product Manager as a communication technique. A prototype speaks volumes about what features people want... but that's about the limits of it's usefulness to a Product Manager. And, of course, if you are a good communicator, you can certainly do without it.

"the three great virtues of a programmer: laziness, impatience, and hubris" -- Larry Wall, inventor of Perl

Now... what if you are a Product Manager in charge of lazy, lazy developers? This happens. Maybe you want a feature, but the developers don't want to add it. So the developers give you the run-around so they can go back to playing Halo. Well, in those cases it helps to know how to program, so you can call out your developers for being lazy virtuous... but this only works if you know a great deal of the existing code base as well! Just because it works in a prototype, that doesn't mean it will work when integrated into the product.

"When it comes to understanding code, if you wrote it 6 months ago, it might as well have been written by somebody else" -- Ancient Geek Proverb

Knowing the code base is a pretty hefty requirement... even seasoned developers don't know everything about their product... so it would be nigh impossible for a Product Manager to do so. It's more important that their minions think they know the whole code base, to try to keep the lazy virtuous developers honest. The best technical Product Managers know ho to "dive deep" into the product, and know well a handful of obscure but important details about the system... this inspires a healthy amount of fear.

Ultimately, Product Management is so important and so difficult, that it's almost impossible to find all of the skills you need in one person. Small companies do this, but as companies grow, they usually break it down into three teams... it's occasionally useful for the "technical" Product Manager to know how to code, but this rule does not apply to your whole team.

If you're looking for more info on this subject, I've heard great things about the Pragmatic Marketing Framework for designing a Product Management team.

Publishing is Dead...

Or is it?

The Origin Of Bex: Now Available On Netflix

I'm frequently asked where I got the nickname "Bex." Back in 2008 I finally put the matter to rest by explaining the origin of "Bex".

The quick story is this: a while back I saw a British TV show with a character named "Bexley," thought it was a cool name, and started using "Bex" as one of my (many) internet aliases. When I went to college, there were too many "Brians" in my dorm, so they decided I needed a nickname... one of my geekier dorm-mates asked me what I used for internet aliases, I mentioned them, and they liked "Bex" the best.

The rest, as they say, is history...

The TV show in question is Red Dwarf, which is a something of a sci-fi cult comedy... I was recently surprised to see that Red Dwarf is available via NetFlix-On-Demand! If you have NetFlix, and about 20 minutes to spare, you might want to watch the television episode that spawned my nickname. And maybe a few more episodes, if you care to...

The show is well written, if not a bit quirky... but, if you're a frequent reader of my blog, you probably have the sense of humor necessary to find it charming ;-)

Why People Just Don't Pay for News

CMS Report has an interesting rant about micropayments, and how they never got off the ground... many people have tried to convince me to pay a quarter or a nickle to view their online content, but I've never done so. Every few years, somebody comes up with some master plan based on the theory that "this time it's different!!!" But sadly -- and totally predictably -- they failed.

Why don't people pay for news? Because the most powerful word in marketing is "Free." No matter how little you charge for "quality" content, if somebody else is offering a reasonable substitute for free, you will always lose.

The latest "big idea" in this history of failures is Rupert Murdoch's attempt to charge for their online content. Some folks see Apple's new iPad as a game changer here, perhaps shaking up the market and getting people to pay for quality content. I'm skeptical... Yes, the iPad is pretty, and yes it is probably the best possible platform that "paid content" could ever hope for... but that doesn't change the economic realities.

Yes... the Wall Street Journal's articles might be exceptional... they might be light years better than what you can find for free on blogs and Bloomberg.com... but how can Murdoch prove to a skeptic that "paid-for" content is worth the extra cost? Unless they give away the whole article for free, nobody can judge it's quality. Also, just because one article was great, does not mean future articles will be great... Finally, if it really is a great article, people will blog about it, or editorialize about it, after which I can find a decent summary elsewhere.

People just don't have much brand loyalty to information sources anymore... Whoever gets it to me in the way I want it, will win my loyalty for today... but once you're boring, or ask me to login, or ask me to pay, then I might take my eyeballs to one of the other bazillion sites out there.

News is a commodity, and therefore subject to the economics of commodities. There is a little bit of profit in their creation, but much more in their distribution. In the past, the newspapers owned their distribution channel: printers, packers, delivery trucks... heck, the New York Times even owns their own forests and paper mills! The majority of their expenses are spent maintaining their distribution channel, not in paying people to write quality content.

Rupert Murdoch whines very loudly that his content is valuable and Google should have to pay to spider it... what he's really saying is that he's mad that the internet has made his distribution channels less profitable. If Fox truly cared about creating "quality content," they'd probably drop half their sitcoms.

Is there a way to save newspapers? Sort of...

Obviously, companies with good content need to get into the new distribution channels if they want to survive. The NBC/Comcast merger is a good example... although as a consumer I'm not a fan of so much power being in one single entity. I hope other companies get into the residential high-speed internet business so we have more competition... I'm happy to see that Google is getting into the residential ISP business, and I hope to see more competition soon...

In other words... The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal will survive... but their distribution channels will not. The sooner they get out of the dead-tree-scattering business, the better!

I Called It! Google Acquires "Social Search" Company Aardvark

Man... I was just blogging last week about how social search systems like Aardvark would completely change the dynamic of search engines... particularly for mobile users. I said that it was perhaps the best sales model for folks like Twitter and Facebook to challenge the dominance of Google.

Well, too late boys! Because it appears Google just acquired Aardvark. I anticipate Google will be using their standard ad-engine to target Aardvark users... and probably use it to make their mobile offerings more socially aware. This will continue to cement Google's place as the #1 search engine, and gives them a pretty cool foot in the door of actually taping into the useful aspects of your network of friends.

@Twitter: next time you should be faster! Maybe if I tweeted my advice in 140 characters instead of doing a well-thought-out blog post, they would have been able to beat Google to the punch.

Apple iPad: Another Reason HTML5 will Beat Flash

Many people have been using Adobe technology for next generation "rich internet applications." Many folks -- myself included -- have warned against this kind of behavior. Flash is a stopgap solution with a lot of cool features, but it would be unwise to use it as a long-term standard. I mentioned earlier in my HTML 5 versus Flash/Flex post, that enough of these flashy features will be a part of HTML 5 and WebKit enabled browsers... so you might want to start pushing them as a requirement.

Another reason why you should avoid Flash? The new Apple iPad.

The jury is still out about this one... Steve Jobs says it's the most important accomplishment of his life, while haters are bashing it almost as much as they bashed the original iPod. Personally, I'm disappointed in its lack of a camera or voice recorder. Other than that I'll have to kick the tires on it a bit.

However, some folks are shocked that the iPad will not run Flash or Flex applications! You know all that time and effort you spent making flashy gizmos for your web app? Well, get ready to do it all over again... because the new iPad does not run Mac OS X. It runs a modified version of the iPhone OS, which never, ever, ever supported Flash... and there are zero plans to support it.

Likely, the future is going to be CSS, JS, and HTML 5. Yes, I know Flash fanboys will say that those technologies are just plain awful when you want total control over the look and feel across multiple browsers... and they are 100% correct. But, sorry to say, it's not always the best technology that wins.

UPDATE: it appears that Steve Jobs has gone on records about why the iPad and iPod will NEVER support Flash. Steve-o brings up a few more reasons I did not cover here: Flash is a power hog, it doesn't support "touch" interfaces, and it crashes a lot. Steve Jobs ends with a plea: Adobe should use its brainpower to make a cross-platform IDE for HTML5, and stop trying to cram Flash down our throats. If they don't, then the "next Adobe" certainly will...

Social Search: How Facebook And Twitter Can Conquer Google

Oreilly has an interesting article about the future of search engines...

It was prompted by the annual report by Aardvark, which is a pretty cool little startup. It's similar to Google Answers and Yahoo Answers, where you can ask any question and it will get you an answer. Sounds simple enough, but the devil's in the details. One thing that impresses me about Aardvark is that they really seem to "get it" when it comes to social search: people aren't looking for THE answer, they are looking for AN answer. They call this the "village" model, as opposed to the "library" model preferred by Google.

Aardvark uses your profile to learn a few things about you: where you live, interests, hobbies, etc., and then tries to find a similar person in their network to answer your question. It also connects with Facebook to figure out a few more things about you... who your friends are, what they like. Essentially, what your "villiage" is. Once it figures out what virtual village to put you in, it forwards your question to somebody likely to answer. If you ask a question about cameras, it forwards your question to some local camera experts who have been helpful in the past.

Sweet...

I'm impressed with the technology in general... also the participation rates are amazing. About 88% of questions sent to Aardvark got answered, and 75% of people who asked a question also answered one. Most interesting, is how mobile users were the ones asking the most questions. Sure, if they were sitting at their computer, the might fire up Google, or an IM client, or dig through their email archives... but despite all attempts to make them usable, mobile devices are still terrible at user input. Also, the

When you're out and about, and want to know where the best place to park is, how would you find that out?

If you have a smart phone, You could Google around to find a forum about the best parking spots in your specific city. Then scour through the archives, and find your specific location... or you could just send a text message to Aardvak, and hope somebody answers.

Most enterprises probably would not need something like this... they would probably be better served with a dedicated "help desk" support staff to keep track of common questions and who knows what. However, I could see this being huge for the general public. It could potentially be the revenue stream that Facebook or Twitter have been waiting for. Or, it could be gobbled up by Google as a pre-emptive strike.

I'm just waiting for the bidding wars to begin...

Finally! Oracle Gets Approval for Sun Acquisition!

Well, that took long enough! The European Union finally approved the merger... so now it's official that Oracle owns Sun (and Java!). Oracle is having a press conference about their Sun strategy this Wednesday, January 27, at 9am Pacific Time. They covered a lot of this at Open World 2009... but now I guess it will be official.

They probably won't announce the inevitable layoffs at this talk... although some speculate that 50% of Sun's workforce is redundant after the merger. I'd expect them to talk big about the Exadata V2 hardware... maybe something about pre-packaged Oracle "appliances." It would be cool to have a database in a box, or something akin to the Google Search Appliance for their secure enterprise search.

I'd also expect some talk about virtualization... ever since the BEA acquisition, Oracle has owned a very interesting virtualization solution. I'm not talking about their Linux VM; I'm talking about their Java VM. Instead of making a virtual machine of operating systems running J2EE application servers, BEA had a solution that virtualized just the application server without an operating system. Leaner, meaner, fewer security holes, and much easier to maintain. Oracle has kept pretty quiet about this technology... I'd expect it to be touted a bit more.

What's your feeling? Does anybody out there think Oracle will make an earth-shaking announcement? Does anybody think their strategy will be significantly different than what they have strongly hinted at last year?

My Latest Podcast on Oracle Technology: ECM, Collaboration, and Enterprise 2.0

Recently Brian Dirking interviewed me for an Oracle Authors Podcast on content management, collaboration, enterprise 2.0, and other topics of interest... You can download the MP3 and listen at your leisure. Questions include:

  • What is "infoglut?"
  • Is it fair to say most people fall short of true enterprise-wide content management?
  • How do you see "Social Media" affecting ECM?
  • What's the difference between content management, collaboration, and enterprise 2.0?
  • What's the difference between a "process worker" and a "knowledge worker?"
  • Where is ECM going in the next 5 years?

If you've read my blog or my books, I'm sure you know that I have a fairly strong opinion on many of those topics... at one point the producer had to interrupt one of my rants because we were running short on studio time. ;-)

Top 10 New Years Resolutions for ECM

A lot of folks are doing end-of-year predictions about what will happen in 2010 in the Enterprise Content Management universe. In general I'm not a huge fan of making predictions on the future of technology... the easiest way to predict the future of technology is to build it. So instead of countering their predictions with mine, I thought I'd share a list of ten new years resolutions for ECM geeks:

1) Test Your Disaster Recovery Strategy!

Yes, you probably have a decent backup strategy... but are you sure??? When was the last time you tested it? If you haven't tested your disaster recovery strategy, then you don't have one. What if your server melts? How long would it take to recover? What if your existing backups are corrupted? What if your database gets hacked and somebody deletes all your tables? Test your existing what-if scenarios... and then add one more to the list!

2) Install Necessary Patches

Are your security patches up to date? Or is there some annoying little bug that's driving you nuts, which might be fixed in a newer version? It's probably a good time to take stock of where you are, and where you'd like to be... Oracle Metalink has some pretty good advice on How To Maintain UCM and How To Maintain Site Studio. After doing the minimum, think a bit about where you'd like it to go next.

3) Learn About At Least One New ECM Feature or Technology

ECM is a fast changing field... do you know as much as you need to know about records management? How about the new features in Site Studio 10gr4? Have any new connectors been released that might make integrating ECM into your systems easier or more useful? How much do you know about Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0? Make a commitment to read a book or at least some blogs about something new in the ECM universe, and how it can benefit you.

4) Calculate Return-On-Investment

Some ROI is based on fairly hard-cost numbers that are easy to calculate... How much less printing and shipping did you have to do this year? Did you save money on warehouse space by scanning documents instead of keeping paper copies? Were you able to lower call-center volume with a self-service web site? Were you able to save on legal costs because your system was easier to audit?

Other kinds of ROI are harder to calculate... for example, how much time did you used to spend looking for documents, compared to now? Were you able to more effectively collaborate? Were you able to avoid problems and spot new opportunities because you had more information at your fingertips? These kinds of calculations might have to rely on soft numbers, and some end-user surveys.

5) Retire Outdated Systems

The primary value of ECM is that you can use it as a central repository for all your content... but all that value is wasted if you keep those old systems around. Commit yourself to retiring at least one outdated system. Go for the low-hanging fruit: something with useful information, that is difficult to use, and easy to replace.

6) Determine What Content Is Popular

It is always a good idea to keep statistics on what content is popular... not only does it help you determine what information is useful to your audience, it's also a great way to encourage user adoption. If you knew that your content had a below-average popularity amongst your peers, you might take some more care to make your content easier to understand, and easier to find. In other words... once rankings are public, people use less jargon, and better metadata.

It's also a good way to determine what content needs to be updated... if a one year old document is extremely popular, you might want to kick off a workflow to get the original author to make a new version.

7) Perform a General Audit Of Your Repository

Run a few performance tests on your site... spot check your users to make sue their security credentials are not too generous... see if you can simplify your workflows so they are faster... check your repository to see which metadata fields are always left as the default (a good sign that nobody uses them)... see if you can simplify your security and metadata model a bit...

8) Run Formal Usability Tests

There are a lot of great ideas on usability tests in Don't Make Me Think... but my favorite is also the most simple:

  • Come up with 10 or so common use cases for your system: why would people use it?
  • Collect 10 novice users who have never had any training on your system
  • Ask them to perform these 10 simple tasks, and don't give them any guidance
  • Videotape them
  • Force your developers and administrators to watch every minute of the tape!

Trust me... there are few things more painful to a developer than watching people click the wrong button... it will haunt them in their sleep until they make the system easier to use. Especially if you threaten to make them watch it every day until it's fixed.

9) Documentation!

Admit it: there is a little bit of black magic in your setup. Some customization you wrote, some script you hacked together, some configuration flag that nobody else knows about... Commit yourself to documenting at least three features of your solution that would be difficult for people to figure out n their own. And then -- of course -- check it into your ECM system!

10) Give Back To The Community

Got an idea for an ECM blog post? Maybe a nice presentation topic for local user group? How about some quick tips and tricks that you can share on the Oracle ECM forums and mailing lists? Then please share! At the very least, show up to local user groups and network with your fellow ECM practitioners... ARMA, and IOUG all have local groups worth checking out.

Software is like a lot of creative endeavors: the very best always create more value than they take. Which is a good New Year's Resolution, no matter who you are ;-)

Get iPhone-Like Animations with jQuery

I just came across jQTouch, which appears to be a version of the popular jQuery JavaScript library for the iPhone. I've been playing around with it, and its pretty dang sweet... It gives you a whole bunch of iPhone-like forms and animation, but its all HTML5 and CSS. This means you only need to know HTML in order to create a beautiful iPhone app interface.

Not only that... but once you make your interface, it will also work on the Google Phone, the PALM Pre, and anything else with a browser that supports the HTML5 specification! Technically, HTML5 is still a work-in-progress... but using jQTouch means you can target the two fastest growing smart phones -- the iPhone and the Google Phone -- with one single HTML-like code base. Even better... you no longer have to struggle with the iPhone App Store to get new versions of your product to your customers.

I kind of figured mobile phone development would eventually become just mobile HTML5 platforms... it's nice to see the jQuery folks leading the charge.

UPDATE: most of my above review was based on testing with the iPhone and the iPod Touch. Both were great platforms for jQTouch. However, I have also tested with the latest and greatest Google 'Droid phone... and on the droid jQuery Touch was horribly unusable. I'm not sure why... it could be because the iPhone has some nifty hardware acceleration for the kinds of animation that jQuery Touch wants to do, whereas the 'Droid has some pretty awful lag. The forms are mostly OK, as are the demo apps, but anything with animations is god awful.

Not sure if this is jQuery's fault or the Droid's fault... however if I were Google I'd work very closely with the jQuery folks to make this all happen... because then it would be a heck of a lot easier to make slick looking UIs.

The Best Tech Of The Decade!

O'Reilly Radar came out with their Best And Worst Technology of the Decade, which is a pretty good read. Here's their list:

The Best!!!

  • AJAX
  • Twitter
  • Ubiquitous WiFi
  • Smart Phones
  • The Do-IT-Yourself MAKER culture
  • Mainstream Open SOurce

I mostly agree, buy seriously... Twitter??? You're putting Twitter up there? You're going to give it a greater importance than YouTube, Wikipedia, and Facebook? The author concedes that most tweets about what celebrities have for dinner are kind of silly... but:

"the real power of the 140 character dynamo is that it has brought about a resurgence of real web logging. The most useful tweets consist of a Tiny URL and a little bit of context."

I don't quite agree... Frankly, that problem was solved a lot better by Del.icio.us: post a link, describe it, tag it, and share it! They had a huge head start on this kind of movement... they just needed a bit more pizzaz to make it easier and more fun to use. Unfortunately, Del.icio.us was bought out by Yahoo, who can't run a Taco Truck let alone manage a global folksonomy.

Twitter is the killer app for Public Relations people... Just like LinkedIn was the killer app for recruiters. Twitter will be "hot" regardless of how useful it is, because it helps PR people do their jobs. PR people are very skilled at getting you to talk about what PR people want you to talk about... and PR people walk you to talk about Twitter.

Although... I can't say I mind. a couple of keywords in 140 characters is much easier to digest than the typical press release... and a lot more genuine.

The one other thing that Twitter does well is breaking news... Such as the Iran election last year. However, there is a huge signal-to-noise ratio problem. It is trivially simple to run a bunch of Zombie Tweeters to spam the twitscape with phony URLs after events break.

The Worst!!!

  • SOAP
  • Intellectual Property Wars
  • The Cult of Scrum
  • Ubiquitous Work

Hrm... an O'Reilly geek blasting SOAP... how unusual ;-)

I agree somewhat... the IP wars are crippling software innovation, simply because geeks are much faster than lawyers, and don't like any restrictions. Scrum can become problematic, but the same holds true for any rigid software methodology. Also, if you hate always being at work, then you had better ditch your smart phone ;-)

I do agree that some vendors oversell SOAP... and all are guilty of piling on yet-another-web-services-specification. However, it's important to remember that none of this is inherent to the goals of SOAP: it's just that one vendor had a wacky idea, implemented it, and then called it the "standard" way to do something.

SOAP worship has partly fueled the rise of JSON, but JSON is a backlash to obtuse XML formats in general. It's a much better way to describe human readable data, but it still has problems with multipart messages and binary files. In other words, you still need some kind of standard on top of JSON to describe complex messages between systems.

It doesn't matter whether you use ReST or SOAP... people will still feel a desire to come up with a "standard" way of describing messages between systems. For example, ReST kind of falls apart when you want to do batch processing over XMPP instead of HTTP... so it's only a matter of time before somebody comes up with a "standard" way to do it. Probably Google, since Google Wave relies heavily on XMPP.

The evil here is not in trying to adopt standards... it's in the inevitable tendency for people to believe the "standard" way is the "right" way. Software just doesn't work like that in the long term. Using a standard means that your software doesn't change... and stable software is the same thing as dead software.

Why CMIS Won't Be A "Real" Standard

As mentioned by pie guy, the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) standard has reached version 1.0 status... and is open for public comment. As I mentioned before, I'm a fan of CMIS, and I think it is a decent start at making content management systems more interoperable... especially for folks creating vertical applications on ECM systems.

For example... Let's say you want to make a killer application for scanned medical records. Your content needs are pretty basic: just a big image with some metadata. You might need external engines for workflow and identity management, but the content problem is simple. In this case, a good idea it to code your application in middleware, and use CMIS as a content storage interface.

However, I'd like to make one point very clear: if you think that CMIS will turn into a "standard," get used to disappointment.

Now... why would I say such a thing?

It could be because the past decade has seen a half dozen Enterprise Content Management standards come and go -- ODMA, SPI, WebDav, JSR170, JSR283, etc... so I might just be a skeptical curmudgeon who won't cut anybody slack and is adopting a "wait and see" attitude.

It could be because ECM is a marketing term; not a specification... so every vendor does something fundamentally differently. Some of the big points can be addressed by a spec... but no matter how hard we try, those fundamental differences can never be included in a standard. All abstractions are leaky, and all attempts to hide complexity ultimately fail when you attempt anything interesting...

Or, it could be because those precise difference are exactly why a customer chooses one ECM vendor over another... They didn't just spend a ton of money on an ECM system just so you could treat it like a big hashtable... Even if a customer demands that their system supports CMIS, that doesn't mean they will actually use it. Support for CMIS more than anything represents a commitment to interoperability... and that you can use it for content migration.

But the real reason I say CMIS will never be a true "standard," is because Microsoft is involved.

Microsoft has a long, long, long history of saying they will follow a standard, when in fact all they are trying to do is force everybody to do it "their way." While true believers try to religiously follow the spec, Microsoft will do whatever makes sense for their product direction... and then say to everybody "you want interoperability? You'd better do it my way. Ha!!!"

Now, this isn't always a bad thing. When Microsoft's Internet Explorer went their own way with HTML, some of their ideas were horrible... but others -- like innerHtml and AJAX -- forced the concepts of dynamic HTML on the public. Likewise, some of the LDAP extensions they put into Active Directory made pretty damn good sense... although their extensions to Kerberos encryption make me skittish, especially since we're not allowed to view the source code.

Well, how should we think about CMIS? If you want to avoid lots of pain and heartache, don't think of CMIS as a standard; think of it as a contract signed by Microsoft, that they might change at any time. When Microsoft pushed the WebDAV standard, they made sure that common Microsoft products -- Word, Excel, Windows -- followed (most) of the specification. This does not mean that you have to follow the specification to the letter... just follow it enough so that you can integrate more easily with Microsoft products.

Naturally... Microsoft will probably find all kinds of limitations to the CMIS spec later on. This could be because there's a gap in the spec, the spec is limited in some real-world situation, or they just flat out don't care anymore. If history is any judge, that means their next move will be to violate the spec. While spec purists at IBM/OpenText/Documentum complain, Microsoft will happily make Word 2012 do something completely different... and break interoperability.

Expect it my friends...

So... for that company making vertical applications on top of ECM, my advice is this:

  • CMIS is a good start, but a true ECM standard will always be a work in progress
  • Expect Microsoft to follow most of the spec
  • Expect Microsoft to break the spec in both wonderful and horrific ways
  • Expect to spend a lot of extra time finding the magic voodoo to make Microsoft work
  • Expect half of your feature requests to be outside of what CMIS can do

This advice is partly mine... and partly the battle wounds from Oracle/Stellent developers who worked on making WebDAV work properly...

New Oracle UCM Webcasts

I just got word about two new Oracle UCM webcasts next week, and thought I'd share!

The first one is on Paperless Personnel Processes... try saying that 5 times fast! If you are interested in making you HR processes involve less paper, this webcast should have lots of good tips and tricks for those of you with Peoplesoft, and would like to integrate it with Oracle UCM. Its next Tuesday Nov. 17th, 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET.

The second one is on Enterprise Document Management. It will offer tips and tricks for paperless order management, asset management, and accounts payable. If you are an E-Business Suite customer, I would highly recommend this one. Its next Wednesday, Nov. 18th, 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET

These are live webcasts, and I don't know if they will be recorded. So register, watch, and grill the presenters with tough questions ;-)

Oracle UCM Security: Challenges and Best Practices

I recently gave a security talk at the Minnesota Stellent User's Group... Stellent of course being the old name for Oracle Universal Content Management. I uploaded it to Slideshare, and embedded it below:

This talk is a variation on a talk I gave at Crescendo a few years back... it covers the security risks and vulnerabilities inside Oracle UCM, and countermeasures to prevent break-ins. This talk is not a how-to for integrating LDAP, Active Directory or Single Sign On... rather it's intended to be an introduction to cross site scripting, SQL injection, and other common web application attack vectors. It's a bit scary for a while, but then it tells you how to prevent attacks.

Enjoy! And don't be evil...

Free 10gr3 Component: Add Tool Tips to Metadata Fields

I recently got a question from a customer about how to add tool tips to metadata fields. Like if you had a field named "Comments," you could float your mouse over that field, and you'd see a small popup with a description of that field. I said, no problem, just set this flag in your config.cfg, or as a side effect to a profile rule:

xComments:description=Comments about this content item

No different than the isHidden or isInfoOnly flags. Unfortunately, it didn't work...

I thought that was built into the core, because I distinctly remember making that feature myself. Or more correctly, I made a component called ProfileExtras which added a whole bunch of useful features to the 7.5 Profiles functionality... including this. I thought I rolled that into the core for the 10gr3 release, but I left Stellent before Oracle released UCM 10gr3...

I thought about telling the customer how to do it... but I realized it would take about as much time to do it myself, as it would to describe to somebody else how to do it... So I whipped it out, and put it in the Bezzotech Library:

  • Tool Tips : A simple component that adds tool tips to metadata fields, so contributors know what to put in the fields.

Hopefully others find this useful as well...

Garnter Sued for $132 Million for Saying Mean Things

OK, this is just nutty...

A tiny Silicon Valley software vendor is taking on mighty Gartner, one of the technology industry's largest and most influential market research and consulting companies. The battle is playing out in a San Jose federal courtroom, where ZL Technologies is asking for $132 million in damages (plus even more in a punitive judgment), saying the research outfit damaged its prospects by ranking it in the bottom segment of its closely watched Magic Quadrant report. The MQ divides technology providers into different classes, with the bottom segment essentially forming a "do not buy" recommendation.

Blogger reactions are varied... but I agree that this is a pretty silly lawsuit.

ZL Technologies makes an email archiving product, and Gartner is not impressed with it... so in their opinion they call it a "niche" market player. Since in the US we have a little thing called the first amendment, this suit should be just thrown out. Unless Gartner is guilty of some kind of fraud... but I'd doubt it. They're too big of a firm to take that risk.

Besides... calling a product "niche" is hardly an insult. Stellent was once "niche", then "visionary," and after many many years it made it to "leader". "Niche" hardly means "do not buy," it simply means that the product might not be suitable for some industries, or some uses. In order to be a "leader", you need an innovative product with a good strategy, and a large enough organization to ensure the product will be around for a while (and not gobbled up and shut down by Open Text). Even if you have the best technology in the world, if you don't have a future vision, and the ability to grow your business, you're going to be called "niche."

I disagree with Gartner frequently -- mainly because they focus a bit too much on the "ability to execute" angle, and they do tend to ignore open source a lot... but this lawsuit is just ridiculous.

Print-On-Demand Google Books

Last week, Google announced a partnership where they would be able to print any book on demand that is in the Google Books library. They can do this by using the Espresso Book Machine, which can print out any book in about 4 minutes! Printed, cut, bound, and even with a full color cover.

This sounds pretty cool to me... and I curious how it will affect book stores, as well as new authors...

The Espresso Book Machine folks bill their system as an "ATM For Books," whereby you put money it, get a book out, and the author gets a small royalty. This makes the bookselling model highly distributed, and really lowers the barrier of entry for new authors.

I think the analogy is a bit inaccurate, tho... an ATM takes 10 seconds, whereas book printing takes 4 minutes. You'll need to set up dedicated systems where people can print out their books online, then go pick them up when finished. I could see this working really well at pharmacies, and maybe even at coffee shops. Sick of reading The Onion and City Pages whilst sipping your latte? Just print out some Burkowski and chill with the other hipsters...

Of course... browsing the library can be a bit tedious... the review system for Google Books is nowhere near as good as Amazon. Therefore, browsing for books that you might enjoy will be hard. However, since the entire book is indexed, it should be easier to find books when you know exactly what is in them... which is great for researchers looking for out-of-print books.

Since my first book is available on Google Books, you might be able to print out your own copy once it's no longer available.

Open World 2009, Day 1

Open world opened officially today... but I got there early for the "soft opening," including the briefing for my fellow Oracle ACE Directors. We had a surprise Q&A visit from Thomas Kurian himself. If I had known, I would have surely had a much bigger list of questions for him! Nevertheless, I learned quite a bit about Oracle's future product strategy. I can't share what I learned until after the conference, tho... they are planning a few announcements.

We kept trying to extract some info on the future of Sun product lines... but the Oracle folks were very tight-lipped about it. The European Union has not yet approved the merger -- mainly because of MySQL -- so they can't say a thing about it yet.

Some interesting news I'd like to highlight:

  • The Social Schedule Builder for Open World: my friend Chris Bucchere integrated his popular conference schedule builder with Oracle Mix... so if you have a Mix account you can use this to organize your conference. If you find Oracle's default Schedule Builder to be too clunky, check out this one. And since it was released a full 2 days before the conference, its perfect for procrastinators.
  • Try Out Amazon Web Services For Free:provided you're at the conference, and you show up at the Fusion Middleware Lounge on Floor 3 of Moscone West. Some Amazon folks should be there to give you a quick tutorial, and let you test it our for free.
  • Oracle is giving away 400 copies of my book. If you registered for the Information Overload add on, you get an electronic copy of my latest book. Not sure if that's a good sign for book sales or not...

I'll be heading to a few more sessions and user groups today... and I'm sure I'll have some updates after the main keynote.

UPDATE: the Sunday keynote just ended... and since Oracle was nice enough to give me press credentials, I thought I should post my thoughts ASAP. They were still pretty hush-hush about what the acquisition will mean. The three big questions are:

  1. What will happen to MySQL?
  2. What will happen to Sun's hardware division?
  3. What will happen to Java?

That first question was the big one... it's probably the main reason why the EU has not yet approved of the merger. Well, Scott McNeally made the obvious point that MySQL doesn't compete with Oracle; it competes with Microsoft SQL Server. Also, Oracle acquired two other open-source databases -- Sleepy Cat and Innobase -- and has increased R&D for them. Larry Ellison himself said Oracle promises to spend more resources on MySQL than Sun does right now. Given Oracle's past history with Open Source databases, I'm prone to trust Larry on this one. They'll likely use it as a wedge to get some of Microsoft's business when a company doesn't need Oracle's performance.

Oracle also seems to be committed to expanding Sun's hardware division. IBM tried to use the tiresome "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt" to scare existing Sun customers to dump SPARC in favor of IBM hardware... But I don't think so. The new stuff they showed off -- like the 4 Terabyte F5100 FLASH memory array -- was really innovative stuff. McNeally said you can get 4x I/O throughput by just bolting this on to existing storage infrastructure... not to mention ultra-low power consumption, and much more compact compared to IBM's stuff. Larry even issued a challenge: if you are an IBM hardware customer, and Oracle can't make your system run TWICE as fast on Sun hardware, they will give you $10 million dollars. IBM was explicitly invited to try.

End of the day, Sun's hardware is better than IBM, IBM is Oracle's new enemy, and Larry likes to win. Ain't no way that stuff is going away...

Regarding Java, I don't think there was ever a question there... Oracle is heavily invested in Java, and is a big contributor. They are going to keep that thing going as long as they can. James Gosling himself was up on stage, saying he looked forward to the acquisition... because then he'd finally be working for a software company!

Har...

Overall, I think that was a really good way to soothe Sun customers, Open Source advocates, the EU, and Java Bunnies everywhere.

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