Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Intranet navigation and information layout : "I like it and so should you"?

Can everything and anything be included on the landing page of the sections of a Corporate Intranet? If this is the current state of the Intranet it would only lead to clutter and confusion.It will eventually lose focus and defeat the purpose of the Intranet.

How often do Intranet managers consider getting feedback on the layout and quality of information on their Intranets?In my experience I have found corporate Intranets with sections that really dont reflect the image of the company/firm, relevance of information, consistency in usage of fonts, colors, information structures eventually leaving their users frustrated and helpless when they go about finding some good information for a crucial engagement or project.

What Intranet Managers can do to address this is:
- Get feedback on the current state of the Intranet in terms of content quality, layout, navigation, and consistency

- Find out if your users visit the site at all. If they do, was it easy to find the site.

- Run surveys on how users feel about their experience with the Intranet in terms of ease of navigation and quality of content. This can be done by internally organising a group of volunteers which is the most common practice or use the 'elevator technique' as described by Patrick C. Walsh in one of his highly insightful blogs on Intranet and Knowledge Creation. I found the Elevator Technique of surveying particularly interesting in the corporate scenario.

- Create teams to test and give reports on what they find good or bad about the sites they visit on the Intranet

- Simplify as much as possible. Describe why the content featured on the site is important in a few but crisp words.

- Reduce the usage of Acronyms

These are a few things that Intranet managers could do in the direction of making corporate information sites usable and effective.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Will the Chrome shine on the Info Highway?

Lance Ulanoff of PC Mag calls the launch of 'Google Chrome' a big 'hype'.
Let's examine a few points that will lead us to think again as to why it could be a successful Internet browser with millions of users taking away a large chunk of the market share currently dominated by Microsoft IE and Mozilla FireFox.
Why is IE's marketshare falling every year?
IE's market share falls 7%(roughly) Year on Year according to data shown on one of the blogs of zdnet.

Reasons for possible success of Google Chrome:

  • Microsoft' bid on Yahoo to take on Google in the online market: Microsoft's recent bid on Yahoo is clearly seen an assault on Google. Now its getting personal and Google has been quick in the launch of its own browser. What this new development shows is that Google will go to any length to outsell its browser. Chrome is definitely a high priority project for the folks in the Google head quarters and it cannot be considered just another product from it's stable.
  • The whole world goes to Google for anything and everything(Google=Internet' perception): So, how difficult would it be to sell out Chrome in this scenario?
    Wouldn't take too long or be too difficult is what I would think.

  • Google's already established best practice : Lighter , Faster and simple to use tools/ applications(with which it became famous) would clearly be the basis on which Chrome is built according to company's sources. These are aspects that any web user would look for in a product that one would use to access every single byte on the Internet.
  • Product features: Apart from the standard features that every other browser offers, one feature clearly stands out: Stand alone process based tabs which would not crash as a result of the load on the application due to other tabs that are running in parallel. Who wouldn't want such a feature when it can save some frustration that every other browser causes.

Google Chrome (BETA) for Windows was launched on 2nd September 2008 and can be downloaded at

Saturday, August 2, 2008

How "Cuil" is it really?

"Cuil", the search engine dubbed "Google killer" was launched on the 28th of July 2008. There's a raging debate on whether the name "Cuil" means anything close to the word 'knowledge' in Irish as the founders claim. Linguistic debate of meanings apart, when I read the word "Cuil" I almost never read it as "Cool" as it is supposed to,...again that's the correct pronunciation suggested by the founders. This might distort the view and perception of users in terms of to how the name is registered in the mind and would leave them confused.

A critical review of Cuil from a user perspective :-

What it does right:
  • - Speed of search is impressive and it is definitely what users would desire
  • - Displays search results in a matrix format as opposed to the 'list' format by almost every other search engine. This feature packs in more results in lesser scroll downs.
  • - Typing Suggestions - Prompts keywords while entering search string although this is not comprehensive it does help a bit
  • - The 'Explore Category' feature is useful and helps reduce the time to narrow down search results
  • - 'Safe Search' On/Off toggle, a good feature that will keep objectionable content out of the results. This is especially useful in corporate environments where professionals need to follow Internet usage policies and avoid landing on pages with objectionable content even by error.
  • - Provides tabs with category prompts on the top navigation that helps get close to the desired search results
  • - The search bar is fixed on the top, reducing the scrolling of the page to search again with different keywords.
What goes wrong:

  • - Includes thumb nail images within search results gobbling up bandwidth, which is uncalled for.
  • - Images shown are totally unrelated at times and might confuse people as images draw first attention as opposed to the titles of results and links
  • - Search effectiveness : The accuracy of the search results in the first results page is deplorable. For example: The search for the word "Cuil" itself indexes just two web pages of its own web site among Home page, About, Features, News & Press, FAQs etc and other related web page where there is a description of Cuil or its services.
  • - No precise search results for keywords in quotes
  • - No results from social networking databases like Linkedin
  • - No options for blog search. The Internet search today is clearly divided between traditional web pages and blogs. Search engines should provide tools whereby people can distinguish between results from these categories of the Internet composition.

Internet surfers want difficult information search made easy on search engines. Cuil may be a great effort to get the whole of the internet content under its search index, however a study on what users expect from search engines is paramount when it comes to delivering a great service or tool, or even an ambitious attempt to create something that can grab the larger pie of Internet users.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Its Time for an Enterprise Collaboration 'Killer App'

Imagine the possibility of technology giants like Google coming up with a web based 'killer app' for medium-large enterprises that would integrate all or most of the tools used at the work place everyday. Starting with the mail client to collaboration and workflow tools, to maintaining time sheets. All it takes is consolidation of the various tools on the Web 1.0 & 2.0 landscape already offered by one company like Google. An online service provider such as Google has tools that address a variety of communication needs :

Organizing of work flow and documents Groups/Communities
People Profiling and Social Networking
Blogs News and Updates syndication
Maps and Mashups
Mobile technology integration with online tools
...above all a highly accurate and nimble search function.

My belief is that, a shift to such a system could take place if it starts with the most basic of all the communication tools at the modern day work place - eMail. Once this is introduced all other tools could be grouped/offered around this which will kind of have a 'pull' mechanism to get people from within the organization to use them quickly. Managing a change that affects 1000 to 200000 people is an astronomical task
indeed. How did FaceBook get those millions of users to subscribe? Definitely not by
advertising. If an application introduced in the corporate environment is of
good value, people would adopt it with minimal push. After this point, it will
be a new revolution in the way people use their communication systems and the
way they view and contribute knowledge.
Why are we talking about such a change? No way, not another pains taking change! what might be the cost of this change and ultimately the cost of having the system running? How long might it take? etc. Well these are questions that I don't have answers to. But what I would like to say is that this could well be the future state of the corporate collaboration toolset.

Let's examine a few typical limitations of the current enterprise collaboration infrastructure used by many organizations:

  • Disparate tools with different UI, platforms, dynamics and access points - Usually high cost of maintenance of various licenses
  • eMail limitations - disk space given for emails is often too less(seldom crosses 100 MB), search within eMails is limited etc
  • Doesn't make it easy for people to adapt to the new age tools (Web 2.0) as it will be seen as few more applications added to the already long list of Apps.
  • Difficult to achieve 'Single Sign On' access to the various tools on the network
  • Uptime issues with one or the other application - Many applications are slow

I am sure someone in those technology labs are brewing some great solutions to address these enterprise needs to belt out a "Killer App".

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Web 2.0 - A boon to Knowledge Management

KM's future is in sharing and participating in the Knowledge Management process...which will be driven by the tools that enable this behavior.
From an organizational perspective, the key to an effective Knowledge Management practice is continuous sharing of re-usable information with an objective to support the organization's goals.

Right now all information that employees in an organization submit to share is predominantly controlled/edited/pruned as opposed to allowing sharing in toto. Since information is controlled, people lack enthusiasm in sharing it.. the new Web 2.0 tools surely entice people to use them and experience the delight of seeing their work being seen and recognized. It is partly the effect that a writer gets when his/her work is read and acknowledged. The new age tools not only empower people to be writers and publishers but also enable feedback/debate or discussion to extend their thoughts into new dimensions.

However, participation from people will increase by breaking the perception of Web 2.0 as another series of technology trends or just a waste of time. People will realize the value of these trends only when they try them. A great number of people resist the entry into the Web 2.0 world as it takes an extra bit of effort to understand the concept and notion of using a new tool or technology. But once they decide to enter this new world they will be enthused to greater levels to use more of it and it could possible get to the level of addiction too.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Web 2.0 - Snippets

Web 2.0: Part 1- RSS/Atom

For close to two years, I have been seeing the 'RSS' or 'Atom' logo popping up on many web pages that I visit, however I never bothered to click those links or learn about how to use them. When tried to do it once, it sounded too technical as it threw some coded web pages at me, possibly there was not much training offered in those pages on how to use the feeds at that point of time. Obviously I shied away from those for a long time. When the phenomenon was getting more rampant on the web, I finally decided to take that extra step and learn about them. Later, I discovered new ways to track huge amounts of online content in one go with really cool looking RSS/Atom aggregators . Today, RSS/Atom is an exciting piece of technology which I use every day for my work and and as well as learning.

Some of the examples of RSS/Atom feed generators or aggregators are: (Microsoft)

The above are essentially Ajax coded and web based tools which are easy to use and highly customizeable.

There are numerous other feed aggregators available based on client software as well. A few of them are integrated into eMail client and a few are offered as part of web browsers. Some of them are Windows Internet Explorer,,, Opera-M2, Microsoft Outlook etc.

Web 2.0 : Part 2 - Social Bookmarking

To be honest I got to learn about social bookmarking from while looking for some industry reports, probably because it was one of the first web sites I browsed in the corporate arena which had the bookmarking buttons on the homepage. Later on I discovered that Deloitte was the first of the big four to even put tools like this on their home page. When I landed on the homepage, I noticed a little colorful icon which read 'Bookmark'. This was coming from an Internet service that groups numerous bookmarking tools onthe web into a pop-up menu which lets the web page viewer
bookmark the page in their favorite bookmarking tool. Delicious, Reddit, Digg, Furl, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Technorati, Slash Dot, Magnolia, Fark,... the list is long. What are these? Initially, when I looked at them they sounded like brand names of some software products or consumer products that were getting advertised on the Internet. But no, all these are tools that help you bookmark
and share your favorite web sites. Until recently bookmarking was limited to web browsers such as IE, Firefox, Opera etc. They all had one huge drawback, the bookmarks could be accessed only on the machine that they were bookmarked on. Moreover if the system is formatted or if it crashes, all the tens and hundreds of bookmarks go with it leaving the user with no way to retrieve them. Online bookmarking provided the answer to these limitations. The extended feature of these tools is that your bookmarks can be shared and you can access the favorites of others in your areas of interest.

The use of social bookmarking tools became rampant in early 2008 with the corporate and news companies vying for online visibility. Companies and news sites got creative and offered the best content and products in the most innovative ways. The question raised was, "How do we get popularity using tools other than advertising and search engine listings of Google, Yahoo etc?"
Bookmarking is one of the cheaper ways to reach more people in the shortest time. It works similar to 'word-of-mouth', but in this case the good word passes to other people by just one gesture, "Bookmarking".

While this is an Internet phenomenon, how could it work in the corporate environment/information portals or databases especially in a services organization?
Organizations are structured around work areas of functions. If bookmarking tools are implemented within corporate Intranets, good quality content or document links related to those work areas or functions could be easily traced based on their relevance categorized by keywords or tags that people commonly use to organize their favorite links or documents. These tools could well reduce the effort or time that people take to find relevant information within corporate databases or portals.

In a scenario where most large organizations are spread across vast geographic areas and where there are thousands of employees at work, information is seldom easily accessible. All the information that one would require is scattered in various locations within the company's Intranet. If a bookmarking tool that groups people according to expertise to form interest groups(Communities) or the type of work they specialize in, it could index the favorite places that people go to first for specific pieces of information. And most bookmarking tools allow these links to be shared across the network, the best hence practice of finding the right information by popular vote can be achieved by this.

Web 2.0 : Part 3- Podcasts

I would like to give an account of my experience with the Web 2.0 revolution. I was thrilled by my first experiences with Pod Casts more than 2 years ago, thanks to Deloitte's Consulting - 'Pod Casting Series' which was a little later given a boost by an internal marketing campaign with a tag line, 'Think.Commit.Do'. In my experience, this is one of the most motivating campaigns that an Organization carried had out to completely focus on client service which is the motto of any professional services firm. I was just amazed by the audio visual that promoted the campaign which went like a 'Dolby Digital' commercial. These campaigns surely had a deep impact on people and the way they learned about clients and their industries.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Knowledge Sharing

Many organizations are built on Knowledge that exists within them in various forms. The most important resource of knowledge is the learning and experience of people.

Where does the knowledge reside?

Does this get transferred formally or informally?
Does everyone get to know everything about the organization and what's going on within it?

It is well known that the success of a Person/Team/Organization depends largely on knowledge sharing which is considered part of 'Team Work' by many large organizations. Often team work through knowledge sharing results in winning and delivering great client service.

Now, let's attempt to define a few types of knowledge in a professional services environment that may be useful to people in working towards the organization's goals.

Professionals can benefit from knowledge created around various areas of functions in an Organization. They could be:

- Best practices in various areas of service
- Knowledge on tools and methods
- White papers on technology
- Process knowledge
- Industry knowledge
- Point of view - statistics and analysis
- Firm capabilities etc.

These are a few of the many areas where professionals need reference to prior work in any new task or project.

When all this 'Collective Knowledge' is captured and made available through well defined processes, it enhances performance and helps build an effective practice in any area of work. ‘Collective Knowledge’ is made available to the stakeholders via tools such as databases that are used to store information in an organized fashion. This can be categorized as a formal method of knowledge sharing. While there is another way in which it is done conventionally and is called informal knowledge sharing. Informal knowledge sharing is confined to the boundaries of what is called ‘Social Network’. This is a network which people establish by interacting with individuals that share similar views. However, there are apparent limitations of following just the informal knowledge sharing method to achieve Organizational goals.

One of the challenges of knowledge management is that of getting people to share their knowledge in a professional environment. Very few people share their best practices with the firm's knowledge bases. Knowledge professionals need to implement various strategies to get people to contribute to the knowledge base. Regular communications requesting people to share their intellectual property, launching organization wide intellectual property collection drives and internal marketing of the existing technology platform and processes are a few ways to achieve the task of capturing explicit knowledge. A few organizations have put in place a knowledge sharing and intellectual capital policy to get their professionals to commit to sharing work related knowledge.
The ultimate goal of these activities is to equip professionals with easily retrievable organizational knowledge or meta-knowledge.

The power of knowledge is experienced only when it gets transferred formally and informally.
In my experience with knowledge sharing I realized that many teams had benefited greatly from receiving advice and information on various areas such as Sales, Concept Presentations, Data Presentation to name a few. This effort often helps in minimizing the time and effort that is involved in starting something from scratch.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Internet Trends: Peep into the future...

On the 15th of May 2008, I got a call from my Internet service provider saying they are upgrading my Internet connection which will deliver greater speeds and a larger download limit. I was receiving 512 kbps earlier, but from now on it will be anywhere between 1500 t0 20,000 kbps!! ...all this for no extra cost.Not very long ago, I was used to a fact of Internet speeds being in the double digit kbps measure.

Now, it's time to imagine what the future state of Internet would look like with developments like these.
My imagination is that in the next 20 years computing will hold far more capabilities than whats available on the current 2-4 Ghz processors from Intel, AMD and the like.The commercially available technology might even be 20 times the speeds of what's available now. With the advancements in computing technology, we can see a parallel advancement in networks as well. There will soon be a time when 50 to 100 Gbps speeds in broadband won't surprise people. What we can expect from networks of the future is beyond the current copper wires and Optical fibre lines used to transmit data. There would be new transmission technologies that would offer a balance between speeds and volumes through wired or unwired methods.

"So what's the next wave going to be?" This question is the most favourite of all for tech savvy people who always want the latest and the greatest of what the silicon world has to offer.

Here is a list of Internet trends and tools that were offered over the last 10 years that I could relate to:
- E mails
- Hosted Web sites
- eGroups
- Bulletin Boards/Discussion Forums
- Online Chat Tools
- Online
- Alumni Networking (
- Shoshkele (Floating web/browser Ad)
- Peer 2 Peer Sharing(Music/Videos/Photos)
- Online Voice Communications Tools (VoIP, Skype etc)
- Web Maps
- Blogs
- Wikis
- Social Networking(SixDegrees, Ryze, Orkut, FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn)
- Social Bookmarking/Tagging
- Web Mashups (Google Mashup Editor, Yahoo Pipes, Microsoft PopFly)
The above list is not a comprehensive list but it serves as a reference point to think about how the Internet is shaping to be an indispensable element of our lives.

No matter how many tools and concepts come and go on the Internet, the most basic of them all- 'the eMail' is here to stay for a long time.