Blogging | Why sharing your thoughts contributes to human evolution

Given the audience of this blog, it is safe to say that you have all heard of blogs, and the inevitable etymological background – Web+Log. However, what I want to share with the blogosphere is not what blogs are, or why you should at the very least – experiment with them, but rather an insight I had into just how significant a platform blogs are and how they are the natural progression of human evolution and will therefore be instrumental in taking us forward into the unforeseeable future.

This particular paradigm was triggered by a very interesting talk by Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex. He is a particularly insightful speaker on TED.com who explains that the process of human evolution – in every sense – has only been possible through the interchange of ideas. Ridley argues that Homo-Erectus built the same kind of spear [below] for over 30000 generations due to a lack of an exchange of ideas.

Acheulian stone axe from Algeria made by Homo erectus

Once this was possible – apparently around 500000 B.C. – there has since been limitless growth in the cross-pollination of ideas across multiple cultures around the world. Fast-forward to today, when our lives have become so complicated that we – as a species – have developed the ability to create technologies and solutions that absolutely NONE of us individually knows how. This is most evident in the internet and the way it is expanding the horizons of human knowledge geometrically.

Kevin Kelly, in a talk about the next 5000 days of the web, shows us through research that the current dimensions of the internet exceed over 55 trillion links – comparable to the average number of human synapses. 1 quintillion transistors used in this ‘single machine’ called the internet compare closely to the average number of human neurons. If the internet – which is the best example of human collaboration – has already reached levels of complexity comparable to the human brain today, one can only imagine what might become possible in the near future.

You’re probably asking yourself what this has to do with blogs. I believe that blogs are possibly the single most powerful form of human expression. They have the potential to reach millions of people worldwide, an unprecedented decoupling of power and influence. However, as the saying goes – “With great power..” To keep it simple (and non-obvious) the most important tips I have found on making it successful and – therefore – influential in the blogosphere can be summed up simply as:

‘Write from the heart.’ Write about what matters, what your take is on it and why it should matter to your audience.

‘Interact with readers.’ Across the widest possible range of social media. Popular blogs engage network effects across multiple platforms like Facebook, Myspace, Digg, Reddit, Delicious, etc.

‘Don’t be afraid to try new things.’ According to Google, as reported on Joop.in, the internet is growing at the rate of about a billion pages a day! Which means that for your blog to stand out, you need to harness every opportunity to explore as many networking opportunities as possible and try newer offbeat ones as well.

Source: Babauta, L. 2009. 12 Essential Blogwriting Tips for Building a Successful Blog in Write to Done | Unmissable articles on writing.

I would like to leave you with a sample of some of my favourite blogs.

http://sachachua.com/blog/2010/06/seven-tips-for-short-talks/

Sacha Chua accurately describes herself as a tech evangelist/storyteller/geek. An Enterprise 2.0 consultant with IBM, Sacha has a web-presence and following that most bloggers can only aspire to achieve. This particular example showcases advice on how to make a 5 min presentation, which offers a refreshing, novel take on one of the most sought after skills in the corporate world.

Sacha also engages her audience through a variety of social media platforms such as Amazon, multiple blogs, Delicious, Flickr, Google Reader/Talk, Linkedin, Stumble Upon, Twitter and Youtube. From her blog, her current reach includes 2278 subscribers with 3160 comments, 3048 on Twitter. The fact that her blogs cover a wide range of interests such as work, technologies, personal life, etc only add to the overall broad appeal of her blog.

http://agatha82.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/life-in-the-blogosphere/

Agatha was recently on Freshly Pressed – the showcase for some of the best blogs on WordPress – for her blog – Whatever happened to two way conversations? Though this blog is certainly interesting, her follow up – Life in the blogosphere… accurately captures the surprise of a writer/blogger when faced with sudden popularity, a unique feature of web audience adoption. It also provides some insight into the true nature of communication and why the internet manages to harness it so potently with blogs.

http://ladyparmalade.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/hiking-the-mannlichen-summit/

Crystal Cun, an avid blogger/photojournalist, is quite a treat for those who have an eye for detail and proper storytelling. Her account of an adventurous trek up to the Männlichen Summit is a truly fantastic and well written blogpost with great photos and even better stories. I used to dabble in professional photography and can say this much for her work: her composition is flawless and every frame tells a truly wonderful story. The choice of specific frames in the blog is very carefully pondered upon and adds real aesthetic value to the quality of the post.

http://alexanderolsson.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/the-land-of-the-loving-people/

Alexander is another truly gifted photojournalist – in his blog, ‘the land of the loving people’, he affords his audiences a glimpse into an evidently touching personal journey through Asia, which has influenced the authoring of a book by the same title. His photos certainly create a great blog which is inspirational, to say the least.

I hope this blog post has – in the very least – got you thinking about what you need to do to engage the blogosphere. Please take a moment to share your thoughts and insights on the art of effective blogging.

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Lightweight models and cost-effective scalability

Web 2.0 products or services today don’t follow conventional business, design or deployment methods. Conventionally, before venture capital is pumped into a launch, vast amounts of research and resources are required to conduct feasibility studies, consumer demand studies and so on, before a proof of concept can be developed or deployed. However with the emergence of Web 2.0, Open API, open source development toolkits and the like, it is becoming increasing easy to engage in rapid prototyping efforts that deliver products under very aggressive timelines. A particular brilliant example of this is reddit.com. Reddit features content that is voted up or down in priority based on community trends and interest in the particular news article or snippet over time.

Reddit opened up its source code to the Open Source community (downloadable here) under the Common Public Attribution License (CPAL), only 3 years after its launch, around June 2008. Though this might be considered as progressive by many, Reddit benefited almost instantly after going public with their develop base increasing from a mere 5 developers total, to the involvement of the entire Open Source community as a whole. But how did Reddit even get to be this popular? Simple. The answer lies in a simple, easy-to-use interface that served only one purpose – to transfer the ownership of relevant news to a community of voting patrons. Incremental functionality such as individual reddit channels was added almost 3 years after launch. The simplicity of the functionality is one of the significant factors in Reddit consumption.

The success of Reddit asks the questions: Is small really the new big? Can ventures truly start out of nowhere? How is this sustainable with just minimal advertising?

Please comment.

Leveraging the Long Tail

The web has rewritten the rules of traditional marketing and copywriting. The latter has been done away with entirely, with the advent of search engines which serve up some of the most popular search trends and yet also showcase results that are truly unique to a specific user query. Marketing is now mostly about SEO – Search Engine Optimization on the web, which is the practice of refining content to suit the broadest variety of relevant search queries possible, in an effort to secure the highest pagerank possible. While it is expected that a majority of services chase after the volume of traffic bound to limited common trends, the web has emerged as an equitable platform to service customers also looking for the most unique of services. Those that cater to this traffic – along with the more mainstream content, equitably – make up the ‘Long Tail‘ of web traffic. Trip Advisor is one such service that serves up some of the most relevant travel content available online, usually within the top 5 results on search engines.

Lets take a closer look at how Trip Advisor works. Holiday – goers might look for the best fares, on a variety of services such as hotels, airfares, cruises, etc. For example, a search of Hotels for Dallas, TX, USA yields the top 185 user rated choices such as Grand Hyatt DFW, Embassy Suites Hotel Dallas – Love Field, The Magnolia Hotel Dallas, etc. While this kind of content services the bulk of internet traffic, the real value add with Trip Advisor is that it provides content that is also very unique for particular vacation goers. One method used is the range of keywords and metadata built into each header which, in turn is unique for the content being showcased. Having unique landing pages with highly specific content for each destination is certainly useful for search engines to assign high pageranks. However, Trip Advisor also provides a range of useful keywords that you could lookup to find a specific property or experience. More on this might be found here.

This is clearly demonstrated in some of the truly unique search results one might find on Trip Advisor such as “IN SEARCH OF WEIRD, WONDERFUL NEW ORLEANS”, Whale Watching Expeditions in British Columbia, etc.

Trip Advisor has emerged as one of the most respected, comprehensive sources of reviewed travel content on the web and it is entirely due to its ability to service the high volume traditional web-traffic while also supporting highly relevant unique content for the offbeat traveler, that has resulted in its service excellence and search engine dominance, as reported in ‘TripAdvisor: The Web’s Strongest Travel Community.’

Please Comment.

Perpetual Beta

Perpetual Beta is a concept that is gaining a lot of popularity on the web in recent years. Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, del.icio.us, etc are just some services that are popular examples of the perpetual beta movement. However, the concept of perpetual beta is not entirey new – it has its roots in the continuous improvement framework used in business process management which was applied to software-as-a-service deployments, on the web. One really good example of this that makes good use of the dynamics of a constantly changing web application environment is Classblogmeister.com.

Classblogmeister is a service in education that allows students and teachers to collaborate towards development of communication skills, continuous improvement of academic content, and help set development priorities for the Classblogmeister service. It covers a range of relevant content areas in education, very well represented in the application cloud:

Cloud

This is an alphabatized listing of the most commonly used words in the latest 100 teacher blog entries. You can also view a cloud of the most commonly used words in published student blogs.

america answer april awards begin bill blog book books called chart charts check class classroom come comment complete country doing done earth enjoy enter entry evaluate everyone examples excited feel field final findings following friday grade great green group happy help hope images important information inquiry internet keep knowledge learned learning library list looking making middot monday must paper pencils people picture pictures play please post project question questions read reading ready review rhyming school scos share sites social south start story student students studies sunday supplies task tell term terrorism text thanks thinking tuesday types unit video website websites week welcome word words work working world write writing

The process for setting up a Classblogmeister service is very straightforward. During a semester session, users may realise that there are certain features that require further development. The website encourages a community-driven development model supported through a feedback process.

This open approach to software delivery is evident in the usage indices of Classblogmeister. The latest statistics on the website indicate:

261,047  student & teacher bloggers

892,913  blogs posted

15  blogs posted in the last hour

1,113  blogs posted in the last 24 hours

5,588  blogs posted in the last week

A good example of the development flexibility on the website is the latest example – the entire code rewrite of the comments and feedback functionality along with new security features that were implemented on the website on 04/04/2010.

Some features included in this implementation:

  • Teacher Approval Required
  • Class Password Required
  • User must be a Class Blogmeister member
  • User Must be a Class Blogmeister member and a member of the class

Here are some videos on Classblogmeister:

Please Comment..

Software above the level of a single device.

Appvoyage: Boldly going where no developer ever thought was possible.

Appvoyage is of the future. A future where Apple and Google won’t to compete cannibalistically for market share by leveraging SaaS offerings like their app stores for the iphone and android. It is the concept that will break though walled gardens and technical barriers. It is the future and it is here!

So, what is Appvoyage? As a pioneer SaaS offering, Appvoyage allows RIA developers to target the increasing rich mobile apps market, through a comprehensive resource mashup . Using existing frameworks, developers can import content and/or functionality specs from the web, utilise the proprietary AppPod features to make the content more portable across mobile devices and then publish them to multiple app stores, or on the web, as a service.

This might have many implications on existing business models for app stores. Will iTunes / Android Market fully endorse the interoperability powering apps developed through the Appvoyage AppPod? I guess, for now, the ‘future’ is still under development. If Appvoyage can get over its teething issues and generate enough adoption by the RIA development community, perhaps this service will truly set the pace for ‘Software above the level of a single device’.

Please Comment.

Data is the Next Intel Inside?

Is Data the Next Intel Inside? Current trends in web applications development are moving away from extensive functionality to comprehensive information as the main design principle and trend. There are a host of websites that emulate this principle and market their data as the main selling point such as flickr, google maps, youtube, tripadvisor, etc. I would like to look more closely at this trend and use a product which has set the pace for web 2.0 enabled services – Travelocity’s Experience Finder (β).

Experience Finder is a novel approach towards marketing travel destinations as ‘experiences’. Each experience is driven by reviews, a mashup of various sources and services and highly effective SEO implementations. This is achieved through highly relevant, specific content on each experience with separate landing pages, which make it very effective for search crawlers to individually index and assign high pageranks to them. This in turn leads to the consistent positioning of Experience Finder content in the top 3 search results on Google and Yahoo.

A search for an ‘experience’ in any supported city, presents travellers with a very intuitive flash driven menu which takes them though exhaustive information about each ‘experience’ no longer limited to the basic flights/cars/hotels. Current data provided for each experience contains tools such as Maps/Galleries/Events, themes such as Adventure/Culture/Family/Indulgence and products such as Hotels, Activities and Vacation packages. All of these services are provided and monitored using a feedback matrix. User communities vote on service providers which directly influences the content displayed in relevant searches. This trend in the travel industry is becoming quite popular with content providers such as trip advisor and lonely planet. However Travelocity’s Experience Finder is one of the first providers in the industry to combine reservations and web 2.0 community models to create a unique service that is content rich and content driven which is one of the main principles behind web 2.0 design.

A recent Google Analytics case study shows that web 2.0 compliant websites have a much higher look-to-book ratio in the travel industry or the ability for travel ePOS systems to attract and convert shoppers into consumers, through effective sale. Certainly this shows that focussing on the ‘coolest tech’ is not necessarily a guarantee of acceptance among online user communities. Data/knowledge/content is here to stay and will help build even more successful platforms with the next wave i.e. the semantic web. Where this is headed is yet being defined in the semantic web frameworks, however – according to Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search Products and User Experience – it is clear that “having access to large amounts of data is in many instances more important than creating great algorithms”.

Please feel free to comment..

Harnessing Collective Intelligence

How Web 2.0 empowers professional collaboration in Agile SD.

The term web 2.0 brings to mind key aspects of its evolution such as Collaboration, Convergence, Participation, SEO, Syndication, Usability and technologies such as Open APIs, XHTML, Ruby on Rails, SOAP and AJAX, amongst others. While these aspects highlight the key impact web 2.0 has made on our lives, we are yet to realise the full potential of this trend of web development and how it can further enrich our web experience. Even so, some web 2.0 applications have in a very short time made significant strides in enhancing the way we interact within the limitations of the digital world. One such application I would like to elaborate on is that of web-conferencing and how it enhances professional collaboration in iterative software development projects across the world utilising Agile/Scrum/XP, overcoming traditional constraints of managing virtual teams.

What are iterative SD projects? Well, simply put, traditional software development – or waterfall SD – consists of the standard RADTM (Requirement gathering – Analysis – Development – Testing – Maintenance) approach in which each milestone has a rigid, defined place in a project plan based on prerequisites. The benefits of this approach are consistent development practices, adherence to timeframes and significant documentation of each stage to safeguard against scope-creep. The major problem is that the only true constant in a project should be quality. The customer should have the ability to change, redefine or reorder any project effort based on the dynamics of their business and business drivers that determine delivery priorities. This led to the evolution of standard SD methodologies into iterative SD practices. The only constant in an iterative SD effort is quality; scope and timelines are directly determined by the customer’s business drivers. Certainly, milestones are defined in a certain order, however, instead of making projections for the entire project delivery, the deliverables are mapped out into weekly, or fortnightly efforts (sprints/scrums) with a focus on feature demos at the end of each iteration. Each iteration is launched based on client go-ahead and the last iteration is reserved for code assimilation, check-listing and project delivery.

How do iterative SD projects benefit from web 2.0? The only method of ensuring project success in an iterative SD effort is to ensure equitable participation by all key stakeholders in a particular iteration through a system of daily & weekly iteration meetings, with periodic iteration demonstrations and status meetings. This becomes quite difficult to achieve given the increasing trend of virtual teams in IT. With the advent of web 2.0, technologies such as web-conferencing and practices such as consultative documentation review have greatly empowered professional and technical collaboration beyond the traditional limitations of distributed teams. Using web-conferencing product demos are now possible actively involving development, testing, maintenance and delivery teams as well as clients engaging them in active dialogue and collaboration through the process. There are a host of such technology providers that have solutions for live conferencing as well as web story-boarding which has largely replaced paper-based story-boarding as a highly effective tool for interaction between clients and service providers, allowing for the sharing, review and reordering of development priorities. The possibilities of stakeholder inclusion at every stage of the iterative process are virtually limitless. Web 2.0 technologies can be directly credited for creating numerous such platforms for better, more effective, professional collaboration in the IT industry today.

Where is this trend headed? Web 2.0 as a paradigm affecting online experiences is in a phase of constant flux and it might yet be hard to determine where exactly these trends are headed. One might only conclude that the driving principle for web 2.0 might persist in its objective for creating virtual interaction spaces that are inclusive rather than exclusive, and hopefully – grow from there. Please comment on how web 2.0 has shaped the way you communicate, conference or run projects..