Thoughts from Web Directions 2008

On Thursday and Friday last week I attended Web Directions South 2008, my first web only conference in a while. Overall it was a good event, but like most conferences there were some up & downs. Probably the biggest two downs were the opening Key Note and the lack of coffee on arrival on Friday morning. The biggest ups were Mark Pesce’s closing Key Note and David Peterson’s Semantic web for distributed social networks presentation, followed closely by August de los Reyes from Microsoft.

So did I get an ROI for my $1,500 investment (conference fees, airfare and miscellaneous expenses)?

Yes, in several areas a few of them are:

  • I got to meet a large number of people face to face for the first time after communicating online with them for so long.
  • I meet a large number of new people, I tried to average 5-10 new people per day.
  • Mark Pesce’s talk, as always, was inspiring.
  • David Peterson renewed my hope that FOAF and the Semantic will infact become a reality.
  • Laurel Papworth reinforced that yes social media can make money.
  • Surface computing is cool!
  • Data visualisation done well is also cool!
  • There is lots of cool tech stuff going on in Melbourne, just not sure why I had to go to Sydney to find it.
  • I learnt a fair bit on presentaion style, what works and what really doesn’t.
  • Connections with several people that might turn into paying business, which is great.
  • Finally there are a lot of books I need to read.
The telling fact is will I come back next year. Probably yes.

Startup camp Melbourne

Following the success of Startup Camp in Sydney, it’s on its way to Melbourne 3-5 October.

What is startup camp?

It’s a get together of people from different disciplines that have an interest in startups and do a complete startup in one weekend. From coming up with the idea and making a business plan to pitching, design and development and marketing.

I am helping the guys organise the event and right now we are full, 30 people registered, and have a waiting list of about 6 people. Unfortunately at this stage we do not have a venue, but we are working on it!

We are also looking for sponsorship in the form of food and drink, if you know anyone who could help on this front that would be great.

Twitter SMS delivery

Over the last couple of weeks I have been working on a couple of small side projects, one of which is a services to get your Direct Messages and @Replies sent directly to your mobile phone via SMS, Tweet2SMS. Basically this is to replace the service that Twitter shutdown about 3 weeks ago for users outside of the US, Canada, UK & India.

The service has been running in a private beta for a couple of weeks and earlier this week I opened the beta up to anyone who wants to register. You still need to request an invite code, but they are distributed automatically based on service volume every hour.

Some of the features are:

  • Sends you an SMS when you receive a Direct Message via Twitter
  • Sends you an SMS when someone mentions you on Twitter using the @Reply syntax
  • Ability to set custom times when you want both Direct Messages and @Replies sent to your phone
  • Ability to snooze your whole account for a specified period, for when you are in that very important meeting
  • Ability to control your account by sending a Direct Message to @tweet2sms:
    • Account On – Turns your account on. Optional parameter for the number of hours you want your account on or the word Today which turns the account on until 3am the following day.
    • Account Off – Turns your account off, which means you will no longer receive any messages
    • Track On – Turns tracking of @Replies to your user name on, a word of warning if you are popular you will run out of SMS credits quickly. Optional parameter for the number of hours you want your account on or the word Today which turns the account on until 3am the following day.
    • Track Off – Turns tracking off, you get the idea.
    • Sleep 30 – Sleeps all SMS notices for 30 minutes
    • Sleep 60 – Sleeps all SMS notices for 60 minutes
    • Sleep 90 – Sleeps all SMS notices for 90 minutes
    • Sleep 120 – Sleeps all SMS notices for 120 minutes
    • Sleep Off – Cancels a previously requested sleep command
    • Help – Lets you know what you can do
  • All SMS messages are sent with a reminder as to how many credits you have left on your account
If you are a Twitter users and need an SMS service go try it out.

Google Chrome is the new hype

It has been speculated for a long time that Google was going to enter the browser market, well on Sept 2nd they did with the launch of Chrome. Now there is lots written by the tech community on the launch about the pro’s and con’s of the new browser so I am just going to plot some of my thoughts.

My first thought is on browser support, Chrome adds yet another browser for developers to support. Well sort of. Google have built Chrome based on the WebKit, which is the rendering engine that Apple uses for Safari. So basically if your site works on Safari it will work with Chrome. But does your site work on Safari? I would suspect there are many a smaller organisation (& probably a few big ones as well) who have only built their site to support IE, and maybe Firefox. A quick review of the major job boards in Australia should that Seek, CareerOne & MyCareer all work ok. On the corporate side of things PageUp, Taleo and NGA sites all seem to hold up as well.

My next point is around privacy. Chrome allows user to browser without leaving a history on their personal desktop by using Incognito mode. But what is more interesting is the collection of data by Google. While they say it is only statistics but I have had reports, unconfirmed, that the URL you are browsing is sent back to Google to help the Googlebot know what to index.

Thoughts from my initial usage (2 hours worth):

  • It is reasonably fast
  • Clean user interface
  • I like the new tab browsing approach
  • Each new tab has a dashboard of frequently used sites, very nice
  • Love the ability to save sites as application shortcuts on the desktop, makes a browser application more like a regular desktop application
  • For developers the Inspect element allows you to view the underlying source code associated with the selected element
  • I spent 15 minutes trying to work out how to spell check a field on a page, I guess not all the UI is easy

I will be using Chrome as my primary browser for the next week and will then decide if I should go back to Firefox. Will Chrome over take Firefox, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer, like most things only time will tell.


Need to learn about web 2.0, come to university

If you are in Australia, and interested in learning about Web 2.0 then you should get yourself to Sydney on September 23 and attend the Web 2.0 University being run as a extra session at Web Direction South. The Web 2.0 Executive Bootcamp session is being co-hosted by Jeff Kelly & Stephen Collins and is priced at an amazing AUD$450 conference attendees / AUD$550 standalone compared to the regular US$895.

What will you learn?

  • Exploration of the latest ideas, business models, trends, and techniques behind Web 2.0
  • Review of proven, actionable methods for creating new online products and service
  • Step-by-step strategies for using Web 2.0 techniques
  • Review of the 7 major patterns of Web 2.0 applications
  • The structure and business models of Web 2.0

All in all a great offering.

Good the bad and the ugly or is it a storm in a tea cup?

About 2 hours ago Twitter announced they were stopping their SMS notification service outside of the US, Canada, UK and India as it was costing them too much money. Now I completely understand a business needs to make money and the a free service cannot last forever but the way this change has been implemented is poor customer service. (See GetSatisfaction for a feeling on the change from their users.)

The announcement is effective immediately, not tomorrow, next week or next month, NOW! A bit like when they limited SMS notifications to 250/week with no notice. I guess we could say at least they told us this time.

Twitter had a perfect opportunity to provide premium services to customers willing to pay! For a company with no business model so far this might have been a good starting point for revenue generation.

I guess time will tell if the decision impact usage of the tool.

Jobs on the go

Over the last couple of weeks I have been pondering the impact of the mobile web on recruitment. As such I have been thinking through several possible use cases but at this stage I have not found the killer app.

We have already seen several companies trying to use SMS notifications for job adverts and shift notifications but let’s take it a step further.

Using your mobile phone to search the average job board for a new offering is probably not going to be the killer app in this area. Other areas:

  • Branding, branding, branding
  • Mobile friendly pages
  • SMS notifications of new jobs posted that match your requirements, this would allow you to be first to view the job
  • SMS notifications from your ATS reminding candidates of job interview times and maps, might even include links to transport sites etc anything to help the candidate get to the interview on time
  • SMS notifications from your ATS reminding recruiters and/or managers of interviews or if a hard to fill position has an application (doubtful application but you never know)
  • Using QR Codes to provide additional content at job fairs
  • Placing QR Code stickers around job fairs or University campus’s to generate a buzz for your brand, of course you will have a mobile friendly landing page, maybe even use a .mobi domain

In case you don’t know what a QR Code is, from Wikipeidia:

QR Codes storing addresses and URLs may appear in magazines, on signs, buses, business cards or just about any object that a user might need information about. A user having a camera phone equipped with the correct reader software can scan the image of the QR Code causing the phone’s browser to launch and redirect to the programmed URL. This act of linking from physical world objects is known as a hardlink or physical world hyperlinks.

Here is one that directs you to Inspecht:


Update: There has been a bit of a further uptake in Australia on QR Codes with an article in the IT Australian today.

Social media and Generation Y

A recent report from Microsoft and Insurity in the US found that 71% used IM and 77% used social networking sites on a daily or frequent basis, with over 2/3rds of them belonging to 2 or more social networking sites. But surprisingly 15% said they did not belong to a social network site. While this might not be news what their views were of access in the office might surprise you.

Over 75% say they would expect to have or use the following within a professional workplace:

  • web-based searches (80%)
  • office productivity applications (79%)

However less than 50% would expect or use the following:

  • social networking sites (40%)
  • company provided virtual meetings (42%)
  • personal instant messenger (45%)
  • mobile or smart phones paid by company (48%)
  • Wikipedia or other Wikis (49%)

Now while less than 50% wanted access to these tools can your organisation really afford to “turn off” these potential employees given the current shortage for talent?

For IT department that lock down every piece of technology, 91% said having more access to innovative technologies would influence their decisions in taking a job. Only access to flexible work schedules or location was considered more important to these respondents. To make things even worse for the average IT department the ability to work with newer, innovative technology was ranked more important than than:

  • being able spend time on outside charitable efforts (70%)
  • being able to work with people their age (71%)
  • opportunities to work on collaborative team projects (72%)
  • and the ability to telecommute or work from home (77%)

Now what about a workplace that provides access to these basic tools but also has collaborative tools to enable blogging, social bookmarking, tagging and other Enterprise 2.0 tools? I suspect they would attract Generation Y candidates, don’t you?

iPhones are all the rage

With claims by Apple that they sold one million 3G iPhones in the first 3 days it is no wonder that everyone it talking about them.

One of the key attractions of the iPhone since day 1 has been the amazing user interface, superb screen and general Apple industrial design. One of the key detractions was the lack of Enterprise class applications. Well that has all changed.

First Apple released MobileMe a push email and calendaring application (that doesn’t support Tasks which is insane) that includes support for Microsoft Exchange.

In the last few days we have seen launches from the likes of Salesforce and Oracle with applications specifically designed for the iPhone.

IT departments all over the world are now having to seriously look at how they support this device within their enterprise architecture. Such as VPN access from the iPhone to the corporate intranet. That will be interesting as for most they will have never touched an Apple computing device other than an iPod.

The next interesting step is how these devices can be used for Enteprise 2.0 implementations such as collaboration, wikis, and bookmarking.

Will the Apple be the next RIM?

Yet even more data stolen!

Once again more HR data has been stolen, and guess what again it was not encrypted!

This time Colt Express Outsourcing Services, an HR outsourcing vendor, had data for many of it’s clients stolen in a burglary on May 26. The clients affected include Google and CBS’ CNET Networks. The data stolen in the burglary included just names, addresses, social security numbers and other data of employees and dependent, as with the Stanford case enough to open credit cards under the person’s name. More details in the letter Colt sent to the Marylands Attorney General.

What is interesting in this case is that Colt Express is in financial difficulty and is unable to help the affected customers. Further to this Google had ceased using them as a service provider a few years ago.

This scenario brings up some questions for organisations.

  • Firstly encrypt personal data, even data in file servers, laptops and corporate databases. Now I know this is not a simple activity but please look into it.
  • When you enter into an outsourcing arrangement do you really check to see that the vendor is complying with the contract to store data encrypted?
  • When an outsourcing contract finishes and the organisation either has to keep your data for legal purposes or does keep the data, what review processes do you have in place to ensure the data is kept secure.
  • Further following the contract end do are these old arrangements reviewed in light of changing privacy legislation? Does anyone remember that you had the arrangements?
  • How do you ensure that data stored in old systems is correctly destroyed? Now I know what the process should be, certificates of destruction are required, but do you ever ask to view them and do you even know when hard disks containing your data are destroyed by an outsourced service provider?

This area is becoming more and more complex.

For example the Skilled Group looks after about 60,000 employees across Australia and have recently entered into an agreement to deploy Wide Area Data Services which basically means that personal data could be stored in many of their offices. Skilled admits that their IT infrastructure is very decentralised, so what happens when a disk dies in one of the smaller offices and is replaced? Will correct data destruction procedures take place?

Governance around the handling of personal data should be a priority for every HR Director during IT projects. Assuming they know that personal data is being impacted, such as in the deployment of a Wide Area Data Service which on the surface looks just like an IT project.