Well, last night I joined in an event that I won’t soon forget.  In case you missed it (and I almost did) U2 broadcast their concert from the Rosebowl LA last night online via YouTube live for the world to watch – and FREE.  As I watched it really felt like a new dawn (although it actually was very late for me) with many technologies coming of age over past years were put to full test to share an experience globally.

First a note on how I found out about this.  Maybe my head had been in the sand, but I was not aware of this event until shortly before when I saw notes coming across my twitter feeds (which is quickly becoming my news and information source).  I am no U2 expert or even one who follows them closely, but I recall many of their songs from my youth and thought this might be fun to watch – I had no idea what I was in for!

I followed a link and logged online and within minutes the band took the stage around 12am EST.  Now this being U2, many expect nothing short of a great show.  Certainly for those attending live in LA the show had too have been phenomenal considering the stage, lights, 360 degree rotating screens, energy, etc – the list goes on.

But what about those of us watching online? Generally the online community ends up getting the “scraps” when its a live broadcast as the show is produced for the live audience.

Not this show!  The sound quality was incredible – mixed well, clear, crisp.  The video production was also great.  I watched it full-screen and the clarity was superb almost the entire time providing incredible camera angles and effects to bring the show home to me.  The online broadcast worked for me without any issues, which seems like a major accomplishment as I assume quite a few were watching globally.  I definitely felt like a 1st class participant receiving the same attention to quality as those in attendance.

While I’m no expert in U2 songs, I did hear messages tonight touching on violence, war, sickness, and most importantly God.  They sang one of my favorite songs – Amazing Grace as an intro to “Where the streets have no name.”  It was incredible hearing a message being sung for the world of God’s love and grace for all of us even though we are all lost and blind.  I know that God’s love can move mountains in our world of pain and brokenness.

And beyond watching and listening was the social experience.  The twitter feeds were alive with posts in various languages across the globe.  Folks were posting where they were watching from and the band referenced several remote simulcast (I think).  Having a global audience U2 used this experience to communicate on important social issues including hunger and democracy!  They had Nelson Mandela talk via video and a special focus on the Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi even providing everyone signs to hold up.  At one point they also spoke directly to anyone who might be online from Iran.  And there was what appeared to be a live message from the international space station.

My only negative was Bono at one point took an American flag from an assistant and opened it up on the stage floor and was nearly laying/walking on it.  I don’t think Bono was trying to be disparaging, but this is definitely not a proper handling of our flag.

I’m not personally equipped to gauge the impact this event may yield – but realizing that folks across the globe were watching left me feeling at a minimum there may be someone watching who is facing repression and who may have received encouragement.  And for those of us living in freedom it was an important reminder of the value of our freedom and life battle that others face for their own freedom.

In case you missed it – here is the YouTube link where it will be rebroadcast –  http://www.youtube.com/user/U2official

If you’re an audiophile you may enjoy this post on the sound setup – http://clairglobal.com/u2/

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Recent advances in software design, often referred to with such labels as Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and Social Media provide a great opportunity to look at old problems and consider if they could be solved better with a new approach.  We are already seeing this with social media applications where collaboration (i.e. email based on 40 year designs) is being reinvented with new integrated platforms for email, blog, wiki, IM, micro-blogging.  Now we should ask what opportunities exist to solve other “old” problems with new 2.0ish solutions.

What are we learning about software?

If you asked folks what “social media” or “2.0” means – you likely get some varied answers.  There is already much written on the definitions of Social Media and W20/E20.  Instead of focusing on specific features or platforms, my intent is to focus on how this revolution is changing how folks approach using software to solve problems.

Some important attributes I see include:

  • Simple.  The features for the products tend to be simpler, how they are used is simpler.
  • Easy to use.  Users of software now expect it to be easy to use and not get in their way.  This is related to “simple” but not identical.
  • Anywhere/Anytime.  Users can access from anywhere anytime, especially mobile devices.
  • Collaboration.   Where possible allow for open collaboration amongst involved parties.
  • Transparency.  Folks are becoming far more transparent – just look at tools like Facebook.  This breaks down barriers and provides opportunities for software to be more efficient.
  • Cloud.  Whether the “cloud” is internet or intranet, users are becoming more comfortable with cloud based computing and seeking the benefits of this application delivery model.
  • Mashup & Integration.  Information and access to services to operate on this information is key.  Users are expecting more to be able to connect with providers of both to help better solve their problems.

There are many concepts/features emerging from this 2.0 revolution and include Wikis, Blogs, Micro-Blogging, Profiles, Mobile Apps, Portals, etc.  And we should expect more new ideas to continue being introduced which users will want to leverage.

Can we do better with social media influences?

So the big question – can we solve old problems in new & better ways providing improved efficiency, user adoption, transparency and availability?  I think so!  But this cannot be achieved by simply taking an “old” app and gluing on a couple of 2.0 features – the app needs to be re-conceived from the ground up.   A simple example relates to hybrid cars – you do not simply take the engine from a hybrid and drop into a traditional gas powered car.   Instead it gets redesigned from the ground up taking into account weight, strength, aerodynamics, etc.

How about some examples?

Ultimately I believe this revolution could provide opportunities across most software.   For example:

  • Documentation.  Imagine the possibilities if documentation were prepared, reviewed, managed in a wiki like form!  Available on-line, anywhere allowing for distributed contribution and collaboration.  For example a writer who is participating in translation could be working in near real-time on latest docs from remote locations.
  • Expense Management.  Consider if your expense management tool were simple to use, seamlessly integrated with your mobile device, collaborative to allow for efficient review!  This might decrease the time spent entering, allow one to get reimbursed more quickly, and better allow the business to manage/monitor expenses.

These are just two simple examples.  Can you see how this could dramatically change how a lot of old problems have been solved?

With the rapid adoption of social media and use cases, are we seeing the birth of a new content structure with a need for management?   Instead of a content having only a single dimension, content of the future will be a composite which includes the enrichment of social activities.  Leveraging the full value of this enriched content will require looking at this content differently including new tools.

The term “social media” has gained prominence in reference to the various forms of content used in social circles – blogs, tweets, micro blogs, wikis, bookmarking, podcasts, UGC, etc.  While these technologies and content have led to an introduction of software to monitor the social activities in user centric manner – what about looking at it from a content threaded view?  Ultimately these social activities help to enrich, promote, correct, and clarify various content sources.

What if instead we had a concept labeled Social Content that effectively drew a connection through the social world to create content which leverages the power of community to become enriched?  This new content much like any other will have needs for tracking, capturing and viewing.  For example, I can imagine users might want to embed a piece of “Social Content” into an application allowing users the ability to see and interact with the additional dimensions of this content in real time. 

Current Social Media modeling

Today the social media landscape generally is viewed as:

socialcontent_current

 Here you can see how the focus is more centered around the base content type with links/references in/out based on social technology.  As social activities have increased, we are seeing tools to help tie activities together, often around a user model – showing their tweets, blogs, status changes, etc.

New “Social Content”

Now imagine if we considered a new form of content taking shape which more represents an active multi-dimensional content that at any one time is the composite of the base content (or multiple) and the various activities which have occurred around this content.

socialcontent_future

For example, someone publishes a video which then gets reference within a blog, tweeted about, emailed, commented on – each step of the way adding more information about this content and either enriching or possibly extending the content.  Even social analytics data, i.e. Twitter trends, could be correlated to the content and activity.

Just as a picture communicates more than words and video more than pictures – social content recognizes that community communicates more than individual

Managing Social Content

Treating this information as a new form of content will allow for it to be tracked, used, embedded, referenced – allowing the additional dimensions to be available and visible as part of the content.   One challenge in managing the content is the consideration that data exists across multiple tools, technologies and interfaces – and will likely remain this way.   Another challenge will be how to uniquely identify this data – likely to leverage the base content as part of the identification.   I am hoping to go into more detail on these challenges in a follow-up posting.

Using Social Content

Consider, for example, how someone might share a blog about a restaurant which could then be enriched with references to write-ups, information about the type of food and even other pictures/video.  This entire experience could be automatically identified and “packaged” as social content which could then be used in another blog, online publication, etc.   In practice one might embed a piece of social content into a power point or blog and the viewer widget would provide access to the original content along with the additional dimensions of community input.  These additional dimensions could reflect a point-in-time snapshot or live real-time updating content.

Now what?

While I have seen related concepts, I have not yet found a technology which captures this as described above.  In a follow-up I hope to further discuss the vision, challenges, and ideas for managing this content including usability considerations.  I would welcome any input!

There has got to be a better way!  Having spent years building large business applications, it seems the time has come for the traditional monolithic application model to become a thing of the past … and be replaced by a new concept I have labeled a “mash-app” much like a mash-up but different.   First I’ll clarify what I mean by enterprise business applications and then consider challenges this creates along with how this can be overcome with new architectures – heavily influenced by SOA and web2.0.  Of course this requires some change in mindset as to what constitutes an “application.”

Enterprise Applications:  They’re broken

The term Enterprise Application takes on various meanings, but for the sake of this discussion it means an application used to perform mission critical business functions across the organizations of a business.  While the specific functions will vary from business to business, they generally include requirements around high availability, scalability, flexible and strong security, robustness of features, ability to model a customer’s business processes and ability to integrate with other technologies already part of the business process.

As these applications have grown and become more complex, they have effectively started to bulge and crack at the seams.  Years of growth, acquisitions and technology advances have pushed this type of software to point where they are broken.  This software often falls victim to:

  • Lengthy time to market for new innovations – software that is behind the times.
  • Contamination of features when new features added – over time even best intentions are hard to overcome as product becomes unwieldy.
  • Costly upgrade processes which may include re-integrations – more features, more customizations, more integrations as these large installations create upgrade headaches.
  • Unusable interfaces – often evolved over years of adding new features on top of old, using features in ways not originally intended, etc.

Deb Lavoy shares her thoughts on this also in a blog post titled enterprise software has 5 years to live.  Many of these challenges are rooted in the traditional desire to produce a single “application” including a single interface, single base of technology, single database, single installation – all ideal, but at what cost ($$ and time).

Mash-App: An Enterprise Application architecture of the future

A mash-app is a concept where the traditional application, both UI and services, are sufficiently componentized such that the final application is effectively a mash-up of the components while still delivered as a packaged solution.  These components would be integrated to meet the business and functional needs with integration via services (via web services) and user-interface components (via URLs, json, web services).

One challenge here is a possible change in how we envision an “application.”   Unfortunately we have grown accustomed to the Microsoft Office style of integration for a suite – one where everything looks almost identical and is so tightly integrated you might not know which technology is driving what features.   While this might be the holy grail of suite integrations – it introduces a number of challenges which limit a software businesses ability to innovate.

Leveraging this new Mash-App architecture, the larger application will now be decomposed into more distinct service groups allowing for:

  • True agile delivery of updates to those components without requiring complete reinstall, configuration, and re-integration of the complete application.
  • Diminished risk of cross-contamination when adding new features because features are more physically separated.
  • Efficient integration of 3rd party technology which at best share an underlying technology.  This becomes particularly important today when roll-up acquisitions occur frequently to enhance and augment functionality through innovation of start-ups and other vendors.
Mash-App:  simple example

Let’s suppose we have a document management application which leverages “users” for everything from access control to auditing and workflow.  The application generally provides a means for managing these users (even if fed from external source such as LDAP) to maintain application data.

Leveraging this new model, we will define the “User Services” as a component – both business services and user-interface services.   These services include the interfaces to define, manage, search-for, and display details of user information and would now effectively be a module.  When a different component of the application needs to interact with user services, i.e. search for a user, it would “call” the search-for user API (maybe via URL) which would present the end-user with a search screen and the ability to select 1..N users.   Upon completion the component would return control back to the caller providing the key identifying information.

With this approach, the vendor could easily decide to enhance the user services and deliver an update of this component with limited/managed risk to other parts of the application.  I believe this approach could be extended to the other functional groups within the application.

Mash-App:  so what do you think

Imagine entire applications built using this architecture?

While it might take time to achieve fully (unless building from scratch) – a movement in this direction will allow for a more agile approach to software development and delivery.   New acquisitions will deliver value to customer more quickly.  And even delivering “software+services” through mash-ups is more achievable as the core application is designed in a similar architecture.

Finally had one of those “ah-ha” moments to appreciate how micro-blogging (Twitter, Yammer, etc) is basically “hall conversation meets the internet!”

In years past much collaboration occurred in the halls at work (or around the coffee machine).   During these ad-hoc discussions folks share what they are working on, maybe something new they have seen, possibly even something personal.   Key was short and often disjoint bits of information, but often valuable to your work.  As you would come and go you would pick up parts, some days more than others and might followup on something you heard.  

And then there was Twitter… and Yammer…

These new technologies and communities provide almost an electronic “coffee machine” around which discussion occurs.  While it took me a short while to appreciate and understand, this is clearly part of the significant change underway in how the internet is used.  And now the field of scope from whom I can have ad-hoc conversations has grown to be global.  This is really exciting – I can see this filling a critical gap in distributed work environments. 

So is there a negative?   Does this promote further distancing in folks from developing good interpersonal skills?   Take a look at this article at mashup http://mashable.com/2009/02/10/mobile-dating-stats

With advances in new media and online collaboration, I find it interesting to consider how new media might be used in the corporate world of tomorrow.   No doubt there are uses we cannot yet conceive, but it’s always worth trying.   As a kid one of my favorite activities was to draw pictures of “cities of the future” which looked more like “cities in outer space” – it’s fun to imagine the impossible considering it may actually become real.

Here is my initial list of ideas.  Some may already be started outside corp walls and will eventually move behind.

  • Use of robust and integrated social networks for identification of content
  • Video based presentations – ppt of the future?
  • Video for how-to’s, support, etc
  • Video email.  Or are words simpler and better for email/chat.
  • Video based lan navigation – like a virtual office to help organize information.  Users from different languages might be able to navigate storage by pictures instead of words…
  • Blending of doc & video format – maybe auto conversion between spoken/written/visual
  • Video Reports – could time based media provide richer reporting format?  Instead of Excel spreadsheet you get a media clip with integrated navigation

Are these crazy ideas?  How about more so I can update the above list with credits to each of you.