Web Surfer Must Haves

For the Firefox user …

  1. del.icio.us buttons – Firefox Add-on. Your bookmarking woes will be gone forever. You can conveniently tag and bookmark any page, then access your bookmarks from any computer. Two buttons are added to your Navigation Toolbar, My del.icio.us and tag this which makes it incredibly convenient. (requires registration)
  2. Adblock Plus – Firefox Add-on. “Ever been annoyed by all those ads and banners on the internet that often take longer to download than everything else on the page? Install Adblock Plus now and get rid of them.” It’s better than Adblock as it provides the option of a filter subscription that blocks most ads automatically.
  3. StumbleUpon – FireFox Add-on. If you ever randomly surf, this site is the best. Add their toolbar, click the Stumble icon and you are directed to interesting sites. You specify categories you are interested in. I constantly bookmark these sites with del.icio.us tag this button above. (requires registration)
  4. 15 Coolest Firefox Tricks Ever. (from lifehacker.org). My favorites are CNTL L to go to the location bar, the tip to shrink the icons on your Navigation bar so your location box will fit a decent length URL, and the Speed up Firefox with pipelining tip.

Collaborating with Twitter

My personal jury is still out with respect to Twitter, but the collaboration opportunities are shining bright. As I’ve mentioned in prior postings I’ve been quite impressed with the ETS (Educational Technology Services) gang at Penn State. I stumbled on this savvy bunch by surfing around in iTunes U.

They seem to be very enamored with Twitter. I’m not quite sure why at this point, but the best way to find out is to listen in on their tweets. I’ve set up the four folks who do the ETS podcasts as friends.

I’m not especially interested in most personal activities, but I am very interested in what they are thinking about with respect to collaboration, technology and learning. I was hoping that they might have assembled a list, web page, what have you, of interesting resources, links, and contacts. I wasn’t able to find this page as such, but I’m hoping their tweets will send me in the right direction.(Yes, the blogs are a good resource, but more confined in a strange way.)

Many moons ago when I worked with people at Universities it was in the techie sales context. I’m not sure if the ETS gang is interested in what we are working on in our group at Sun, but blogs, associated comments, and maybe even Twitter are an interesting way to expand your information network.

Our group is currently experimenting with Twitter. One real change that we really haven’t gotten our arms around is how public it is. Everyone shouldn’t be privy to (some/most/all ?) our work related conversations. We  need to apply appropriate filtering.

Certainly twitter is more than a this is what I’m doing now vehicle, it’s also a what I’m thinking now vehicle, as well as a really light weight group communications vehicle. Maybe there is a convenient way to twitter or IM to a restricted group of people, but I haven’t figured that out, yet.

I work from home full time and what I most miss (from working at the office) are the unplanned and informal collaboration opportunities. I tend not to do my best thinking in a  structured environment.

Twitter is also fun.

Twitter at the Customer Engineering Conference?

I have to admit the Twitter phenomena has escaped me. I understand the draw for teens wanting to extend their texting networks, but not for educated adults. However, ETS Talk 22: Welcome to the Meta Hub has made me reconsider. Cole discussed how Twitter has enabled him to connect with the Penn State community and vibe (my word) to a degree that’s never before been possible.

The CEC is a Sun global technical training and employee networking conference. 3500 engineers from the Sales and Service organizations, as well as Sun partners, will descend on Las Vegas in October.

Wouldn’t Twitter be a wonderful supplement to the CEC?  It would enable groups of like minded people to exchange relevant information in real time on things like:

  1. Hot breakout sessions, great speakers.
  2. Running into unexpected people, colleagues, luminaries, etc.
  3. Impromptu gatherings.

There could also be a primary CEC channel to communicate late breaking news, main tent event changes, and other goodies to create the buzz.

Seems like real win to me. Should the central organizing committee help facilitate the effort? Perhaps a wiki listing all the groups?

OneStop on a Diet

To some degree OneStop is a victim of it’s own success. Content breadth has expanded far beyond the original scope of information about products. This is mostly good news, but effectuates  a new set of challenges.

The goal of the site is to be timely, accurate, and relevant. This is straight forward for current and mainstream products and technologies. New information is constantly made available. The OneStop author gathers it, posts it, and lots of people know to go to OneStop to find it.

There are two areas that we struggle with. The first is static content. We classify pages that cover areas (product/technology/programs) that only very infrequently have changes or new information to add, as static. Many static pages haven’t been updated in six months, though they are still accurate and up to date.

The second area is low usage pages. The most popular pages on OneStop get about 1000 hits per month. The 100th most popular gets about 300. The 300th gets around 100 hits per month. We classify the pages that get below 50 hits per month as low usage pages.

Historically we’ve gone for the more is better approach. We tune search so that the more popular active pages appear first in the results. We segregate off archive pages (EOL products are an example) into a second A-Z index. We tend to populate the menus with the most popular pages.

However, people frequently arrive at the site via avenues we don’t directly manage, such as SunWeb search. They sometimes arrive at pages that haven’t been updated in quite a long time, or cover topics of limited interest. My suspicion is that many users make a judgment on the entire site, based on that one page, or experience.

To quote my colleague Robert, “we want to keep OneStop a lean, mean, fighting machine”. However, this runs counter to offering a large number of static and low usage pages!

The bugaboo is that the authors are volunteers, and we try hard never demotivate a volunteer who trying to contribute to the greater good.

What to do? Should we go on a diet?

Close the Feedback Loop

At Sun we are forever responding to surveys. Only recently have we gotten better at sharing the responses, and more importantly the actions to be taken as a function of the responses.

For me, and I assume for our users, there are few things more frustrating than taking the time to provide feedback, then having it go into a black hole. I was listening to the Cranky Geeks podcast the other day and Dvorak mentioned that he occasionally receives searing feedback. When he responds reasonably he invariably gets a very pleasant response. The assumption, of course, is that the person was frustrated and just assumed their feedback was going into the void.

On OneStop we are very careful about closing the feedback loop. Every page has a feedback button, which initiates a custom form for feedback for that page. The author name is listed, as well as a checkbox saying “Do you want a response?”.

Email is then sent to the author, copying to the OneStop HQ team (Robert and I) and logged in a DB. If the submitter requests a response, we make sure they get one.