June 29, 2005

More on Microsoft's RSS Strategy

Microsoft Watch has more on MS' big plans for RSS. The post includes a link to an MSDN Channel 9 video of Microsoft's RSS team.

The more interesting parts are in the latter half of the very informal video. From Channel 9, there are three demos in the video at the indicated time positions in the video:

Demo One, at about 23:19. RSS in IE 7 and synchronization with other aggregators (like RSS Bandit)
Demo Two, at about 34:00. Enclosures, calendar integration.
Demo Three, at about 49:50. Amazon integration.
I'd advise anyone interested in the near-future application of RSS to take a peek. This isn't likely something Microsoft just started, as they've been working in stealth mode until they had something to show for it. Very savvy.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
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June 27, 2005

Microsoft to Incorporate RSS in Longhorn

Microsoft just announced that RSS will be incorporated into the forthcoming Longhorn (the next version of Windows) as a core technology. This has the potential of being really big, and I'll tell you why.

Right now, each RSS application (e.g., FeedDemon, NewsGator, etc.) has to maintain its own set of RSS feed addresses and XML data downloaded from your subscribed sites. The problems are many: Duplication of storage and data, no synchronization resulting in time-consuming import/exports of OPML files (or none at all), outdated RSS links in your lesser-used RSS readers, etc. Sure, you could use a web-based service such as Bloglines for central access, but I've never been satisfied with their watered-down features compared to FeedDemon. That's a key difference between fat and thin clients.

The OPML format makes transferring the RSS feed lists and groups easier between RSS apps and PCs, but what about the downloaded content itself? What if you like to maintain a year's worth of feeds (or more) for searching or creating watchlists within your RSS reader (Go FeedDemon!)? You likely can't merge the different data sets.

By now you have a pretty good idea of the issues with using multiple RSS readers and computing platforms (Windows, Web, etc.).

Now let's talk about the OS: Remember those fond DOS days when each application needed its own modem, printer, and display drivers installed, configured, and tweaked? Centralizing those shared services into the OS usually made it a lot easier and cost-effective on both the application developers and the end users. Developers didn't have to write additional code for all these items, so they could either focus on coding additional features, or simply getting their application to market more quickly.

Fast-forwarding to RSS as a core piece of the OS: If Microsoft succeeds, RSS feeds and data could be stored as shared resources. Updated Longhorn-aware versions of your favorite RSS readers can access the shared info. So, for example, if you love using both FeedDemon for its watchlists but also SharpReader for its blog discussion threading, you can have your cake and eat it too (assuming the app developers support Longhorn).

Let's kick it up notch: Think of all the cool things we do on our PCs -- the integration of e-mail, web browsing, and RSS feeds (NewsGator is a good example at their intersection). How about music and video playlists and streaming? Movie listings? TV listings? Driving directions? These could all very well be RSS-driven. Driven where? Right into any number of RSS-aware applications: Browsers, e-mail, office suites, multimedia players, games, you name it. The entertainment and media center applications and extensions are particularly well suited to being RSS-enabled. Microsoft's RSS team surely already knows this. Microsoft also has a good track record of waiting until a technology begins to mature and then swarms it (think browsers, e-mail, office suites, and portals -- all of which could benefit from being RSS-aware).

With this said, all of this RSS "goodness" within Microsoft's control raises valid concerns:

  • Microsoft making proprietary changes to the RSS standards:
  • Remember those IE extensions to HTML tags, which only worked in the IE browser? Discussions are already underway by Microsoft to extend RSS to handle lists (e.g., music playlists, NY Times Bestseller list, SharePoint document lists -- aha!). However, there is a mitigating factor mentioned in the PC World Techlog: "Microsoft will make these extensions available through a Creative Commons license, which means that other developers can incorporate them into their services and software products."

    Keep in mind, though, that this still gives Microsoft an edge to begin subtle RSS morphing into their own image. The CC license, while laudable, also helps MS avoid some of the backlash and speeds adoption. Very savvy. Even Dave Winer sounds optimistic with the way MS is approaching RSS extension and new format development -- quite a turnaround from his previous battle over RSS vs. Atom.

  • Effect on the market:
  • Anyone who integrates with a key piece of Microsoft code is in danger of being displaced by a watered-down Microsoft replacement or MS acquiring them outright. Remember Stacker (disk compression) and certain Quarterdeck utilities (memory management)? More recently, consider the nifty Lookout add-in for Outlook (Microsoft actually acquired Lookout, but you get the idea).

    Now consider NewsGator's tight integration with Outlook. I'd be a little nervous if I were them, as IE and Outlook are two critical intersection points for RSS feeds. I'd bet NewsGator saw the writing on the wall over the last year or two and decided to diversify by offering addition services and integrations.

I've often said that RSS is fast becoming the "glue" that helps tie the web together from a content perspective. It crosses barriers and embeds content more seamlessly. If Microsoft approaches this with the right savvy, RSS may enjoy a critical step in its evolution.

I don't view this as a panacea to some of the other issues (syncing RSS feeds and/or content between PC's, for example). However, it doesn't take much imagination to see how RSS' capabilities can be extended and exploited with a little help from the OS as a common enabling platform. Definitely worth staying tuned.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
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June 24, 2005

Reinvent Yourself

As I attended an intracompany conference this week, I had an opportunity to speak with various people who have had radically different jobs throughout their careers. I don't believe it's any coincidence they were also some of the most dynamic and engaging people I've met, and that they had advanced well within the organization. Good business people have more than just technical competence, more than just managerial skills. They have a broader perspective gained from diverse experiences.

A few years ago, I attended an insightful keynote by Attorney Christine Edwards of Winston Strawn in Chicago. It was entitled, "Accountability at the Speed of Thought", which addressed the challenges and responsibilities that chief legal officers face today. I blogged it as she made a number of key points, which I summarized:

  • Businesses need to cross divisions and business lines (no more silos).
  • The informed technologist has a career path. Business leaders today are more interested in methodology and softwares. Today, the sky is the limit for business leaders with a technology background. Communication skills are key. Corporate boards need people who understand technology, but can see the broader picture. As Ms. Edwards put, they can see around corners.
  • Technology can facilitate things, but what is really needed is a change in behavior and culture -- there are no silver bullets.
These points are even truer today, and indeed have risen to become imperatives. Successful organizations need diverse, well-rounded business professionals who understand the technical, business, process, and human issues. To get there, we need to continually reinvent ourselves. While our technical and management competencies are surely important, our overall business savvy, adaptability, and creativity are even more critical in the long run.

So each year, try to do several things you normally wouldn't do within your comfort zone. Get involved in a different kind of project, one that will bring you into contact with others you normally wouldn't see. Get involved in a committee that you otherwise wouldn't consider. Do some volunteer work in your community. Take a trip. Consider additional education, and it doesn't have be formal. Consider things like Toastmasters, Dale Carnegie, or LaMarsh. Change jobs. Heck, it can be something as simple as teaching yourself to juggle. Above all else, I've found it increasingly important to make time to reflect upon what makes you happy, including your life goals (not just career-related), and visualize how you might get there.

Granted, some of these are more easily accomplished than others. But consider that should you fail, you'll likely fail forward -- definitely not to be confused with "failing upward". I'm sure by now you've noticed I'm a firm believer of change or die.

There are many organizations who need your talents in a wide variety of capacities, and you just might discover something about yourself you didn't know. If you're already in a great situation, the experiences and perspective gained will only make you more valuable. In other words, what's the downside?

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management  |  Other Musings
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June 16, 2005

Don't Lead, Enable!

I just read, with great enthusiasm, Bruce MacEwen's post, "To CIO's Seeking 'Buy-In:' Snap Out of It", wherein he quotes Michael Shrage's CIO.com article, "Buttressing the Business":

[Bruce:] But without buy-in, where are we? Aren't we still staring at a landscape of still-born tech initiatives? Actually, there is an alternative. CIO's (and their departments) need to stop thinking of themselves as "leaders" [stay with me on this one, folks] and become "enablers:"
[Bruce quoting Michael] "In other words, IT shouldn't be a change or transformation leader; it should be a change or transformation enabler. What's the essential difference? For the purpose of this column, leaders are those individuals most responsible and accountable for setting the right objectives and ensuring the right results. Enablers, by contrast, are those individuals most responsible and accountable for providing leaders with the tools, techniques and technologies for achieving those objectives and results. Enablers make effective leadership practical and probable."
Thanks for summing up my philosophy so eloquently. Long-time readers may recall my feature article, "Are You an "Enabler?" published here the first month I went live (Sept. 2003).

To sum it up:

- Find or create something that acts as an enabler.
- Share it with someone who can run with it.
- Then get the heck out of the way!
If you've found a good fit, you'll likely find that you don't have to do much selling yourself. Your customer will take care of that.

Set them up to succeed and provide support when needed. Then you're working from a much stronger position of a "pull" than a "push". They will want to pull the solution from you, rather than you trying to "push" it on them. It's not easy, and it often requires some cleverness on your part to figure out how to do that. (That's why they hired you, right?)

Is this a bit radical? Probably. Will it always work? No. But don't let that stop you from trying. Fail forward.

[By the way, we're so much on the same page here that I authored the title for this post before I read the linked CIO.com article and its subheadings. Innovative minds sometimes do think alike...]

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
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June 14, 2005

BlackBerry/NTP Settlement Now Uncertain

Back in March, RIM and NTP supposedly settled their long-disputed patent infringement case by signing a half-page "term sheet", and CrackBerry users breathed a collective sigh of relief. Unfortunately, both companies now disagree over the terms of the settlement (perhaps not all that surprising, given the brevity of the document). A CIO.com News Alert links to further details reported by The New York Times as well as RIM's recent press release. It's likely too early to speculate about injunctions and BlackBerry service interruption, but certainly something to be monitored if you or your organization uses them.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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Six Sigma for Dummies

I've previously posted my thoughts about Six Sigma -- it's a problem-solving methodology for improving business and organizational performance. A number of very large companies already use it, though other organizations (such as law firms) would likely benefit as well. Through the relatively new Six Sigma Blog, I see that a new ""Dummies" book has been published, "Six Sigma for Dummies". As the Six Sigma Blog's capsule review mentions:

"One of the biggest inhibiting factors preventing wider Six Sigma implementation is the percieved [sic] complexity of the program. Most managers are simply clueless about the process, preventing them from seriously examining Six Sigma as an alternative for their company. Fortunately, Six Sigma for Dummies rectifies this by explaining in very straightforward, albeit at times simplistic, language the nature and benefits of Six Sigma. In addition, a number of small to mid-sized companies have been unable or unwilling to make the capital investment necessary to incorporate the Six Sigma process. This book will allow the novice to incorporate some basic Six Sigma attributes so that they can percieve [sic] for themselves the benefits of the program and ultimately incorporate it to a deeper degree."
Having been involved in a number of Six Sigma projects, I've found it a valuable methodology. It provides a number of approaches for identifying the root cause of a problem, what's broken in a process, and methods to quantify inefficiencies and benefits from process change. The latter is often difficult to do in service professions. Thus having additional tools to quantify value propositions can help firms get past a number of financial and other objections -- and it just might provide some valuable insight into how their larger clients operate.

Over the past several years, a number of large firms have begun PMO (Project Management Office) initiatives, particularly in their IT departments. While that's a great start, there is likely additional value to be obtained by incorporating Six Sigma. As its roots are based on statistical analysis (hence the name, Six Sigma), kudos to any resource that makes it easier to adopt and understand.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
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June 11, 2005

Free Anti-Phishing Browser Bar, Online Tech Help & GoogleX

PC World's "30 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do on the Internet" contains a wide range of sites, resources, and programs that you may not have come across yet. My take on three I liked:

SpoofStick: Beat the Phishers by Revealing Spoofed Web Sites
Spoofed web sites look just like the real McCoy, right down to displaying a seemingly authentic web site domain in your browser (e.g., ebay.com). Phishers trick you (usually by e-mail) to go to a spoofed site to provide confidential information for the phisher's nefarious purposes. Help has arrived: CoreStreet offers a free download, the SpoofStick applet. It adds a toolbar for both IE 6.x and Firefox 1.x, which displays the actual domain of the site, not the spoofed address -- a nice visual indicator to fight phishing. Per the CoreStreet site, "SpoofStick contains no adware, spyware, nagware or other unhealthy additives." [Note: I haven't tried or examined this software, so as always, downloader beware.]

Free Online Tech Help
If you're having a bad tech day, perhaps the Tech Support Guy can help. It's basically a group of forums categorized by type of application or OS, and manned by volunteers. You can search them to see if someone has already solved the problem, or ask a new question. If you can't get a straight answer from the vendor's tech support, here's another resource to try. (Did I mention it's free? ;^)

Google + OS X = GoogleX
If you haven't tried Google's other online services, you're really missing out on some cool and useful stuff. Apparently, a Google researcher designed GoogleX, a version of the Google web site with a cool toolbar for Mac OS X fans. The twelve icons get you into Froogle, Google Maps, Gmail, Labs, Local, etc. Per PC World, "Originally designed by a Google researcher, the toolbar disappeared shortly after being posted on the Google Labs site (most likely due to objections by Apple), but not before some plucky Netizens saved a copy for your use." [No advice or recommendation whatsoever being given here on its use or legal status, so the decision is completely yours.]

Topic(s):   Trick or Treat  |  Web Wizardry
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June 04, 2005

E-mail Addiction Common According to AOL Survey

How long could you go without checking e-mail? It may not be as easy as one might think. Internetnews.com reports an AOL survey of just over 4,000 people, and the results reflect "an obsessive-compulsive need to check it morning, noon and night."

"E-mail has become such an important component of life that 26 percent reported that they haven't gone more than two to three days without checking in." The article reports that 60% of Americans check e-mail while away on holiday, and 40% check it in the middle of the night.

"Adding to the addiction is the fact that the average e-mail user had 2.8 e-mail accounts, with 56 percent of respondents indicating they had two or three e-mail accounts." I would have liked to see how portable e-mail devices, such as BlackBerries or Treos, factored into the responses.

However, I found it interesting that 59% polled were interested in a feature to "un-send" or retract their e-mails, which indicates sender's remorse. Perhaps more useful would be a "send delay" feature for queuing up outbound messages -- the electronic version of a "cooling off" period to allow one to reconsider. Such a feature would retain the integrity of the e-mail system, instead of disappearing e-mail records, which could be problematic under various legal requirements.

Considering the survey results along with my recent post, "Is Technology Making Us More Scatterbrained?", technology is definitely having some unintended consequences in our lives.

[Thanks to Neil Squillante, TechnoLawyer Blog, for sending me the link.]

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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June 03, 2005

Beware Electronic Horses Bearing Trojans

Industrial espionage is alive and well in Israel, according to the Jerusalem Report. Major companies were implicated, both on the spying and victim sides of the fence. Among the methods used by the spying private investigators was a Trojan horse. "The private investigators, police suspect, would send the virus hidden inside a promotional CD to various companies, which unknowingly uploaded the Trojan horse onto their computer system. The private investigators would also send emails to the various companies with the virus as an attachment, police said."

So be careful what you click on in your e-mails, particularly attachments. If you weren't expecting it, don't open it. Just delete it.

Overall, a very disturbing chapter at the intersection of business ethics and business intelligence (the latter ultimately an oxymoron in this case).

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
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June 01, 2005

TechnoLawyer @ Awards

Thanks to my fellow colleague and blawger, Jim Calloway, I've just read LawTech Guru is in the running for "Favorite Practice Management Blog", a new category for this year's TechnoLawyer "@ Awards" (paragraph #4). I'm honored to be nominated and thankful to be in such good company. It's also just nice to know others have found my contributions helpful.

I also think it's important that whoever wins, wins on their own merits. So I'm not going to ask for your vote. (Don't get me wrong, I appreciate it if you do, but I just don't feel right asking for it. Vote for the blog you like best.) A number of we blawgers are good friends, and we enjoy giving something back -- especially in trying to improve the quality and practice of law. We put a tremendous amount of effort, thought, and personal insights into our posts, and we hope it shows.

I will suggest that if you haven't yet voted, please do so if you have the time. The voting ends on Friday, June 10, 2005, at midnight eastern time. You need to be a TechnoLawyer member to vote (it's easy to join). I'll direct you to Jim's post, as he's done such a nice job of compiling the instructions and linking the ballot form.

Also, I was surprised to see that as of yesterday, no one has voted for "Favorite Practice Area Blog". There are certainly some exceptional practice-specific blogs out there, well-deserving of some recognition for their efforts. If you have a favorite or have found one useful in your practice, by all means give them something back by voting.

(As you may have noticed, that means I haven't voted yet. One more item for the tickler list!)

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
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A Good Directory of RSS Readers (News Aggregators)

The dmoz open directory project has definitely grown their list of RSS readers. For instance, the list of Windows-based RSS readers has grown to a whopping 79. I note with interest that FeedDemon, my personal fave, is designated as the "cool site" at the top. But there are also 42 web-based readers. Mac users have 14 listed, although I expected to see more. Even handheld users have 12 readers listed for the various mobile platforms.

In other words, if you haven't found an RSS reader you like, odds are there is one here for you. Enjoy.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips
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