Monthly Archives: March 2012

The 4C’s in the wild – SilverStripe Open-Source Community

Following on from last week where I presented some examples of Web 2.0 – 3.0 technologies and ideas being utilised in everyday life, I would like to continue that theme.  Highlighting how the 4C appraoch of social media implementation (from Niall Cook’s – “Enterprise 2.0” – Communications, Cooperations, Collaboration & Connection) applies using a real world example.

Last weekend I attended a “hackfest” set up by the SilverStripe Open-Source Community. SilverStripe is an open-source Content Management System (CMS) developed in Wellington, New Zealand and powers some high profile corporate and government websites. What makes SilverStripe unique though is the fact that their flagship product is free and open-source. Check out a quick video from Siguard , one of the founders for a great overview of their approach to software and open-source.

The SilverStripe Developer Community... getting together to collaborate on version 3.0!

As part of the SilverStripe open-source developer community we all usually collaborate remotely using various software and web services to keep organised. These same social software applications continue to be used when we are all in the same room together too! This allows for the greatest flexibility, being inclusive of the most amount of people in the community and acknowledging that we are in a global community where the boundaries of geographic location and time are less relevant (SilverStripe have open-source developers all around the world that contribute to building the software!).

Here is an overview of how the 4 C’s stack up for SilverStripe.

Communication

SilverStripe uses a developer blog to communicate with and update those in the developer community. They post information about the progress of the software as well as guest posts from members of the community. You can on any day of the week visit the developer forums and look for answers to development questions or share knowledge about the use and customisation of the software. They also have an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) service set up to allow Instant Messaging directly with the core developers at anytime.

Cooperation

In Cook’s book, he points out that cooperation differs from collaboration in that it is a more of an informal culture and that there is normally not a specific end goal that users are working towards or a joint problem solving effort. It is more aimed at sharing information and content. While there are a core set of community developers that work on the actual software itself, due to the system being open-source any developer can download and use it to build a website or intranet. Each of these developers will have their own project end goals but all together they cooperate in sharing their expertise and knowledge gained in using the system through the mentioned forums, and many developers have their own blogs dedicated to SilverStripe that share tutorials and valuable information, essentially this is crowd-sourced social cataloguing.

Collaboration

As I just mentioned, collaboration differs in that it has a more formal culture around it as opposed to cooperations informal culture i.e. The SilverStripe Core Developer Community and contributors work together to create portions of a larger whole, namely the core SilverStripe CMS (more specifically we are working toward the new 3.0 version of the software at present).

Here are some of the main social software tools that get used during the “hackfests” and remotely by those contributing to the software:

Bug/Issue Tracking – This is open for anyone to join and log errors/problems and feature requests with the software. The core developer team can assess them and developers can claim an issue ticket  and work on website code which is then contributed back to the software once completed.
Think of it as a wiki of things that are broken or things that people would like to see in SilverStripe.

Version Control Coding – SilverStripe uses a system of collaborative software code versioning called Git via a web service called Github. This allows multiple programmers to work on the same code at the same time without fear of overwriting others work or losing track of which files they have worked on. The software tracks all of this for them and then facilitates merging all this programming code back into a final version with the help of some friendly humans of course aka Human-Based Computation. The result is a software package that  can then be downloaded and used freely by others.

Wiki (Documentation) – The full set of documentation for the software including how it works, how to customise it, and a set of beginner tutorials is all available via the SilverStripe Documentation Wiki and can be updated by submitting changes to SilverStripe which are publicly displayed using a combination of markdown text editing and the Git version control system.

Connection

So how do all these people somehow magically come together and start writing this killer software? Connection is key and SilverStripe makes great use of all major Social Networks and some other handy tools to make sure those in the community remain connected with each other.

As Cook points out:

“…cooperation and collaboration systems depend on direct interaction between people, whereas connection tools rely as much on connecting [people] with content and each other.”

With that in mind, here are the tools leveraged by the SilverStripe Community to keep connected across geographic distance and timezones:

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/silverstripe/

Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/silverstripe/

Meetup.com – http://www.meetup.com/SilverStripe-Wellington-Meetup-Group/

Google Groups – https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/silverstripe-dev/

For those itching to have a play with the SilverStripe CMS software check out their demo at: http://demo.silverstripe.org/ you can login and use a full version of the software.

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Web 2.0+ in the wild

As I wonder around Wellington lately I started to realise how much Web 2.0+ (2.5, 3.0) concepts and technologies I actually interact with on a day to day basis.

After looking into some of the more formal definitions of these evolutions of the web, 2.0 with the web being used as a platform for social interaction, 2.5 with its “mobile” application of 2.0 ideas and 3.0 looking at being the “semantic” web (web that understands what we are trying to find by providing extra data about our context or preferences).

Here is a few of the more interesting situations and examples that are not the usual Facebook checking or Twitter tweeting.

Breakfast (Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter)

Ok, so I enjoy breakfast, nothing like a nice hot coffee fresh off the stove-top peculator and some delicious peanut butter on toast… but this particular peanut butter is no ordinary peanut butter. This is Pic’s Really Good Peanut butter made in Nelson and has a great story behind it. What caught my attention one morning while I was about to smear my toast with this peanut butter 2.0 goodness was the QR code directly to their Facebook page right there on the side of the jar. Being the always connected person with a smart phone in my pocket I snapped the QR code, got taken to their Facebook Page and was able to “like” it and start having a conversation with the makers of this fine breakfast spread.  A quick read of some of the comments and posts from Pic’s and fans shows that they are indeed commited to holding a real conversation around their products and even are looking at testing out new versions of their products (a smooth variety of their peanut butter) with consumers to make sure they are delivering the right things to those who want them (on their toast). So while there are some technology enablers involved the real shift is in the social interactions and willingness of businesses to be a bit more human in their dealings.

Coffee Break (Cafe Carbie and Reward Junkie)

For those of you with a caffine addiction this next example is for you. My local coffee shop, Cafe Carbie are again one of those great businesses with a great story (is there a trend appearing here?) they seem to “get” and embrace using Social Media (such as their Facebook Page). However, the technolgoy I want to highlight here is a third party smart phone application and service called Reward Junkie that the cafe uses.  Reward Junkie is utilising the web as its platform in providing a geo-location based, loyalty card style service directly on a customers smart phone which they “snap” a QR code in-store to gain reward points. Let’s face it, we only have so much room in our wallets for these type of cards but leveraging the web to store this data and interacting with it through a device that  a lot of us carry makes a lot of sense. It builds loyalty for the businesses and over time the data collected about customers, demographics and how frequently they visit will be able to play into the idea of the semantic web as mentioned earlier, this type of data helps businesses make more empirical and smarter business decisions.

Getting Around (MetLink Wellington)

My last example is another use of mobile and geo-location based technology to help us get around the city via public transport. Again this service is based on using the web as a platform, so much so that the mobile application is based on web technology. If you visit MetLink’s website from a smart phone it will instantly direct you to a mobile optimised web experience and ask if you would like to use the location services on the phone, no need to download a separate application. I think this really demonstrates the idea that there is no clear cut divider among the 2.0 – 3.0 phases of web evolution in terms of the technology, in this case it is a combinations of good old URI, HTTP request, extra data from the location service on the phone all delivered through the web platform to a mobile device.
I can then simply click one button to find a list of bus stops and times for those near my geographic location or I can interact with the application and enter the bus stop number to get the exact time of departure of the next bus. There are even some stops in the CBD that are using the QR codes as on the Pic’s Peanut Butter jar which makes this process even easier. I make a point of using the QR code when I’m out and about to show others around me how easy it is to use and interact with something that augments your experience in the real world. I just hope someone at MetLink is tracking the use of those QR codes through Web Analytics to build a case for demand/use and to help them drive a decision to deploy them elsewhere. Later on perhaps they could even utilise RFID technology for the same purpose.

This is just a small sampling of some of the Web 2.0 – 3.0 ideas and technologies out there in the wild that I seem to interact with on a daily basis (that is if I have peanut butter toast everyday!)

What are some of your examples?

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Consumer Power

There seems to have been a bit of mention of some of my fellow students blogs about the power that the consumer now has toward companies products and the ability to band together and for lack of a better word “complain”, vote with their dollars and win!

Check out this video I just came across from Greenpeace who seem to be one of the few social cause organisations that really “get” and leverage social media.

Pretty cheesey but as well as the content being relevant to the above point… the video itself is a good example of the idea of something that can go viral and would also be considered a “mashup” or “remix” taking video and audio in popular culture and repurposing it to tell a new story and part of the idea of User Generated Content (UGC).

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Wow your like sooo… 2.0 right now!

I have been lucky enough to have been invoved in the web industry through what would be termed the shift from web 1.0 to web 2.0 but well before the term was coined by Tim O’Riley in 2004, myself and fellow web geeks simply were just trying to push the boundaries as to what we could do with the emerging technology, new scripting languages, techniques and processes with out a thought as to giving it a shiney marketable buzzword name such as the now often mis-used term “Web 2.0”.

For those of us in the in-crowd the term quickly became a colloquial term for anything that did anything remotely inteactive on a website or even someone trying something new and different outside of the web development scene. Cries of “that is sooo 2.0” would often come from my good friend, fellow web & music geek and online trendspotter Dr Hitchcock for anything removely new and socially awesome (he ran indie music gigs and was a radio presenter for years and now runs his own online radio station). At least he knew what it meant… a change in attitude, more than a change in technology.

Web 2.0 is really about allowing conversations and spaces to collaborate and communicate online together (2-way) rather than the Web 1.0 way of some authoritarian source publishing what they want you to read. While there are many technologies and programming techniques that help facilite these services, it is not about the technology at all. Many of the technologies used are the same that have been around since the world wide web’s conception, HTTP, URI, TCP/IP the list of acroynoms goes on.

I think that some of the reason behind all the misconceptions of what “Web 2.0” is from a businesses adoption point of view comes from this: the technologies and interaction is the most visible part of this paradigm shift and so this is what people wanting to adopt “Web 2.0” see and then think that it is… the whizbang, the design and asthetic of it rather than the social change.

Perhaps making the mind shift to being more open to conversation with customers is percieved as either too hard or or too risky and left out of the equation when thinking about going enterprise 2.0? Having dealt with this first hand, I have lost count of the number of times a potential client has asked “…the internet is great… can I have some web 2.0 please?”, like it is something they can order from a takeaway menu to give them an edge in online business… do you want fries with that?

To give a quick breakdown of the various iterations that the web has been through (and will maybe go through) consider this “version numbering” way of framing it borrowed from the software development process.
Keep in mind that while this breaks the development up into neat segments and time spaces in reality as I mentioned the technologies overlap and many of the ideas have grown organically, blending and merging over time… the process has been anything but neat, tidy or orderly!.

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Theory behind the Social Media explosion

I mentioned in the last post some of the history behind why Social Media is in an absolute boom at present. Mostly this is to do with human interaction and the our social nature which leads us to find ways to communicate and collaborate over long distances. There has also been a business cultural shift towards embracing these social tools to open up a dialog with customers which is perhaps due to the changing generational mix in the workforce as Andreas Kaplin & Michael Haenlein point out:

“The growth is not limited to teenagers, either; members of Generation X, now 35-44 years old, increasingly populate the ranks of joiners, spectators and critics.” – Kapaln & Haenlein, Users of the world unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media.

I suspect this push will go even further as more and more Generation Y enter the workforce and expect these tools and computing experiences.

However, I would like to explore a more empirical approach and theory as to why there has been this explosion of Social Media adoption. I would like to bring up an interesting theory that I read about in an excellent book by Juliette Powell called “33 Million People in the Room”.

I was also lucky enough to meet Juliette at a creative media conference and workshop a few years ago see her video from X:Media:Lab.

In her book, Juliette brings up Reed’s Law which essentially mathematically models the exponential growth in value of a network based on the number of participants in the network. This goes a long way to explaining the huge growth Social Networking sites such as Facebook have had recently.

No doubt you joined Facebook because your friends or family were on Facebook which made it valuable to you; just as your friends and family then also joined because you are on Facebook which had value to them and so on…Ad infinitum.

It is suggested in Reed’s Law that every new addition to the network doubles its value and taking the example from the Juliette’s book, it is easy to see this in action.

“…you have a network of 25 individuals. According to Reed’s Law, the amount of possible connections and subgroups within your group of 25 individuals is an astonishing 33 million” – Juliette Powell, 33 Million People in the Room.

And if we apply the maths…

  • Lets say N is the number of people in the network… in this case N = 25 people in the network.
  • The number of possible sub-groups available is modelled as 2^N (2 to the power of the number of people in the network).
  • So, 2^25 =  33,554,432 possible connections and sub-groupings within that network!
  • The growth in value is exponential, as mentioned each new member doubles the value of the network for example: 2^N+1 in this case is 2^26 = 67,108,864 connections and sub-groupings!!
Now apply that theory and logic to the vast number of users on Facebook, the mind boggles!
Looking at the infographic below by Ben Foster (@benphoster on twitter) it does indeed show a very exponential style growth of users on Facebook, perhaps there is some truth in this model of growth?


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Our connected past and future

It seems that all throughout history, human beings have been trying to utilise the latest technology of the times in order to connect, communicate, cooperate and colloborate (the 4 C’s!). When I say technology it might not always be the computers and social networks of today (but I will get to that shortly). Just think of smoke signals, carrier pigeons, the horseback mail courier, the telegraph service (morse code), through to the telephone, finally entering the computer era. The important thing here is really that humans are social creatures and we are pretty clever when it comes to finding ways to communicate even over long distances.

This continues on into our modern computer driven era, if we look at some of the ideas and innovations in communication and collaborative technology dating back as far as the 1940’s.

From Niall Cook’s book “Enterprise 2.0”, in 1945 Vannevar Bush, who was then the Director of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, published his article “As we may think” with these visions of the future of communication:

“… a future device for individual use, […] a sort of mechansied private file and library.” which he called a “Memex”.

“…stores all his books, records, and communications […] consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility”

“…an enlarged intimate supplement to his knowledge”

It is just me or is his “Memex” referring to the explosion of computers and later smart-phones/tablet computers today some 60+ years later?
I know I certainly use my iPhone for many of the very purposes he describes above in my everyday communication and collaboration with friends and colleagues.

Later on in the late 50’s and 60’s ARPA and the ARPANET evolved funded by the US Defence Force and used by Universites as a way for scientists and researchers to share information over a geographically long distance via packet switching using the already existing telephone wrie; a technology that still forms the basis of our modern Internet today.

The Internet we use today again evolved from scientific research purposes, most notably in the 1980’s through the pioneering work of Tim Berners-Lee a student at CERN and his idea of a “web of notes with links” which we now call the world wide web and hence the reason for the “www” at the start of many website addresses or to use the correct terminology – Uniform Resource Locators (URLs).

In a recent TED talk video (included below and well worth a watch!) Tim again explains his vision like this:

“…imagine that that link could have gone to virtually any document you could imagine.”

Further on in this video he moves on to explain his vision for the future of the web, which he is calling “Linked Data” the idea that raw data is available for anyone to use, share and combine to create new data and insight. Which has a lot of “unlocked potential” in terms of scientific research, enterprise and society.

The more data our scientists across disciplines can access, share and cross-pollenate, perhaps the better cooperation and collaboration can take place and maybe, just maybe, we can start to solve the problems we are facing now and in the future on our planet.
The use of social media and social data in our personal and work lives will be key to making this happen as we become a more open and transperant society, much to the horror of the old guard in government and business!

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