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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Traveling Shopper Problem

Our correspondent at Wharton, Peter S. Fader, writes in Knowledge@Wharton about how shoppers travel in stores. The Traveling Salesman problem is a classic operations research model where someone must find a best path to visit pre-designated locations in minimal time. For example, a shopper seeking to find all the items on a list. Fader mines his large database of real shopper travel data to find out what shoppers really do, and what kind of challenges this raises for retailers when designing or reformatting their stores. Some lessons for us as well. Link to the full paper.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Backseat Virtual Reality

From Newscientist a game that uses passing scenery to provide a base for a game. A nice idea of borrowing or augmenting reality to provide richness for a game experience:

" ... Researchers at the Interactive Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, are testing an in-car gaming system that allows passengers to play an interactive game based on the buildings, forests, and rivers passed along a route while driving. The Backseat Playground uses such landmarks encountered during a trip to build a story, complete with in-game characters and events. The game matches sights for events in an adventure that might involve a murder mystery or a werewolf thriller, and makes use of a GPS receiver to provide geographical data, a handheld computer for player interaction as the story builds, and headphones for players to listen to phone calls and walkie-talkie messages from in-game characters. A laptop in the trunk, which correctly positions the car in the virtual world, connects the GPS receiver, handheld computer, and headphones. "We are trying to suggest spaces and places and events and have the user fill in the gaps to build a narrative," explains John Bichard, who developed the interactive game with colleagues Liselott Brunnberg and Oskar Juhlin. The computer scientists are considering integrating voice recognition into the game, which would allow players to talk directly to the characters. Rob Aspin, with the Center for Virtual Environments at Britain's University of Salford is intrigued by the way in which content is delivered for the game. "It can create a high sense of presence and interaction while hiding most of the technology from the user," says Aspin ..."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Lincoln's T-Mails

Here visiting Georgia Tech and getting some reading time in. Part of the way through Tom Wheeler's: Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War. I guess its important to have such an extensive subtitle today, the book browser has to have no reason to misunderstand the topic of the book. Like it so far, I was intrigued by the thumbnail history of telegraphy. It is fashionable to credit Samuel Morse with nothing more than self-promotion today. I compared this history with the Wikipedia entry on telegraphy, and that entry filled in some of the non-US details. Wheeler attributes the development of the actual code to Morse's assistant Alfred Vail, though Vail's WP article says otherwise. Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet, links the telegraph to the internet and is a good related book.

Good book. Lincoln (the only US president granted a patent to date) became increasing enamored with the ability to directly communicate with his people in the field. In some cases the military did not know what to make of these communications. Wheeler makes much of saying that Jefferson Davis, who had a military background, meddled with his military, causing some confusion. Lincoln, who had no military background, he suggests communicated without meddling. Not sure I buy that, in hindsight Lincoln won, so for whatever ultimate cause, his communication was not meddling.

If you have interest in the history of technology or the military a good read.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Journal of New Communications Research

New Communications Research (SNCR) has published the first issue of their new Journal. SNCR is
" ... A global nonprofit think tank dedicated to the advanced study of new communications tools, technologies and emerging modes of communication, and their effect on media, professional communications, business and society.."
Their wiki in Socialtext. Online preview, with contents. I am loosely affiliated with this nonprofit as a research fellow. A good initial selection of readable papers about social technologies, oriented to a degree in their use for external relations. Still reading and will report on useful learnings. Order here.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Will Wikis Help with Knowledge?

Nicholas Carr, who I make sure to read , talks about whether " ... Web 2.0 tools like wikis will help automate the management of knowledge in companies. Also featured in the podcast is a debate on whether IT matters strategically..." Podcast here in the Financial Times.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Risks of Public Mentions

An August 3 talk by Google intern Dan Frankowski. Good view of privacy issues. Via Roughtalk, where Carr raises a flag about the implications for Web 3.0 / Semantic Web.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Human Computation: Useful Games

This is a bit of old news, but taking another look at it. There are things that computers can do. There are also things that humans can do that computers cannot, for example recognizing things in an image. But humans are relatively costly to engage. How can I get humans to engage with problems that are tough for computers to do? Engage them with a game!! Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon gives a lecture on the idea. Its about using games that produce a purposeful result. His best known example is the ESP Game. Could this kind of thing be applied in design, marketing, branding? I think there are some gems there. More from Ahn's research outline. A colleague points out something similar done by Amazon, their Mechanical Turk. No broad application that I have seen as yet, though the potential is enticing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mastering Languages

From IBM Think Research Magazine -> MASTORing Languages.. This article struck a strong chord. I saw part of the demonstration mentioned below at the 64 NY Worlds Fair. They also demonstrated simple database lookup, all done with punchcards. This was before displays were common. We have a come a long way, this article talks about progress in processing natural languages, both recognizing and translating:
" ... IBM's history with speech recognition technology goes back over 40 years - to its first demonstration of an early discrete translation system at the 1964 New York World's Fair. At the time, the "shoebox recognizer" could identify the spoken digits zero through nine - for a total of ten words.

Speech recognition has made great strides from those humble beginnings, but travel and the Internet are helping to flatten the world, so more robust and comprehensive tools are needed. Going through airports or getting sick in a foreign country and not being able to understand or communicate can be, at best, inconvenient and, at worst, dangerous. ..."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Executive Dashboard Designs

Many companies are in the process of developing executive dashboards, cockpits, consoles, portals or whatever you want to call them. To what degree have these been designed to be most effective? Designer Edward Tufte has addressed these issues in a number of 'ask ET' pieces at his web site. Worth a look, these discussions provide a number of designs and discussions by designers.

" ...Can you share any guiding principals or "best practices" in the presentation of Key Performance Indicators to the senior executives of a corporation? Discussion.

Executive Dashboard
I'm developing an executive dashboard, and I haven't been satisfied with the business graphics that are widely available (e.g. gauges, dials, stoplights). I decided to make a "Zen" version of a KPI status indicator, using as little color as possible, and incorporating E.T's innovative "Spark Line" metaphor for display of trends. The graphic below shows the proposed KPI display across the top of a browser screen with a descriptive example in the middle. Any feedback would be wonderful!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Journeys in Second Life

Above is a picture I recently took in one of my journeys in the virtual world Second Life. Well no, not exactly, its a picture I took on one of my frequent walks around Sharon Woods Park. That's an element of my first life. In my Second Life I have been doing some exploring as well. Inspired by a number of recent articles about businesses using Second Life (SL). I have taken a deeper dive.

Virtual worlds are not new. In the 90s we talked to a company called Blaxxun, which still exists. They tried to get us to advertise in their world and a number of well known companies did. But for a number of reasons, including underpowered computers and uncommon broadband, it did not succeed.

Now SL appears to be succeeding. A million members, over ten thousand online at any time. A half million US dollars being spent in every 24 hours. Just spend some time at orientation island and watch the folks arrive. So whats it about? A visual augmentation of chat, a way to collaborate, a way to shop in new ways. Edward Castronova recent explored the economics of virtual worlds. His take is that the economics is exploding.

What businesses exist in SL? Publicly IBM, Addidas, Nissan and Reuters are just some examples. And there are hundreds of other that largely deal only in virtual goods.

Dell just opened a space that consists of a number of islands. There you can design your own PC or laptop and have it delivered to your (physical) world. I visited it and spent some time looking at their wares. Like most Second Life spaces Dell is an austere world. Lots of sharp angles, no green space. Lots of vertical design that has you flying and bumping your head. Kiosks are all around that seek to interview you about your computing needs, a project with the University of Innsbruck. I thought that was interesting but the actual questioning was pretty cold, like the space itself. You can seek a map to see how many people are sharing the space with you. In the hour I was there there were only a handful at any one time, and most of them teleported away soon after arriving. I talked briefly to two people ... the lack of clues as to who people are ... young, old ... professional, tourist ... even male, female is unnerving to me, you have to do quite a bit of typing to establish any context. Almost too easy to disengage, no notion of investment or depth, just teleport away. No Dell reps that I could see, perhaps that would make sense to humanize the space. In fact I found emptyness to be common in commercial spaces. Even IBM's much touted Almaden space was empty when I arrived. A few spaces had signs warning that if someone said they represented a space, they were frauds.

You can zoom out in the map and see roughly how many people are in what island. Most of the ten thousand or so were in places where people could interact socially, in every sense of that word.

So what is my take? I am less skeptical than I was previously. It is yet another reason to sit on your butt for long periods. And we certainly have enough excuses for that now. Its not a game but a social experience addictive for some. My hard-boiled retailer wife took one look and shook her head. There is even recent unrest in the world. More commentary on that. Not for the socially squeamish. Many spaces are depressingly austere. Still worth understanding in some detail, My explorations continue.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Future of Enterprise Resource Planning

Good article on present and future of ERP and its vendors. Our Enterprise Resource Planning vendor is SAP. No mention of open source ERP, which I think is a good idea. Has anyone looked at this as yet?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mentos Geyser Revisited

Everybody has by now seen the Mentos-in-the-Coke-geyser video. At the recent local AMA meeting Pete Healy, VP of Marketing for Mentos, talked about the experience and where it is going. The iconic consumer generated media has inspired over 9500 other videos. Mentos has moved a 'significant' amount of their marketing mix from TV to online. This summer Mentos ran a video contest which got about 200 entries, of which 150 are posted online. Mentos has a site highlighting the contest and related topics. They have connected with the Blue Man Group How to Be a Megastar tour to promote the candy with TV commercials that mimic the BMG's performance and some have started to air. No indication if sales have increased for Mentos.

The performers of the original phenomenon have a site, and a new performance called Experiment 214. It got over a millions views in the first five days of release. Its fun, like the first one, but not really distinctively new.

Mentos has certainly done an excellent job making much of CGM. Much better than ignoring the video. Despite some concern about experimenting leading to injury, there have been few problems. Early on they offered a co-marketing effort to some lesser-known soft drink manufacturers, with no luck. Coke now seems to be well-engaged with the effort. Linking this to new efforts like the blue man group may be harder to make work. As Healy suggested, you have to keep in mind that this is about marketing candy, and not curing cancer.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Space Visible Logo

A colleague sends along a link to Michael Castellon's blog. As I responded, this is much less obnoxious than another proposed idea: launched logos and ads that can be seen from earth. At least its pull versus push. Assume this is not yet visible from Google Earth or Virtual Earth, though that may not be far away. Not as flexible as floating a billboard. It has also been pointed out that Target Logos are already visible from Google Earth.
"... KFC has the honor to be the first brand to be visible from outer-space. The 87,500 square feet logo was created by tiles placed in the Nevada desert, near the super secret Area 51. The stunt marks the revamp of the KFC logo, which now features a more streamlined image of Colonel Sanders ..."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

John Seely Brown on Rethinking Learning

John Seely Brown is the former chief scientist of Xerox Labs, running it while it produced some of its greatest hits (desktops, for example). We had him in many times during the 90s, as a consultant and listener. Now he is a self-styled 'chief of confusion' with Annenberg at USC. Here is his blog. He is very big on education now. Dale Hunscher sends along powerpoints from a recent talk Seely Brown gave called "Rethinking Learning and the Community Library in the Networked Age". I am a library nut, digital or physical. The evolution will be interesting.

Google Blogoscoped

Great site for things Google by Philipp Lenssen which Paul Gillin uses in his forthcoming book: The New Influencers (Spring 07), as an example of strong influence in the blogosphere.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Billboards in Virtual Earth

Microsoft has come out with a update to Virtual Earth that makes it look more like Google Earth. Most interesting is that this system shows true 3-D images of city landscapes, including the sides of buildings. Unlike Google Earth which shows buildings with blank grey sides. The result is a more realistic view of city scapes. Its incredible how much data would be required to paint a city. Mapped with low-flying airplanes?

AdAge points out that Microsoft can add floating billboards, and they have already sold space to several companies. There are several floating over San Francisco for ZipRealty (above). Its more of a fun thing to find rather than a easily seen ad. How different is this from billboards in Second Life? .... here it is aligned to a real geographical space. In the US VE uses identical satellite 2D image databases to GE. In Europe, VE appears to be using less detailed image databases, based on my small sample of locations. London shows its 'eye' impressively in 3D, but not much else.

They are still gathering data: "... The 3-D models will initially be available for 15 U.S. cities--San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; Boston; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; Detroit; Phoenix; Houston; Baltimore; Atlanta; Denver; Dallas; and Fort Worth, Texas--and will be expanded at a rate of eight new cities a month until next spring, when that is ratcheted up even more...". Some of these city databases are glaringly incomplete, with skyscrapers missing. Compare it with Google Earth's 3D images. VE is entirely a web app, and is still a beta. Update: Its much slower than Google Earth too.

Data Mining

I was pointed to Matt Hurst's blog: Data Mining: Text Mining, Visualization and Social Media, all close interests of mine. Worth watching. Via Pete Blackshaw's Consumer Generated Media blog, also a must-read.

Google Geographical Heatmaps

Anthony Townsend points us to a mashup from GeoIQ using Google Earth to create geographical heatmaps. Have now seen a number of examples of layering information in GE, this is a nice example. Here is another from Enterprise Horizons.
" ... GeoIQ is an open platform for building intuitive geographic analysis and visualization tools into web-based mapping applications. It gives people a simple and compelling way to filter, analyze and get value from geographic data without ever leaving their web browser ..."

Ghost Map

Steven Johnson's new book: Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic ..., re-tells the story of how the water-borne model of cholera epidemics replaced the miasma (bad smell) model in the 19th century and effectively led to the elimination of cholera in the developed world. Like many non-epidemiologists, I first heard of this story via Edward Tufte's 1983 book: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. I was then more interested in the visual aspects of how the map of the epidemic made the case.

This book tells a more complete story, following the reasoning and collaboration of John Snow and Henry Whitehead which ultimately led to the change in understanding of cholera epidemics, which resulted in the re-engineering of city sewage and water systems.

It turns out that Tufte made a number of errors in his description of the epidemic in his first book, and largely corrected them in his followup book: Visual Explanations. Even there he misses some of the subtlety of the maps, for example their use of Voronoi diagrams to model the proximity of people to the source of infection. Tufte does an excellent job in understanding the effectiveness of visual representation, but less well with integrating computational methods that can aid human understanding.

Also notable is Johnson's hypothesis that this discovery was one of the first triumphs of amateurs. Snow was a physician, Whitehead was a local clergyman. It was their use of local information, painstakingly gathered, that ultimately made the case against a medical community entrenched in an incorrect model. Taking this further, the existence of the Web now makes it much easier to collaborate, gather data and drive to alternative solutions. Or does it confuse the matter through all the clutter?

The mapping itself today can be readily and cheaply done via approaches like Google Earth. The inclusion of such 'local information' as the proximity of pizza parlors can also be used to model complex visual epidemic data. Will this be the value of desktop visualization?

In the last chapter of the book Johnson examines the architecture of cities and the implications of how their scale effects such challenges as epidemics and nuclear terrorism. He is more speculative here, but the material is thought-provoking.

Excellent book for those interested in the history of this episode, the practical use of visualization and how difficult it is to change existing models.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Wiki Way

Socialtext is one of the best-known commercial wiki packages, have tested it here a number of times. Its a very good wiki implementation. Now Ross Mayfield has announced Socialpoint, or Socialtext running on Sharepoint. He positions this as useful, even though Sharepoint is coming out with its own wikis in 07. More commentary on the idea here. Not quite sure what this means, the Socialtext wiki claims to be the most successful commercial implementation out there. We have also experimented with some open source tools (Socialtext has also gone this way. My conversations with Ross indicates he is working with several companies to instill a wiki culture. Yet there are only a few real successes to talk. The wiki culture is not here or there as yet. Will there ever be, as Ross calls it, a wiki way?

Also in wiki news, Google acquired Jotspot, which we also tested a few summers ago, moderately surprising.

One experiment we talked is the construction of an analog of the Wikipedia within the corporation. Many companies, and certainly large ones have acronyms, terms, definitions, etc that are sometimes the same, and sometimes differ from public versions. He proposed setting up a 'CorporatePedia' that would organically grow as people added definitions.

One of the unsurprising experiences we have had with this is that its hard to get people to contribute. The same people with interest in blogs usually engage, but those who have the knowledge to contribute are hard to bring to the table. Of course the same thing happened in the early days of e-mail. Today there are no rewards for participating, and no 'editors' have yet emerged.

I am still excited about the prospect of managing knowledge by a broadly editable space and do my best to proselytize. Ideas and examples are welcome.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

BMW Innovates

From the October 16 Business Week: Innovation at BMW. Note the emphasis on informal networks, which have worked quite well for them. The 'lunch exchange' idea reminds me of a method touted by the Santa Fe Institute, having folks from many disciplines interact informally over lunch. Saw this in operation during several visits, though it was unclear it could scale.
"The Secret of BMW's Success
BMW's reputation for innovation can be traced to its equally innovative lateral management techniques

At 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, when most German workers have long departed for the weekend, the mini-caf├ęs sprinkled throughout BMW's sprawling R&D center in Munich are jammed with engineers, designers, and marketing managers deliberating so intently it's hard to hear above the din. Even the cappuccino machine is running on empty. It's an atmosphere far more Silicon Valley than Detroit.

"At lunch and breaks everyone is discussing ideas and projects all the time. It's somewhat manic. But it makes things move faster," says BMW chief designer Adrian van Hooydonk. The intense employee buzz at BMW is hot management theory in action. Top consultants and academics say the kind of informal networks that flourish at BMW and the noise and borderline chaos they engender in big organizations are vital for innovation--especially in companies where knowledge sits in the brains of tens of thousands of workers and not in a computer server. Melding that brain power, they say, is essential to unleashing the best ideas. .... "

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

New Influencers

Paul Gillin, who I met at a recent SNCR meeting, is coming out with a new book: The New Influencers, to be published in the spring of 07. He has some drafts of chapters you can read now, including profiles of his influencers. He also has an interesting blog on social media. In that blog he outlined some of a conversation we had a few weeks ago about internal blogging at P&G. The same post provides some useful other comments on internal corporate blogging. He is an insightful guy who is worth keeping track of.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Blog Restart

Welcome to the re-start of my personal blog. A couple of changes have occurred. Previously I was a guest blogger at IFTF's Future Now blog. Now I have moved from there to devote my spare time to posting on my personal blog.

Second, to finally provide full disclosure, I am an employee of the Procter & Gamble Company in Cincinnati, where I have worked for over 26 years. My background is in physics and mathematics. Professionally I have worked in analytical methods, retail technology, supply chain analysis, knowledge methods and social technologies. The web came along at the height of my technical career and I have been a avid observer of its evolution. Its been quite a ride, from when executives were deeply skeptical about the web to when they could not do without it.

I plan to blog some here about my experiences at P&G as they come to mind. Of course all of my opinions are my own, and I won't be divulging any secrets.

At P&G I have been running an internal technology blog since early 2003. Even before blogs I ran a technology mailing list since the early 1980s. My internal blog gets thousands of hits a month and is read by a very diverse set of our employees. Its still a social media experiment though. Some blog posts from my internal blog will be cross posted here. I have not opened comments, but will consider that. For now you can reach me at: franzdill AT gmail.com

This will be stream of consciousness. My interests are fairly broad, you can get an idea of them by scanning my posts.


Just finished Steve Wozniak's memoir: iWoz. Wozniak was the co-founder with Steve Jobs of Apple in the late 1970s. In this book he seeks to set the record straight that he alone did the technical work for the Apple I&II, the first practical personal PCs. Jobs did most of the deal making, but never contributed to the wizardry that made the computer work and made them millionaires. The Apple II was not the first personal computer, but it was practical and dependable and the first to be usable at home and at work. In 1978 we brought in several (purchased as calculators) to do engineering analysis at Hillcrest technical center. Shortly afterward, with new spreadsheet software, finance started to use them.

I have followed Wozniak's post-Apple career (though he remains an Apple employee to this day) for some time, see previous posts on his work. He discusses probably his best known technical effort after Apple, a novel programmable remote that did not succeed. No mention of his low-power tracking system, last seen in 04. Besides some other mild digs at Jobs he is at his best writing about the power of engineering and how creativity comes from individuals not committees. The example of the latter being the Apple III. I did some contract development for that beast. Some of his work makes me think about the current push for creative design. What are engineers but scientifically grounded designers? Simplistic, very personal, sometimes too self indulgent style, readable, only descending into skimmable chip-speak a few times. Recommended if you have interest in the history of accessible computing and the power of engineering.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Setting the Table

Finished fabled NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer's book: Setting the Table. Always had the dream of opening a restaurant and cooking. (yeah really). Meyer writes the story of his restaurant openings. Along the way he teaches us about how hospitality is as important as service. We don't sell much directly to consumers, but my wife Joy runs a retail business and it rang true to her. My favorite quote .... about Mary Kay Cosmetics ... ' ... Mary Kay would teach their salespeople that everyone goes through life with an invisible sign around their neck reading 'make me feel important' ... The most successful people in any business that depends on human relationships are the ones who know about that sign and have the ability to see how brightly it is flashing. And the the true champions know how best to embrace the human being wearing the sign ...'. Good book.