Revisiting Twitter Independence

Steve Gilmor has penned a fascinating analysis of the Twittersphere over at TechCrunchIT in his article on “Calling Twitter’s bluff.” While initially looking at Twitter’s throttling of the firehose to FriendFeed it is worth reading as an assessment of the actions going on in the Twitter ecosystem. Twitter remains in a precarious position. A vast number of users access Twitter via third party tools and via SMS from their phones.

In July 2008 I wrote an article on my blog on the theme of “Twitter’s Business Model Emerges?” In that post I covered the issue of Twitter’s API throttling strategy. Back then I saw the possibility that the emerging ecosystem of apps like Tweetdeck and Seesmic could use platforms like which became StatusNet to create a parallel twitter-like transport. The work that Dave Winer has been doing in advancing realtime RSS also offers an alternative federated twitter solution. 

If Twitter keeps changing the rules on API access and plays favorites with their XMPP fire hose then the ecosystem could take matters in to their own hands and cut Twitter out of the loop. The sooner Twitter comes out with a viable business model where everyone can understand how Twitter has a viable future, the better for everyone. If Twitter keeps constructing walls to protect their position then there will be more incentive for players in the ecosystem to construct the parallel Twitter-verse where their future in no longer subject to the whim of Twitter.

Getting a grip on time

I am always interested in Time Management. It is so easy to let time slip away from us. Over the years I have used Time Management International’s system and accompanying binder and their goal oriented approach. I have also worked with David Allen’s  Getting Things Done. I also am still a big believer in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

So an article in The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) on the Pomodoro Technique caught my eye. This may be something I will have to give a try. The concept is simple, Break work in to 25 minute segments and take a 5 minute break after each segment and a 15 minute break after completing 4 Pomodoro’s (segments).

I have found that the secret to making use of any of these systems is to avoid getting obsessed about using the entire system. One of the most enlightening moments for me some 20 years ago was at a refresher session with someone from Time Manager. Their system is made up of Goals, Key Areas, Major Tasks and Activities. When you set out to use the system you feel the urge to define a Goal for each of the nine key areas that exists in the planner. I was having problems with that. It made the system seem overwhelming. Instead I had focused on just 3 or 4 key areas. When I discussed this issue with the TMI expert his enlightening comment was that “focusing on just 2 or 3 key areas was great.”   Basically the message was that just because their might be 9 slots it doesn’t mean you have to use them.

So, I may well give the Pomodoro technique a run. But I am not going to obsess over breaking my entire day in to 25 minute segments. That will never work. The first hour long meeting I get pulled in to would create a feeling of failure for not sticking to the plan!  

Thinking about it the Pomodoro technique of 25 minute segments with 5 minute breaks fits perfectly with a great new Health site from Jen McCabe’s Contagion Health. GetUpAndMove ( is a social site for healthy behaviors. It allows people to challenge each other to do a small act of healthy behavior. It encourages healthy microchoices. For example “I challenge you to run for 5 minutes if I walk for 15.” Check it out and make the 5 minute break that you reward yourself with as part of the pomodoro technique a healthy break – you could dance to music on your iPod, or go for a walk around your building. It is these small healthy acts that add up to a healthy lifestyle.

It will be interesting to see if some of the Contagion Health ideas surface at the SecretDCHealthCamp that is happening on Tuesday 1st December in Washington DC. This should be a fascinating event. The event will be part physical and part virtual. We will be planning big things for Health 2.0, The Health 2.0 Accelerator and the Health 2.0 Conference in 2010. 

Beating SharePoint’s braindead Wiki

Last Friday I wrote about how I had come up against a serious bug in SharePoint Workflow when creating a new record in a SharePoint Wiki. Yes, just another example of how underwhelming SharePoint’s touted wiki functionality when compared to products like SocialText or Confluence.

Since last weekend I have persevered and today actually succeeded in implementing a Template functionality in the SharePoint Wiki. It required two workflows to be developed in SharePoint Designer 2007 and a couple of extra fields to be defined in the wiki. The result is crude but somewhat effective.

This is what I had to do…

I created two extra fields in the Wiki Library:
CopyTo – a single line text field
MakeTemplate – A Yes/No field that defaults to No.

I then created two workflows.

The first workflow works manually or when a record in the Wiki is changed.The second workflow works manually or when a record is created.

The Change Workflow does the following:

– Check for MakeTemplate = Yes and CopyTo is not blank
– Copy the Record to a New Record in the Same Wiki (You have to use Copy because the Create Record functionality is broken for Wikis. It creates a stub file that you can’t edit)
– Clear the CopyTo field back to blank

The action of Copying the record to a new record triggers the second Workflow that looks for records being created.

The Create Workflow does the following:

– Check for MakeTemplate set to Yes and CopyTo is not blank
– Set Name field (ie. Title of the Page) to CopyTo value
– Set MakeTemplate to No and CopyTo value to blank

This scenario allows a user to create a new page from any page that has the MakeTemplate field set to Yes.
Creating from the Template involves filling out the CopyTo field and saving the template record.

The advantage of this is that it leaves a version history that documents who created a new page from the template and what the page was called.

The next refinement is to work out if it is possible for the workflow to update the browser leaving the user on the new page. In the absence of this capability I have modified the Home Page of the Wiki to add a Web Part that lists the three most recent pages changes made by the User.

What I haven’t worked out how to do – since I am only a lowly site administrator and not a SharePoint Server Administrator, is how to change the layout of the New Wiki and EditForm pages for the Wiki. Changing these files away from the default for the site collection seems to disable the Edit button on the Wiki. Making the Wiki largely useless. Yet more examples of how SharePoint is not a Collaboration platform but rather a development platform.

….It shouldn’t be this hard to collaborate.
The fact that SharePoint is missing an out of the box ability to work with multiple templates in a Wiki is not much short of scandalous for an Enterprise class product in 2009.

Surviving the HealthCare system – Stay out of Hospital

It is interesting to read the Glenn Laffel commentary on a Harvard Study about the use of EMRs in hospitals on The Health Care Blog. The most obvious outcome of the Harvard study leads you to the conclusion that EMRs will not improve quality of care in hospitals. 

Is the future of our HealthCare system dependent upon large general hospitals? Many people see Hospitals as dangerous places. This study seems to confirm that thinking. The uniqueness of each patient coupled with the complexity involved in delivering care make mistakes inevitable. If your local Doctor’s practice is a safer place because it is more contained with fewer human interactions then may be the future in controlling cost and quality in health care is in encouraging the migration of treatments from in patient towards being capable of being undertaken in local practices.

I think the study also points to the reality that patients do need to be actively engaged in their own care – or they need to have someone acting on their behalf. If an EMR enabled hospital increases the probability of errors in a course of treatment then an empowered patient really does need the resources of a sophisticated Personal Health Record that can evaluate treatments and drug regimes and confirm that they are not harmful to the patient. 

What did Ronald Reagan say “trust but verify.” I think we have reached that point with our Health Care system. The relationship between a patient and their doctor is one largely of trust. We believe that our doctor is trying to give us the best care but so many other factors come in to play. When we go in to a hospital we put that faith in the hands of a massive team of people. The hand offs that occur create opportunities for error.  

So let’s trust the people that are caring for us but don’t make that blind trust. We need to get engaged and use whatever tools we can get our hands on to help us confirm the recommendations that the health care system presents to us. 

Studies like this just serve to further convince me that the empowered patient has to invest in their Personal Health Record and an ecosystem of applications that can help us understand our health and any conditions we may be managing. Seeing the pace of development and the less than spirited enthusiasm for implementation of EMRs I believe that the untethered PHR will outflank the EMR vendors and the empowered patient will become the integrator across the Health Care system by utilizing their PHR to share information with the different health care professionals they interact with.

Report: Microsoft may help News Corp. delist sites | Digital Media – CNET News

Microsoft is playing a dangerous game if this report is true. It is one thing to win audiences by being a better search engine. It is an entirely different situation if you are incentivizing content producers to hide content from competitors.

This could backfire on Microsoft if they are not careful.


Maybe Rupert Murdoch was serious about wanting to go without Google.

Murdoch’s News Corp. has initiated discussions with Microsoft over a plan to have the media company’s content essentially delisted from the world’s largest search engine, according to a report Sunday in the Financial Times that cited a person familiar with the situation. Microsoft, which owns rival search engine Bing, has also reportedly approached media giants about having their content removed from Google search results as well.

Microsoft representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The two companies have been linked discussing a Web-search partnership in the past. During Microsoft’s failed bid for Yahoo in 2008, the tech giant was reportedly in “serious” talks with News Corp. to make a joint bid for Yahoo.

Murdoch, the chairman of a newspaper, TV, and Internet empire that includes The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, 20th Century Fox, Fox News, and Hulu, warned earlier this month that his sites may soon disappear from the search engine’s listings. Murdoch accused search giants of “stealing” his company’s content during an interview with Sky News Australia. When he was asked why he just doesn’t pull his Web sites from Google’s search results, he said: “I think we will. But that’s when we start charging.”

Murdoch and other News Corp. execs have said that they intend to charge readers and viewers for access to the company’s content, forsaking the ad revenue model.

For several months, executives at some of the nation’s most influential newspapers and periodicals, including The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press, have been blaming Google and similar Web services for at least some of their deepening financial troubles.

Google sells ads tied to the news blurbs it “scrapes” from news sites. It links back to the Web sites from which it acquired the content but doesn’t share ad revenue with them.

“Publishers put their content on the Web because they want it to be found,” Google said in a statement earlier this month. “Very few choose not to include their material in Google News and Web search. But if they tell us not to include it, we don’t.”

Critics of the media companies’ bashing of Google point out that if media companies were serious about not being indexed by search engines, they could accomplish the feat on their own by inserting a single line of code into their URLs. For example, if the Wall Street Journal added a line such as, content from the site would be rendered invisible to Google.


Why does SharePoint have to be so brain dead and inconsistent?

Once again I have spent a wasted afternoon battling with the brain dead SharePoint MOSS 2007 and SharePoint Designer.

Each time I engage in one of these titanic battle of wills SharePoint seems to win. It proves once again it is a development platform and NOT a collaboration platform.

My task for today was about trying to improve the usability of the Wiki. I know we really should go out and acquire SocialText and integrate it as a series of Web Parts in to SharePoint, but that requires a tortuous approval process that will come up against the argument…. “But SharePoint has a Wiki…”

Yes, SharePoint does have a Wiki. It is a pathetic feature barren sad excuse for a wiki. In trying to improve the usability of the built in Wiki I am starting from this position:

1. I am not a developer
2. I do not have authority to add special web parts or code to the SharePoint Server.
3. I have limited rights as a site administrator
4. I do have access to SharePoint Designer 2007.

I am therefore setting about creating a crude template capability for the SharePoint Wiki. I welcome feedback on my approach but this is the conclusion I came to:

I created a Wiki called Templates. In this Wiki I place pre-formatted pages that are the templates to be made available. 

I then created a Wiki for the actual documents. I called this PH (short for Project History). 

I needed a mechanism to Create a Wiki page from a Template. To do this I  decided to create a Task list. 

I then used SharePoint Designer to link the three lists together with a workflow. This is where it got ugly and SharePoint revealed, once again how inconsistently it has been developed.

I had 3 fields in the Task List. Title, Template Name and Status. The Template Name did a lookup in to the Templates Wiki to get Page Names for the Templates. The Status field is either “In Progress” or “Completed”.

I can therefore create a web part to Create A Page From A Template.

This opens the New Form in the Task List. You choose a Title for your Page and select a Template from the list of available templates. This all seems simple enough.

I next constructed a Workflow that is triggered when a record is created in the Task List. This turned out to be extremely messy.

The basic flow I went through in the workflow was as follows:

Step 1
Get values for the Task List for Title and Template Name.

Lookup up the Template Name in the Templates list using the Template Name from the Task List. Get the Template Content from the Wiki Content field and save it in a workflow variable.

Step 2
Create a new record in the PH Wiki library and save the ID to a workflow variable

Step 3
Change the Status of the Task List to completed.

The problems I have run in to with this are:
If I create a record in the PH Wiki it does not create the a skeleton .aspx file. ie. the basic record is malformed. There is no option to set the basic record because the workflow only gives you access to the Name and WikiContent fields in the Wiki.

I tried Copying an existing record in the PH Wiki to create a new record. The problem is that you have no way to get at the ID of the record that is created so that you can go and update the content of the record at a later stage in the Workflow.

All in all SharePoint once again shows up apparent flaws in the basic design. Why does it treat a Wiki Library differently from a Document Library and why does it treat a custom list differently from a Document Library. It all smacks of lazy thinking and a bad logical data model.

All in all a wasted afternoon. A wiki that is frustrating to use and so lacking in functionality that is laughable. Microsoft promote the addition of Wikis and Blogs to SharePoint 2007 but the truth is that they are there in an unchanged format from the previous SharePoint 2003. Yes, give me SocialText with their brilliant SocialCalc feature that lets me work with a web spreadsheet in my wiki page. 

If anyone has come up with a way to copy the content of a wiki page in one library to a new page in another wiki library please let me in on the secret!