Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Microsoft launches Popfly Alpha

Screenshot of Popfly homepage

Microsoft is rushing to demonstrate its involvement in Web 2.0 development, and have just launched Popfly;

"Popfly is the fun, easy way to build and share mashups, gadgets, Web pages, and applications.

  • Popfly Creator is a set of online visual tools for building Web pages and mashups.

  • Popfly Space is an online community of creators where you can host, share, rate, comment and even remix creations from other Popfly users."

The site is still in Alpha version, and warns user it may fail at many tasks. Using the site requires installing Microsoft's recently launched competitor to Flash; Silverlight (still in beta) and participation is by invitation only.

I'm probably not capable of using the site even if I had an invitation, but I thought perhaps some of my readers would find it interesting. If so, drop me a note and I will try to solicit some invitations from our contacts at Microsoft. Alternatively, is you have a Windows Live account, you can sign up for the waiting list.

ABB wiki software candidates shortlisted

After intensive investigation, we have short listed three possible platforms for future Enterprise 2.0 activities in ABB.

  • Lotus Domino wiki

  • Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server

  • Confluence (Java-based)

We have also looked at a number of other platforms, most of them open source. While many of these are nice applications for smaller projects, generally they do not scale, i.e. they are not good solutions for a major organization like ABB.

We will now set up pilots with the three short listed candidates and will try them out in different projects, primarily within GF-CC (Corporate Communication). If anybody else would like to be part of the pilot, please send me an e-mail or leave a comment to this article with your contact details. Hopefully all will be set up within a week or two, and we will then be ready to roll.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Explaining Enterprise 2.0

Trying to understand Enterprise 2.0? Or struggling to explain your colleagues what it is? Hopefully this presentation will be of help. I came across it on a site called slideshare.net. Similar to Flikr, but this one is for sharing presentations, not photos. The site is still in beta, and I haven't tried it out. If anyone has, I'd be happy if you shared your comments in this blog. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Subscribe to Nielsen's Alertbox

Jacob Nielsen is considered the foremost guru on web usability today. His website useit.com contains a plethora of information on most usability related issues. You can also subscribe to his alertbox newsletter, which is sent out bi-weekly and is a useful resource (and reminder) on web usability.

To subscribe, go to http://www.useit.com/alertbox/ or send a blank email to join-alertbox@laser.sparklist.com

Monday, May 14, 2007

Jacob Nielsen: Web 2.0 'distracts good design'

Jakob NielsenMaking a site easy to use should be the first priority . Hype about Web 2.0 is making web firms neglect the basics of good design, web usability guru Jakob Nielsen says, according to the BBC website. Nielsen warned that the rush to make web pages more dynamic often meant users were badly served.

He said sites peppered with personalisation tools were in danger of resembling the "glossy but useless" sites at the height of the dotcom boom. Research into website use shows that sites were better off getting the basics right, said Mr Nielsen.

Good practices include making a site easy to use, good search tools, the use of text free of jargon, usability testing and a consideration of design even before the first line of code is written. Sadly, said Mr Nielsen, the rush to embrace Web 2.0 technology meant that many firms were turning their back on the basics.

"They should get the basics right first," he said. "Sadly most websites do not have those primary things right."

While some sites with particular demographics, such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo, have large involved communities of users that will not hold true for all sites, he said. "Most people just want to get in, get it and get out," said Mr Nielsen. "For them the web is not a goal in itself. It is a tool."
Follow this link for the full article

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Me and my iPod - and a lesson for ABB?

I had a hard disc crash on my PC some months ago. It turned out that the back-up hadn't run since last summer, due to some glitch in the network setup. The help desk apologized and took the blame and helped me scrape whatever content could still be saved from the wrecked hard disc. Luckily they managed to rescue most of my files, including my music files.

I was happy, but my iPod was not. It refused to sync with my PC, and wouldn't even let me restore, which iPod owners will know is a last resort. I kept struggling with it for several hours, but in the end I had to give up. This weekend I finally had some time on my hands, and I decided to fix it no matter what it would take. It turned out to be much less than I anticipated...

As I connected the iPod and tried again to restore, an error message was the only result. "Unknown error -1418". Not much help, really. Or? I went to apple.com, clicked on support and entered "iPod error -1418" into the search. And presto; the first hit was a page that explained in detail how to create a batch file that would fix the issue. Five minutes later I was the happy owner of a fully functional iPod again.

And the lesson for ABB? As I keep stressing, it is next to impossible to manage expectations on the web. Users spend most of their time on other web sites and this determines their expecations. As more and more users have these kind of experiences on other web sites, they will come to expect a similar service level on ours. And how long will it be before they get it? Some have come quite a way, but I suspect too many have not even started thinking about how they can do it.

The web feed icon - a symbol of the future

It got off to a difficult start in life. In the beginning it had many names and several different symbols; RSS, XML, Atom. Also, the formats where generally incompatible, all requiring different "readers". But now finally everything seems to come together.

The symbol you see here was first introduced by Firefox, but it only took off when Microsoft decided to use the same symbol in IE7, avoiding terminology that may have been helpful to geeks, but utterly confusing to most web users. After all, the whole point is simplicity!

We have used this symbol on the ABB homepage for quite some time, and you will have noticed that it is becoming ubiquitous on the www. Behind the symbol is a web feed, which is automatically updated as new content becomes available. So instead of checking the ABB homepage to see if anything is new, the feed will display news and updates as they are posted on the site.

To view the content you need a reader, and the easiest to use is probably Internet Explorer 7. When you open a web page that offers a feed, the symbol above will become active in your browser tool bar. One click on the symbol shows you the feed, and another click puts it into the feed reader that is built into IE7. But most powerful I have seen so far is Netvibes. Take a look and try it out!

These web feeds have other uses as well, as you can embed a feed in a web page, so that it will be automatically updated with content without any intervention from the owner of the page where it is displayed. This will have wide ranging consequences for the web, both Internet and intranets, as focus must shifts from designing web pages to providing more valuable content.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

How many are taking part in the Web 2.0?

A survey by PEW has fired up a heated discussion about how many actually take active part in the "new" web, meaning not only passively reading, but actively contributing. According to the survey 49% of the US population has little or no interest in Web 2.0. The survey finds that 31% are "Elite users", with another 20% being "Middle of the road tech users".

Some commentators says the numbers are disappointingly low, but personally I tend to agree with Jakob Nielsen who find the numbers exaggerated: "It’s overstating this survey to say that “almost 40 per cent of people blog, upload photos, post comments and so on.” What the survey found was that 37% said that they had (at least) once done one of these things."

The 1/9/90 rule of thumb has been floating around the web for quite a while, saying 90% read, 9% comment and rate, while only 1% actively participate. Quite a few doubt its validity.Forrester has a different perspetive on this, you can read a summary of their views here. They argue that the participation rate depends on the type of site; Active participation is higher on sites like MySpace than on sites like YouTube, rather obvious in my opinion.

So what is the situation in ABB? It would be interesting to know, if we could find out. My guess would be that we have an abnormal distribution with many at either end of the scale; Many tech savvy users in one end and in the other end far too many who still insist their assistant prints out their e-mail so they can read them...

Sunday, May 6, 2007

How businesses are using Web 2.0:
A McKinsey Global Survey

It's already a couple of weeks old, but I think it is worth posting in case you missed it:

According to the survey, more than three-fourths of executives who responded say they plan to maintain or increase their investments in technology trends that encourage user collaboration, such as peer-to-peer networking, social networks, and Web services.

More than half say they are pleased with their past Internet investments, though some regret not boosting their own capabilities to exploit technology. More executives said they should have acted faster than slower.

Also, many executives in emerging markets such as India and Latin America intend to move more quickly to capture the perceived benefits of these technologies.

To get access to the full report, you have to register here

Web 2.0 in ABB: If ABB knew what ABB knows...

Web 2.0 is the latest buzz-word, and possibly also the latest hype. Same with its sibling Enterprise 2.0. Following in its trail is a heap of cryptic abbreviations and unfamiliar terms like AJAX, RSS, XML, SaaS, SOAP, semantic web and computer ontology.

I am no technical expert and couldn't write a line of code if you put a gun to my head, so to myself I have simplified this into two aspects

  • How can we make it easier for users to share knowledge with others
  • How can we make it easier to navigate the maze of the web and find relevant and reliable information

We have no plans to start competing with Wikipedia or YouTube, but the question is how these new concepts can be used to improve our web presence. Our main focus currently is on knowledge management inside the company. Our intranet has content of varying quality, would it get better or worse if every ABB employee could edit any page? Or should we limit our self to let them post ratings and comments? How could blogs help the organization to reach its goals? Could the use of social networking tools make it easier to find internal expert resources?

The other central question is how we can help employees handle the information overflow. It does not help if good and accurate information is available, if it is drowned out in poor, outdated or irrelevant content. Web 2.0 has introduced a plethora of new technologies that can help, but how do we prioritize, and how can we make sure that employees has the knowledge level needed to benefit from the technologies we introduce?

Last, but not least: How will the ABB culture affect our possibility to implement these technologies? This blog by Dion Hinchcliffe on blogs.zdnet.com has some interesting thoughts on the subject.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Google - your best friend?

Google drawfs all other search engines in driving traffic to abb.com and our country sites. In April this year Google generated more than a third of all visits, far more than any other search engine. Number two was baidu.com, their Chinese competitor with 2.3%, while Yahoo had 1.8% and MSN only 0,4%. In total there were more than 500 different domains driving traffic to our sites, but none of the others had more than a fraction of a per cent.

New release deployed today - no disturbances

Today we deployed a new release (1ABB2.1b) with some minor but urgent updates to abb.com. The most important is the ability for logged-in users to access restricted documents from ABB Library. We also fixed some of the most visible bugs; Images on additional pages are no longer displayed twice in the same page and the problem were the body text was displayed in the margin of some additional pages is solved. The problem with Library links in the Service Guide is also fixed.

The best news is that the deployment was done without causing any significant disturbances to users. This has been a recurring problem with earlier deployments, so let's hope we avoid seeing them again - ever! We're planning another minor release next week hoping to significantly reduce the load on the database servers that has caused us so much headache since we launched version 2.0 in February this year.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

ABB China most viewed homepage in April

The web statistics for April were available yesterday, and for the first time in history, ABB China had the most visited country homepage in ABB with 69'000 page views, beating Germany's 65'000 and Sweden's 59'000. The Group homepage had 406'000 page views.

Easter holidays in Europe obviously made the task easier, but it is still an important milestone as traffic from China keeps growing. Many product groups now have more traffic to their Chinese and Spanish pages than to traditional ABB languages like German, Swedish and Finnish.

I spent a few days in Hong Kong last month, participating in Microsoft's Global Summit. Some of China's most prominent web entrepreneurs also took part and their message was that China is an advanced broadband market where users have high expectations when browsing the web. But the average English language skill are still at a level where Chinese translations is a prerequisite to reach the local market. I believe some of our businesses still have not woken up to this fact.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

These are busy times...

I find spring is always a busy time, lots of things should be fixed before the summer, and plenty of holidays come in the way. I thought it would be good to give you an update on some of the issues we are working on:

  • Server stability is priority number one. We have had performance problems every time we deploy a new release, most often affecting translated content in the Products & Services section. We had a high level meeting to get to the bottom of this last week, and came up with a long list of actions point to remedy the situation
  • Spring cleaning is under way. As part of the May release we would like to clear away as many as possible of the minor bugs that have been reported in 1ABB.
  • We're also reviewing usability and accessibility issues on the web site, based on a report from Webcredible in London. At the same time we're looking to fix some minor HTML and CSS compliance issues that clutter the validation reports.
  • The findings from the FT Bowen Craggs report referred to below is also being analyzed. Their main focus is outside of Products & Services and shows that we need to improve consistency across and within the different subsections on abb.com, such as About Us, Investor relations etc.
  • We also need to put more focus on broken links. The number of error messages from abb.com indicates that web editors may have grown complacent, letting the number of broken links start growing again. We may have to re-instate the "Hall of shame" to increase the pressure...
  • The handling of web requests is another worry. While we have added more and more contacts, ABB's response rate has steadily deteriorated. Half of all requests are not being replied to even though most of them are perfectly bona fide service and sales requests.

While being busy doing mundane things, we also need to keep an eye on the future. We're busy preparing a meeting in the "ABB Intranet 2.0 strategy group" a week from now where we will discuss how Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 will affect ABB's future intranet activities. Issues like blogs, wikis, folksonomy, RSS and social networking will be discussed.