Sunday, August 31, 2008


Another Course Blogging Experiment

In the last few years, as blogs and wikis have become widespread, I've thought a lot about whether or how to employ them in the courses I teach. Last semester, when I taught Document Engineering, any topic in that course would have been an appropriate subject for this "Doc or Die" blog. So instead of setting up a new blog for the course, I had students use this blog as the course blog.

Unfortunately, I think that most of the students felt a little intimidated by the suggestion that they should be posting on their professor's blog. So except for the one time that I made it a course assignment to do so, very few students posted to Doc or Die during the semester.

We've just started up the fall semester at Berkeley, and once again I have the great privilege and responsibility to teach the only course that every student entering the Master's Program in the School of Information has to take this semester. The course is titled "Information Organization and Retrieval," which is the name given to it when the school started over a decade ago, but it is significantly broader in scope that that. Many of the topics that come up in the course would be appropriate for "Doc or Die," but not all of them.

So this time, we've set up a new blog dedicated to the IO & IR course, and the first assignment for students is to post a news story that concerns a topic in the course (I wanted them to start seeing how IO & IR are deeply embedded in the world they live in, and to take a closer look at the course syllabus). This seems to be working – they are busy posting away this weekend. I suspect I'll end up blogging here about posts my students make over there… or would it make more sense just to comment on their posts on their blog rather than on mine? I guess that would be another experiment.

-Bob Glushko

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Berkeley Calendar Network wins Innovation Award

I feel like a proud parent … or perhaps grandparent or great-grandparent is more accurate (I'll explain that in a minute) … because the Berkeley Event Calendar Network has recently won the 2008 Larry L. Sautter Award for Innovation in Information Technology, a UC systemwide honor.

An "event calendar network" is exactly that, and the motivation for it is quite simple. Before the event calendar network existed, there were literally scores of different Web calendars on the domain, all with incompatible models of "event" so they couldn't share information. If a distinguished visitor was giving a lecture at our School of Information that might appeal to people in computer science or business, we'd have to enter the event in three different Web forms to get it on the relevant calendars (and that always seemed like too much effort). There was no easy way to share, syndicate or subscribe to events, which meant that people missed out on events they would have gone to if they'd only known about them.

Fast forwarding to today -- because of the calendar network, when you submit an event to your "home" calendar (the "master calendar" is this one), if you mark it "public" so it can be shared, other calendars can transparently include it in their calendars. About 50 calendars are in the network, and new ones join all the time. You can easily can sort events by category or change the display, and each calendar has a customizable CSS "skin" so that it can be plugged into the home page of each department / school / organization in the network. This lets a calendar join the network and get the advantages of event syndication without losing its native look and feel.

But like many network-based applications, the event calendar took a while to achieve critical mass, and it has been a long time coming. The reason I feel like the great-grandfather is because I assigned the task of designing an interoperable model of an event for calendars on the Berkeley campus to my Document Engineering class in the Spring of 2003. Yes, 2003 – over 5 years ago.

Four of the students in that class – Allison Bloodworth, Nadine Fiebrich, Myra Liu, and Zhanna Shamis – transformed my little homework assignment into their final project as part of their master's degree requirements at the School of Information. They overachieved big time in that effort as you can see from the hyperdocumented design artifacts on their project website, and it was not a surprise to me as their project advisor when they subsequently won the Chen award for best final project in 2004. After graduation, Allison went to work for the UCB campus, and she slogged hard for a few years to turn this master's degree project into a deployable application.

The graduation award for the project wasn't a fluke. Later that year I co-authored a paper with Allison titled Model-driven Application Design for a Campus Calendar Network, and this received a "best paper" award at the XML 2004 conference, mostly as a result of Allison's engaging presentation.

A year later, when Tim McGrath and I were finishing the writing on our Document Engineering book, we showcased the event calendar as a case study that weaves through the book to illustrate the design techniques and modeling artifacts. We used the calendar as a case study not just because it was convenient, but because the interoperability problems it was designed to overcome are typical of every large organization that struggles with incompatible time sheets, expense reimbursements, registration forms, and other administrative documents.

So as you can tell, I am a very proud (parent^N) of this event calendar network, and it just pleases me immensely to see it get this award. Now if only the School of Information would join the network, so I could avoid making up reasons why it hasn't even though the project was born there over 5 years ago.

-Bob Glushko

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


A New “Information Systems and Service Design” Course

For most of my professional career I've designed and deployed information-intensive applications, systems, and services. Almost 30 years ago, when I was one of the first handful of people with a cognitive science background to work at Bell Labs, my work in online documentation and content management systems emphasized the "people parts" or "front stages." Over time, especially when I was part of two Silicon Valley start-ups in electronic publishing (Passage Systems, 1992-1996) and B2B marketplaces (Veo, 1997-1999) my focus shifted toward the "back stage" where information is managed, transformed, and moved within and between business systems.

But recently, as I've helped to shape the emerging discipline of "Service Science," my goal is to develop methods for designing " service systems" that treat the entire network of service components that comprise the back and front stages as complementary and integrated parts. For almost two years I've had a team of graduate students with a mixture of front and back stage design skills thrash with each other and with me to seek some unifying concepts and methods that can overcome the biases and conflicts inherent in their different perspectives.

At the risk of stereotyping, here's how I've contrasted these two design approaches in a paper I wrote with Lindsay Tabas:
The usual approach for resolving the typical design conflicts and tradeoffs between front and back designers is to create multidisciplinary design teams that explicitly include designers with front and back stage biases. But this is a necessary but insufficient remedy, because what often happens is that each tribe of designers is so convinced of its intellectual and moral correctness that it tries to beat the other side into submission rather than make reasoned tradeoffs. I think this is especially true of relatively inexperienced usability or HCI designers, who find it difficult to accept that business models, legacy implementation constraints, or backward compatibility should shape what gets built. Likewise, some software developers and business managers discount ethnographic field work because the insights about activities and problems seem obvious, but only in retrospect.

So I've come to think that a good designer needs a more end-to-end perspective and some familiarity with the concepts and design techniques of "the other stage." And that's why we developed a new course called " Information Systems and Service Design: Strategy, Models, and Methods" that I'll teach for the first time this coming semester.

This course covers the entire design process, but rather than teach it from a narrow perspective governed by a single methodology like "user-centered design," it brings together multiple perspectives so that students can learn multiple ways of dealing with the same problem. Many of the topics in the syllabus come in complementary pairs, like "Personas" and "Customer modeling" - where traditional HCI methods get "mashed up" against business/marketing/backend perspectives on the same design problems. Likewise, there are readings on "Ethnography for experience design" (i.e., follow and observe people as they work) with what I call "Ethnography for information system design" (i.e., follow documents and other information objects as they move between people, organizations, and systems). My experience has shown that a combined "document anthropology and archeology" yields much better requirements and insights than either does on its own.

One other key aspect of the course is that it discusses a much broader set of design contexts than the typical UCD or HCI design course does. These courses most often consider the design of "one shot" new applications or services where there are no legacy constraints, integration concerns, or product family roadmaps in which functionality emerges over time over a set of related offerings that have to fit into an environment with existing systems and services.

So in this new course we'll deal with multichannel designs (that exist in both online and physical contexts, like a web store that also has brick-and-mortar locations), composite applications that combine new information resources with existing ones, and "smart" services that are driven by information collected from sensors or from objects as they move through supply chains or distributed systems. Students will work in teams (which we'll put together to have as diverse or contrasting design experiences as we can) to have an end-to-end design experience in one of these three emerging contexts. I think this will give students a more realistic view of what "design in the wild" is really like.

I'll publish my lecture notes on the course syllabus page as the semester progresses if anyone wants to follow along.

-Bob Glushko

Friday, August 15, 2008


"Dude, you're famous" -- Duane Nickull

I don't get many email messages with subject lines like "Dude, you're famous" and when I do they are almost always from Duane Nickull. He's a "Senior Technology Evangelist" at Adobe, and has been leading the Service Oriented Architecture Reference Model Technical Committee at OASIS (an international standards-making organization where I'm on the Board of Directors). Duane and I met about 10 years ago in the technology standards arena when we were both part of the ebXML effort to develop and harmonize XML and EDI standards for electronic business -- which laid the foundations for web services.

But this description of Duane as a technologist and standards-maker doesn't do him justice and certainly doesn't capture the fact that he's also a brilliant musician, an extreme sports professional, and fun to hang around with. Duane has a fairly traditional blog called "Technoracle," but he also has a radically untraditional show on "Adobe TV" that mixes technology interviews, code writing demos, and indy music.

The reason I am now famous – at least according to Duane – is because he interviewed me for his most recent
"Duane's World" episode on Adobe TV
. This episode was recorded at the recent annual "Foo Camp" get-together at the O'Reilly home offices in Sebastopol, California.

In the interview I discuss the motivation and goals for a new course I'm about to start teaching at UC Berkeley called "Information Systems and Service Design" . This is a course that embodies the idea I've talked about here on "bridging the front stage and back stage". When we design and build "information-driven interactions" we should understand how back stage information contributes to the experience, and we shouldn't focus narrowly on the user interface. Duane came up with a perfect example of the problems this front stage bias can produce: he said that he was annoyed recently when he filled out Web forms to submit his Canadian income tax, only to have them corrected by the tax authorities! A "bridging" design method would have pre-populated the form with the known information, leaving the user to confirm rather than provide it.

I'll write something more detailed about that new course soon, and I'll try to make it as entertaining as the interview.

Btw, the episode begins with Duane interviewing Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal, followed by a demo on Adobe's Flex Builder tool. And one of the bands whose music appears in my interview is 22ndCentury . I use Drupal and have tried Flex Builder, and I think I'll listen to more of 22ndCentury.

-Bob Glushko

Saturday, August 09, 2008


The Dark Side of Knowledge Management

A couple of days ago I came across a 2006 paper by Steven Alter called "Goals and Tactics on the Dark Side of Knowledge Management," which begins by saying that "the knowledge management literature focuses on the bright side of KM: it barely mentions the dark side, in which knowledge is distorted, suppressed, or misappropriated due to personal or organizational motives."

I was intrigued by the title because I'd just reviewed the Component Content Management Report, which by contrast is certainly about the bright side of content management. I also know Alter, and he's a clever guy (maybe even a bit of a "wise guy") who teaches at the University of San Francisco, across the bridge from Berkeley on the "West Bay."

This could have been a "tongue in cheek" article, but it's not. It is a brilliant analysis of dozens of news stories in which knowledge was suppressed, distorted, or misappropriated during creation, storage and retrieval, or distribution and presentation phases. Alter uses this "lifecycle x dark side goals" framework to organize the various tactics that he extracted from the news stories.

I won't go through all the categories in Alter's framework. But I note that many of the examples reveal a political perspective common in San Francisco (actors in the stories include John Bolton, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld), and I'm sure that there are people in red states who would argue that Alter's paper itself is an example of "knowledge distortion during presentation." I'll let you decide for yourself.

-Bob Glushko

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