January 2009

twitter for the enterprise?

Interesting last two days inside Intel, at least for me.  There was a bit of a stir about employees using yammer — concern about potential for sharing sensitive data on an externally-hosted service.

I haven’t been using twitter for very long, but I had wondered about the availability of a twitter-like service for internal use.  Intel is a big company, lots of opportunity for sharing and following what else is happening.  Somehow I missed the memo about the group on yammer.

Anyhow, through the course of it all, I was exposed to yammer (along with everyone else in the company…) When I joined the group, the discussion was all about possible alternatives that could be hosted internally and thus be approved for some of the conversations people would like to have.

laconi.ca was proposed as a possible platform, so I looked into it.  I happened to have a web server allocated to me that could host a deployment for evaulation.  Setup was reasonably easy — if you ignore the hours spent trying to build php5 for the machine.  Probably didn’t help that I was falling asleep at the keyboard…

The laconi.ca app seems pretty full-featured, but there’s actually a fair amount that doesn’t apply to this type of deployment — we won’t be using OpenID logins, SMS is probably not useful, won’t be supporting cross-posting to twitter, etc.  All of those things have to be hacked out of the code, unfortunately, as it is not very modular / configurable codebase.

One thing I’d really like to change for this purpose is to increased the limit for messages from 140 to 250 characters or so.  Since it most likely won’t end up supporting SMS, there’s not much point in restricting to 140 characters.  Encouraging brevity is a good thing, but 140 is a bit too short.  But once again, there’s no simple way to configure that.  The 140 limit is built into the database scheme, into the middleware, and also hard-coded in the client javascript code.  A bit disappointed by that…

I worked with one of the active yammerers to do some initial testing, then announced it to the rest of the yammer group.  That all happened on Friday afternoon, so there hasn’t been a lot of response yet, but it seems mostly positive so far.  Yammer definitely has some nice functionality that will be missed (e.g. threaded conversations and groups), but this has the huge advantage of being entirely contained within the copany network.

At the same time I was doing this, I found out that the corporate IT group is working on a full-blown “professional social network” solution for everyone, which will include an integrated micro-blogging function.  That will roll out starting in about two more months…. Being part of a large effort, I don’t expect much from that micro-blogging feature.  Frankly I expect it to suck.  Doing it right is hard enough in relative isolation (twitter/yammer/laconi.ca are not trivial), so doing it as a small part of a larger system will result in a ho-hum, watered-down service that will struggle to engage many users.

Hopefully the laconi.ca-based service will get some traction in the meantime.  If there’s enough momentum, it can’t be ignored.  That’s how previous grass-roots efforts with blogging, wikis, etc have evolved within Intel.  The yammer situation has demonstrated a pretty clear demand for this capability.  Not sure how my involvement in the whole thing will play out, but I hope it remains interesting.

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Overnight success takes years

Great advice in a post on Coding Horror, from Jeff Atwood and others.  This title made me laugh: Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years.  I started playing around with BASIC on the Apple II’s at school in 4th grade, then on my parents’ Kaypro II.  So I’ve been been at it a long time.  There’s a whole lot left to learn.

I also (sort of) studied violin for ~15 years.  I can manage to play a few things well, but it’s mostly frustrating, because I can’t just pick it up and play.  And I know what it would take: consistent, dedicated practice — not just playing, but practice, doing specific exercises to develop specific skills and expand my repertoire.

The same definitely applies to software and business development.  I’ve had extensive experience with some technologies in some application domains, but there’s so much I don’t know.  I’ve definitely reached a stage in my professional career where I’m starting to feel like things should be happening, and it is hard to be patient and keep slogging away.  Keep learning something new — that’s the easy part, actually.  Focused, intentional practice is not so much fun.  But I’m in it for the long haul, maybe one day I also will be able to wake up an overnight success.

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