"Count what is countable. Measure what is measureable. What is not measureable, make measureable." -- Galileo

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bird Song, Cell Phones, and CMS

I read an interesting bit over on LiveScience.com about bird song and its commonality with cell phones. In short, if male birds all sang the same song, it would be easy for females to judge the best ones. Ditto for cell phone plans--if all companies had similar plans, it would be trivial to do cost comparisons and pick the best deal.

Instead, male songbirds who know they aren't the best singers should try to fool females by singing something different so there's no easy comparison. Cell phone companies do the same thing by offering different plans: free calls to friends, unlimited evening minutes, no-charge long distance.

The point is that the weaker "product," whether bird or cell phone, is betting that the "customer," whether prospective mate or handy phone user will make a mistake and select the lower quality item.

"It may be that new signals evolve because they benefit low quality males," Forstmeier [one of the study's authors] said. As long as there is the tendency for female songbirds or cell phone customers to treat bigger or faster or whatever as better, "you kind of can try to sell almost anything as an indicator of quality to the other sex or your customer."

So... next time you are browsing the feature comparison lists on CMS Matrix or reading some obscure statistical pervulsion in one of my posts here at PloneMetrics, remember that we're talking apples and oranges all the time. Strong singers, best-value cell phone plans, and top-flight CMS will simply want to sing their best song, advertise their best plan, and market their best functionality. But weaker singers will vary their song, less competitive mobile companies will offer convoluted pricing, and weaker CMS will have more exotic combinations of feature sets.

I suggest that the Plone community, the Foundation, and its Board look carefully at their motivations for adding features to the Plone suite. Having a best-of-breed core product with a killer mechanism for customization (UML --> ArchGenXML --> product) may be the best means to assure prospective mates, I mean, users, that Plone is right for them.

Its to our advantage to make sure that potential customers choose the right framework, even if its not Plone. One pissed off fellow disappointed with Plone can cause quite a bit of havoc with a blog.

At the same time we should be striving to make comparisons as straight-forward as possible by marketing our strengths. As a corollary, devising a robust rating system for 3rd-party products will make it possible for prospective users to more accurately understand where weaknesses may be manifest.

I'll not be making it to NOLA Plone week after next, but my colleague Deborah Haycraft will be. If you want to get a message delivered directly to me, track her down.

Have a great symposium and see you in DC next fall.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Plone for KMS

I'm back from my blitzreise to Torino for the UNICRI Knowledge Management System Kickoff meeting. We had participants from all over the Balkans and the Caucasus as well as European Commission and various NGOs. We had two days of meetings, mostly of a political or project-level nature, and two evenings of programmatic socializing. For those not familiar with the international relations way of things, this socialization is a key part of the way things are done and actually is critical in terms of system acceptance and buy-in.

Unfortunately, for such a brief trip, the air travel was brutal and I never had a chance at recovering from jet-lag. To sit in meetings all day and then wine and dine until after midnight is hard on one's endurance when you're well rested. Trying to do it the day after a 22-hour trans-Atlantic flight is near suicidal.

That said, the food was outstanding--I'd not known what Piedmont and Langhe food was about until this trip. Far more meat than I'd expected. Also, I have a much greater appreciation of the Nebbolo grape and the fine Barolo wines.

Its interesting that the topic of this KMS is what we in the nonproliferation business call illicit trafficking in CBRN materials. CBRN is chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear -- all the well-known weapons of mass distruction. So we had participants from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Checmial Weapons, and even experts on the Biological Weapons Convention. It ties in very well with my previous work building information systems and websites for the IAEA's Iraq Nuclear Verification Office.

But, back to Plone... the third day, after the regional participants had departed, we sat down together with the UNICRI staff, including their webmaster, and talked over the direction the program should go. The program lead is thinking in terms of initially creating a wiki that can later be expanded to other options and he's quite naturally concerned that once content goes into a wiki, he'll be unable to repurpose it as the portal matures.

Another key element is what they term "sustainable training." Right now their small staff has difficulty providing the world-wide demand for instruction in terms of curriculum availability, class cost, and assurance that participants will carry the material back to their colleagues and spread the knowledge. We hope to integrate various distance-learning technologies into the portal and begin work on a product to deliver customized scenerio-based on-demand course material.

System security is another requirement that was mentioned and I find it a very strong plus in the Plone column relative to PHP-based systems. Also, since I'll be involved remotely with only a couple trips per year over to UNICRI, we absolutely have to have a robust TTW capability.

I've come away from the meetings feeling certain that Plone indeed will do everything they currently envision (which is actually quite modest) and provide the growth opportunities that I know their system will need as it matures and as their user community expands its appetite for information.

Next step: Take my generalized UNICRI KMS prototype and transform it into a UNICRI-Sandia portal where we can share discussions online, provide a sandbox in which they can experiment, and host a development area for testing their vision of a wiki combined with distance-learning tools.


On a totally different subject before I close this afternoon, I'd like to quote Randall Stross in today's New York Times. He was discussing the Single-Era Conjecture, the putative law that makes it impossible for a company in the computer business to enjoy pre-eminence that spans two technological eras. Near the end of the article Stross quotes Microsoft's Steven Ballmer on market share:

At the company’s annual meeting in 1994, when he was overseeing sales and Microsoft was enjoying its moment of triumph over competitors, he shouted at top volume: “It’s market share — market share! market share! market share! — that counts!” He continued: “Because if you have share, you basically leave the competitors” — here he grabbed his own throat for emphasis — “just gasping for oxygen to live in.”

His mock asphyxiation of competitors was later stripped out of its jokey context by government antitrust lawyers. But the imagery is no less apt now than it was then, except that the roles have reversed. As Google continues to gather market share and the Single-Era Conjecture dictates Microsoft’s eclipse, it is Mr. Ballmer’s own online services that now are gasping for oxygen.

I am reminded of Eben Moglen's comments during his World Plone 2006 keynote about open-source as the new software development paradigm. I'm not too worried about SharePoint when it comes to the CMS world these days, but in terms of market share, we should be careful about the other open-source CMS and how this effects the OS IT ecosystem within which the Plone community lives.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Plone and Amazon

I was looking at my stats at Google Analytics and noticed that a goodly number of people hit this blog searching for my Plone and Amazon statistics pieces. I've been compiling those numbers every quarter since December, but curiosity got the better of me tonight and I dove into Amazon a month early. Here are the Plone and Drupal book statistics:

Author Reviews Rating Sales Rank
Aspeli 10 4.7 48,987
McKay 15 4.1 300,131
Cooper 7 3.7 490,768

Meloni 9 3.1 588,007
Pelletier, Shariff 5 4.8 1,012,141

9.2 4.1 Average

Basically, the Plone numbers are declining, which is more apparent in the following graph. Remember, smaller sales ranks mean higher on the Amazon list.

Aspeli's book continues to lead. Due to the scale, its difficult to resolve the considerable fall-off in his sales since this winter. Others continue to slide in the ratings, although Plone Live seems to be holding its own. (Pelletier and Shariff are outliers in the sense that most of their sales are presumed to be direct online from Cygnix.)

My thoughts on this are that this is a reflection on the time that has elapsed since the 3.0 roll out. The average of the reviewer ratings is 4.1, which is slightly higher than the 3.9 average of the Drupal books (not shown).

I can reiterate my conclusions from before: (1) Support Plone authors and buy their books and (2) review and rate them.

I should also mention Alex Steffen's interesting experience, which he related at a One/NW event (see the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh3hlU97_wo, 4th speaker, about 27 minutes into the hour-long set of lightning talks).

Alex talks about the fact that with a little coordination among interested peers and social network contacts, one can get a huge boost to Amazon sales rank on Day One. The bottom line is to have more advanced purchases and coordinated Day One purchases on Amazon for the next Plone book. Mercer's new book on Drupal 6 already has a pre-publication sales rank that is excellent. The Plone community can do better. Plone authors take heed.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

SIPRI Portal

One of the great things about my job has nothing to do with computers and the Internet--its the people I meet. Working in Sandia National Laboratories' Cooperative International Programs, as an IT guy I've been involved at least superficially with almost every project in the building (everybody needs a website or a database at one time or another). So...

I know a little bit about a lot of projects in our building. That makes me the perfect docent for tours in our 2000 sq ft Technology Demonstration and Display Area.

Today I was privileged to give a tour to Dr. Bates Gill, Director of SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Turns out their website is a Plone portal. They are going through a redesign process. If you're interested in providing a world-class NGO with some feedback on their site design (and giving them strokes for using Plone effectively), hop on over to their online survey and give them some feedback.