Posting, splicing, lifestreaming

I’ve been spending more time on flickr (the 365 days project makes sure I post frequently) and my book reviews (six reviews this month so far) than I have here. Since I don’t splice content from the other places I post into this blog or its feed, that means it has been quiet.

Over on jaiku, I’ve been experimenting a little with content splicing: I have it fetch my twitter, del.icio.us, flickr, LibraryThing newly added book, and blog feeds. I’m beginning to understand more of the appeal of creating a lifestream. I can see how it’s good for timeline tracking of activities, human-readable attention data, and generally using the web as a backup drive for my brain.

If I were to create a lifestream, no worries — I wouldn’t pipe it all here. As a reader of other people’s stuff, I appreciate being able to choose which parts of their streams to follow, and you need separate entities like this blog for that to work. But even if I rolled everything I do on the web into a single, aggregated megafeed (including the cocomments one I almost always forget about, and the claimID page I don’t need to update very often) it still wouldn’t be 100% complete. Things would still be missing, because I post stuff that isn’t public — I blog and comment behind the firewall.

Which is why JP Rangaswami’s post Musing about outsides and insides struck such a chord with me:

When a company achieves critical mass in terms of “external” bloggers, there is no longer an inside or an outside. Blogs do not support hierarchies or vertical silos, they tend to be lateral and networked and and all-over-the-place. Blogs are not respecters of walls, whether inside the firm or at the firm’s boundaries.

Immediately, two thoughts started bouncing around my skull: he’s absolutely right, and our Legal folks will have a fit if they read this. It is, after all, part of Legal’s job to worry about the impact of things I don’t want to worry about. And I do recognize that there are valuable and important reasons for some things to remain within a firm’s boundaries. All the same, something in me soared when I read it. His closing point was also spot-on:

Not having an inside or an outside. That’s how tomorrow’s customers will figure which of today’s companies to bless.

Thing is, in the future it won’t just be companies that succeed because they embrace transparency, engage in conversation, and publicly take risks. It will happen for individuals, too. And remember, the future is already here.

When should corporate firewalls act more like cell membranes?

I’m headed over to the airport, for a trip to the Intuit mothership in Mountain View. I’ll be there for a series of meetings, which should result in moving collaborative efforts behind the firewall further along. My main interest in this is social networking behind the firewall. (I’ve posted before about how it would be a good idea for corporate directories to be more like facebook.)

As part of the process I’ve spent some time poking around in IBM’s Lotus Greenhouse, which is their beta environment for things like Connections. (If you have access, you can find me and my experimental blog in the greenhouse.) I think it is great that IBM is actively soliciting feedback and letting users kick the tires in that environment. The most important change I think they need to make is to support users directly connecting with each other: give me contacts, friends, whatever you want to call them, but let me connect with people. That is, after all, what social software is for.

This extranet-like beta environment also has me thinking about the firewalled world in general, and how I think there will be increasing pressure — from employees — for a more flexible environment. As the use of social tools (blogging, del.icio.us-style bookmarking, wikis) expands behind the firewall, I think we need to ask questions about the value in creating corporate walled gardens.

I don’t mean in the the way that question is more frequently thought of, either. Not the overly suspicious “what is the ROI of employees blogging?” but poking at the assumption that everything needs to live behind the firewall. There is a risk that dark blogs have the potential to scale the echo chamber to deafening proportions faster than the public web. Now, this can be mitigated by the bloggers themselves reading, writing about, and linking to folks on the outside. I see internal Intuit bloggers linking out to great stuff all the time; but I worry that a large enough company blogosphere could still be an impoverished one, compared to the public web. It makes me happy when I see what I think of as “permeable firewall” experiments, where the firewall functions more like a cell membrane — such as the Avenue A | Razorfish intranet‘s use of publicly generated del.icio.us tags.

I realize there are things — trade secrets, financial data, etc. — that always make sense to keep off the public web. When we get social networking a la facebook/myspace/yasn at work, I know I don’t want my profile info out here. I don’t want to publish my private cellphone number to the world; I don’t need cold calls from recruiters who have harvested my info. And there are things that aren’t ready yet — not everyone is willing to share their still-baking ideas with the world.

Of course, I am. That’s part of why I have a blog. As we we trend toward more transparency, I expect to have even more company.

Signups that don’t suck

I loved the title of a recent This is going to be BIG blog post: I’m not smarter than you… I’ve just downloaded more crap and given my universal username and password to more websites than you. I do like to think of myself as smarter than the average bear, but I could say pretty much the same thing. I don’t sign up for every web app out there, just the ones I think might prove to be useful. (Yes, I unapologetically think twitter is useful.)

Thing is, too many site owners don’t think hard enough about the newbies when it comes to the signup process. That’s how you wind up with the godawful clunkiness of flickr. So in self-defense and in the general interest of making things suck less, I wanted to share what I think were good signup experiences.

Twitter

Twitter comes to mind because it’s what I signed up for most recently, but I do think they’ve done a great job keeping the signup simple and clear. It works with your cellphone, on the web, and IM — plus you can customize your home page on the service, and use one of a dozen third-party widgets, so it easily could have been a nightmare process.


[see full-size image]

It’s easy to understand every item requested, and how each will be used. Other than minimal required fields, you’ve got one choice, really: appear in the public timeline or not. The account settings screen is just as clear:


[see full-size image]

See those links across the top? They’ve chunked the options into intelligent groups to keep each page clean and short.

del.icio.us

There was once a time when del.icio.us apparently relished inscrutable interfaces, but that has changed:


[see full-size image]

You really only need a username, password, and email address to get going, but see how they’ve given you a reminder why you are doing this right there on the screen, in the little gray box? Even better, they clearly indicate next steps after signup: installing buttons, and learning how to use them.

ClaimID

This identity management service has a very simple signup:


[see full-size image]

I like how they clearly explain what to expect, what will happen, and the most salient points (your URL and the potential effect of your choice on search engines) without overloading the user.

So if you have a signup process, here’s how not to suck:

  • Be simple and clear. Bells and whistles don’t belong on a signup screen.
  • Minimize choice. Divide signups (which need to happen quickly) and settings (those can be manageably tweaked later)
  • Make it obvious to the user why you need the info you are asking for
  • Make it obvious how the information input will be used
  • Get bonus points for directing newbies to what’s next