29 December 2006

LogMeIn

If you do any remote control, helping friends and family with their Windows based computers or if you do tech support remotely you owe it to yourself to check out LogMeIn Remote Access and Desktop Control Software for your PC. It works great, has a very light footprint and makes connecting to remote PC effortless. Not only that, there is a Firefox plug-in that you can install at your end that makes it even more seamless. Check it out.

26 November 2006

Competing Business Models

Twit.tv pointed me to this article about Himachi, a peer to peer VPN system which was aquired by LogMeIn.

I like the concept of Himachi a lot but was hoping that it would go open source. Keeping it closed however made it a more likely target for a buyout.

Many of the companies using a 'software as a service' business model keep the software that drives their service proprietary, giving them a competitive edge and providing a barrier to entry. So, although much of the proprietary software that we run on our own computers is becoming obsolete, the software that powers 'software as a service' is far from obsolete and is usually far from open.

It's also interesting that in most cases these proprietary systems are implemented with open source software.

One of the most compelling reasons to use Open Source software is the quality of the code, especially when it comes to security feautures, which is why I thought Himachi offering, was ultimately doomed. I wouldn't run it or recommend it because it was proprietary and for that reason I wasn't confident that it wouldn't be vulnerable to hackers. The fact that it wasn't open source became a barrier.

So, open source is very compelling as a way to get your project noticed and used, but, if you are writing software that you ultimately want someone to "aquire" then proprietary still has a lot of appeal.

24 November 2006

Open Source in Government

I have been an advocate of using open source software for govenment for several years. So far, little progress has been made. Large software corporations still tend to dominate in this arena. A recent article, Open standards group to beat Microsoft at its own game, talks of part of the struggle that is in progress to create more open and free (as in freedom) software options for the public sector in their software choices. I would love to see more software being used and supported financially by government.

Why are we throwing away millions and millions of dollars on plans, requirements and specifications for software that never sees the light of day? Why aren't we spending some of that money on open source development? Because the game of selling mega software (failures) is way too lucrative.

Some traditional IT managers insist on banning open source software from their IT shops.

Why? Because it's unreliable? I don't think so. Because it's not robust? Nope. Because it's a security risk? Wrong again. It's good enough for google, Yahoo, IBM, so why not the IT manager?

Because it's free.


  • Free software developers probably aren't going to throw a nice big dinner party for you in every major city in the country.
  • Free software developers aren't going to come and schmooze you over a nice lunch.
  • Free doesn't require a multi-million dollar budget.
  • Free doesn't satisfy the ego.
  • Free isn't as much fun.


But, what traditional IT managers conveniently ignore is that if they are doing anything with the internet, they are already using free open source software.

Free software works. And that's why it's successful.

The binders that are produced are impressive... but I, for one, would much rather have my tax dollars spent on supporting software that works.


07 November 2006

Gmail mobile client

After reading this article , I decided to give the Gmail mobile client a try. Seriously, there are not many bits of software I would install on my phone but since this is from Google, and Gmail is so amazing, I just had to give it a try, and... it doesn't disappoint. This is a seriously cool little application.

I am running it on my Sony Ericsson W810i (which is a phone that you should check out if you are in the market, BTW) and it's fast and has some great features like shortcuts for search and compose. It also seems incredibly fast. I am guessing they download a bunch of stuff at once, although it doesn't seem to take very long to connect. No doubt that usual mail clients on phones don't optimize for packet size so you get lots of little chucky mostly empty packets.

Anyway, it was painless and easy and worked right away. I will let you know if I still like it in a few weeks.


14 October 2006

Are you really ready for more?

I am currently reading Ready for Anything by David Allen. In chapter 11, titled The deeper the channel, the greater the flow, David talks about how sometimes when an opportunity comes up for us, we get a little internal danger signal, like a tiny little "uh oh" feeling from inside.


Most of us say we want more business, more clients, more money, more responsibility, more fun, more time. But do we really? He says that because we have this subconscious resistance we actually miss a lot of opportunities for these things we say we want. Why? Because what we want is only a part of what is considered when we choose what to do. When some part of us isn't prepared to handle the opportunities that are presented to us, we resist them and we let them slip by, unrecognized, or even when we do recognize them we push them away in subtle ways.

Are we really prepared to recieve the things we say we want? We are often defeated by our concern of what will happen if we actually take on one of these opportunties. I say get prepared for success. Find out what's keeping you from recognizing these opportunities for what they are and deal with it. Are you not paying yourself enough? Do you have too much overhead? Are there issues in your relationships with others that need to be resolved? Deal with them because to see these opportunities for what they are, you have you have to stop stopping yourself.

Allen advises, take a risk, and do what you need to do to get back to eagerly anticipating the ringing of your bell. I couldn't agree more. Life's to short to be afraid of your phone ringing.

29 September 2006

Ubuntu: Linux for human beings

If you haven't tried Ubuntu yet, or if you have no idea what it is but are curious about Linux you owe it to yourself to try it out. It really is remarkable.

It's is VERY user friendly, very easy to setup and install and like so many Linux distributions you can try it before you install it via the live CD.

In the last upgrade/shuffle in our house one of our old Dell computers was slated for retirement (a 400MHz P4 with 256MB RAM and 12GB of disk) so I decided to try Ubuntu on it and it actually runs okay! No kidding. Try running Windows XP on that! I was going to toss the old guy but now I am thinking it can be a spare internet machine for guests.

This would be nearly impossible with Windows because this machine although it is licensed for Windows 98, I don't really remember how to install it and doubt I could find all the drivers for the devices so it would be a ton of work for me and I can't be bothered.

With Ubuntu, the machine was up and running in about 20 minutes and I did almost nothing... it did it all by itself from the live CD. And, it's really a beautiful piece of software. They have done some major work on the look and feel and it shows.

If you are thinking about trying Linux, it's never been easier or more fun.

01 September 2006

Patently Obvious

O'Reilly brings us an article about patents and the creative use of blogs to protect ourselves in the sometimes absurd patent brawl that our industry seems to be drifting toward.

I suggest reading about this but basically the US Fedral Court of Appeals has used a "suggestion test" to determine whether or not a patent is "obvious". See, some companies are patenting things like hypertext and certain URL configurations which means that in the future they might request royalties for such things.

I have mentioned him before but Lawrence Lessig's blog (www.lessig.org/blog) is a great resource for reading and information about software patents and infringements on your rights in the digital age.

22 August 2006

Innovation?

When MapQuest came out with their mapping system on the web and I was able to type in my address and see a map of my area pop up, I said... WOW.

When Google released Google Maps and I could use the whole darn screen and I could drag the map around and put markers on it and see my house from a satellite photo... yep, that was another WOW moment.

After having a look at Microsoft's entry into the online mapping world I have to say... WHY?

No offence, but really, why would I use this. I don't get it. It's just a map. And, I can't even find my house with it. Even MapQuest did that.

I am realizing that thanks go companies like Google and Skype and thanks to the open source movement, I have become pretty picky. I need a WOW to even spend more than a few minutes at a site. It's like one of my heros, Seth Godin, says... where's the free prize inside?

Is this too harsh? Maybe I didn't spend enough time there to "get it".

18 August 2006

The Node Market

As information becomes more plentiful we are faced with the challenge of constantly searching for better ways of finding what we want. The ability to find and intepret information is more valuable that the ability to acutally store it. I think that as people become better and better at using search it becomes less of a differentiator so creative people will come up with new strategies to be sure to propogate their ideas.

Because of this, nodes will become more and more important. As they do, people who control nodes now will become more powerful and wealthy. Because, a node is the smallest unit of governance on the internet. If you own the node, you have full control over what you do with it. Interestingly, nodes are also free (practially) and the transaction fee for transferring ownership is virtually nothing, so, it's frictionless. It's a very fluid market. Concentrations of power that can freely move from owner to owner.

Knowing how people will behave slightly before others figure it out is sure to provide a competitive advantage in that market. I wonder who has the ability to tell what people are thinking about slightly before anyone else.... hmm...

01 August 2006

3d to the Masses

Google has released a new treasure. It's a 3d drawing / modelling program called SketchUp and it's amazing. It's got too many amazing features to list. Just go check it out here.

11 July 2006

The Science of Possibility

Just in case you haven't already watched this movie I thought I would post the link to "What the Bleep Do We Know". It's a very interesting look into possibility from the perspective of quantum physics and it is amazingly entertaining as well! I am a big believer in possibility, in the power of choice, and the idea that there is no past no future only now. Check it out.

09 June 2006

Debate as Entertainment

Something struck me when I read about the upcoming "The Battle Over Books" debate between Google and the Association of Americal Publishers on Lawrence Lessig's excellent blog. The debate is being promoted, sort of like an entertainment event. I wonder if we are going to start to see huge legal debates over privacy, freedom and democracy being promoted as entertainment. It seems strange at first but... why not? I think more people would pay attention if legal debates were promoted something like title fights are.

"In this corner we have the super agile weight contender Google at 10 years old and 1.2 billion in annual revenue and in this corner we have the Association of American Publishers weighing in at 80 years old and 74 billion in estimated annual revenue. Who will win? Stay tuned and find out! ... fade to black ... The Book Debate is brought to you by Amazon.com!"

We all have so much at stake. It's a shame more people aren't more informed about how laws are being passed that erode our right to privacy and our freedom to choose. I think that most people find keeping up with this stuff boring, and to tell the truth I wouldn't consider myself super informed although I am very interested. I know that I would love to go to this debate, or watch it on a webcast. Maybe it will show up on youtube.com at some point. :-)

Incidentally, Mr. Lessig's blog is one of a few great places to watch the issues unfold. He has also written a number of books on ths subjects of freedom, privacy and the law as it relates to technology. I am currently reading his book Free Culture which you can purchase at the store or download for free. I'll post a review when I finish it.

01 June 2006

Pure Viral

One of my favorite writers (and heros), Seth Godin, offers us this link to a guy who is going to make a killing selling the numbers 1 to 1000. This is pure genius and a great example of Seth's influence.

31 May 2006

M$ to buy eBay?

An article I read today says that Microsoft is thinking about buying eBay. This would be a very interesting move for Microsoft because I can't think of a single online applicaiton that they run that is of any real significance except maybe LavaLife (was that too harsh? maybe).

eBay would be a considerable chunk of the net and is a space that Google does not yet dominate. And, let's face it, eBay could probably use some changes. Have they done anything innovative lately other than sell new classes of things, like houses and cars? Not that I can tell. They perform a basic service well and dominate that market so much that they just haven't had to innovate much. I use eBay, and like it, it's just not exactly a hotbed of innovation.

The thing that I really don't like about this potential deal is that if this went through, Microsoft would own Skype. As anyone who has been reading here knows, I love Skype and I reacted similarly when eBay first purchased it. It seems as though eBay has left Skype alone for the most part, which is great, but would Microsoft do the same? I doubt it. For that reason, I hope it doesn't happen, at least not right now. Skype is just too cool and they have done such a good job with marketing themselves that I would hate to see someone come in and mess with it right now.

09 May 2006

An open source business model

I have been reading a lot about Open Source business models lately. This article by Denis de Bernardy outlines a revolutionary new business model for open source software.

Are you ready?

Charge money for it.

Yes, that's it. He proposes that we just charge money for the software, the original development and for any enhancements that someone might want/need. He makes a good case and I think he's onto something here.





25 April 2006

Word Processing on the Web

OK, this isn't exactly news but I just realized I had never mentioned it and I thought it was pretty cool when I first heard about it. It's finally here! A way to collaborate on documents with a web based word processor! We're going back to a mainframe world folks, but a mainframe that is completely open - for a price of course. Check it out: Writely - The Web Word Processor. It's recenlty been purchased by Google so expect some amazing things.

22 April 2006

Google Calendar

OK, before now, I just suspected it, but now I know. Google's been keeping it's eye on the DataZoomer project and has probably been checking out www.coparentcalendar.com in particular. Their new calendar system is just too similar to the one we created just over a year ago.

OK, it's not all that similar. They probably had a bigger budget than I did, but it's the same basic idea. And it's cool! I don't want to lose users of course but I just had to point this new app out. And I can see that Google is definately going to try to compete with DataZoomer now. ;-)

But seriously, it's pretty cool to finally be ahead of one of the big guys, even a little. We've had many great ideas that were just a little too late. By the time we got to actually doing them we realized someone had already done it.

But not this time. We actually released coparentcalendar a full year before Google Calendar! So what? Well, we happen to have a bunch of other ideas in the works that we haven't released yet so we'll see if we can beat Google to the punch on those ones too! ;-)

Anyway, check it out. It's really cool and it's all Ajaxy and stuff, if you like that, and of course, it's free.

14 April 2006

SpaceMonger

Here's an unbelievably cool and simple tool for figuring out where all your hard disk space has gone. It's called SpaceMonger
and it is free of course. Sorry my Mac using friends. This one's only for the PC right now. You may already have something cooler that does the same thing anyway. ;-)

13 April 2006

Love is the Killer App

I read this book back in January, and wanted to write a review but didn't. Some of the thoughts keep coming up for me so I wanted to just write a few words about it.

First, I thought the book was good. Not great but good. I would recommend it but there are a lot of other books that I would recommend first. Why? I felt that it didn't have as much meat as I usually like to have in this sort of book.

Now, what do I mean by "This sort of Book"? Good question. By the title it's a bit difficult to figure out what the book could be about. It could be about Love and relationships, it could be about computing, it could be about business. It turns out, its about all of those things.

It's about Karma. It describes and promotes a way of life, a philosophy, that the author has used to propel his career and his life in general to new heights. What he proposes is essentially to read a lot, read books thoroughly, marking them up (a practice that I have yet to try) with your own notes, and then if you like them, spreading the word on what the book said.

He says, to get into the practice of sharing, being authentic and learning as much as you can about your subject of choice, through reading and conversing with other people and then sharing everything you know, unreservedly with whoever you think might benefit from it. It's a very generous way of living and to me, quite appealing.

He says that if you make this a practice, people will notice and will come to see you as the one who spreads the love and the knowledge around. You become the glue, the one that people want to work with because of your knowledge, generosity and authenticity.

Like I said, it's a good book, I would recommend it. The title's a bit strange IMHO, but hey, it got my attention and that's what great titles do.

06 April 2006

Google Finance

Google has added some cool new investment tools to their ever growing list of applications. I think it's a great start, and I am using it, but the porfolio could use some more features. I do love the simple interface though and the stock chart visualization gadget is incredibly cool. Check it out.

30 March 2006

LINQ

Here's a video about a (new?) project at Microsoft that will make SQL statements first class constructs in any .NET language. This is amazing news. This is one of those ideas that was completely off the radar screen but then once you hear it, it's like a no brainer. Here's the link: Anders Hejlsberg - LINQ.

Anders is one of my favorite developers of all time so it was cool to see him talking about it. Anders, BTW, is the guy that developed Delphi for Borland and C# for Microsoft. This guy is no joke, as they say, and this idea he is talking about will be amazing.

Incidentally, this same functionaliy has been in FoxPro for about 10 years. It's amazing to me that no one else has done it. If it works, and if IronPython shows up as an official product at MS, I'm going to be a happy hacker.



16 March 2006

New Scientist Quantum computer works best switched off - News

Without getting too detailed, scientists have invented a way to run a quantum computer that produces answers without actually running a program. New Scientist Quantum computer works best switched off I consider myself a pretty knowledgable guy about how things work (computers especially) so it's pretty humbling when I read an article like this and realize that there are people working on quantum computers that understand that technology to such an extent that someone like me is a complete noob in their domain. Not only do I not understand it, it makes no sense to me at all. Yikes! None the less, it is a pretty interesting read.

09 March 2006

Waterfall is Back!

The waterfall development process is enjoying a revival now that all that agile programming nonsense has proven to be a lousy way to get rich on unsuspecting clients. Here's a link to an International Conference on the waterfall process that is coming up on April 1, 2006.

27 February 2006

Internet TV Reborn

There's just way too much cool stuff going on right now. Here's some more. Democracy Player is a piece of software that combines bit torrent technology with RSS and video to create a high resolution internet television experience that has to be seen to be believed.

I think it's excellent not only because it's cool to have free, meaningful programs to watch but because it hints at the future. A future where people contribute because they want to, because they love it and it's fun. Not because they think they are going to get rich. While the networks and RIAA squabble over IP rights people are putting the technology to work to create free content. After all, content really boils down to conversation, and it is starting to seem silly to pay for content when there's so much free content, so many free conversations to become part of.

Oh yeah, it's free and it's open source. :-)

23 February 2006

Has Blogging Run out of Steam?

Trevor Butterworth posts this article about how blogging is dying and how it's never going to overthrow mainstream media.

In my opinion he completely misses the point. He is a mainstream media writer. He seems to think that people are attempting to blog for a living and that if there's no business model, there's no point. The point is this: it's a conversation. That's it. If you don't think conversation is important in it's own right then I recommend "The Cluetrain Manifesto". In fact I recommend it anyway.

The conversation may head to commercial gains but it often does not and is not expected to. Blogging, if it intended to have any commercial value at all, typically generates money from the halo effect, similar to open source software. Yes, some blogs are not that interesting, but many are. And now with podcasts and video blogs, it seems clear to me that although CNN is probably at no risk, neither are the 4 million or so or so blogs out there.

The really interesting thing is that he put a link at the bottom of his post that links to a blog that he setup specifically to capture comments for this article. ;-)

20 February 2006

The Google Future

A new article on CNNMoney.com predicts four possible Google futures. Well worth the read for those of us that subscribe to the ways of the "do no evil" guys.

13 February 2006

Multi-Touch Interaction Research

I am big fan of great user interfaces. I have written before about how interface design progress has been severely stunted by the web. I happen to think that PDAs, the only widespread users of consumer touch screen technology have been severly stunted by the BlackBerry. I know people who use them, love them, but seriously... it can't be because of their user interface.

Here is some really intersting progress on the touch screen front sent to me by ceilingtiles. Check out the movie demo.
Multi-Touch Interaction Research

10 February 2006

Caterina.net: GoogleTalk transcripts not only freaky, but potentially illegal

Catarina points out some privacy issues with regard to chat recording in this article Caterina.net: GoogleTalk transcripts not only freaky, but potentially illegal.

I wonder if it's legal for me to turn chat recording on at all since I don't usually say to the person I am chatting with, "Is it OK with you if I record this chat?" No, I just have it turned on, because it's the default and it might be handy some time.

Skype (no, I don't work for them) encrypts the data from point to point so there's nothing to record except on the client machines, so there's no issue about third parties snooping but still, maybe we should be asking for peoples permission to record our chat conversations with them.

Mini Review: The Big Moo : Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable: Books: The Group of 33,Seth Godin

Seth Godin has put together a tasty little book telling us that to have a remarkable business (and I would argue a remarkable life) you need to give up being perfect. Give up being all things to all people. Give up going after that big market because there is no big market. Give up being boring.

There are many, many individuals and niches just waiting to be explored. How, be remarkable. Decide what you are up to and find a way to be remarkable at it. This book will not disappoint.

It's also about an attitude. A new attitude that seems to be emerging in technology, psychology, science and in some (very succesful) businesses. An attitude that there's more to life than profits. There's more than me first. Sharing, helping and grace are becoming the new competitive edge. You can't treat customers like cogs anymore.

What’s remarkable about this book? It was written by 33 volunteers, all business and marketing and life gurus, assembled and fostered by Seth and 100% of the revenues are being donated to charity. I think that’s remarkable.

Check it out here: Amazon.com: The Big Moo : Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable: Books: The Group of 33,Seth Godin

I am going to buy 10 copies to give away.

28 January 2006

When all you have is a cube...

Multi-dimensional analysis tools, or cubes can be very useful tools for data analysis and the marketing behind them would suggest that they are the silver bullet of business intelligence tools. While I agree that cubes are great for a small segment of information consumers a lot of the time and are possibly good for a larger group of consumers some of the time but they are way too complicated for most users, most of the time.

One of the oldest tricks in the book is to make products that in order for a person to make use of the product, they have to invest in it. WordPerfect used that years ago as did Lotus and others. Who remembers how to do the contortion required to do a table of contents entry in WordPerfect? How about changing fonts. Do you remember how many levels deep into the Lotus 123 menu you had to go to change a chart series?

I don\'t, but I do remember it was painful and the only way to get good at it was to train your nervous system to memorize the motions (which was a considerable effort and investment in time) before you could even begin to be productive.

Once you had made that investment, how eager were you to switch to Word? Many people who held out for a long time because they had made such an investment into WP that they couldn't consider switching. Add the investment in macros and printer configurations and it was very compelling to just stick with the tried and true.

Cubes are set up in a similar way. They are sufficiently difficult to learn and become proficient at (similar to user learning the keystrokes) and they require enormous investment in ETL and building to automate the production (similar to macros and configs) that once you have made the investment it is difficult, and very expensive, to get out.

Cube software makers, and the consultants that promote the software, would have you believe that all of your business intelligence and information products are best served up in cube format, with their proprietary web front end of course. They are promoted as a single solution to a host of problems. All you need is cubes. If you were to follow that advice you would look at everything as a cube problem when in fact a simple report or chart would not only suffice but is simpler, faster and requires far less sophisticated technology to make it happen. Cubes are a useful tool in the BI arsenal at best and an expensive source of automated confusion at worst.

Cubes and Multi-dimensional analysis tools are a great addition to a larger strategy of information tools including data warehouses, data marts, reports, charts, portals, forums, etc.. Promoting them as the silver bullet for business intelligence does a disservice both to organizations and the cube products. Positioning them as power tools for power users which make a wide variety of analysis data available and useable is much smarter.

17 January 2006

Fair Use

Lawrence Lessig makes a brilliant argument about Google's Book Search service and whether or not it should be considered "fair use" of the works. Naturally some book publishers are threatened and are suing Google over this service. He talks about the mp3.com case in this talk also. It appears that if the book service is deemed to be not "fair use" then Google's entire search engine could be threatened (along with Yahoo, MSN and every other search engine). If it is found to be "fair use" however, I think this will be a huge win for innovation and freedom not to mention cultural history.

15 January 2006

News Clouds

Tag clouds are a becoming a popular way to show popularity (or frequency of occurance) of a word or phrase on the web. Here's a cool site I stumbled accross that creates tag clouds by aggregating stats from a variety of other web sites (Google, digg, etc.) to give a visual representation of the popularity of certain words and phrase in real time in the form of words that are printed in larger font according to how popular the word is. Click on the word and see what stories contributed to the word being big. Cool.

I probably wouldn't use it on a regular basis but it is interesting. As I write this Apple, Microsoft and Google are the biggies but it's in real time so when I was checking it out a couple days ago Apple was the only really big tag.

Okay, now I'm curious so I am going to go see what's up with these guys. See? It works!

13 January 2006

Linux Distribution Chooser

Switching to Linux? Want to try it out but don't know which distro to use. Try this Linux Distribution Chooser.

10 January 2006

Python in the Browser

Just an idea, but wouldn't it be awesome if FireFox embraced Python as a client side scripting language? Just supporting Python would be cool. And since it is pre-installed on Linux boxes and Mac boxes I suppose Windows is the only OS that is lacking the necessary interpreter. But, since it is all open source it could be built right into the FireFox browser. It would be a bit chubby but we Windows users are used to chubby software. (ouch!).

Why do we need Python as well as Javascript? Lots of reasons which I won't go into here but one main reason I think is that Javascript has a monopoly on client side scripting and that's totally unnecessary. Developers should be able to choose the language they want to write their client side scripts in. Javascript isn't the best choice for everything. It's just that when all you have is a hammer... etc. etc..

Anyway, as I was writing this rant, I found this post, much to my delight. :-)

08 January 2006

The whole world can talk for free.

Just on the off chance that someone reading this isn't already using Skype, check it out. It's pretty much singlehandedly redefining the the telecommunication industry.

07 January 2006

Time for a New Browser?

The HTML browser was never designed to do the things that we expect it to do on a daily basis.

I think it's time someone developed a new application browser (not an HTML browser) similar to the old Hot Java browser that Sun developed many moons ago. The idea is that HTML, CSS and Javascript are being cobbled together to make AJAX but really, rather than make the HTML browser jump through hoops to make a really interactive interface, I think it makes more sense to have a browser that is specifically designed for the job.

It's so interesting to me that Alan Cooper was writing the first edition of his amazing book About Face the web was taking off, destroying all aspirations of good user interface design in its path. Now we are back in the equivalent of the mainframe terminal era, albeit with graphics, and the amazing thing is... we're OK with that!

OK, we're not totally OK with it, which is why javascript is in the browser in the first place, but by looking at the use interfaces we have been willing to settle for in the 10 years since About Face was written, we haven't made any real progress.

I think we will soon though.

The web is really starting to stanardize on page layout, menu positioning, etc... people now expect certain things from web sites and as these standards evolve I think we will see more tools specifically designed to take advantage of that standardization and then we will be in a position to make some real progress in UI design again.



02 January 2006

Review: GTD

OK, I have decided to start this year off with a book review. A book about getting things done, which is often what people make new years resolutions about, so it seemed appropriate. I know these reviews are going to be a bit long for a blog but I haven't figured out a better place to post them quite yet so here is where it's going!

Getting Things Done - (aka GTD)
''The Art of Stress Free Productivity''

This book presents a new angle on, well, getting the most done with your time. At first I thought, oh, another time management technique... and I guess it would fit into the same category as time management, however, I would say it is more accurately called activity management.

Traditional time management encourages you to get in tune with your life vision, you 5 year vision, your goals, etc... and then gets you to cut your calendar into chunks and then split those into itsy bits and assign those bits of specific time to specific tasks. The theory goes that if you do all the activities at the time you say you will, you'll reach your goals. This is what Allen calls a top down approach. In the software world we call this BDUF (Big Design Up Front).

Allan says the traditional approach was backwards, and took up way too much brain space or (RAM as he calls it). His suggestion is that we follow some really simple rules and put some simple structures in place so we don't have to juggle so many things in our heads thus reducing stress and freeing our minds for more creative pursuits.

The basic steps in the process are:

  1. Collect all your stuff.
    Gather all of the to-dos, mail, project info, reference materials and other stuff that you have around your office, briefcase, notebooks, whatever, that needs some sort of action into a collection area to get ready for processing. Get all this stuff out of your head and into some other reliable form (like an inbox) where you know it will be dealt with, so you can forget about it for now. If you're like me, you'll have several collection areas (physical inbox, an e-mail inbox, a PDA with voice memos and a notepad).

  2. Process your collections
    Periodically and on a regular schedule, process your collections. Processing means scanning your collection bins and one by one take each item from the top and do the thinking that goes with it.

    If it is actionable decide if it gets done now or later or not at all. If it takes less than two minutes to do, do it now.

    If it is reference material, store it in a filing system if you want it, if not, get rid of it.

    Allen gives a ton of helpful tricks and tips to make this process a breeze and even fun. I personally found the immediate feeling that I was getting a lot of small stuff done that I had been putting off, was pretty gratifying.


  3. Deal with Actionable Items
    Allan suggests that deciding exactly where to put things during processing is a very important but often under-rated task.

    Traditional time management would have us creating a to-do list and sorting them in priority order, then crossing things off as they are done and transferring undone things to a new list each day. I don't know about you but I find it frustrating to transfer all the items that I wanted to do but didn't do each day.

    Allan says, forget prioritization and forget copying lists. Priorities are constantly changing in our fast paced world. Rather than set priorities, classify actionable items by context - where you are going to do it - so that next time you are there, you have a list of relevant items for that context.

    This is where traditional time management falls apart. We don't make the best use of our time because we don't have a ready list of things we should be doing, or worse, we have scheduled an hour to work on our project, only to find that we can't start because some piece of information is missing.

    Allan says, you only put things on your calendar if they really need to be done at a specific time, otherwise, they are just things to be done ASAP. Putting them on a list that is specific to a context that you will find yourself in allows you to make phone calls while you are waiting at the coffee shop for someone to join you, brainstorm about your projects while you sit in a ferry lineup, buy that gift when you are already out running errands. You get the idea.


  4. File Reference Items
    Allen's suggestion for your filing system is key. You need something that is fast and reliable and most of all simple to use. If you have to think about where to file it, you probably won't.

    What he suggests is to just use an alphabetical system A - Z and just file stuff under that letter, wherever that may be. The theory goes, that if you are filing a proposal for Space Widgets for your client, Jones Publishing, you could file it under "Proposals", "Space Widgets" or "Jones", but that about exhausts your options. So, pick one, it doesn't matter which, and file it. You can try to be consistent but even that is not critical.

    When you go to look for it later (if you ever do) you are likely to look in those places in your filing system and thus you are likely to find the item. Way more likely than in one of the random piles of paper in your office or briefcase.

  5. Review
    The review process is critical in Allan's method because it's the periodic review that gives you the confidence that you are not letting anything slip through the cracks (at least nothing that you don't intend to let slip). Periodically reviewing your action lists keeps you on top of what's on your plate and focused on what you want to be doing.




People who use the ideas in this book report being much more productive and organized and as a result the book seems to have created quite a buzz (have personally seen it referred to many times online and several friends have mentioned it to me). All I know is I have been following just some of the ideas for the last couple of months and I definitely feel like I am much more on top of what's on my project list (I had over 100 projects when I started and am down to about 40 now). I'll keep you posted as to how it works for me in the longer run as I get more experience with it.

By using your brain for what it is good at, choosing the best thing to do in the given context, you will get way more done, more efficiently, with less stress than before. For the $22 this book costs and the time it takes to read, I recommend anyone who has a lot of projects and activities I have one thing to say:

Read this book.