Monthly Archives: May 2008

Consulting Organisations and Cell Division

Lately I’ve been thinking about how organisations, in particular how consulting organisations grow and looking for parallels in nature which might explain the kind of pressures and the outcomes that you can expect.

At the moment I’m fascinated by how the growth of a small boutique consulting organisation in some ways mimics the process of cell division.

When a cell divides it is called Cytokinesis – I’m not sure how deep the analogy goes but my theory is that most organisations have an optimal size (although not necessarily a maximum) and that they grow to that size and then pressure builds up for them to divide by people leaving the organisation and taking part of the culture with them – kind of like organisational DNA.

I think that there is some interesting philosophical thinking to be done in this space around how despite all our complexities as humans, we may actually ultimately just continue to replicate “basic” natural processes.

Care Factor

Well Paul started it. The idea is that you product a graphic which outlines the stuff that you are interested in. The core stuff is what you are most interested in, and which you interest is possibly growing. The middle is what is still interesting but your interest has stabilised, and the outer is the stuff that you are getting less and less interested in. Paul has slightly different definitions – but the web is less about democracy and more about battling ideologies right? 🙂

CareFactor1

I nominate Andrew Matthews, Roger Lawrence, Craig Bailey, Schnubbs and Catherine Eibner. Spread the meme!

Ferrari Insurance

For those of you who have been watching my Twitter feed, you probably know that on Monday night this week my car was broken into and my GPS system was stolen. The car was parked out the front of where I live in Melbourne and at some point during the night my drivers side window was smashed (and GPS removed).

I found out about it at about quarter past four in the morning when I walked out to the car to head off to the airport for an early flight. I was still a bit sleepy and didn’t notice until I actually saw glass on the ground next to the car and even then it took a good few seconds for it to register what had happened.

Anyway – I decided not to go to Sydney and stay in Melbourne to sort out the repairs and insurance side of things as well as lodge a police report. The fun as you can imagine started when I called the insurance company.

The long and the short of it is that I am indeed covered for window breakage, however there is an excess of $450 dollars on the policy (I was clearly a cheapskate when I took out the insurance). Anyway – that seemed a bit steep for a drivers side window so I called the glass company and they quoted $320 including labour. I cancelled the insurance claim since I already have a spare GPS and doing the running around would cost me more than $100 dollars.

However – this entire episode got me thinking about the value of insurance and I asked the lady on the line at the insurance company what the value of the product really was and she suggested that its really helpful if I run into a Ferrari and its my fault. Great – I’ve got Ferrari Insurance.

The Cult of SEO

Lately I have been working with a client who runs a successful e-commerce brand here in Australia. E-commerce is very much the meat and potatoes of what a lot of modern day web-development toolkits are supposed to support so using ASP.NET 3.5 gave us quite a leg up in terms of development time. As my client nears completion of their project several of the loose ends are starting to get tied up – including the big question of how well is Google going to index the site content.

To do this they have engaged the professional services of an external agency to give advice on how to best structure the site. Like a lot of organisations offering Search Engine Optimization services, it is an adjunct to their existing offerings, in this case design work. One of the suggestions that has come through is that we change the structure of the URL space to include frequent search term keywords.

At first this strikes me as a fine suggestion, but after a little pondering I started to wonder why that would really improve things. First of all, the job of a search engine is to index the content of a site and then determine its relevancy when a user searches for a term that might have been present on that page. Google (as our token search engine) is going to use a number of factors to determine the content relevancy:

  • The textual content in the page.
  • The title of the page.
  • The meta tags in the page.
  • The number of authoritive inbound links to the page.
  • The URL of the page.

There are probably more – but these are the ones I know about. Now if you look at that list the URL is certainly one of the things that it rates on but it surely isn’t the only one, and my argument is that the URL (domain name aside for a moment) is equal partners with the content of the page. I know a little bit about performance tuning and some of the theory applies here in that you need to know the relative benefits of performing each optimisation before you make it. In this case I don’t think Google has published their ranking algorithm so any optimisation, especially ones that could yield such a minimal result are a little premature.

SEO seems to have become a bit of a cult where the devices of workship are a few key practices and the belief that they hold some mysterious powers. Your SEO consultant will come in and rattle their bag of bones and make a few very expensive implementation suggestions. You’ll dutifully go off an implement them and sure enough, your web-site will turn up in Google and might even move a few points.

The problem is that you made so many other changes to the site in that time that it is impossible to know which one had an impact (URL, structure or content?). Without a baseline and an understanding of the algorithm you are just going on faith.

Where is my Internet access in the air?

I’m sitting in the Sydney Virgin Blue Lounge again. I have about fifteen minutes before I go to board my flight and whilst I don’t really care for the lounge as a nice environment in which to relax I certain appreciate the Internet connectivity. Thinking about it some more I can’t quite figure out why we don’t have Internet access on planes here in Australia.

Is there any technical reason why we can’t? Surely they could come up with a "Seat + Internet" ticket where you pay a premium for the facility (type in the barcode from your boarding pass to activate the service or something).

The complexity of a multiplicity of devices and platforms.

I’m a computer geek, and I like my gadgets, if I look around me this is what I see:

  1. Media Centre PC
  2. Tablet PC 1 (used for work)
  3. Tablet PC 2 (now my daughters)
  4. Desktop Replacement Laptop (gathering dust)
  5. MacBook Air (using right now)
  6. Zune
  7. Creative ZEN
  8. iPod Touch

And that isn’t even counting the various devices that my house mates have. If I was going to divide these guys up into groupings I’d say that I have the following platforms:

  • Microsoft-only
  • Microsoft and Partners
  • Apple-only

I’ve very much a platform kind of guy so I try to keep the Microsoft stuff Microsoft, and the Apple stuff Apple. The Creative ZEN is the odd one out, but strangely it probably works the best with things like Windows Media Player – that is the whole partner eco-system at work. In fact if I look at the complexity introduced with having this range take advantage of my digital media I can see the appeal of having just one platform in the home (Apple or Microsoft).

In my case, my current biggest challenge is getting access to and managing my music collection. The only place with a enough permanantly connected storage for my full music library. I have fragments of it on other devices and now I’ve got DRM music from various sources – it is a complete nightmare.

Of course – the seductive argument is to choose one platform and just stick with it, but if I go to Microsoft then in Australia I have to use partners to get the experience I want (Zune isn’t fully supported in Australia), or I can go to Apple which I don’t think has a good a sync story between devices, media centres and extenders as Microsoft does (could just be my inexperience with Apple here though).

Meanwhile companies are battling it out for control of your media experience. There are the major players, but there are minor ones as well, but unlike competition in other spaces, in this one, I think the consumer is the loser because you can’t easily transition from one to the other.

Sometimes I think that there needs to be legislation put into place around data and media portability between vendors just like there is for mobile phone number portability.

PassPack: Software that I am enjoying using.

Since getting my MacBook Air I’ve started using an web-based password manager called PassPack. From what I understand PassPack works by using JavaScript on the client-side to decrypt a package of data containing a master list of all your passwords. You can then reveal passwords which you can cut-and-paste into other browser forms (it also provides some kind of 1-click sign-on process). To update your passwords it basically encrypts the data again and sends it to the server.

There are basically three pieces of information that you need to keep in your head to use the service. Username, password and packing key. The username and password is used to control downloading and saving of the package of passwords, and the packing key is something only you know (not even PassPack sees it) which is used to encrypt the contents of the package.

So far it has worked quite nicely, and if you really want to have it work locally you can actually setup Google Gears on your machine and run a cut-down version of their engine which you can access any time (handy if you don’t have intarweb access, but I haven’t found the need – so far).