Notification Overload

Apr 05 2008

2 dreadful words : information overload. Just for fun, I've made a full list of all the various apps and systems I use to stay connected with both friends and all our teams at XWiki and I ended up with the list below. There's a lot of services there, ranging from read-only to contribution-driven ones, either online, on the desktop or both. 

Personal

Professional

  • Vienna2 RSS Reader to keep track of our internal & external blog posts & intranet changes (using a desktop client moslty because it needs to be able to handle authentication)
  • Our intranet enterprise wiki 
  • Technical & product information coming from XWiki.org
  • Press reviews coming from our own instance of XWiki Watch, the collaborative RSS Reader
  • XWiki.com blog -> in both EN & FR, to keep the community up-to-date about our product & company news
  • XWiki Twitter -> the same thing, Twitter-wise (twhirl again here)
  • The XWiki Facebook Group + the XWiki Fan Page (you'll notice than one is slightly more successful than the other as of now)
  • I've switcher from gmail to Mozilla Thunderbird for my professional email in order to keep it with me at all times.
  • Skype, probably the one I use most because that's the service we've chosen for our internal IM right now -> chat + voice calls
  • I receive updates from my LinkedIn & Viadeo networks by mail & in their web interfaces
  • Plus there's the endless list of blogs I stumble upon and cannot keep track of while surfing...
  • Office phone calls

I probably forgot some of them...

The cluttered desktop experience :

To sum it up, basically... all this sucks. As a busy professional, I want to be able to centralize all the information coming to me in a way that will allow me to let less than 5 cluttered spaces open in Leopard all the time. The high number of enterprise & Web 2.0 tools I use make for a less than smoothly integrated user experience. When I switched from Twitterific to twhirl I had to remember that my updates were no longer pushed to facebook & Skype though they could be to Pownce & Jaiku - 2 services I don't even use in the first place. This means that updating part of what makes my notification experience made me loose another bit that I had come to find useful - and when you're interested in new services, this happens a lot.

There's another bit to the story - available means of notification. I'm notified of new email in web-based mail services either by going to look at them (I'm using Safari, Firefox, Flock & Camino altogether, plus I sometimes give Opera and instances of Prism a run.), through Firefox extensions or in my mail desktop client. Skype has my Dock icon moving along with Growl boxes, twhirl uses its own message boxes & Vienna tells me how manys new items I'm left to read in the top bar. Talk about a cluttered experience ?

Facebook offers a compelling answer to this problem. Basically, what they're saying is : everybody's here. You can interact through walls, pics, pokes, messages + whatever application one could think of. There's a central place where all you friend updates are centralized. Come along, have a sit with us... Why would you ever need to look somewhere else ? There are downsides to this approach though.

  • The first one is that facebook isn't built on Open Standards. They've got custom authentication, their very own API, a restrictive TOS... They're not trying to play well with others, as Robert Scoble discovered while playing with Plaxo.
  • The second and most important point from a company's point of view is that Facebook was never thought nor designed with enterprise needs in mind. It's hosted online, with all the data stored on facebook's databases. You cannot intagrate it with your LDAP authentication mechanisms. You'll be hard-pressed to find an IT manager okay to write sql queries that retrieve data from product databases or CRM systems and display them in facebook "private" pages. Plus there's no good enough publication mechanisms (yet ?) to share enterprise content (think about word processing, even light).

    This is where XWiki steps in. We offer a full-fledged, enterprise-grade asynchronous communication platform. We're in the process of releasing the latest version of XWiki Workspaces that will help you gather all the enterprise 2.0 applications you need in one single spot, focused around the user. Once XWiki Workspaces is up & running, here's what you've got :

  • Each user has his own space with a blog, a wiki, a files folder & a photo album. He can share his thoughts & ideas with anyone he wants within the company.
  • On top of having his own space & user profile, each user is provided with a dashboard that gives him the ability to follow activity from the various people he's friend with & spaces he's part of. This means that you can concentrate on one page all the activity coming from the various blog, wikis, file folders & photo albums he wants to keep up with in one single place.
  • It's quite easy for any user to create new spaces that have a wiki & a blog built-in : it's never been so easy to setup the right communication tools for any new project.
  • Plus all of this is built on top of the XWiki Platform, meaning you get LDAP support, the possibility to use the database of your choice (Oracle, MySQL, and broadly speaking any database supported by Hibernate), the ability to write queries into your pages (this means you can retrieve and display data coming from external sources such as your CRM, ERP, Analytics tool...) and many more !

    A typical XWiki Workspaces space home :

This is just the start. Since XWiki is built around the concept of applications, we will soon add new applications to the set of available apps (such as a bulletin board, we're also looking into building a Twitter-like feature right into the product...). We're offering unified access to relevant information, the 2.0 way. Last but not least, XWiki Workspaces is Open-Source, meaning you can bend it & tweak it to suit the very needs as much as you want through a broad range of deployment options, from virtual hosting to in-house installation.

As for synchronous communication, Pete Cashmore of Mashable pretty much sums it up here : we need a unified IM desktop client.