Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Can't Help It - Interesting Article (But perhaps un-informed)

So the Editorial Board at WSU's Daily Evergreen published an interesting editorial piece on the failure of MySite.

While I think there are definitely criticisms to be made, I think the writers missed the real issue, or at least most of it.
First, let's see where I agree:
  1. Cost! Yes, MySite is expensive and I think there are other technologies such as Plone, Alfresco and others that could do what we want at a fraction of the cost.

  2. Simplicity: MySite is complicated compared to the other technologies mentioned in the article. However, so are the technologies, I mentioned above. And yet they aren’t as simple as apps such as FaceBook or Google products like Blogger. That is because a CMS is more than just a blog.

  3. What is MySite for? I think most people are unsure and perhaps that is because of the misconceptions of what it is. Perhaps the name makes everyone think MySpace or FaceBook. I think the complexity of what it is and the inability to express what it is, makes for problematic adoption.

  4. The notion of providing more public web-space is great. I think both could serve a very useful purpose. However, WSU already provides free public web space for students! I would suggest more disk-space and dynamic scripting support, like PHP, support for Ruby on Rails and Django, and of course a back-end option with MySQL or even SQLite.

Ok, where I find the article a bit misguided.

My General Response:
To equate MySite to MySpace or FaceBook is misrepresenting what each application does. MySite is more than a social networking site. It is a student's own implementation of an Enterprise-Level content management system (CMS). The kind of thing many people are being forced to adopt in the work place. Using MySpace or FaceBook usually gets you the evil stare from your boss, not the "Wow, he/she is being productive!"

And while there are cheaper applications that can do many of the same things as MySite (Plone, Alfresco, Drupal), the fact remains, these are all CMS applications with a related paradigm. This related paradigm is utilized in nearly every organization that is adopting CMS technologies to deliver and manage content within their organization. This is across the board, regardless if you are in the for-profit or non-profit sector.

Now, for some direct responses -

The Evergreen:
"It’s difficult to place MySite in a distinct subgroup of functionality, as it does so many things but falls flat on its face when it comes to implementation. While MySite does have some of the same features as Facebook or MySpace, it’s limited to those with WSU Network IDs or Friend IDs only. Perhaps that sounded like a good privacy or security initiative when it was first proposed, but there’s no benefit to having a “walled garden” system restricted to WSU."


Response:
Funny, MySpace and Facebook both require passwords for use! In a sense you have to be a part of their club in order to benefit from the service. In reality there is no difference, NetworkID/Friend ID, MySpace User ID, ummm unless I missed something. Also, your MySite doesn't have to be walled; mine is completely open to anonymous users (see here), nothing is private. The only problem is right now you can't leave comments, but that is only because I haven't added a message board.

Also, I can aggregate all my other social-net sites into MySite and create a mash-up of my relevant content. So I can place a web-part viewer in my MySite that brings in content from MySpace and FaceBook. I had a MySpace page in my MySite, but removed it as I don't go there as much. Now, I just have some RSS for my blog, but if I wanted I could embed my blog and all inside a MySite.

The Evergreen:
"There are other services out there that students already use to perform the tasks that MySite is designed to handle. Not only are they better in many cases than MySite’s offerings, but they’re familiar and thus easier for students to use. For educational purposes, services like Blackboard and WebCT – which are used by colleges all over the country – seem to be working fine."


Response:
Again, I agree with the issue of simplicity, but again you will NEVER USE BLACKBOARD in the real-world. Also, the easy of Blackboard makes easy candidate for assimilation. We could port the Blackboard model into MySite.

Conclusion:
While some frustration is warranted, I think the frustration is misplaced and perhaps there is a solution to find before we go claiming a technology didn’t work when we have just learned about its potential. That’s like saying, “Damn, PHP what the hell is this? It is too complicated! Why not just stick with HTML?”

I think what is really needed is focused training on how to utilize the MySite/SharePoint technology. It seems by judging from the article that even the authors do not know what is available through the technology, or how to do what they may want.

In fact, I think this is WSU’s fault totally. For instance, you can find numerous end-user training sessions on Plone, Drupal, Alfresco and even SharePoint going on around the world at any given time. Why? Because it is complicated and there is a learning curve before someone can become a power-user. Unfortunately, WSU has not had any sort of Boot-Camp to get people educated. There seems to be more talk about what the system is capable of, but little on how you can harness that capability.

5 comments:

Gary Brown said...

1. Expense—not really. WSU serves Sharepoint (MySites) technology for administrative purposes, and extending the use to make ePortfolios available for students is an extension of that service in a direction that we would pursue in any event, including the added costs of servers and storage. It is providing WSU community with expanded opportunities and capitalizing on previous investments. If one considers the full implications in light of the potential, as I will sketch out below, the investments now made in adapting Sharepoint will ultimately save the university community money.
2. The key point Justin makes that the Evergreen misses is the focus of that extended service. ePortfolios are not intended to compete with social networking software like Facebook and MySpace. Academic learning can and should often be social, but the ePortfolio initiative targets an academic endeavor that values students’ learning and professional growth over time, and it is a segue into the professional world where graduates will encounter sophisticated implementations of communication software including, in all probability, Sharepoint MySites.
3. The professional potential and the integration with WSU enterprise systems also suggests why we have not pursued Plone or Alfresco, which may or may not be available for graduates. Open source software tends to come and go or get flipped which incurs new pricing issues from licenses to conversion to support. In addition, the long term vision of this work includes collaborations with regional business enterprise integration, which holds tremendous promise for WSU and students who graduate from WSU. We are working with Career Services to respond to employers who have expressed an interest in being able to search WSU ePortfolios as examples of dynamic or living resumes. As that aspect of the service grows, students will come to understand that WSU MySites are not exactly the same as Facebook or MySpace.
4. Justin is on target again when he questions the simplicity of MySites, which reflects again the trade off between with power and flexibility. We are developing templates to meet this requirement as well as to link with key WSU. Third parties are also joining in this as well as a large and growing shared source consortium, a viable response to the open source initiatives that tend to falter for lack of a realistic business model.
5. What is it for? Worldware, as Justin notes, is a key. We want to introduce students to technologies that they can anticipate using in their professional lives.
6. Training—Already significant Wiki and Skillsoft resources, is also something Justin rightly identifies as a key to the initiative’s success. We are working with ITS and the Student Computing Center to bring more students up to speed with this technology even as we work with faculty and Student Affairs professionals to help them understand the technology and how they can use it to support their mission and the success of WSU students.

justingriffis said...

Thanks for the response Gary.

While it seems we agree on most everything, I would push the open source argument a bit more, not necessarily as an argument against Sharepoint, but more of an argument against assumptions regarding the state of opensource. Maybe it is just a nit-picky argument, but this my blog and I get to say what I want…LOL!

Anyway, while many open source technologies do "flip" the more stable projects such as Plone and Alfresco have in fact been extremely stable and their development cycles are managed very carefully, take a look at Novell’s SuSe Linux or Mac OSX use of NetBSD.

The reason for this tight management is based upon the growth of adoption of these tools and the numerous business interests that rely on the stability of the product. Likewise, when dealing with mature opensource projects such as these, the development community that emerges around these applications is often both core developers of the technology itself, as well as consultants to corporations and other business interests adopting the technology. Massive changes in core code and lack of backwards compatibility are something these developers can't afford.

Also, applications like Plone are in fact powering major corporate intranets and extranets, Cingular (now AT&T again), Continental Airlines, UNDP, NATO and even the CIA are using Plone, see: http://plone.net/sites. And MTV along with GreenPeace (and many more) are using Drupal, see: http://www.drupalsites.net/categories/corporate. Are these not potential business partners?

Also, open source is not just a novel business model anymore; major corporations are expanding upon it and even driving its adoption on a large scale. Just see IBM, Sun, Oracle and Google. In this sense, professional growth can be developed just as effectively with opensource as with non-opensource.

So from a training/education perspective, learning these tools is going to be extremely valuable in the future as well, perhaps just as valuable (if not more) as learning MS technologies. So, the probability that people will be using Sharepoint in the "real-world" isn't as assured.

The issue isn't really with Sharepoint but it's the whole "Resistance is Futile" thing that I don't agree with, as it doesn't fully correlate to what is really going on. Just take a look at this, http://www.grupthink.com/topic/821. The adoption and usage of technology is perhaps way too varied. It is understanding the paradigm and being educated in the paradigm that is important. Knowing this, and adapting, and innovating are where the real business appeal comes in.

However, even with that said this is what we have and I don’t think we lose anything from using Sharepoint, but I don’t think we would lose anything from adopting open-standards and open-source tools.

justingriffis said...

Despite my passionate call for opensource, understanding the background of extending Sharepoint for student use does make sense.

Especially since it is a technology already in use.

Question:
So, if a student is interested in showcasing their web development skills and wanted to focus on using some technology like Ruby on Rails or Django while using their MySite as central hub for employers to see their work, what services does WSU provide?

After all MySite makes it easy to integrate other applications, but I want to integrate my Django based Google maps application into SharePoint.

Jeremiah said...

[quote]
applications like Plone are in fact powering major corporate intranets and extranets, Cingular (now AT&T again), Continental Airlines, UNDP, NATO and even the CIA are using Plone, see: http://plone.net/sites. And MTV along with GreenPeace (and many more) are using Drupal, see: http://www.drupalsites.net/categories/corporate. Are these not potential business partners?
[/quote]

you leave out the fact that microsoft is a MASSIVE, CURRENT partner of WSU. How many other major players in the business world are using micosoft technology exlusively?

[quote]
Also, open source is not just a novel business model anymore; major corporations are expanding upon it and even driving its adoption on a large scale. Just see IBM, Sun, Oracle
[/quote]

all of whom will be more then happy to sell you exceptionally expensive, enterprise solutions to support their opensource software.


The largest thing I can see left out in your comparison isn't the underlying technology or the distinction between open source & closed source development that you draw such a hard line on, but rather the mention that sharepoint as a base install is FREE with windows 2000 or 2003. Very few installs would ever call for the need to have sharepoint portal server (which WSU does have, do they make use of it is another point...) I would argue that out of the box you will not have a nearly as capable or extensible option in the opensource community as you would with sharepoint. It isn't used simply because it's a microsoft product, it's used because it is an excellent competitor in it's field, combine it with it's exceptional integration with office and it is hard to ignore it in a company that already has money invested in the largest business office tool.

justingriffis said...

[Quote]
you leave out the fact that microsoft is a MASSIVE, CURRENT partner of WSU. How many other major players in the business world are using micosoft technology exlusively?
[/Quote]

Well, I think Gary made the point about our partnership with MS in his comments. So no need to repeat that. How many use MS technologies exclusively? Ummm, none. Not even Microsoft uses its tools exclusively and they regularly have outside vendors develop applications for them. I have many friends who develop software for the company. Not to mention, MS does a significant amount of R&D focused on adopting and streamline other peoples software to then re-sell as their own, but with significant improvements (it's hoped).

[Quote]
all of whom will be more then happy to sell you exceptionally expensive, enterprise solutions to support their opensource software.
[/Quote]

Give me a break, like Microsoft isn't ready to sell you expensive enterprise applications? The reason I brought up those companies was to show the relevance of opensource in the business world and its uses as being viable. It was in response to the idea that opensource is somehow less than viable in business and therefore worth passing over in the education arena.

[Quote]
sharepoint as a base install is FREE with windows 2000 or 2003. Very few installs would ever call for the need to have sharepoint portal server (which WSU does have, do they make use of it is another point...)
[/Quote]

While free is a huge case in the opensource software community, I think you miss the point that opensource means you can modify the code to your specifications. Free just happens to be a cool feature. Yet to get SharePoint running properly and at the level needed to run at an enterprise capacity, YOU DO PAY A LOT.

Likewise, hosting applications such as SP is still expensive versus an app like Drupal. So despite being FREE, it's overhead is still greater than the dominate opensource equivalents.

[Quote]
I would argue that out of the box you will not have a nearly as capable or extensible option in the opensource community as you would with sharepoint.
[/Quote]

Well, you are free to argue, but I would argue that you are wrong...
I think you are especially wrong when it comes to extensibility. I mean you may have evaluated some of the other tools out there but it seems to me that reading from the SP talking-points brochure.

However, having used Plone, SharePoint, Drupal and Joomla in daily activities either presently or in past development projects it might just be possible that we find different things important and that of course shapes our opinion of each application.

Yet, there is a reason that many companies adopting these tools despite the consistent use-cases presented by Microsoft pushing for the adoption of SharePoint.

Now, regardless of my response up to this point. I think overall you missed the focus of my post and subsequent comments. The point of my comments on opensource were focused upon the 'hard line' that Gary draws and that to ignore it (opensource) as a viable business option is just plain false.

As I said, SharePoint provides a paradigm that is critical not only to business, but also to the education of students that will be entering the work force.

But to equate, Office integration with SharePoint as a primary selling point that will support both a pedagogical as well as future business know-how among students isn't necessarily a convincing argument.

Again, the point of my argument was/is that opensource stands as a valid model and opportunity for educating students, and that the technology is perhaps less important than learning the paradigm of knowledge management.