Musing about clouds: More about Web 2.0 in the Enterprise

…..and still somehow it’s cloud illusions I recall….
…..I really don’t know clouds at all….

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Now playing: Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now
via FoxyTunes

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One of my favourite songs from one of my favourite musicians. I could listen to Joni reading a telephone directory. I would probably pay for it. In fact, if hers was the voice I heard when waiting in one of those interminable call queues, I’d probably be less stressed. I wonder…..

But enough of that. Talk like that will bring on clouds of frustration.

Let me talk about clouds of a different sort: the ones we use to visualise collections and populations and frequency and popularity. You’re bound to have seen them, they’ve been used for a variety of things ranging from tags to search terms to authors.

So far, I’ve seen clouds used for relatively discrete lists, both manual as well as automatic. Where they’ve been automatic, they’ve tended to scrape the contents of a particular data item within a database, such as “author’s name” in a book collection.

Sam Lawrence of Jive Software originally alerted me to IBM’s excellent manyeyes a little while ago, following on from something I’d tweeted re visualisation tools. And so I went there and took a look, and liked what I saw. More recently, as I was following up on something at that site, I was a little taken aback to find myself looking at this:

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Whoops. Not what I was expecting, but interesting. And then today I was alerted to the fact that he’d just written this story; all I can say is that Sam’s a brave man. He’s not the first to call me names, and “thought leader” is pretty good as names go….but…. to boil me down to 10 words? In two words, im-possible, to quote a different Sam :-). Take a look at the results, they’re interesting. Chris Brogan also comments on Sam’s post.

And it got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be useful to display the stocks being traded as a cloud rather than just as a ticker feed? Volume would be depicted by the size of the “word”, in this case the name or symbol of the stock. You could use colour and font and style to add further meaning, while still retaining the cloud concept.

What intrigues me further is the more general application of what Sam (thanks, Sam! And say hi to Dawn.) showed us using manyeyes. Applications that get us involved in serious knowledge management; applications like showing the frequency of words in corporate e-mail on a given day, compared against similar word clouds for IM and blog and wiki in the same enterprise. All for the same day. Applications like showing how the frequency of words used in Powerpoint changed over time, to see if the “message” of change was being embedded in corporate-speak. [I shall resist the temptation to say that fourteen times, or however many times it takes….]

When things become digital, many things become possible. When markets become digital, many more things become possible, as my erstwhile colleague Sean keeps reminding me. Sean, who was probably born not that far from where Roberta Joan Anderson was born, albeit a few years later.

Talking about Joni Mitchell, I just love this project of hers: “The Annotated Joni Mitchell” Glossary Project
Just look at what she has to say: “Who cares what I mean? What does it mean to you?” It means a lot to me, especially when she comes up with words like…..

Moons and Junes and Ferris Wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes true
I’ve looked at love that way…..

9 thoughts on “Musing about clouds: More about Web 2.0 in the Enterprise”

  1. Both Sides Now & Car on A Hill are two songs I listen to a great deal. They are the musical equivalent of Grand Slams. Surely you’ve head Herbie Hancock’s latest release, a tribute to and interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s work. If you haven’t, make a beeline for it!

  2. Hi JP :-)

    I like your brainstorming about other visualizations that could be made possible in this digital world we live in. I wonder what my cloud would contain for email and how it would be different from IM?

    I find it interesting when I notice how my tag clouds differ across various services. My Clearspace tag cloud within our internal Jive Clearspace instance is completely different from my tag clouds on the developer communities and on my Fast Wonder blog.

    You would get a very different picture of “me” depending on the specific cloud used. I wonder whether other people see vast differences in their tag clouds across applications?

  3. Hi Dawn, that’s precisely what I was thinking about. What I can learn from the vocabulary differences across these modes of communication. Not just my differences, but the differences within a given location, team, department, firm. Because there will be differences.

  4. Which, interestingly, is something I posited in the last week or so.

    Maybe the time for using images, sounds is coming and the time for data and words is passing.

    There is a treemapping app (http://tinyurl.com/225p3l ) which shows the sizes of files in blocks, not data

  5. Visualisation improves context and aids comprehension …. is what the serious folks say.

    Or we can just say seeing makes things easier

  6. JP – visualization CAN be useful, and it can also be a flashy waste of time. Having orbited around enterprise search companies for the last 7-8 years, if I had a dime for every time a new visual interface was trotted out, I’d be a rich man. If I had a dime for every time someone actually bought the overall package specifically because of those visualizations, I’d be deep in debt!

    But, as I commented on Sam’s blog, yes, this is really a very interesting experiment, and I’d love to see it unfold over time.

    BTW – some of the best writing I’ve seen on visualizations is over at the Visual Methods blog (http://visualmethods.blogspot.com/). Not associated with the blog, just a fan. And of course anyone interested in visualization (USEFUL visualization) needs to get themselves to Ed Tufte’s one-day course, and breathe in his first 3 books (I don’t have the most recent, “Beautiful Evidence”). The books are very dense – sitting in on the day course clarified quite a bit for me, although I can always use a refresher.

  7. Thanks, Dan. I’ve done the Tufte trail as well, though I haven’t read Beautiful Evidence as yet. And I’ve taken a look at the blog you recommended, really useful. Thanks again.

  8. JP

    Visualisation improves context and aids comprehension – So true !!!

    My focus and reaction to a problem which is visual and contextual is more holistic and global than
    I wish my email application is more visual and contextual than what I have.

Let me know what you think

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