Entries in tiddlyspace (5)

Monday
Apr162012

And we're live!

Today, after what has been a bit of a frantic build up, we've gone live with a project that Osmosoft have been involved in for some 18+ months. Over the course of that time the scope of the project has shifted, twisted, turned and materialised into a number of things. Since the beginning of the project we've lost some good people from the team -- not specifically as a consequence of the stresses of the project I hasten to add. But with those of us remaining we managed to get through it!

There was no fanfare or applause when the go live button was pushed, and there certainly wasn't any champagne corks popping or pyrotechnics. But never the less it feels like a pretty good achievement and one that I personally have learnt a lot from. The work was for an internal BT project, and at the moment the stakeholders are a bit cagey talking about the specifics in public -- that'll change and I plan to elaborate a bit more about what was built. But in essence we started with building a prototype that helped business folk explore different ways of sharing information amongst themselves using positioning and sizing of snippets of information as a mechanism for conveying importance and relevance. An early prototype of this can be seen over here -- use 0 to zoom all, left/right cursor keys to navigate.

That early prototype led to a number of discussions around how further abstract models of sharing information could be used. There were some interesting conversations and ultimately what got proposed was a toned down, slightly more enterprisey solution. The key win however was getting senior buy in to move from a world where information was being shared in Word, Powerpoint and Excel documents via email to one where information lived and evolved on the web within a wiki.

What was built was an application whereby content was authored within a wiki, on top of that there's a layer that pulls content together and presents it within a structured manner with a separate interface. This allows for viewers of the content to be able to follow a step-by-step walk through in a logical manner, or take a more explorative path using all the goodness that wiki links provide.

Putting technology to one side the thing I've found most interesting about this piece of work is the reaction from management teams when they realised that individuals who are using the content -- most of it being processes, procedures, and best practise -- are also within the same pool of people creating and maintaining the content. For most that's been a massive paradigm shift from a culture of auditing and ownership coming from a single 'trusted' source.

Another interesting aspect was that the solution has been built on an open source stack. Now, this certainly isn't the first open source project deployed within BT but we still came up against some of the same misconceptions around what open source meant. Questions such as who do we go to (blame) should something go wrong, who 'owns' what has been built, can it scale, does it have Enterprise level robustness etc etc. Thankfully misconceptions around open source weren't shared by everyone and with some careful educating and demonstrating through building rather than pushing around spec sheets we were able to get the application deployed within a production environment...eventually!

(On the point of open source I'm not sure how relevant what we've built will be outside of BT, but where it makes sense we'll be putting the code up onto Github).

Whilst all the politics was playing out around strategic vs non-strategic and whether or not an 'open source' application was fit for purpose a related piece of work came our way.

The same group of people who were using the wiki to view and maintain process and procedural information were also backed up by a telephone support team who they were able to call should they come across a particular problem that hadn't been documented. These kinds of issues may be very specific and time bound, they might be relating to a particular customer or geographic location, or some may be quite generic and ought to be added to the wiki.

The details of the calls weren't being captured anywhere and the business were quite rightly concerned about valuable information exchange being lost.

The thing that we ended up building was pretty nice looking web form that as you entered information about the call it displayed details of previous call logs and related information from the wiki. Details of a call could be linked to related information to help promote reuse of content and highlight common themes. There is also some social voting where inspired by stackoverflow.com where answers to questions can be voted up or down. We also introduced some features that used the browser geolocation to pin point an individual on a map and layer on top additional information.

Our remit for this piece of work was to build a first iteration of the application that could be deployed for use in a live environment but also seeded ideas for its evolution. It feels as though we've done a good job on that and one of our small (but heroic) victories was around getting agreement to roll out a webkit browser to sit alongside the standard IE7 internal build. This has allowed us to demonstrate how recent developments in the HTML spec can quickly and (relatively) easily help tackle some key problems. Hopefully this will pave the way for some more interesting work over the coming months.

The applications that we've built have been hosted on a dev server for a while now and been in trial with a number of teams across the business. Today marked the day that the application moved onto it's own production environment with the trial badge removed and support taken over by a full blown 24/7 team.

It's been a fascinating project to work on providing a whole load of stimulating conversations around technology choices, business process, enterprise culture and change management. In a way it's sad handing it onto another team, but on the positive side it means we're now ready to move on and pick up the next piece of work!

Wednesday
Apr132011

TiddlySpace, an April Assignation

We're now half way through the April Assignation of TiddlySpace – a week long review of where we are with the project, how we plan to move forward and general open discussion around how we can improve.

Spending a week on a review such as this may seem to some like a prolonged activity and something that could be done in a day, others may feel that its not long enough! However, I think with the approach that we're taking its proving to be just about right. Although a thoroughly exhausting process!

All the notes from the review are public and online, although they may not be so meaningful to people who've not participated in the discussion. At the end of the week you can expect some form of meaningful summary.

On day one we discussed as a team how each of us are using TiddlySpace, what we thought TiddlySpace ought to be, and which things we don't like about TiddlySpace.

It may seem strange to be having these types of discussions at this stage of a project however by its very nature TiddlySpace can be many things to different people and in addition some of the recent client projects we've taken on have shifted the product in varying directions. In itself none of this is a bad thing.

Moving into day two we each reviewed our thoughts from the previous day and individually had an attempt at producing a mock up of how we each saw a new homepage to look. A quick review at the end of the day showed that there were some strong common themes (as one might expect) but also some varying approaches. For example, from my perspective as someone who mainly speaks to non-developer potential consumers of the product I'd focused less on the technology, where as others were slightly more geared to a developer-ish audience ...although not as much as I'd expected before the start of the week.

Today, day three we met again as a group and performed a mini retrospective of the first day, as well as performed a critic of the day two outputs. We made progress in realising what TiddlySpace might become and who its potential audience was. By the end of the week the goal is to have a firm understand as to the immediate goal of TiddlySpace and to be able to communicate that in a way which is meaningful not just to Osmosoft or existing users, but also to anyone who happened to stumble upon our work.

The process of breaking up the group work with periods of individual working I believe has made this week more productive than it might have been. As a group its been great to throw some ideas around, hear about different peoples perspectives but ultimately that's been a lot of talking. Being able to spend time as an individual putting ideas down on paper based on what was discussed has been very productive

Day four of the review we're going back to individual working. Time will be split between evolving the mocks ups based upon today's critiquing and also formulating ideas for a firm product description that'll be the basis of our work for the coming months.

Thursday
Apr072011

A TiddlySpace review

Next week at Osmosoft Towers we're holding a week long TiddlySpace review / planning session.  In the past we've held similar sessions but over a much shorter time period (typically an afternoon) and focused on an specific area, be it functionality or documentation.  Next week everything is up for discussion.

I thought I'd write a short post ahead of the review session, talking not so much about the specifics of what'll be covered (you can read about that here) but more around how we're approaching the review and to explain who Osmosoft are and what TiddlySpace is...

Osmosoft are a part of BT who focus on web development, specifically focusing on open source web collaboration tools.  Before their acquisition by BT in 2007 Osmosoft was solely run by Jeremy Ruston who back in 2004 had developed a product called TiddlyWiki, a personal wiki designed to be stored locally but run entirely in the web browser.  TiddlyWiki had some unique properties which at the time generated a bit of a buzz on the internet earning it a bit of a following.  When Jeremy decided to make the source code for TiddlyWiki available via a BSD license a community of users and contributors began to form.  It was an interest in open source communities that interested BT and prompted the acquisition.

Since joining BT Osmosoft have to continued to focus on the development of TiddlyWiki, TiddlyWeb and more recently TiddlySpace, as well as providing a governance and advisory role around the use of open source products in BT.  You can read more about the things that Osmosoft get up to in this presentation.

Although TiddlyWiki was designed to be be stored locally there was a growing trend of people hosting their TiddlyWiki's making them accessible to more than just themselves.  To support this work began on a server side for TiddlyWiki called TiddlyWeb.  Although TiddlyWeb was well received within the community (as well as attracting many new people) the barrier to entry for installing and maintaining it was pretty high.  A simplified way of getting TiddlyWiki's onto the web was needed, and this led to TiddlySpace.

TiddlySpace builds upon both TiddlyWiki and TiddlyWeb and both are core to its development.  It follows the same premise as TiddlyWiki and shares much of the same functionality.  The philosophy remains that information is more useful when you can get to it – sounds obvious until you think of all the information locked away in PowerPoints, PDFs and Word documents.  Information in a TiddlySpace is broken down into small chunks called Tiddlers.  Tiddlers can then be mixed and mashed together depending on how that information is to be used.  Due to the way in which the content and the presentation are separated this allows for a rich diversity of customization if the same information.

TiddlySpace is a constantly evolving project and we've been working on it for around a year.  I wouldn't want to put a badge on it, but if I was forced to I'd say we're somewhere between a beta stage and a version 1.0.  There are a number of people using TiddlySpace to great effect and we're still expanding our thoughts where TiddlySpace needs to go next.  Hence the review.

One of Osmosoft's core principles is to be transparent in everything we do – a principle shared by many successful open source projects.  Transparency includes talking in public about what we're working on but also about sharing our thoughts and allowing others to contribute to and comment on them.  With this in mind we've been collecting our pre-review thoughts over here.  This includes some discussion about what is working well, how people are using TiddlySpace but more importantly it highlights areas we feel aren't working or things which require greater attention.  By having these conversations in the open we're forced to be honest with our thoughts and this combined with the insight gained from the community outside of Osmosoft will, I believe, result in a much better end result.