February 2009

Lessons from LifeCamp

February 1, 2009 - Categories: braindump, connecting, event

I had a great time organizing and learning from LifeCampTO at Linux Caffe on January 31, 2009. We started at 10:30 AM, and the conversations continued until around 2 PM. Sixteen people attended, and we had tremendous fun.

I brought along some markers and a pad of paper. Each participant had a piece of paper with a number on it, and they wrote down their e-mail address, what they wanted help with, and what they could offer help with. People then stood up and introduced themselves. As each person talked about what he or she wanted help with, people who could help them raised their pieces of paper up, and the person introducing himself or herself wrote those numbers down. As each person talked about what they could help with, other people who wanted help raised their pieces of paper, and then wrote the corresponding number down. I collected all (well, almost all – one participant is missing!) the papers afterwards, and I promised to e-mail everyone the appropriate introductions.

During the introductions, a few general-interest topics emerged: productivity, entrepreneurship, and networking. We decided to have a few big 20-minute conversations around each of those topics instead of breaking up into lots of little conversations. Here are my notes from those conversations:


Self-employment, entrepreneurship


My next step is to make a spreadsheet, cross-reference the connection requests, and e-mail each person individual notes for follow-up. =)

If you were there: please keep me up to date on what you’re doing and the follow-up connections you make, and link back to this post so that other people can learn more from the conversations we had. =) If you tag your posts with lifecampto and add a comment here with the link, they’ll be easy to find, too!

Blog posts:

It was great fun. Thanks to everyone for helping make it happen. =) I’m looking forward to following up!

Kitty TV

February 1, 2009 - Categories: cat, photography

Peanuts sprinkled outside glass door + squirrels + cats = fun for everyone

LifeCampTO social graph

February 2, 2009 - Categories: connecting, social

After LifeCampTO, I asked people to give me the list of people they wanted to talk to (or, well, those people’s primary keys ;) ). I’m still figuring out how to do a great little mail merge that reminds people of the keywords, but along the way, I thought I might I’d learn more about network visualization.

Here’s the resulting graph: (click on it for a larger version)

LifeCampTO social graph

So, what does this graph say?

You can see that most people have quite a lot of follow-up conversations ahead. It wasn’t the kind of event where most people walked away with only two or three conversations, although they might have smaller follow-up conversations with different groups of people. It might be interesting to do some cluster analysis around topics, and maybe someday I’ll figure out how to encode the data in order to make that analysis easier. ;) Based on this, our on-the-fly decision to have three big conversations turned out to have made sense, although it would also be interesting to try having small conversations about both popular and niche topics, and then having people come together at the end (or on a wiki).

Getting to this graph (and to the individualized graphs I’ve just figured out how to produce – it highlights each person’s connections) involved a lot of bubblegum and string.

  1. I typed in the data people had written down, using OpenOffice.org to form the upper triangle of an adjacency matrix. Two people’s sheets were missing, and one person didn’t have any connections incoming or outgoing. =( Thank you, programming competitions, for all those lovely data structures.
  2. I copied the adjacency matrix and pasted it onto itself using OOo’s Paste Special – Transpose, Skip Empty Cells. This gave me a full adjacency matrix.
  3. I used a really long and hairy OOo formula to concatenate the cells into Emacs Lisp code as an associative list, with extra information and an edge list.
  4. I copied that into Emacs and processed the associative list’s edges. I needed to do that anyway in order to be able to e-mail people personalized e-mail with all of their introductions, instead of sending one e-mail per edge. Along the way, I got the idea of visualizing the network diagram, so I spun off some code to output a full edge list in DOT format for visualization with circo.
  5. I used a command like
    circo -Gsplines=true < lifecampto.dot -Tpng > lifecampto.png

    to generate the graph shown.

  6. Then I thought it would be cool to personalize the graphs, too, so I wrote some more Emacs Lisp to generate personalized DOT files that highlighted the recipient in green and the recipient’s requested links/nodes in green, too. I used a Bash for loop to turn all those personalized DOT files into PNG files.

Example of a personalized image:

Tomorrow, I’ll work on the mail merge. =)

A little computer science is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

Kaizen: unsqueaking

February 3, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, life, reflection

It’s really kinda strange. Seven hundred people? Not a problem. I can deliver a presentation. Two people? I get a lot more fidgety.

When I’m talking about something I’m passionate about, I find myself speeding up, flicking through things, jumping on tangents, even shaking ever so slightly. This is good for infecting people with enthusiasm, but a little more challenging for comprehension. ;)

It would be good to be able to control this so that I can match other people’s paces, and so that I remember to breathe. ;)

There are several aspects I can work on, and several ways I can work on them:

Someday, I’ll get to the point where I can talk to people at any level without anyone feeling nervous or overwhelmed. =)

Conversations about networking; scale, structure, and skills

February 4, 2009 - Categories: connecting

I had tea/hot chocolate with Ida Shessel at Linuxcaffe last Monday. She had come across me through a Google alert when I first blogged about Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon’s book, “Make Your Contacts Count”. When Lynne featured my recent story about using online social networks to turbocharge offline events in her newsletter, Ida reached out with some questions around networking.

One of the key ideas that came up in our conversation is how many authors and coaches who focus on social networking haven’t quite made the jump to making full use of online social networking. I’ve come across this multiple times. Each time I meet someone who has mastered traditional forms of social networking but is curious about the things I take for granted, I love sharing what I’ve learned. I learn so much in the process.

Last night, at a small get-together I quickly organized for a colleague from the US, I briefly chatted with Will Pate about social networking. He’s another Gen Yer who’s given networking a lot of thought and who makes full use of social media. He’s starting to do a lot of work related to venture capital, and he told me of a study that showed that in that area, the size of your social network correlates with success. I told him of my interest in scaling up networking, creating structures to facilitate connection, and experimenting with things like LifeCampTO. Plenty of follow-up conversations to come, I’m sure!

This weekend, I’ll be talking to Jeff Widman about similar things. He’s also Gen Y and well-connected. (Come to think of it, I need to introduce Will to Jeff. I think they’ll get along really well.)

So, what’s different?

I’m starting to pick up a pattern. I often find myself talking about scale and structure. I also bring a different collection of skills than those I see in primarily business-oriented networking books.

Let’s talk about scale. I enjoy finding opportunities to help or create value for as many people as I can. I rely heavily on associative memory, my notes, the Internet, and group get-togethers in order to do so. Whenever I meet a new person, hear about an idea or a need, read a book, or experience something new, I can get economies of scale because I can connect that person, idea, need, book, or experience to people I’ve met, resources I’ve come across, and things I’ve learned. The more input comes in, the more combinations I can make – so I get network effects as well. It’s a huge game of connect the dots, and I love it whenever I can bring people, ideas, and resources together.

The Internet lets me scale that initial value-creation much better than I can in face-to-face events. I might create less value and I may not be able to make as deep a connection, but I can reach more people and open up the possibility for some people to come forward and continue that conversation with me.

So then networking isn’t a way to gain power or get favors, but almost a game of finding out what could help a person rock, and how to help make that happen. This is related to Granovetter‘s theory about weak ties. If I can build a large network of weak ties, then I can help span boundaries, spread good ideas, bridge gaps. I don’t need to be best-friends-forever with everyone, but I can create a lot of value if people feel comfortable telling me what could help them make things happen and if I’m good at finding people for whom that’ll be a win-win proposition. As for ideas and resources – I can share those practically for free!

That’s why I’m interested in scale. The more people I know, the more ideas I come across, the more resources I find, the more connections I can make between them. As I learn more about this, I’ll be able to reach out to more people, and I’ll be able to connect more dots.

Scale requires structure. While I’ve read about networkers with prodigious memories who could remember every little thing about people even after decades of not seeing them, I’m not one of those yet. I suspect most of them had some kind of cheatsheet anyway. ;)

What I am, however, is someone who enjoys exploring or building the tools needed to try scaling up. I know the ins and outs of my contact management system, and have heavily customized it. I tinker with mail merges that cross-reference all sorts of data. And I’m really curious about the next level: building structures to help other people connect (hence my interest in events). That’ll help me scale even further. I don’t have to know everyone directly. If I can help people effectively connect to a connector–one of those people who just loves playing this game of connect-the-dots–and I can help the connectors connect to each other so that they can refer requests, that would be awesome.

In order to build that kind of structure, I’ll need to develop my skills. The quirky thing I bring to networking is my computer science geek background. I happily build tools, analyze networks, take measurements, draw graphs. As we figure more things out, I may be able to build more of that into systems for more people to use. I’m a big fan of relentless improvement, and I’m always looking for little ways to make things better, little ways I can experiment. I enjoy sharing as much as I can, which is why I think out loud on this blog. I’m not the only one with this combination of quirks, but it’s certainly not something you’ll find in a typical business networking book. ;)

I’ll still need to develop all the other skills. I’m still unpolished when it comes to conversation. I squeak when I’m excited. ;) My communication style isn’t very flexible yet. I can learn how to adapt better. I could probably use a gradual wardrobe update, and over time, I’ll develop my personal style. I can get better at nurturing strong ties, too. And it’ll be fun building on my quirks and seeing where they take us!

There are interesting opportunities opened up by my quirks and interests that traditional networking may not have explored yet. I’d love to help figure things out and make lots of things happen for lots of people along the way.

Thanks for letting me think out loud! =) What do you think about networking, and how would you like to grow?

A thousand ways that didn’t work

February 5, 2009 - Categories: geek

I spent the entire afternoon trying to figure out how I can do a live teleconference with screensharing so that I can show people actual Drupal tips and tricks instead of handwaving through a bunch of slides. Rube Goldberg would probably have approved of all the different things I tried. Unfortunately, none of them worked. <sigh>

The web conference application-sharing feature is only available on Internet Explorer. My development environment is definitely Linux-based. Here are all the things I tried:

It was an exercise in frustration, but I needed to probe this to see if it was doable. I guess it’ll be back to slides for the teleconference, with more details in blog posts or recordings. For my talk at DrupalCon, I can do it live from Linux (assuming I get the projector stuff sorted out).

Ah… It’s a really good thing that W- and J- are so good at cheering me up! =)

Weekly report – Week ending February 8, 2009

February 8, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

In addition:

Next week:

Finally got my new landing page off the ground! =)

February 8, 2009 - Categories: drupal, geek

I’m starting to get the hang of using Web analytics to look at how people are moving through the site. I’ll go through the numbers in detail, but if you’re in a rush and you just want to check the potential landing page out, I’d love your feedback.

The numbers: Both sachachua.com and livinganawesomelife.com redirect to the front page of this blog, which contains links to all the other pieces. Last month, 1015 people visited this page. About 50% of those people were new to my site. This represents about 7% of the total new visits to the site (I get lots of people coming in through search engines), but that’s still 500 or so people who might be confused by the range of things I write about. Of all the visitors to the front page (including people who’ve been here before), about 166 people followed the “About” link from the home page. Others clicked through the categories I feature along the top.

I’d like to get your feedback on the new site landing page first, before I make it the default. I’m also curious about A/B testing, so if I can figure out how to do that consistently (so that once you’re either A or B you don’t switch unless you want to), that’ll be something cool to learn. =)

Anyway, here’s the potential landing page. It’s Drupal-based, mostly done with unmodified  third-party modules. ;) I’d love your feedback. You’ll also notice that it’s starting to accumulate my reading history. I wrote a Perl script to grab the data from the Toronto Public Library, and it still needs some tweaking to make it more useful. I’ve already started using it to keep track of my notes, but those are private for now. =)


DrupalCampToronto organizing notes

February 9, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

We had the second organizers’ meeting for DrupalCampToronto 2009 today. I started a number of Google Documents for keeping track of minutes and tasks, and I also shared the sponsorship letter I’d revised extensively. One of the organizers mentioned that he had already found the letter useful. Hooray!

What worked well:

What can work even better next time:

Learning more about organizing events… Cool!

Planning meetings, get-togethers, and interviews with AgreeADate

February 9, 2009 - Categories: connecting, emacs, geek, life, productivity

One of the reasons why I love thinking of ways to help people rock even more is that I often end up learning a lot in the process.

For example, last week, I needed to coordinate schedules with Katie Bartlett, Jeff Widman’s assistant, for a chat with Jeff about networking. I thought about how much e-mail was sent back-and-forth figuring out times and timezones, and I multiplied that by the number of appointments Katie probably needed to arrange. That sounded like a lot of work. If I could find a tool to make that easier for our appointment, and she used that tool to organize lots of other appointments, then that would be great!

I checked out a couple of tools such as TimeToMeet, ScheduleOnce, and AgreeADate. Of the tools I tried, I liked AgreeADate the most because it made it easy to create different kinds of schedules and it supported timezones. I sent Katie a few potential timeslots for my chat with Jeff. After she replied, I confirmed the time that was mutually convenient. That wasn’t hard at all.

Then I explored the other features. I found out that I could create a schedule where people could pick a slot. AgreeADate allowed me to specify how many people each timeslot was limited to, and how many slots people could choose. This opened up all sorts of possibilities, and has become my favorite feature!

Things that I’d formerly had been worried about scheduling became so much easier to schedule because I could create all the slots in parallel and then let people choose the slots that hadn’t been taken yet. For example, I’d been meaning to try outsourcing some technical and personal tasks, but scheduling interview times sounded like a hassle. With this system, I just had to set all the slots up and invite people to choose the timeslot most convenient for them. Yay!

AgreeADate isn’t perfect, but it makes scheduling things so much easier for me, and it lowers the barrier enough for me to go and make things happen. In the past week that I’ve been trying it out, I’ve:

You know, stuff that would’ve taken way too much e-mail if I had to do it by hand. =)

I’d like to see it integrated with my Google Calendar, and one of the AgreeADate folks told me that that’s the next thing on their roadmap. I found myself wondering which slots I’d tentatively offered for other events, and being able to see all the tentative slots overlaid on my calendar would be fantastic.

In the meantime, I read the confirmation e-mails in Emacs Gnus, use Remember and Org to create an appointment hyperlinked to that mail, and then use my own code, the twit.el library, and the Twittercal service to create an appointment on my Google Calendar (on google.com), which is then shared with my Google Calendar on sachachua.com thanks to the joys of Google Apps. It’s quite Rube Goldberg-esque (as many of my bubblegum-and-string tricks are), but so far, it works. Maybe this’ll be something I’ll outsource (except perhaps without the Gnus + Remember + Org part) once I’ve gotten that virtual assistance thing sorted out. =)

For the geeks, some Emacs Lisp to mash together with Org, TwitterCal, Google Calendar, and twit.el (some wizardry required):

(defun sacha/org-as-gcal-quick-add ()
  "Convert the current SCHEDULED: timestamp and header into a GCal quick add item."
    (org-back-to-heading t)
    (setq end (save-excursion (outline-next-heading) (point)))
    (when (re-search-forward org-scheduled-time-regexp
			     end t)
      (let (ts default-time stamp plain s0 srp s1 s2)
	(setq ts (match-string 1)
	      default-time (apply 'encode-time (org-parse-time-string ts)))
	(when (or (setq stamp (string-match org-stamp-time-of-day-regexp ts))
		  (setq plain (string-match org-plain-time-of-day-regexp ts)))
	  (setq s0 (match-string 0 ts)
		srp (and stamp (match-end 3))
		s1 (match-string (if plain 1 2) ts)
		s2 (match-string (if plain 8 (if srp 4 6)) ts)))
	  (concat (org-no-properties (org-get-heading t)) " on "
		  (format-time-string "%x" default-time) " from "
		  (org-get-time-of-day s1 'string t) " to "
		  (org-get-time-of-day s2 'string t)

	  (concat (org-no-properties (org-get-heading t)) " on "
		  (format-time-string "%x" default-time) " from "
		  (org-get-time-of-day s1 'string t)
	  (concat (org-no-properties (org-get-heading t)) " on "
		  (format-time-string "%x" default-time)

(defun sacha/org-to-twittercal (string)
  "Post STRING to TwitterCal. See http://www.twittercal.com for details."
  (interactive (list (read-string "Event: " (sacha/org-as-gcal-quick-add))))
  (twit-post-function twit-update-url (concat "d gcal " string)))

I’ll keep you posted on my experiments! =)

Talking about Enterprise 2.0 and knowledge management

February 10, 2009 - Categories: enterprise2.0, talk, web2.0

UPDATE: Fixed Wikipatterns URL


I’m giving a lecture on Enterprise 2.0 and knowledge management at the Schulich School of Business (York University). There’s so much to talk about, but I’d like students to walk away with:

What I’ll discuss

Enterprise 2.0 encompasses many things. For this talk, I’ll focus on how emerging tools help us organize and share ideas, information, and experiences. I won’t dwell on emerging tools for communication, collaboration, or other aspects of Enterprise 2.0, although as you’ll see in a bit, those capabilities are difficult to separate from knowledge-work. I’m looking forward to finding out what tools class members are familiar with, and which they participate in: blogs, wikis, social networks, asset repositories, and things like that.


Let’s start with why it matters. Why should these MBA students care about Enterprise 2.0 and what I have to say about it, and why do I care that they care?

The first and most immediate reason is that their professor has assigned them (or will be assigning them) a paper on knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0, and my lecture can help them find out about resources and understand some of the key concepts.

The second and much more valuable reason is that if they start applying these concepts now, they can deepen their knowledge, broaden their network, and strengthen their reputation – helping them differentiate themselves from other applicants when they look for a job, or helping them differentiate themselves from other companies when they start their own. These ideas can also help them share even if they’re not experts, make a difference even as newcomers, and create value on a scale that was difficult to do before.

The third and most far-reaching reason is that if these MBA students graduate and go into companies with a deeper understanding of what Enterprise 2.0 is like, then eventually, these seeds can grow into the bottom-up and top-down support that can really change the way we work. In Enterprise 2.0, many companies look to new recruits and fresh graduates for a deeper, almost instinctive understanding of new tools and concepts. If these students understand the ideas and tools behind Enterprise 2.0, then they can help their companies move forward.

That’s why I care, and I hope to help them learn more about why they should care too.

Cultural and technological changes

On the surface, it’s easy to talk about tools. E-mail, blogs, wikis, asset repositories, shared drives, group websites… All those tools have different capabilities, and each has advantages and disadvantages. If you search the Net, it’s easy to find examples of companies using any of these tools for knowledge management.

What I’m really interested in, however, is culture. Mindset. Attitude. And I’m interested in that at the individual, team, community, network, organization, and ecosystem level.

So I came up with a list of interesting contrasts. The core idea is still the same (“Knowledge is power”), but there are all sorts of aspects around it.

Document, person, or interaction? What is “managed” under knowledge management? What does knowledge management really mean? Is knowledge all about documents that need to be organized, categorized, and stored? Does it live it people’s heads, so the “killer app” is an expertise locator? Does it come out in the interactions between people and other people, resources, and situations? I want to call their attention to different ways of thinking about knowledge, so that they can be aware of their perspective and they can recognize the perspectives taken by the different papers and resources they’ll come across.
Hoard or share? Is knowledge something to be hoarded and kept secret so that you can gain power by controlling access, or is it something that you share widely so that you can gain power that way? The difference between these two mindsets is one of the key challenges of adoption.
Formal/structured or informal/unstructured? (or the spectrum) Is your end-goal a neat repository of cleaned-up documents, or a platform for ongoing work? In the past, most knowledge management initiatives focused on formalized assets. With Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0, we’re finding that making it easy to share ongoing work can create a lot of value and get better participation. That brings in its own challenges, too, like finding things. Taxonomies vs folksonomies also come into play.
Experts or novices? Do you want contributions only from experts, or can you get value from the work of novices and amateurs? This has implications for learning and search.
One place or many? Are you looking for just one tool for storing, organizing, and searching all the knowledge, or are you looking at ways to integrate many tools with each other? It’s a mess either way. The mix of mindsets adds conflict and tension to adoption, so watch out for that.
Knowledge management or knowledge creation? Do you see KM as the end-point of a process, or as something done throughout a process? This affects adoption, culture, and lots of other things.
Inside or outside? Is the knowledge and experience you’re looking for entirely within your organizational unit, or can you find a way of engaging and learning from people outside?

Hmm, I think Wikipedia would be a good example to use, because they’re probably familiar with it, and I can also talk about corporate use. I’d like to talk about blogs as well, because that’s something they can take away.


Next actions

If people want to try these ideas out, they don’t have to wait until they graduate and join a company with Enterprise 2.0 tools.

Here’s how to get started:

I don’t feel anywhere near ready, but I do feel as if I have something to share, so that’s good. =)

Book workflow

February 11, 2009 - Categories: kaizen

David Seah asked people how they process books. Here’s what I commented:

I read a _lot_ of books, and I frequently refer other people to books that match their interests. When I do so, I love being able to point people to the exact page or quote they should check out, or to send them a summary of the key points in each book. I also enjoy giving books away.

Detailed book notes and a good workflow make this easy and convenient.

ACQUISITION: I often go on reading sprints, checking out lots of books on one topic from the library. Reading many books on one area allows me to read them faster, because many books contain fluff and things I’ve already read in other books. All I’m doing when I’m scanning a non-fiction book is looking for the nuggets of information or insight that are unique to that book.

READING: I keep track of pages with interesting passages on them. Sometimes, if I’m diligent, I use slips of paper as bookmarks. Most of the times, I dogear the lower corner of the page, folding the small dogear towards the side of the page I want to remember, or double-folding the corner if I like both sides of the page. Again, I’m just scanning for “the good stuff.”

CAPTURE: After I finish a stack of books, I scan relevant passages into my computer. I usually do this on Sundays or on days before my books are due. I review each page to see whether I still want to capture the information on it, and then I place the book face-down on a flatbed scanner and scan passages with the 600 dpi line-art setting required by OCR. All of the images get saved into a directory. Sometimes I’ll dictate passages to my computer instead, using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to transcribe.

TRANSCRIPTION: I use the free and open source Tesseract optical character recognition program. It’s pretty darn good. I’ve written a batch file that processes all of my pending images, filing finished images in one directory and text in the other.

ORGANIZATION: When I find free time, I review the transcribed text, narrowing it down to just the passages I wanted, and organizing items into more of an outline. I make any TODO items for follow-up actions, too. I also take that time to think of who else might be interested in a book or excerpts from it, and I recommend the book to those people. (I picked up this tip from Love is the Killer App – handy!) All of these notes go into a somewhat structured text file on my hard disk, where quotes are indexed by books and page numbers, and tagged by topic. When I remember, I write down the ISBN and other edition information as well.

REVIEW: Every so often, I flip through random book notes. Handy way to refresh my memory and think of other connections the books remind me to make.

I’ve started copying my book notes into a custom book-notes management system I’m building. That book-notes management system also automatically builds my reading history based on the books I’ve checked out (handy because I’m too lazy to update sites like LibraryThing ;) ), and eventually it’ll help me see which books are in which stage of processing.

One thing that would make this even better would be for me to figure out what to do during book-scanning so that I don’t get distracted but I still use that time productively. ;) My hands are occupied because I’m scanning books, and I find that if I’m reading something else (either online or offline), I get distracted and I forget to finish scanning my books. Maybe listening to great music or to a podcast will do the trick. =)

Another thing that would make this process even better would be to hook it into a web-based book review system, which I may build into that system I’m putting together. That way, I can easily share my book recommendations.

The book “How to Read a Book” has many tips on choosing the appropriate approach for books and processing them effectively.

OCR works really well for me. Try it out!

Notes from Enterprise 2.0 and knowledge management talk at Schulich

February 11, 2009 - Categories: enterprise2.0, talk

Thanks to Michael Woloszynowicz for typing up these notes from my talk last night!

Recording of Enterprise 2.0 and Knowledge Management lecture

February 11, 2009 - Categories: enterprise2.0, kaizen, presentation, talk

So here’s my first experiment with publishing a picture-in-picture recording of one of presentations – specifically, the presentation I did last night.

[kml_flashembed movie=”http://sachachua.com/notebook/2009/talks/200802-enterprise2.0-and-knowledge-management-3/200802-enterprise2.0-and-knowledge-management-3_controller.swf?csConfigFile=http://sachachua.com/notebook/2009/talks/200802-enterprise2.0-and-knowledge-management-3/200802-enterprise2.0-and-knowledge-management-3_config.xml” height=”355″ width=”560″ /]

Slides and class notes
Planning the talk

Lessons learned:

To make this even better next time, I can:

Kaizen – relentless improvement! =)

Weekly review: Week ending February 14, 2009

February 14, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

In addition, I:

Happiness. =) (And Inbox Zero, for the most part!)

Over this weekend and next week, I plan to:

Luke looking up

February 15, 2009 - Categories: cat, photography

Luke looking up

Reflections on presentation; looking for a coach

February 19, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, speaking

Photo (c)
helios89, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license

“So, who’s your mentor? Who’s on the hook for you?” asked my manager during our one-on-one session. He had been reading my posts about presentations and meetings, and he wanted to know what–or who–could help me take it to the next level. I was very good at sharing my enthusiasm and technical knowledge with others. If I could figure out how to communicate with managers and executives, I can do even more.

I told him that I still get nervous in small meetings and I still let my enthusiasm run away with me, and that I’d like to learn how to talk to different perspectives, personalities, and learning styles. I also shared how I’d been thinking about getting a presentation or speaking coach. I enjoy giving presentations and it seems I can create a lot of value with them, so it makes sense to learn how to do them really, really well. I’m particularly interested in learning how to do remote presentations and small in-person meetings well. Remote presentations and video will give me much more reach, and small in-person meetings are similar to the kind of work we do in consulting.

After our meeting, I thought about what could help me get even better at communicating in both large presentations and small meetings.

I’d been to Toastmasters in the past, and I had completed the ten-speech introductory program that earned me the Competent Communicator designation. I appreciated the structure of each meeting and the clear objectives for each speech, and the contests and international conventions were great places to see good speakers. In my weekly Toastmasters meeting with a downtown club, though, I found myself wanting more. I needed:

Presentation skills: content, organization, and delivery

Many public speaking courses focus on the mechanics of delivery. There’s certainly a lot of value in polishing technique: eliminating “ums” and “ahs”; learning how to use pauses, body language, and props; using rhetorical structures and dynamic voice. If you want to improve your delivery and gain confidence, Toastmasters is a good way to do it.

I’m pretty happy with the way I deliver presentations. I can improve my delivery in small-group meetings, but that’s probably a matter of practice. I’m a good presenter, regularly receiving high ratings. Although my current toolkit of delivery techniques don’t cover all situations, I do pretty well.

What would make a real difference, however, is getting _really_ good at content and organization. Based on my Toastmasters experience, I think it and other public speaking resources are great at teaching delivery, but don’t go into as much depth when it comes to content and organization.

There’s no shortcut to developing good content. I need experience, and I need to learn as much as I can from other people. I’m doing several things to increase my chances of stumbling across good content:

Good content is good, but good content combined with good organization is memorable and effective. This is where illustrations, mnemonics, alliteration, storytelling, and other structures come in handy. If I can learn how to get really good at organizing ideas, I’ll be able to apply that skill to writing, speaking, and other things I do. Here’s what I’m doing to learn more about organizing content:

Stay tuned for more posts about role models, long or remote talks, and coaching!

Creative encouragement and following passion

February 19, 2009 - Categories: life, passion

Over lunch at the Craft Burger at Yonge and Bloor, Stephen Brickell and David Ing gave me advice about life, careers, and all sorts of other great things. (I’m such a lucky newbie!) Here’s a story from that conversation that I knew I just had to share with others.

Photo (c) 2007 grendelkhan (Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 License)

Stephen told me about the advice he had recently given Philip, his 18-year-old son. Philip had initially thought of taking engineering in university, probably because that was what he felt his parents wanted him to do. Stephen and his wife reminded their son that while they were happy to give advice, it was ultimately Philip’s decision, and he should take full responsibility for it. Stephen also shared how people who find and follow their passion end up doing much better than people who just focus on the money.

After a lot of consideration, Philip realized that he was really interested in horticulture. He worried that he’d regret taking horticulture instead of a more promising (and lucrative) career. What if he made a mistake and it wasn’t his passion after all? He didn’t feel that it wasn’t a university-type course, and he knew that his parents strongly wanted him to go to university.

Stephen told him that with global warming and other changes, food is going to become even more important – and an expertise in horticulture could very well be a way to make money. He also encouraged Philip to keep an eye out for opportunities to connect studies, entrepreneurship, and other things. For example, Philip enjoyed the culinary arts course he took in high school, and he could combine that with horticulture and entrepreneurship by growing restaurant-quality herbs in a greenhouse.

What I liked was the creative encouragement that Stephen gave. We’ve all heard advice to “do what you love and the money will follow,” but Stephen went one step further and helped Philip imagine concrete ways to make money doing what he loves.

What if Philip made a mistake and horticulture wasn’t what he really loved to do? Stephen reassured him that even if it was a perfect fit for him now, there’s still a chance that he’ll change his mind, grow out of it, or discover something new–and that’s okay. When that happens, Philip can just figure things out again. (And he might be surprised at how much of his skills he can transfer over to whatever new field he becomes interested in!)

I liked the way that Stephen made it clear that it’s okay not to figure everything out the first time around, and that life is about continuous learning.

What about university? Stephen said that he wanted his son to attend university because it would expand his mind. That said, Philip could go to university later, or take a business degree, or learn about all of these things later. Horticulture seemed to be a better fit at the moment, and the credits that Philip could earn there would be recognized by partner schools.

I liked the way that they had clearly thought out reasons for university, but they weren’t tied to the convention of university immediately after high school.

I’m glad Stephen shared that story with me. I asked him right away if I could share it with others, and he was happy to agree. There are a lot of interesting things in that story that I’d like to learn how to do well, particularly when it comes to encouraging others to find their passions and create opportunities.

Scaffolds and structures

February 20, 2009 - Categories: development, drupal, kaizen

I often talk about leverage and scale: creating as much value as I can for as many people as I can. Now that I’ve been with IBM for a while, I see the personal benefits of that practice in the assignments I get and the help I offer my coworkers. In a way, I build scaffolds to help people to do more.

Scaffolding Photo (c) 2008 Kevin Dooley (Creative Commons Attribution License)

One of the ways I’ve contributed to my team is by integrating a regression-testing framework into our Drupal project.On the team call last Tuesday, the project manager asked if everyone had seen the e-mail he had sent about testing, and if anyone had any comments. I reported that I had built the features that were assigned to me, but I was waiting for someone else to confirm testing. He asked if we could look into automated regression tests, too. I laughed and said we’d had them for months. I had even integrated them into the build and deployment script I’d written, but the other developers said that running the whole regression suite of project-related tests took too much time, so I turned that off. Still, I regularly ran full regression tests on my system, using customized versions of Drush and Simpletest.

I enjoy doing things like that: completing my tasks ahead of schedule and using the rest of the time to think of ways to optimize how people work. =) Kaizen – relentless improvement!

What does wild success look like? Kaizen and life; tweaking mornings

February 21, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, life, reflection

Photo © 2009 david.nikonvscanon (Creative Commons Attribution License)

“What does wild success look like?” I often ask that question when I want to clarify what we want to do and how we want to get there. I ask myself that question as well. If I could be wildly successful at whatever I want to do, what would life look like? Sketching a picture of what I want or writing about how it feels helps me figure out what kind of life I’d like to grow into, and the vision helps me figure out what I need to do to get there.

Sometimes I think about grand things, like the kind of difference I’d like to make. Sometimes I focus on the mechanics and the details – what does the day feel like? What are my routines? Who do I talk to? Both perspectives help me flesh out my sketch.

Sure, there are erasures as I change my mind, smudges as I blend different colors together, and lots of different versions of wild success depending on what I’m thinking about or how I’m feeling, but it’s a terrific tool for thinking long-term.

For example, here’s something I scribbled down on my iPod Touch while on the subway:

I wake up at 5:00 AM to opera, light, colors, cats, kisses, or whatever gives me a great start to my day. I exercise a little to get my blood flowing, and I have a healthy breakfast of steel-cut oats or fresh fruit. Then I gear up for a morning of creative work, settling into a comfy chair or setting up on the kitchen table for a four-hour session of brainstorming, writing code, and preparing articles and presentations. I snack on fruit and nuts along the way. I have a light lunch or head out to lunch with friends. Then I tackle more routine tasks: responding to mail, following up, editing and formatting documents, testing code, taking care of chores, reviewing delegated work, and other things. I make dinner and enjoy it with people I love, and spend the rest of the evening reading or enjoying people’s company. After tidying up and taking care of other things, I go to bed, happy with the work I did that day.

There’s more to it than that, and there are multiple versions too, but this is the one we’ll focus on for this blog post.

One of the advantages of envisioning wild success is that you often realize that it’s not too difficult to make it happen. The routine I’ve outlined doesn’t look too different from my typical day working at home. Because I’ve sketched the different components of my “ideal day”, I can start testing those parts to see if I can fit them into my life and if they really do contribute to happiness.

For example, I’ve been testing out this early-morning wakeup thing. I know that waking up and rushing through my morning routine is Not Fun. I also know that I enjoy creating “flow” space to do creative work in the early morning, and that I enjoy making breakfast for W- and J-. So an early morning wake-up time makes sense to me. But there are a couple of things I need to figure out in order to make this really work:

So if I want to wake up even happier and have even more productive mornings (which is difficult if I feel tired or stressed), I can tweak my life so that:

Then I’ll be a little bit closer to figuring out what a wildly successful day looks and feels like… =)

What does your ideal day look like?

Photo © 2009 david.nikonvscanon (Creative Commons Attribution License)

LifeCampTO: Tweaking the plan!

February 22, 2009 - Categories: event

Yesterday, Jordan Baker and I had a great conversation about how to make LifeCampTO even better. We wanted to figure out how to give people more time for quick connections and discussion. =)

So here’s the plan for the next LifeCampTO:

Intros: (10:30 – 11:00, 30 minutes) – 2 minutes per person, strict.
Come prepared with the ONE THING you _most_ want help with and the ONE THING you’re really good at and want to offer help with. We’ll keep the number system and use that to track who wants to contact whom after the meeting. Some people missed connections because neither person wrote down numbers, so we’ll keep a running tally on a whiteboard or a projected spreadsheet. If you don’t want your e-mail address to be included in the automatic matchmaking list, tell me during the event and I can make a note of that. Numbers might be pre-assigned before the event, and you can post your intros then, too. Come early and eat brunch. =)
Small Conversations (11:00-11:40, 40 minutes):
5 rounds of 6 minutes each, with a few minutes between for a mad scramble to find the next person you wanted to talk to. A timer will announce the halfway mark so that people can switch to offer help to the other, if they require this prompting. If people feel up to paying a small fee, we can arrange for appetizers to appear.
Large Conversations (11:40-12:30, 50 minutes):
2 rounds of 20 minutes each, for large topics that bubble out of the introductions. People can self-organize into whatever-size groups they want to talk about stuff. Ideal time to grab a quick snack.

Think Tank (12:30-12:45, 15 minutes):
Someone wins the think tank lottery! The lucky winner shares his or her goal/challenge/topic of interest and we collectively brainstorm how to help.
Wrap-up (12:45-12:50, 5 minutes):
Thanks, follow-ups, etc. People are invited to stay and chat over lunch with new-found connections. If you have any additional connections you want me to make, give me the numbers and I’ll update my spreadsheet.

After the event, I will run my super-fantastic automatic matchmaking thing to connect people with other people through e-mail (omitting e-mail addresses for those who opted out of the process). You can then take that information and schedule your own followups.

So that’s the plan. Now, we can either make a mad scramble for it and do it on February 28 (a week’s notice!), or have the next one on March 28 or 29 or so. Personally, I’ve got a few talks coming up and I may need some time to cram, so I’d prefer to postpone. But hey, if you want to get together and make it happen, go ahead and run with it! =)

Looking forward to experimenting!

On the other side of the (virtual) desk

February 23, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, management

If I’m going to take over the world, I need to learn how to delegate. ;)

It’s a simple matter of mathematics. There are only so many hours in the day. I can’t achieve infinite productivity. Scaling up means figuring out how to work with others and how to delegate.

The traditional way of learning how to delegate involves being promoted to a management role, and that takes time and opportunity. With a little of the money I’ve set aside for my Crazy Idea Fund, I can experiment with delegation and personal outsourcing now. (Naturally, I delegate only non-IBM-confidential things.)

I interviewed almost 10 candidates out of more than 40 who applied. I’ve hired five people on a trial basis and assigned them a few tasks. In the process, I learned so much already! <laugh>

So the next thing that would make this VA experiment better would be to give people a four-hour task (perhaps building on what they’ve already done), and then continue with those who can keep up. I can also reevaluate my budget for the experiment, maybe add some more so that I can give people longer tasks and get a better sense of how people work, and then go from there. I think it’s worth continuing to invest in learning how to delegate, and it would be awesome to eventually build a support structure that can help me scale.

I suspect that after a short trial, I won’t find anyone whose skills will blow me away–but that goes back to what I’ve reflected on before, with employers who expect that people will have all the necessary skills right off the bat.

Yes, some people will figure out what they want to learn and invest time in learning those things. It would be awesome if I come across someone like that – but then I would want them to do more in life than handle other people’s web research and calendars! ;) So in the long run, I think it makes sense for me to invest in improving people’s skills.

Managers and companies sometimes complain that the people they invest in end up moving on. It’s okay if people “graduate” from working with me and go on to do other things. That’d be terrific, and it would give me even more return on my effort! In the meantime, the training materials I build to help people learn how to work can help the next person, and the next person, and so on. In fact, having more newbies go through the system would be great for improving it.

Writing this blog post seems to have fleshed out my reasons for doing this experiment, and what I can do with it… Can’t wait to learn even more!

Feel free to use your laptop or your phone in my talks! I love the backchannel

February 24, 2009 - Categories: presentation, speaking, web2.0

If you ever find yourself in any of my face-to-face presentations, please feel free to bring out your computer, your phone, or whatever else you use. It’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. I love it.

Some people–particularly presenters–hate it when others have their laptops open and are typing away. They feel it’s disrespectful and distracting.

Me? I love it when people have their laptops or phones open. Go ahead. Liveblog. Chat on the backchannel. Look up stuff I mention. Write things down on your TODO list. Doodle if you want to.

And yes, if there’s something else on your mind that you’re worrying about–a report that’s due, an emergency that just came up–by all means go ahead and work on it, because even if I instituted a no-laptops-or-phones-open policy, you’d still be thinking about it anyway. Better that I’m there in the background for you to catch an interesting snippet and look up (thanks to the cocktail party effect), than for you to resent me for taking up valuable time and making it difficult for you to edge out of the door in a graceful manner. (Because you sat up front, right? Best seats in the house.)

And if I can’t keep you interested enough so that you don’t get distracted by mail or I Can Has Cheezburger, then that’s my own fault. ;)

I’m not afraid of the backchannel–the online conversations that go on behind the scenes, a scaled-up version of passing notes and whispering in the crowd. If you’re talking about the ideas that I’m presenting, fantastic! I’ve engaged you in a much better way than I could ever have if you just sat there passively listening. If you’re looking up examples I’ve quoted and bookmarking them for later reading, hooray! I’ve said something that’s sparked your interest, and you’ll take it from there. If you’re asking or answering questions about what I’m saying, wow! You jumpstart the discussion and save other people from being confused. If you’re liveblogging what I’m talking about, you help even more people learn from it, and you give me even more results on the time and effort I invested in preparing the presentation.

I wish all of my talks had backchannels! One of the things I love about giving virtual presentations is that I can open up a backchannel where everyone–even the non-Tweeters–can chat about what we’re talking about, and that conversation is easy to watch while I’m giving the presentation. That means that I can see what people are picking up on, what people are curious or confused about, what questions people have–without interrupting my flow or introducing too many awkward pauses for questions. I’ve seen people provide further examples and answer each other’s questions, and that helps me learn even more while I’m giving the presentation.

What I love about the backchannel is that it changes the entire dynamic. It’s not about me, presenter, speaking at you, audience. It’s about all of us learning together. My job isn’t to be a high-and-mighty expert with all the answers. My job is to spark interest, facilitate conversation, and connect the dots. The backchannel not only democratizes the actual talk, acknowledging the expertise and interest you bring, but it also extends our reach and starts bigger conversations.

Recent example: I was giving a virtual presentation on Totally Rocking Your Drupal Development Environment. The backchannel let me quickly poll people and collect their questions and tips.

Another example: I was on the Generation Y panel at the City of Toronto Web 2.0 Summit. The venue had WiFi, so I checked out the Twitter backchannel on my iPod Touch. Thanks to Twitter, I could tell that people were dissatisfied with the slow and moderated online questions process, skeptical of the event and the speakers, and interested in engaging further. I announced that I’d be watching the Twitter backchannel, and during our panel, I kept an eye on the questions and comments that flowed past. That let me shape what I said to incorporate other people’s perspectives and points of view, and that totally rocked.

And next time, I may even have Twitter breaks. ;) And I may put up a sign directing people to sit on the left side or the right side depending on whether they want to engage in the backchannel, so that others who are easily distracted by the clackety-clack of fingers on a keyboard can cluster together. I don’t think I can arrange for beanbags in the front for bloggers, though – that requires more planning than most of my talks have. ;)

Go ahead. Make my day! =) Next time you’re in one of my session, join the conversation. We’ll all learn so much more if you do.

Inspired by Olivia Mitchell’s excellent post on How to Present While People are Twittering

UPDATE: Also check out Beth Kanter’s blog post with lots of links to resources on backchannels: The art of the backchannel at conferences: tips, reflections, and resources

UPDATE: … and Olivia Mitchell’s follow-up at Is Twitter a good thing while you’re presenting? (thanks to Beth for the reminder!)

VA Days: Calendar Management

February 24, 2009 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Hey, this actually does work. =) I experimented with outsourcing calendar management, and the results so far are promising.

I invested some time in writing detailed calendar management instructions, and then I forwarded details for five events I’d like to arrange over the next couple of weeks. The VA I assigned the task to entered in all the details. The only part she forgot was to create appointments on my tentative calendar for each of the events, but that’s okay. The oDesk work diary shows me that she created them, but they were on her own calendar.

She took an hour to set up her account and type in the events, and she’ll probably do things even faster next time. And the process works! =)

Here’s my process so far:

Calendar Management

I use AgreeADate (http://www.agreeadate.com) to set up appointments, and Google Calendar (http://calendar.sachachua.com) for my calendar.

To find timezones agreeable to people, use this Meeting Planner: http://timeanddate.com/worldclock/meeting.html. I am okay with meetings after 7:00 AM EST and before 11:00 PM EST (Canada – Ontario – Toronto).
To convert between timezones, use http://timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html.

See XXX for password information.

Setting up potential appointments

  1. Open my main Google calendar in a separate window so that you can see when I’m available. You can access it at XXXXX with your username and password.
  2. Log on to http://www.agreeadate.com with the given username and password in Accounts and Passwords.
  3. Click on “Add a New Event”.
  4. Set up basic event details.
  1. Type in the event title (and venue, for in-person events), and the duration I specified
    Preferred venues:
    • Lunch during weekdays
    • Ichiriki – Japanese – 120 Bloor Street E, Toronto  Hours: 11:45 – 2:30?
    • Camros Eatery (http://www.camroseatery.com/) – Vegan Hours: M-F 11:30am to 7:30pm  (no travel time necessary)
    • Weekends: Linux Caffe (http://www.linuxcaffe.ca) – 326 Harbord Street, Toronto. Hours: M-F: 7am to 11pm, Sat 10am to 11pm, Sun 10am to 5pm
  2. Set AgreeADate to send a reminder 1 day before the event. 
  3. Add additional text:
    • If people have not indicated their phone numbers, add

Please use the “Send message to host” feature to send me the phone numbers / Skype ID I can reach you at just in case something comes up.

  • For phone appointments, include the following segment in the Additional text box:

    Times are given in Eastern Standard Time. If you need to change the timezone, use the link on the AgreeADate reply page labeled

    “Not your time zone? To convert time zone click here.”

    Sacha Chua’s contact information
    Skype ID: XXX
    Mobile number: XXX
    Work number: XXX
    E-mail: XXX

  • For in-person appointments, include the following segment in the Additional text box:

    Sacha Chua’s contact information
    Mobile number: XXX
    Work number: XXX
    E-mail: XXX

  • Click on the Next step.
  • Set up dates
    1. Offer 3-5 choices, making sure that they don’t conflict with events on my main or tentative calendars.
    1. For in-person meetings, I prefer lunch (12:00 PM – 1:00 PM) or coffee/tea/hot chocolate (any time between 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM), preferably on a Thursday or Friday
    2. For phone meetings, I prefer calls on Saturday or Sunday (9:00 AM – 9:00 PM), preferring Saturday afternoon
  • Create Google Calendar events for each slot on the Tentative calendar. That way, I can glance at my main calendar + tentative calendar to see where I might potentially have appointments.
  • Click on the next step.
  • Invite people.
    1. Type in the e-mail addresses of everyone I want to invite. You can generally skip the names, although I’ll ask you if I need the names typed in.
    2. Click on “Save changes.” DO NOT SEND INVITATIONS YET.
    3. E-mail me at XXX with a link to the event to tell me that it’s ready for review.

    When I ask you to copy the calendar information:

    1. Open the event on http://www.agreeadate.com.
    2. Click on Review and Select.
    3. Open my Google Calendar in another window.
    4. For each confirmed slot, update the corresponding calendar event. Set the event title to the event subject and invitee name(s). Copy any contact details (see the bottom for the messages sent to the host, and your e-mail for other contact information) into the body of the calendar event. Move the event to the main calendar.
    5. If all the appointments in this event have been confirmed, delete the other tentative calendar events from my tentative Google Calendar.
    6. Report completion through e-mail in your status update.

    I use the Google Labs “Canned Responses” feature to set up the following mail template:

    Hello, XXX!

    Could you please set up the following event:

    Event type:
    Your timezone: Leave this at Eastern Time
    Dates and times:


    Additional text:

    For your reference:

    Link to calendar management instructions: XXX
    Link to accounts/passwords: XXX
    AgreeADate site: http://www.agreeadate.com
    Google Calendar: XXX


    Weekly report: Week ending Feb 22, 2009 (yes, a bit late)

    February 25, 2009 - Categories: weekly

    From last week:

    In addition, I

    … but as is usually the case when I write late weekly reports, there’s a lot more that has slipped away because I hadn’t written it down somewhere. =|

    Next week (or what’s left of this week, really):

    Your subconscious is your friend

    February 26, 2009 - Categories: life

    What do you dream about?
    Sleeping cat (c) 2006 dominiqs81 Creative Commons Attribution License

    I often have vivid dreams about upcoming important events. If I have a presentation the next day, I dream about waking up too late, forgetting the presentation, or forgetting what I have to say. If I have an upcoming trip, I dream about little things that could go wrong, like not having an up-to-date passport.

    I often recognize that I’m dreaming, and I can influence the way my dreams run. For example, I might repeat a scenario again and again until I figure out a good way to deal with it, or I might explore something else.

    Sometimes I prime the pump by thinking of upcoming tasks or events right before I go to sleep, letting my brain think about what can go wrong and what can go really well. Other times, I’ll think of a problem I’m trying to solve or something I’d like to figure out, and I’ll let my brain play with it while I sleep. On more than one occasion, I’ve dreamt in code. (It’s very strange!)

    It’s helpful. I think of things I might not remember in real life, and I get to practice different scenarios until I’m comfortable with the way I deal with them.

    Try it out. When you go to sleep tonight, ask your dreaming self to spend some time thinking about what’s on your mind. =)

    Photo credits: Sleeping cat © 2006 dominiqs81 Creative Commons Attribution License.

    VA Days: Refining web research process for virtual assistance

    February 28, 2009 - Categories: kaizen

    I do a lot of web research, and I’d like to be able to outsource that to a virtual assistant. Web research is also one of the common services offered by virtual assistants. My coworkers tell me that I find information on the Net very quickly. If I can teach those skills to virtual assistants I work with, then we’ll all benefit.

    What’s different about the way I do things? I think the following factors affect my speed:

    I want to help my virtual assistants learn how to work like this, or to refine their own process for finding information on the Internet. Here’s the process I’ve documented so far.

    There are several kinds of web research I might ask you to do. Sometimes, all I want is a brief overview of available resources, with excerpts for ease of scanning. Other times, I want to find specific examples. Yet other times, I want to fact-check something, or re-find something I’d seen before.

    These instructions are for doing web research to get a brief overview.

    Output: At the end of your Web research, I would love to get a list with lots of hyperlinks and with the key excerpts from your reading. You can create a page on this Google Site. I would also greatly appreciate it (and you probably will too) if you use a social bookmarking website to bookmark interesting pages as you come across them.

    Preparation – using del.icio.us:

    I’d like you to still be able to take advantage of your bookmarks and your research even if you decide to stop working as a VA or work for someone else. One way to do that seems to be to use social bookmarks. I find that del.icio.us is the easiest one to use and share.

    1. Go to http://del.icio.us and register for an account.
    2. Follow the instructions to add the buttons to your browser. If you want, you can also install the del.icio.us extension for your browser.
    3. Go to http://del.icio.us/sachac and click on Add to my Network. E-mail me your user ID.

    Now let’s try bookmarking.

    1. Go to one of your favorite sites for learning. (If you don’t have one, now is a good time to quickly look for one!)
    2. Click on the Bookmark on Delicious button to pop up a window. Copy an excerpt or type in a short description of the page in the Notes text field. For Tags, use for:sachac plus whatever other keywords you feel describes the content. You can use as many keywords as you wish. Separate keywords with spaces. If this is for a web research project, add the keywords for the project too. It may help to have a text editor open with for:sachac and the project keywords, so you can just copy and paste them in.
    3. Click on Save.

    See my bookmarks at http://del.icio.us/sachac for examples. In particular, I tend to be good at remembering to grab excerpts for http://delicious.com/sachac/web20forbiz . Compare a few of those bookmarks against the original pages to see what I focus on.

    ADVANCED TIP: If you’re comfortable with Mozilla Firefox, install the Ubiquity add-on and go through the tutorial. You will then be able to create del.icio.us bookmarks by typing Ctrl-space share-on-delicious description tagged tags. Bonus: It remembers the tags from the last time you called it. You don’t have to type in the full “share-on-delicious” command – use TAB to autocomplete.

    So here’s my recommended process for doing web research:

    1. Start by searching Google. Google News (http://news.google.com) and Google Blog Search (http://blogsearch.google.com) often give you newer content than a straightforward search on http://www.google.com does. On Google Blog Search, try both Sort by Relevance and Sort by date to find interesting and recent posts.
    2. Quickly scan the first page of results. When you see a promising page, use Ctrl+click to open it in a new tab. Continue scanning the first page of results, opening pages in new tabs. You’ll probably have lots of tabs open.
    3. Go to the first tab and scan the text. You don’t need to read everything. Just look for the key point(s) of the webpage or article. This is usually near the end. Keep an eye out for specific examples, results, and tips. Sometimes, there’s nothing worth copying, because the article or post just repeats other things you’ve already read. If there is something worth saving, though:
      1. Click on the Bookmark on Delicious button and make a bookmark for it, following the instructions outlined in the previous section.
      2. If I’ve asked you to prepare a report in another format or a longer format, copy the information into that document or spreadsheet, including a link to the webpage.
      3. Use Ctrl+w or the tab close button (if any) to close the tab, and process the next one. Repeat until you’ve finished all the tabs.
    4. Look at the next page of results. Repeat the process until you feel that it’s getting hard to find useful articles or posts.
    5. Try a different search query and explore. As you briefly scan the webpages you’re bookmarking, you’ll get a sense of other words people use to describe things. Try searching for those synonyms. By looking at the first few pages of results, you can get an idea of whether that search will get you new information. You can also check your del.icio.us bookmarks list by going to http://del.icio.us and clicking on your username. If any of your bookmarks have a number in a box on the right side, that means more than one person has bookmarked the same page. Click on the number to see the list of people and the tags they’ve used to categorize that bookmark. Explore by clicking on people’s tags to view _their_ bookmarks, and so on. You can follow links from interesting articles, too.

    At the end of this, you’ll have:

    • a whole list of bookmarked sites, which I can automatically check out (with your excerpts), and which will be available to you even if you decide to work with other people or stop working as a VA, =)
    • maybe an additional report (documents go in this Google Site, spreadsheets should be created in Documents and shared with me at sacha@sachachua.com; files can be e-mailed to me if you run into problems or can’t figure out how to share the information),
    • and a lot of new knowledge. Hooray!

    If I asked for a report, I’ll look at that first, and I’ll also look at my del.icio.us inbox (which contains all of those things that were tagged for me).

    Please feel free to ask questions or make suggestions on how we can improve this process!

    We’re going to try this new process out next week. =)

    VA Days: Rethinking web search and virtual assistance

    February 28, 2009 - Categories: kaizen

    While preparing a 6-minute demo of the way I use del.icio.us and Ubiquity to organize my web research, I had an aha! moment about how I find things on the Web.

    You see, the process I outlined for web research is about finding and bookmarking lots of pages, but what I really find useful isn’t compiling a list of individual pages: it’s finding one or two sites — or one or two people — who keep large, up-to-date collections of information. For example, in that search for Government 2.0-related sites, the key resources are a Government 2.0 Best Practices wiki and this Gov 2.0 Resource Center. Both pages are packed with examples.

    The first priority in web research, then, is to identify those key resources: lists that compile links to other resources, and bloggers who filter lots of news and post what’s going on. I can review the list and add the bloggers to my Google Reader. Only if these resources have not yet emerged will I find lots of individual pages useful. In essence, what I’m doing is building a network of mavens. I don’t need to know everything myself, but I need to know who would know or where to find information I want.

    Along the way, I also discovered Ubiquity goodness. =) It’s made social bookmarking so much easier.

    Anyway, here’s a demo of how I find things on the Net: