About Al Stevens

Al Stevens has spent his career applying advanced information technology to solve complex problems. His expertise includes open source technologies, cloud computing, network architecture, complex web hosting, data bases, XML, semantic modeling and technology sourcing.
Author Archive | Al Stevens

Replace a word with librarian — Twitter fun

In case you missed it, there’s an entertaining hashtag game going on right now on Twitter. There’s been a few of these before, but this one seems to have brought out a particularly high level of creativity — a trait well represented in the librarian community. To play, take a phrase and replace one word with “librarian”. For example — brief pause while I check the twitter feed — pick a line from Lord of the Rings:

“A librarian is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.” # — Tim Chase ‏@gumnos

Here’s a few from the last couple of days:

To follow the stream, search for the hashtag #replaceawordwithlibrarian, or just use this link: replaceawordwithlibrarian.

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Goodby Google Docs, hello Google Drive

Twitter is alive with comments now that people have actually read the Google Drive transition notes. Google Docs will be gone be the end of the summer, replaced by Google Drive. A few key points:

Google Drive is being gradually rolled out. We expect to finish the transition from the Google Documents List to Google Drive by late summer (2012).

In the earliest stages, Google Drive will be available as an “opt-in” upgrade. It will later become the default web interface, but you will be able to opt-out if you prefer more time to transition from the existing Google Documents List. In the final stages of the transition, users will no longer be able to opt out and Google Drive on the web will replace the current Google Documents List interface for all users.

Early opinions are mixed. On the plus side, Google Drive is an upgrade to Google Docs that comes with extra storage. On the negative, it’s not clear how well Google Drive will play with other apps like DropBox and SkyDrive, a concern we reported in an earlier post.

Using Google Drive you are still able to create docs, share them, search, preview and sort them. Some things will change. Collections are now be called folders; new views have been to the Settings menu; the Home view is gone, replaced with My Drive to organize all of your files, folders and Google Docs. New features include the ability to sync files between all of your devices, a new visual view called the grid view and the ability to work with more file types by installing Google Drive Apps from the Chrome Web Store.

Whether you see it as a plus, or a minus, there’s no choice. If your a Google Docs user, by the end of the summer, you’ll be a Google Drive user. Google has published a help page on what’s different to get you started: Google Drive versus your Documents List.

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The value’s in the content

Data Conversion Laboratory has released their April, 2012 industry survey focused on the role content plays in corporations. Almost half of the respondents said that content makes up half of their companies’ value. Nearly one-third estimated that corporate content makes up 75% of company value! As DCL says, “That’s quite an incredible acknowledgement of the shift in corporate value.”

The results are not specific to large corporations. The respondents came from a cross sections of companies, both in size and in business area – manufacturers, high technology companies, publishers and pharmaceutical companies.

The survey also shows that XML acceptance is here – 25% report that all their content is in XML and another 50% report some of their content is in XML.

Another, maybe not so surprising result, is that the main reason driving conversion to XML is for presentation to the customer – 83% want their information converted for their customers.

The biggest concerns? Shortage of expertise and cost were both reported by 96% of the respondents.

The results are summarized in more detail on the DCL website: Content is Where the Real Value Resides In Corporations

Helping organizations develop a content strategy is one of our specialties at Unlimited Priorities. You can see more on this website at: Content Licensing, Outsourcing and Production.

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Security is better in the cloud

It’s usually one of the first questions we get asked when we talk about the advantages of the cloud: “Is the cloud secure?” The questions take other forms. “Will someone steal my data?” “Am I more likely to get hacked?”

When asked, we point out the reasons that cloud computing is actually more secure:

  • Your applications and data aren’t sitting in an unattended server room
  • Encryption is difficult to fully implement on your own – service providers do it
  • Cloud service providers use state-of-the-art security systems
  • Software updates are routinely done by service providers – out of date software is one of the biggest risks
  • Controlling copies is a lot easier

Microsoft has just released a survey of small and midsized business that reinforces these points. The survey shows that businesses using the cloud spend noticeably less time and money worrying about security then they did prior to the move.

The study shows that 35 percent of U.S. companies surveyed have experienced noticeably higher levels of security since moving to the cloud. In addition, 32 percent say they spend less time worrying about the threat of cyberattacks. U.S. SMBs using the cloud also spend 32 percent less time each week managing security than companies not using the cloud. They are also five times more likely to have reduced what they spend on managing security as a percentage of overall IT budget.

The press releas is here: Cloud Computing Security Benefits Dispel Adoption Barrier for Small to Midsize Businesses

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Why You Should Build Your Apps on a Cloud Platform

At Unlimited Priorities we’re strong believers in cloud-based computing. We’ve said “It’s transforming the way computing services are delivered by providing unheard of flexibility, increased reliability and drastically decreasing costs.” (See our Cloud Computing page.)

A post today by Scott Fulton on ReadWriteWeb argues that most apps today should be built in the cloud.

A key point of the article is this. As an application provider your business is to deliver service. Traditionally, applications delivered that functionality running on clients’ platforms. Running there, it becomes a slave to the browser and the operating system. Two major changes now make it possible to remove these constraints:

  • Low cost highly available bandwidth makes it possible to run major parts of an application on a server.
  • There’s a healthy and growing cloud platform market, with many players offering innovative and inexpensive services to support these applictions.

These two changes make it much easier for development teams in small to medium sized companies to focus their skills on the application not the platform it runs on.

The entire article, along with a list of platform service providers is here:

Why You Should Build Your Apps on a Cloud Platform – And How to Choose the Right One

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NFAIS Workshop — Digital Information and User Behavior: Transforming Libraries, Content, and Learning

The National Federation of Advanced Information Services (NFAIS) has just announced a one day workshop, Digital Information and User Behavior: Transforming Libraries, Content, and Learning.

The emergence of e-content, search engines and the Web more than twenty years ago has shaped a new generation of information seekers. How they access, read, and use information is fundamentally different from the behavior created by the print medium. This new behavior is transforming library infrastructures and services, is driving the conversion of books and textbooks into innovative tools for education, and is changing how traditional reference information is accessed and delivered.

How has information behavior changed in academia? What new library infrastructures are being tested? Is a totally virtual library on the horizon? Are library collections changing and if so, how should the return on library investment being measured? Is the use of e-books and e-textbooks increasing significantly? How is the use of all this digital material changing the educational experience? And how are traditional reference works being delivered to meet the needs of today’s academic libraries and the users that they serve? This workshop will attempt to answer these questions and more as we take a look at the ongoing impact of digital information usage behavior on those who serve the information seeker.

The one day workshop will be held June 15, 2012 in Philadelphia. Virtual attendance is possible.

The Agenda includes:

  • Digital information and the Evolution of the Library
  • Measuring the ROI of Today’s Libraries
  • Trends in Global e-Book Consumption
  • Digital Reference Tools, e-Textbooks, and the Transformation of Learning
  • Digital Information Usage Trends

Session details and registration information are available from NFAIS as a downloadable PDF: program and registration forms.

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The Internet without Google or Facebook

Make even general predictions about the future is hard. Making predictions about the future of technology is very hard. Making predictions about the future of the Internet is, well, extremely hard. This piece by Eric Jackson on Forbes goes for the extremely hard, and tries to be specific as well.

We think of Google and Facebook as Web gorillas. They’ll be around forever. Yet, with the rate that the tech world is moving these days, there are good reasons to think both might be gone completely in 5 – 8 years.

The brief history of Internet companies has many examples of companies that were Web Gorillas, but failed to adapt the the rapid changes: Netscape, MySpace and Yahoo.

With each succeeding generation in tech the Internet, it seems the prior generation can’t quite wrap its head around the subtle changes that the next generation brings.

We’re now in the middle of a mobile revolution where the current Web gorillas are talking about mobile while doing little to embrace it.

Mobile companies born since 2010 have a very different view of the world. These companies – and Instagram is the most topical example at the moment – view the mobile smartphone as the primary (and oftentimes exclusive) platform for their application. They don’t even think of launching via a web site. They assume, over time, people will use their mobile applications almost entirely instead of websites.

Like all predictions about the future, there’s a good chance this one is wrong, but before concluding that, if you remember, think back to the days of Netscape, Alta Vista and AOL. Predicting their demise would have met lots of skepticism as well.

The key of course is to innovate, stay flexible, stay close to your users, and ride the technical wave as it moves forward. Small to medium sized companies have a distinct advantage over the current gorillas. A few of them are in fact likely to displace the current set.

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Join Unlimited Priorities at the NGS 2012 Family History Conference

National Geneological SocietyUnlimited Priorities will be at the NGS 2012 Family History Conference. The Conference will be held at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio from 9–12 May 2012.

Founded in 1903, the National Genealogical Society is dedicated to genealogy education, high research standards, and the preservation of genealogical records. The Arlington, VA-based nonprofit is the premier national society for everyone, from the beginner to the most advanced family historian, seeking excellence in publications, educational offerings, research guidance, and opportunities to interact with other genealogists.

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Another place in the cloud to store your documents: Google Drive

Google DriveLong rumored, now official, Google Drive launched today. Similar to Dropbox, but integrated with Google Docs, it lets you store all of your files in the cloud, and access them from anywhere. The integration with Google Docs makes it easy to share content with others. In addition, because of this integration, you get built in optical character recognition and image based searching. Upload a scanned clipping from a newspaper and, using OCR, search the text of the original.

Prices are comparable to Dropbox and Microsoft’s newly introduced SkyDrive. Up to 5GB is free; 25GB is $2.49/month. A terrabyte goes for $49.95/month.

Which One?

There’s a detailed review in Read Write Web which points out that Dropbox, Skydrive and Google Drive don’t really work well together. They conclude, that because of the integration with other apps you should choose based on the apps. Google Docs and Gmail users should probably go with Drive. Office and Outlook users, should go with SkyDrive. Dropbox leaves you unattached, but mainly because it’s not tied closely to any applications.

There is a privacy issue with Google Drive. Like everything else Google, when you give them your data, they actually use it — mostly to serve up ads, so don’t be surprised if you save a file about your vacation plans and you start seeing ads about resorts in the place you’re going.

The official Google announcement is here in the Google Blog.

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How to Negotiate a Cloud Contract

If you’re considering moving into the cloud, you’ll likely start by do a web search for information. You’ll find thousands of articles on the technology, the terminology, the advantages and the issues. You’ll find very little on what should be in your contract with the provider you eventually choose. There’s two articles in ITWorld which outline the key points that you should consider when signing up for cloud-based services. Not surprisingly, the standard contracts offered by providers benefit the provider. As the customer, you should modify the terms to cover the issues that matter to you.

Some of the issues covered include:

  • Termination, opt-out and automatic renewal clauses
  • Penalties for non-payment
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Vendor sharing of your information with third parties
  • Auto-renewal

Simply signing the contract as offered by the provider can easily leave you with a far less flexible and favorable contract than you’d get if you took an extra hour to review and negotiate the contract terms first.

The articles are here: How to get out of a contract with your cloud provider and How to negotiate a contract with a cloud or SaaS provider

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