Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Why Syndicate My Web Information

I was asked today, "What are the benefits of syndication or creating news feeds?" From a reader's perspective, syndicated feeds make reading the news or information from the web more efficient and possibly more effective. Without syndication and feeds to get news and information of interest, in a haphazard fashion, I use different methods and resources to read news. In most cases, I have to go directly to the web page to get my information. I don't know when updates are made so I must deliberately visit the page (if I remember to).

News items are also emailed to me; examples are AU Daily and Computerworld .What is wrong with getting news through email? With 40 to 80 pieces of legitimate emails a day, news items just clutter my mail box. I manage some of the news items by filtering them into folders, but that too has become inefficient. Another problem is that news items embedded in email requires a click to go to a web page. An example is the way Computerworld displays their news in emails. I must select link to the article to read it. This action opens a browser or replaces the information in my current browser. Additionally, keeping my email mailbox within the required quota is becoming more and more cumbersome. This is even more cumbersome on my hand-held device.

Now that I am using news feeds, I am able to get news and information all in one place. I can read any item of interest, mark the items that I do not want to read as "read", or leave them as they are for later reading. The news reader indicates when a new item has been updated on any given site. Another advantage is that you don't have to manage SPAM in news feeders.

It is a lot more efficient to go to one place for news and read it when I want to. Ben, founder of Trixie Tracker, does a great job explaining how feeds work from a reader's perspective.

A feed reader like Google Reader allows you "to add a list of your favorite blogs to it. When a blog on your list is updated it shows up in your list. Now you don't have to run around checking to see if your favorite blogs have been updated. Instead you'll get an immediate notification when a new post ...is published."

Trying to Create a Listing of News Feeds

I know I am behind the technology curve on this one; I have just started to figure out feeds--rss and atom feeds. I have tackled learning how to create and use feeds by throwing myself into the software I have available. I have not read any instructions, except for one snippet from Microsoft page. My method is akin to opening a box containing the pieces to a brand new bike and starting to put the pieces together without looking at the instructions. After struggling with learning how to use feeds, I will read a few instructions and best practices and listen to an instructional recorded web conference on the subject. Look for another post that will list some resources I find in to use feeds.

What do I want to "fed" to me? In other words what kind of information do I want to see conveniently and regularly. I think of my daily routine when I come to work. I open my browser to my MSN page (it very well could be my Google page or Yahoo page or Alabama Extension home page). The obvious pages I want to see "fed" to me are the pieces of content that are fed to me via email (i.e, the "Word of the Day", "AU Daily" news, Alabama "Extension Daily", ). Then there are those blogs and news web pages that I found of interest (i.e, ediets.com, CTU blog--internal use only). Also, I have found a few personal blogs of interest (a couple of personal blogs from NC State and from CTU staff pages-also). And then there is the information I have to keep up. For example, I need to watch the wiki changes to my contributions in the eXtension wiki.

As I was trying to add these feeds, I came across a couple of bumps in my path. For starters, the AU Daily News does not have a news feed. Not sure why, but I have asked the AU Communications guru about it. Also, the personal blog pages and the internal CTU blog would not allow me to add the feed to the Google Reader or to the Google Home page. I could, however, add them to the IE7 Feeds page. The difference is that these blogs are only available on the AU domain. Google Reader and Google Home page are outside of the domain.
On the eXtension page(s) I could add my watch list of the FAQ section easily, but I was not able to add the collaboration wiki watch list to my feed list.

Where to put feeds? I have to decide where to put my feeds. At my disposal right now, I can put the feeds in IE7, Google Reader, Google Home Page, and my internal AU business home page. As of right now, I like the way IE7 lists my feeds to the right of the web page I am viewing. I also like the way Google Reader manages read and unread feeds.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Individual Influence in Changing Behaviors

In trying to influence others to begin to use technologies, we assume that if we state all the wonderful uses and how the new technologies are better than the current technologies that the potential adopters will adopt the technology just because we say it is a good idea.

My adoption of blogging is only an example of how invoking change is most effective when suggested in one-to-one discussion. This is only my third blog entry. I could have adopted blogging much sooner, but did not. I have known about blogging for many years now and knew it could be useful and easy, but I chose not to blog for fear of criticisms and potentially offended someone. Some researchers say this is a lack of blogging self-efficacy. It was through an individual conversation and a simple statement that helped push me over the stage of contemplation to the stage of preparation.

In organizations, we naively expect adoption will occur by announcing and explaining new technologies to the masses via email, blogs, web and video conferences, and in meetings. Only a small percentage of the individuals in our organization will adopt a new technology after the first announcement.

We've been able to have much better success in changing individuals' perceptions and moving them toward adoption by working with individually working with potential adopters. In one example, while on the phone with a field staff member, Wayne, I mentioned a new technology that he might find useful. Yes, he had read the global email mentioning the technology. But, it was not until a discussion about how the technology could help him personally did he start to consider adopting the technology. He accepted my descriptions of benefits that would be applicable to him.

Mass announcements are really good for introducing change. But these mass communications cannot accomplish what individual encouragement and targeting can do. Prochaska calls this matching the processes to stage to the stage of change which the individual is in. Individual encouragement works best between parties where trust, credibility, and comfortableness exist. Throughout the last 20 years, I have helped Wayne develop technology solutions and have answered support questions. Throughout these years, we built a positive working relationship. Although he could call the helpdesk for answers to most of his questions, he continues to call me. Why? He trusts my judgment and he knows that I know what is important technology is important to him.

After I explain the benefits of the new technology, Wayne decides to try it. He said, "You have never led me astray. Throughout the years, when you said I need to try a new tool, and I tried, it has always been the right decision." This comment is an indication of trust and credibility. I have a proven track-record of success with him. Credibility of the encourager helps the individual make the decision to adopt new technology.

In hard sells, the face-to-face meetings seem to have a better effect on technology adoption. The mass communications are good for introducing a new technology, but individual communications are much more effective at moving individuals toward adoption. This works because individuals within the organization begin to encourage others with an effective ripple of diffusion.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Learning to Blog

I went over the general reason for blogging in my very first blog. Detailed reasons for wanting to learn to blog are 1) to express myself, 2) maybe teach someone something, 3) teach myself something new, 4) determine if blogging is something I should encourage as a viable technology for some of my friends and colleagues, and 5) learn to blog so I can help others in my organization is using and writing for blogs.

Since I was just trying out how to blog, I did not put a lot of thought into where to place my blog. Blogs in my organization are internal and I wanted to blog where others outside our network could get to it. Thus, I eliminated placing the blog on our server. Beyond that consideration, I knew any free blog service would work for my situation. I asked a couple of people. One had used blogspot in the past and another currently uses Google. I decided to go to my google account and blog there. Guess what? Blogspot and Google blogging are one and the same.

The next decision was to name my blog. I thought of deriving a name that would keep me completely anonymous, but decided eventually my blog would not be kept a secret so I came up with a name that folks who know me would understand the name. The name, like me, is not flashy, nor creative. I am still wary to use my last name and many details in my profile. Eventually, these will probably be known.

After I created a blog site, I was in a hurry to get started and did not take notice of things like what the url is, somehow I forgot my Google password in the process, then after while editing I received a note on the toolbar to run a pluggin from Office 2007. Since I am also trying the new Office, I clicked on the option to run the program. During the process, I lost the latest edits on my blog. My thought was "Darn, that was some good writing, too!" Well, I did not say darn, I used the other word. Lesson learned: if you need to install Active X control or some other program for your browser, be sure and save your current edits.

So I started my first blog. First, consideration in writing is who is your audience. Well, in future blogs, the audience may change from blog to blog. Kevin gave us the suggestion to write to a specific person who would be interested in the blog. So for this given blog, I thought of a few Extension county agents who might want to read about my experience of starting a blog in order to get a feel for what the bumps in the road would be like. Specifically, Tim comes to mind. Tim keeps up with the energy industry, although he says he not a prophet, he predicts with much accuracy when the prices at the gas pump will change. He sends his quick synopsis randomly through our internal email system. His reasonings behind the gas pump changes are interesting and are written in short paragraphs. I could imagine his blogging his synopsis, instead of emailing them. So Tim, I am writing to you. In a future blog, Iwill discuss news feeds and how they help make blogging efficient reads.

The blogging edit screen has easy buttons to bold and italicize, create links, and add graphics. Previewing is easy. A spell checker makes my writing much better. Saving the blog as a draft is a good technique because I have terrible typing skills, thus re-reading is important to me. Although this is only my second blog, I believe that I will write many other blogs, so I know I need to label my blogs for organization and so others can find the areas that they are interested in and ignore those other areas. Also, there are post options, where I can allow comments or disallow them. For now, they are being allowed.

Blogging is easy and other than losing a few edits on my first blog, the process was very easy.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New at Blogging

Thinking "outloud" by writing has been my therapy for about 3 years now. However, almost all of my past writings are in a private journal. I have shared only one topic with others. All the other writings have been produced for my own edification. Actually, I seldom read my past writings. The process of writing is what I find to be a great outlet for my emotions.

Kevin told a few of us at dinner after a meeting one day, "You should blog." Three of us had our excuses for not blogging. The most stated excuse was "I do not have anything to say." Kevin's response is "...everyone has something to say." Truthfully, though I did not state it at dinner, my excuse for not blogging earlier is the fear that my writings might be imperfect and subjected to criticisms. Another fear is that I might offend someone.

Putting those fears behind, I have decided to blog. So what I am going to write about? My experiences and my thoughts about conflict, particularly as it has to do with conflicting viewpoints on trying, adopting and using new technologies, techniques and business practices.

Why people behave the way that they do has always intrigued me. Why some people accept new ideas and new technologies and others who are presented with the "same" benefits reject these new ideas and technologies intrigued me as well. In fact, I studied this research question in the narrow domain of geographical information systems inthe farming industry. I or nor anyone else will answer this "why" question completely. The question "how to influence the adoption of ideas" is even more stimulating. As I work in the technology area, I often struggle with how to present the benefits and create influencing techniques when describing new technologies. What seems to work for me is to begin by understanding the user. This understanding and empathy process is what makes me me. In other words, being able to see others' viewpoint is one of my strong characteristics. Why is seeing the other viewpoint is important? Stephen Covey addresses this in his seven habits book. Many think we can present all the wonderful benefits to a new technology or practice, the people in our organizations should just believe us and ride along with of us. We all know that the decision process is much more complicated than that. The benefits alone will not convince others to adopt a new practice or idea. Individuals look at how adoption or even trying something new affects them immediately and later. Individuals look at what adopting (or trying) something will cost them. James Prochaska and colleagues call this the weighing of the advantages and disadvantages of changing behavior.

Understanding the benefits and costs to the individuals in adopting a change is helpful in invoking change. For individuals, the costs of changing may include monetary and time costs, but also include emotions, frustrations, and fear of failure. So what does this academic discussion have to do with me? Having the ability on most days to be empathic, I understand the reasons individuals have not adopted new technologies. Letting these individuals know that I understand the differences in viewpoints and having empathy toward their viewpoint (that is different from my own) is an important trait to build trust and relationships.

So why I am blogging? In the next few days, I am going to try some technologies that I have been wanting to try but have not taking the time. I am going to record my processes by blogging.

During the installation and my first uses of these technologies, I want to document some of the thoughts and frustrations (if any) while I adopt these new technologies. Of course, giving tips along the way to help the very novice users through the process. The idea that users can see too that I struggle with the first uses and even with the understanding of how a new technology could be useful.

These are the technologies I will begin to use: 1) blog, 2) rss and atom feeds to keep up with wiki changes, and 3) del.ic.us.

See tomorrow's blog on my first experience with blogging.