Month: February 2013

E-discovering Language to Launch Your Taxonomy

New enterprise initiatives, whether for implementing search solutions or beginning a new product development program, demand communication among team leaders and participants. Language matters; defining terminology for common parlance is essential to smooth progress toward initiative objectives.

Glossaries, dictionaries, taxonomies, thesauri and ontologies are all mechanisms we use routinely in education and work to clarify terms we use to engage and communicate understanding of any specialized domain. Electronic social communication added to the traditional mix of shared information (e.g. documents, databases, spreadsheets, drawings, standardized forms) makes business transactional language more complex. Couple this with the use of personal devices for capturing and storing our work content, notes, writings, correspondence, design and diagram materials and we all become content categorizing managers. Some of us are better than others at organizing and curating our piles of information resources.

As recent brain studies reveal, humans, and probably any animal with a brain, have established cognitive areas in our brains with pathways and relationships among categories of grouped concepts. This reinforces our propensity for expending thought and effort to order all aspects of our lives. That we all organize differently across a huge spectrum of concepts and objects makes it wondrous that we can live and work collaboratively at all. Why after 30+ years of marriage do I arrange my kitchen gadget drawer according to use or purpose of devices while my husband attempts to store the same items according to size and shape? Why do icons and graphics placed in strange locations in software applications and web pages rarely impart meaning and use to me, while others “get it” and adapt immediately?

The previous paragraph may seem to be a pointless digression from the subject of the post but there are two points to be made here. First, we all organize both objects and information to facilitate how we navigate life, including work. Without organization that is somehow rationalized, and established accordingly to our own rules for functioning, our lives descend into dysfunctional chaos. People who don’t organize well or struggle with organizing consistently struggle in school, work and life skills. Second, diversity of practice in organizing is a challenge for working and living with others when we need to share the same spaces and work objectives. This brings me to the very challenging task of organizing information for a website, a discrete business project, or an entire enterprise, especially when a diverse group of participants are engaged as a team.

So, let me make a few bold suggestions about where to begin with your team:

  • Establish categories of inquiry based on the existing culture of your organization and vertical industry. Avoid being inventive, clever or idiosyncratic. Find categories labels that everyone understands similarly.
  • Agree on common behaviors and practices for finding by sharing openly the ways in which members of the team need to find, the kinds of information and answers that need discovering, and the conditions under which information is required. These are the basis for findability use cases. Again, begin with the usual situations and save the unusual for later insertion.
  • Start with what you have in the form of finding aids: places, language and content that are already being actively used; examine how they are organized. Solicit and gather experiences about what is good, helpful and “must have” and note interface elements and navigation aids that are not used. Harvest any existing glossaries, dictionaries, taxonomies, organization charts or other definition entities that can provide feeds to terminology lists.
  • Use every discoverable repository as a resource (including email stores, social sites, and presentations) for establishing terminology and eventually writing rules for applying terms. Research repositories that are heavily used by groups of specialists and treat them as crops of terminology to be harvested for language that is meaningful to experts. Seek or develop linguistic parsing and term extraction tools and processes to discover words and phrases that are in common use. Use histograms to determine frequency of use, then alphabetize to find similar terms that are conceptually related, and semantic net tools to group discovered terms according to conceptual relationships. Segregate initialisms, acronyms, and abbreviations for analysis and insertion into final lists, as valid terms or synonyms to valid terms.
  • Talk to the gurus and experts that are the “go-to people” for learning about a topic and use their experience to help determine the most important broad categories for information that needs to be found. Those will become your “top term” groups and facets. Think of top terms as topical in nature (e.g. radar, transportation, weapons systems) and facets as other categories by which people might want to search (e.g. company names, content types, conference titles).
  • Simplify your top terms and facets into the broadest categories for launching your initiative. You can always add more but you won’t really know where to be the most granular until you begin using tags applied to content. Then you will see what topics have the most content and require narrower topical terms to avoid having too much content piling up under a very broad category.
  • Select and authorize one individual to be the ultimate decider. Ambiguity of categorizing principles, purpose and needs is always a given due to variations in cognitive functioning. However, the earlier steps outlined here will have been based on broad agreement. When it comes to the more nuanced areas of terminology and understanding, a subject savvy and organizationally mature person with good communication skills and solid professional respect within the enterprise will be a good authority for making final decisions about language. A trusted professional will also know when a change is needed and will seek guidance when necessary.

Revisit the successes and failures of the applied term store routinely: survey users, review search logs, observe information retrieval bottlenecks and troll for new electronic discourse and content as a source of new terminology. A recent post by taxonomy expert Heather Hedden gives more technical guidance about evaluating and sustaining your taxonomy maintenance.

Mobile development strategy – platform decision update

Last April I suggested that evolving mobile platform market changes meant organizations needed to re-visit their mobile development strategy and said

“What has changed? To over simplify: Apple’s dominance continues to increase and is unassailable in tablets; RIM is not a contender; Microsoft is looking like an up-and-comer; and most surprising to many, Android is looking iffy and is a flop in tablets with the exception of the very Amazon-ized version in the Kindle Fire.”

Not surprisingly, things have changed again. Two major changes are that Samsung is now a major player, and Google has finally made progress in tablets with the Nexus 7 and the much improved Android “Jelly Bean” release. Amazon’s second Fire is also more robust. There are now real choices in tablets – personally I have an iPad, a Fire HD, and a Nexus 7, and I use all three of them, and for many purposes I just grab the closest. But businesses making a significant investment in a platform for development need to carefully evaluate its stability and staying power.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the debate among analysts over what the iOS and Android market share numbers mean – specifically, whether the larger and accelerating Android market share numbers threaten Apple’s dominance. At first glance it is natural to think that dominant market share signifies a safer bet, and indeed many analysts make this point. But it’s not so simple. Last year there was evidence that even though Android devices had a market share advantage, Apple devices accounted for much more total online activity – were used more – and it is probably safe to say that use is a requirement of product success.

More importantly, if you look at profit share, Apple continues to dominate. So the opposing view is that Apple may be the safer bet since for most values of company/product health, profit trumps revenue.

In “The Mobile Train Has Left The Windows 8 Platform Behind“, John Kirk, who doesn’t mince words, has no patience for the view that Android’s market share means it will squash Apple:

“According to Canaccord Genuity, Apple took in 69% of the handset (all mobile phones, not just smartphones) profits in 2012. Samsung took in 34%, HTC accounted for 1%…

No one not named Apple or Samsung is making any meaningful profits from the handset sector…

Many industry observers have the handset market all wrong. They opine that Andoid is destroying iOS. What is actually happening is:

  1. With 69% of the profits, iOS is doing just fine. More than fine, actually.
  2. Android destroyed every phone manufacturer not named Apple (BlackBerry, Nokia, Palm, etc.).
  3. Samsung destroyed every Android phone manufacturer not named Samsung (HTC, Motorola, Sony Erricson, etc.).

Pundits like to predict the imminent demise of iOS, but those profit numbers say just the opposite. And even as Android’s market share has increased, iOS’s profit share has increased too. Market share is no guarantor of profits. This should be self-evident. But apparently, it’s not.”

Kirk follows up with more entertaining disdain for the “church of market share” at “Does the Rise of Android’s Market Share Mean the End of Apple’s Profits?“.

In terms of tablet market share,

“According to Canalys, Apple – despite being supply constrained – sold 22.9 million tablets for 49% share, Samsung shipped 7.6 million tablets, Amazon shipped 4.6 million tablets for 18% share, and Google’s Nexus 7 and 10, combined, shipped 2.6 million tablets.”

In conclusion,

“Only Samsung and Apple are competing in phones. Only Amazon, Google, Samsung and Apple are effectively competing in tablets. The mobile “train” has left the station and companies like HP, Lenovo, Dell and Microsoft are standing on the Windows 8 platform, watching it pull away.”

For more on Microsoft see Kirk’s full post.

Mobile platforms are still evolving and the coming proliferation of new device types guarantee that there will be continuous and substantial change made to those that survive. No one responsible for a mobile development strategy should wait almost a year to evaluate their current plan. Fortunately there is no shortage of useful platform data. It just needs to be interpreted critically.

Big data and decision making: data vs intuition

There is certainly hype around ‘big data’, as there always has been and always will be about many important technologies or ideas – remember the hype around the Web? Just as annoying is the backlash anti big data hype, typically built around straw men – does anyone actually claim that big data is useful without analysis?

One unfair characterization both sides indulge in involves the role of intuition, which is viewed either as the last lifeline for data-challenged and threatened managers, or as the way real men and women make the smart difficult decisions in the face of too many conflicting statistics.

Robert Carraway, a professor who teaches Quantitative Analysis at UVA’s Darden School of Business, has good news for both sides. In a post on big data and decision making in Forbes, “Meeting the Big Data challenge: Don’t be objective” he argues “that the existence of Big Data and more rational, analytical tools and frameworks places more—not less—weight on the role of intuition.”

Carraway first mentions Corporate Executive Board’s findings that of over 5000 managers 19% were “Visceral decision makers” relying “almost exclusively on intuition.” The rest were more or less evenly split between “Unquestioning empiricists” who rely entirely on analysis and “Informed skeptics … who find some way to balance intuition and analysis.” The assumption of the test and of Carraway was that Informed skeptics had the right approach.

A different study, “Frames, Biases, and Rational Decision-Making in the Human Brain“, at the Institute of Neurology at University College London tested for correlations between the influence of ‘framing bias’ (what it sounds like – making different decisions for the same problem depending on how the problem was framed) and degree of rationality. The study measured which areas of the brain were active using an fMRI and found the activity of the the most rational (least influenced by framing) took place in the prefrontal cortex, where reasoning takes place; the least rational (most influenced by framing / intuition) had activity in the amygdala (home of emotions); and the activity of those in between (“somewhat susceptible to framing, but at times able to overcome it”) in the cingulate cortex, where conflicts are addressed.

It is this last correlation that is suggestive to Carraway, and what he maps to being an informed skeptic. In real life, we have to make decisions without all or enough data, and a predilection for relying on either data or intuition can easily lead us astray. Our decision making benefits by our brain seeing a conflict that calls for skeptical analysis between what the data says and what our intuition is telling us. In other words, intuition is a partner in the dance, and the implication is that it is always in the dance — always has a role.

Big data and all the associated analytical tools provide more ways to find bogus patterns that fit what we are looking for. This makes it easier to find false support for a preconception. So just looking at the facts – just being “objective” – just being “rational” – is less likely to be sufficient.

The way to improve the odds is to introduce conflict – call in the cingulate cortex cavalry. If you have a pre-concieved belief, acknowledge it and and try and refute, rather than support it, with the data.

“the choice of how to analyze Big Data should almost never start with “pick a tool, and use it”. It should invariably start with: pick a belief, and then challenge it. The choice of appropriate analytical tool (and data) should be driven by: what could change my mind?…”

Of course conflict isn’t only possible between intuition and data. It can also be created between different data patterns. Carraway has an earlier related post, “Big Data, Small Bets“, that looks at creating multiple small experiments for big data sets designed to minimize identifying patterns that are either random or not significant.

Thanks to Professor Carraway for elevating the discussion. Read his full post.

How long does it take to develop a mobile app?

We have covered and written about the issues enterprises need to consider when planning to develop a mobile app, especially on choosing between native apps, mobile web apps (HTML5, etc.), or a hybrid approach that includes elements of each. And have discussed some of the choices / factors that would have an effect on the time required to bring an app to market, but made no attempt to advise or speculate on how long it should take to “develop a mobile app”. This is not a question with a straightforward answer as any software development manager with tell you.

There are many reasons estimating app development time is difficult, but there are also items outside of actual coding that need to be accounted for. For example, a key factor often not considered in measuring app development is the time involved to train or hire for skills. Since most organizations already have experience with standards such as HTML and CSS developing mobile web apps should be, ceteris paribus, less costly and quicker than developing a native app. This is especially true when the app needs to run on multiple devices with different APIs using different programing languages on multiple mobile (and possibly forked) operating systems. But there are often appealing device features that require native code expertise, and even using a mobile development framework which deals with most of this complexity requires learning something new.

App development schedules can also be at the mercy of app store approvals and not-always-predictable operating system updates.

As unlikely as it is to come up with a meaningful answer to the catchy (and borrowed) title of this post, executives need good estimates of the time and effort in developing specific mobile apps. But experience in developing mobile apps is still slim in many organizations and more non-technical managers are now involved in approving and paying for app development. So even limited information on length of effort can provide useful data points.

I found the survey that informed the Visual.ly infographic below via ReadWrite at How Long Does It Take To Build A Native Mobile App? [InfoGraphic]). It involved 100 iOS, Android and HTML5 app developers and was done by market research service AYTM for Kinvey, provider of a cloud backend platform for app developers.

Their finding? Developing an iOS or Android app takes 18 weeks. I didn’t see the survey questions so don’t know whether whether 18 weeks was an average of actual developments, opinions on what it should take, or something else.

Of course there are simple apps that can be created in a few days and some that will take much longer, but in either case the level of effort is almost always underestimated. Even with all the unanswered questions about resources etc., the infographic raises, the 18 week finding may helpfully temper somebody’s overly optimistic expectations.

 
 

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