Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for April 7th, 2007

Idea for Outlook (or any contact list tool)

Posted by shannonclark on April 7, 2007

This idea occurred to me tonight while entering in my large backlog of business cards.

It could, I think, be embedded into Office, and certainly could be built into any online contact management tool, however it does require some relatively radical rethinking about how most such systems currently work.

The idea: embed rss feeds as well as clips from websites into a contact record

What I generally try to do when I enter a contact into my address book is enter all the basic contact data – name, mailing address, phone numbers, email address, website – but then also include a short bio as well as a record of when, where and why I met the person.

I am starting with Outlook at the moment, and then planning on syncing it back up to Plaxo, LinkedIn, my cell phone, google/gmail, yahoo/yahoo mail, and to NELA.mobi (via Plaxo)

However I really should, these days, be including a lot of other data – data that Outlook (and most other contact systems do not handle).

– blog address (with space for more than one)

– rss feed(s)

– twitter

– Skype

And instead of fully manually finding and inserting a bio, ideally my tools should be smart enough to try to seek out the contact’s own bio in their own words. Starting, perhaps, with sites such as LinkedIn then on to Facebook, myspace.com, Ryze, Ecademy, Friendster, Tribe, etc. Also looking for an “about” page on their blog (and for their blog) or bios on their corporate website. Lastly looking for a bio of them from a conference where they spoke or other online resources.

In a fully idealized world, I should be able to enter in a stack of business cards into my contact tool, and then through the magic of the Internet and various web services build up a list of their public data and profiles, one that is not a static picture but an updateable one – with RSS feeds ready to be subscribed to, lists of which services they are a part of (and which I too am using – i.e. Skype, Twitter, gtalk, LinkedIn, etc)

Now I don’t necessarily want to import this list of feeds into my primary blog reader – but I do want to look at ways to look at the whole collection. Ideally I also want the reverse to be the case – anyone whose blog I read regularly should probably also be in my contact lists – with as much detail as I can easily find (i.e. their email address if they publish it, phone numbers, city at the very least, full business address even better etc).

Today my network is a very diffuse – yet also very complex entity. Realistically there are probably about 5000 people or so whom I have some significant connection to, close enough that I would want to be aware of them when I am traveling, would invite them individually to events which I organize. That is a large number true, but realize I probably meet 10+ new people a week on average, and have for a decade or more. I generally try to meet at least 2, preferably 5+ new people every day. Of course, not everyone I meet is someone I want to keep in touch with, but I would like to keep in touch with many more people than I manage at the moment.

More importantly whether you are a small business (like NELA is for now, though we don’t plan on staying small for long) or a part of a much bigger business, it is no longer sufficient to enter data about someone once and forget about it – whether they are a random contact, a customer, a partner or a blogger you read – today their online presence will be an ever evolving and changing thing. Even people who are not deeply active online are, increasingly, present online – via their customers writing about them, speaking engagements, writings by or about them etc. Fewer and fewer individual business people or their companies are note present online.

So why do our tools not make it really easy for us to embed this live web of information into our records about who we know? (and yes, technorati searches of the live web would be useful as well.)

Posted in digital bedouin, microsoft, web2.0 | 1 Comment »

Another Vista and Outlook 2007 annoyance – dialing options

Posted by shannonclark on April 7, 2007

I just started entering data into my brand new installation of Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager.

On the very first business contact, however, I have encountered a pretty obnoxious bit of assumptions by Microsoft.

Specifically after I entered a phone number into the new contact record, a dialog popped up called “Location Information”.

In this dialog Outlook is asking that I enter what country I am in, what my area or city code is, what carrier code I would need, and what number I would need to dial an outside number. I.E. the assumption here is that I would, of course, have this machine connected to a phone line and somehow want it to be dialing phone numbers for me.

Now, if this was possible to configure to use Skype, I might, in fact, think about doing that (some of the time).

But I am almost always mobile with this machine (it is a tablet PC after all, I bought it for use on the road).

I will probably NEVER use this machine, at least via Outlook, to initialize a call. Wouldn’t even think about it in fact.

But apparently if I do not enter this data, I can not continue. For if I close this dialog without putting in my area code, an error message pops up and I am returned to the dialog box. If I close it entirely, another message pops up which says:

Windows needs telephone information about the location from which you will be dialing. If you cancel without providing this information, this program may not function correctly when dialing. In addition, some applications respond to your canceling this dialog box by immediately re-posting it.

Are you sure you want to cancel?

Huh?

When/where did I indicate that I would want my tablet dialing out? From this message it appears to be baked into Vista, not just Office 2007 (or else it is a case of really poor error messages – “some applications” in place of the actual application generating this message.

I don’t know what I can do to get past this. I really don’t want my laptop thinking it will be dialing phones. All I want to do is enter data, lots of it, as fast as possible.

I literally have a stack of about 1000 business cards which I want to sort and enter this weekend. The contacts I have made in the past year, most of whom I want to follow up with, and most of whom I have neglected to enter fully into my address lists.

Is it so hard for Microsoft to imagine that a user of a computer, even a business user, might not, in these days of pervasive, high speed wifi, want that laptop using a modem or making phone calls over a POTS line?  (which if I didn’t have to have currently to get DSL service I would gladly do without?)

Posted in digital bedouin, microsoft, working | 23 Comments »

Explaining the basics – Why Microsoft & Office 2007 don’t get it.

Posted by shannonclark on April 7, 2007

The version of Office 2007 which Microsoft gave me for attending the launch a while back includes a product called Outlook with Business Contact Manager.

As an entrepreneur and founder of a business dedicated to networking business people I decided to install this feature and see how it might help me as I organized my large stack of pending contacts to enter from business cards. My plan for this new laptop is to migrate my old data over slowly, taking advantage of the relatively clean system to cleanup, organize and enhance my data.

However as I looked over the product I realized I was not 100% clear how Microsoft intended certain fields to be used. Specifically what are the intended distinctions between “accounts”, “contacts”,  and “opportunities”? I think I know, but I’m not sure – nor is it clear on first glance if I’ll be able to move things around in the future (i.e. if I put in every contact, can I later designate that some represent opportunities? that some will become “accounts”? further, my business will have a couple of really different types of business relationships – I’ll have (we hope) many many 1000’s (hopefully millions) of users of NELA, a large number but a subset of the total users whose companies pay for commercial features of NELA, and finally a very different set of business relationships with companies that advertise on NELA to our users. We may also have a number of other different types of business relationships – partners, service providers, companies for whom we resell or recommend their products etc. Will I be able to customize this tool to help me track these nuances of business relationships?

So, I went to what seemed like a good starting point – Microsoft’s help page for the product.

Here I encountered one of the really fundamental areas where Microsoft gets it absolutely wrong.

Take a look at the following page, which claims to help you understand how to add data. The title of the page is “Getting started with Business Contact Manager for Outlook 2007” (side note, look at that URL – SEO hell, garbage data in the URL)

Microsoft actually does embed definitions of the various categories on this page – but quick, take a look, do you see the links?

Nope?

Try scrolling down, click on the “add this … ” links.

Anything useful there?

Didn’t think so.

Turns out, if you hover your mouse over the words “Account”, “Business Contact”, “Opportunity”, or “Business Project” in the first paragraph you’ll note that there is embeded Javascript so that on click a definition of that term is displayed inline on the page.

BUT

This runs counter to all good web style. Other than hovering your mouse over every bit of text on the page, there is no visual clue that these words are anything different from everything else on the page.

When I was starting to write this post, in fact, I was going to say that there was NO definitions for these terms on the page.

And I’m a pretty advanced user of the web (been online, running my own servers since 1991, have helped define standards, built pretty complex web apps etc).

Turns out phrases all over this page have the same treatment.

But I, for one, am not in the habit of following with my cursor every word of a webpage I am reading just on the off chance that something is a link which does not look like one (or as in this case, has javascript surrounding it to do something on mouseover or click – so not actually a “real” link in fact.

As a further experiment, take a look at each of the “creating a … ” entries on the page.

One of these is not like the other.

All but the Opportunity section are just step-by-step instructions on how to create (of the form like click the create … button”. Pretty brainless and useless for nearly anyone who can read. No context or significant help in understanding the intention of the software.

In contrast, the Opportunity section starts with a definition of what this is intended for.

 Opportunities are chances to sell your products or services. Opportunity records help you prioritize your sales information, track your sales process and customer interactions, and forecast your sales.

And actually, in that block above, the Opportunities and Opportunity records phrases are further javascript links to definitions – though the UI expert who suggested that people would expect to click inside of a block of text which had, itself, only shown up as the result of a click should probably be looking for work in a different field.

I will give the application a bit of a try, though I am not optimistic that in the end it will prove all that useful for my needs.

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, microsoft, tablet pc, working | Leave a Comment »

Outlook 2007 bugs and UI issues

Posted by shannonclark on April 7, 2007

As I continue on my path of setting up my new laptop, I have been working on getting Outlook 2007 configured and working. Working as in, spent many hours this afternoon and missed lunch trying to get what should be simple things set up.

So, in this post, a few of the bugs (my opinion), user interface (UI) gripes, and other problems I have found with Outlook 2007, all in just the initial getting it setup. I’m sure when I also go to importing my nearly 9+ gb worth of archived mail in previous versions of Outlook formats, I will find new and different sets of bugs.

I should note, that even in my current relatively quiet mode being pre-launch with my new company NELA I still receive hundreds of emails, to put it into perspective in the past <10 days I received over 4000 emails, of which Outlook 2007’s junk filters determined that about 2500 of which were spam. And that does not include how ever countless spam messages are sent to random addresses at one of my multiple domains and are promptly just automatically deleted.

So for me a highly functional email tool is not a luxury, rather it is a necessity. For about the past 6 months or so I have mostly used gmail, via the web or my cell phone, as my primary mail client. But that has been mostly possible because I have been doing relatively low volumes of outbound email, and my needs have been relatively minimal. I have gmail set up to auto-label and sort most of my active mailing lists and generally enjoy using it. But there are some issues with the mobile version (not the Java client but the mobile web) and my cell phone (around sending outbound messages).

But most seriously I do need to in the near future send out lots of emails – at least hundreds, possibly close to 1000 or so, as I start inviting the 100’s of people I have met recently to NELA, and as I begin ramping up our sales, marketing, and PR efforts.

So, on my new laptop I installed Office 2007 (Microsoft gave me a full license for attending the Office 2007 launch event in San Francisco).

When I booted up Outlook for the first time, set up my initial account, I encountered my first problem with Outlook UI (and one that I would nearly call a bug).

That is, it was all too easy to set up the account and not realize that it was set to auto send & receive, both on starting up Outlook and every 30 minutes. Further, by default, mail is set to be deleted from the server.

My practice has long been to retain mail on my pop3 server for 10 days as an automated backup. More than once this has saved me in the past – when Outlook or my local disk crashed, when something went wrong, when I have moved to a new machine, the ability to get caught up with my past 10 days worth of mails has been very important.

And yes, perhaps I should look at moving to an IMAP server seup (as many of my alpha geek friends have done).

Earlier today, however, I also found a rather odd bit of behavior on Outlook 2007’s part, and one that is symptomatic of a fundamental UI issue.

I had two accounts configured, one for my old company JigZaw, one for gmail. I set these up in part to test outbound SMTP service via my DSL (which I thought might be an issue). Running into issues with my old company’s outbound SMTP server settings, I decided to try to remove that account and just use the gmail account for the moment.

So, naturally I looked at the Send/Receive settings (under Tools, Send/Receive, Send/Receive Settings) where I saw a menu option of “Define Send/Receive Groups”.

First minor UI nit – the dialog box that opens up is titled “Send/Receive Groups”, dropped the “Define” somewhere.

This is where I turned off the auto send/receive every 30 minutes (I don’t like my mail clients fetching mail – and thus using bandwidth etc when I don’t ask them to directly, all too often this would happen as I want to shutdown while mobile – say at/during a meeting, in a cafe etc).

From here, I had to click “edit” to select the All Accounts group and edit it.  That led to a very new looking dialog where the three accounts I had set up were displayed on the left (apparently RSS which I hadn’t configured is considered an account by this dialog – more on this in a bit).

I selected the JigZaw account, and asked that it be removed from the All Accounts group (by unselecting a checkbox)

Fine, I thought, that’s great. I did a send/receive – and yes, it only checked my gmail account (didn’t seem to that time at least check RSS).

So I went along, read some emails, and then had something I had to send to my business partner. I opened up a new email, composed the email, and sent it.

Then I selected the send/receive.  And I noticed a problem It was trying to send via TWO accounts. Via my gmail (which happened very quickly – nothing to send as it turns out) and then via JigZaw. Which failed (as I mentioned, the outbound SMTP server configuration was not working).

So now I tried to figure out what was happening. I went back to the send/receive settings, and yes, only gmail and rss were set up there.

I did some more digging. Down a bit farther on the Tools menu, I saw a line “Account Settings …”

I opened this up – a very different looking dialog opened up. And in there, I saw that my jigzaw account was still set as the default for sending mail.

I think this is a bug. If you remove that account from the All Accounts group – shouldn’t it no longer be the default? At the very least, why do you have to go to two different dialogs which look and feel very different to change that behavior?

Now about the RSS feeds. I could have sworn that when I installed and first set up Outlook 2007 I had removed all of the default feeds (so as to have no feeds at all configured). But just now, I looked, and all three default feeds from Microsoft were set for me to download. I will now try to remove them entirely – I wonder how many different dialogs I’ll have to use to do that.

My UI gripe is that all of these dialogs look, feel and act differently from each other. And that menus that imply one thing then open up boxes that call themselves something different. I am a seriously advanced user (I’ve looked deeply into the Sendmail manuals, remember helping people set up their mail routing paths in the early 90’s, heck I even helped edit some of the calendaring IETF specifications). Outlook 2007’s maze of options and dialogs, each looking and acting differently and with no single, unified way to get to all of the options that effect how my system works is confusing for me.

For everyone else, I can only imagine it is even more so.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, mobile, tablet pc | 8 Comments »