You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2008.

When a team works together long enough they start to develop a set of quirks and idiosyncrasies that help them through their working life.

What odd little habits and processes has your team developed over the years?

Here’s some examples from our weird little world.

Super food Tuesdays

We use agile development techniques to build ode. An integral part is that every other Tuesday we get together and have a retrospective over the previous two weeks. As part of that I buy a load of super foods for everyone to munch on.

This helps keep energy levels up, provides a start of meeting talking point and makes for good conversation on Flickr. Plus it’s better for the brain than cheap coffee and biscuits. Recently, as a one off, we even decided to cook our own food.

Adding “-inator” to any little product we build

SCORM-inator, META-nator, CREDIT-inator. To build ode we need a whole raft of back end tools that we’ve had to build for ourselves. For want of any better naming system we just add “-inator” to their task description. Yeah, it’s not very amusing but it’s become an unstoppable office in joke.

Lateness league

We have a 15 minute stand up meet every morning at 9:45am. As you can imagine there’s really no room to roll in late so we invented a lateness league to punish offenders who come in last post- cigarette/coffee machine/memory lapse three times over a two week period. The punishment has ranged from buying the whole team drinks to singing a song in front of everyone.

Strangely enough it works.

Whiteboard styles

When whiteboard sketching we’ve noticed that everyone has a style. James does tree structures, Dik does tubes and boxes, Ed does timelines, I do numbered lists. I have no idea what this means psychologically.

Theming our Learning Matrix

In each fortnightly retrospective we do a learning matrix.

  1. Top left = Things we’ve done that we want to continue doing (good, yay!)
  2. Top right = Things we’ve done poorly that we need to improve (evil, boo!)
  3. Bottom left = Ideas (lightbulb)
  4. Bottom right = Kudos (those folks who have contributed above and beyond)

Somehow this translated as smiley face, sad face, lightbulb and a bunch of flowers. This then turned into themes. I present the 3 most embarrassing below (from left: Doctor Who, Artistic and Star Wars):

Yes, I know what this looks like.

“He/She knows what time it is”

This is the highest compliment we can pay to any inspirational people we meet in the course of building ode.

Planning poker

When our development team sit down together to estimate how long (in points) each piece of functionality will take to build they use an old set of Flashcards from a Spanish course by RM called “Sonica Spanish” upon which we have scrawled numbers.

Each coder is given an identical set of cards and they “play” a card that represents how many points they think each story will take to do. Then on turning over the cards they can wrangle between them how many points they agree it will take. It’s just more fun than shouting a number. Plus our coders have mean poker faces.

I was recently made aware of the School of Everything (great name!) which looks like a very promising opportunity.

School of Everything screenshot

They are a UK start up company in the education space with a focus on facilitating learning that doesn’t happen in school, which I think is a really simple proposition that works.

As far as I can make out they have created a web platform (hub?) that anyone who considers themselves to have a domain expertise e.g. drumming, aromatherapy, felt making, yoga, can self nominate themselves for free as a “tutor” with the aim of attracting students and earning money.

Private tutoring basically. A bit like but with people instead of elearning content. It’s all about facilitating the relationship between pupil and teacher.

For example if you are a demon backgammon player you can create a profile and market yourself, with details about who you are, where you are and what services you offer at what price.

Educators are signing up from all over the world which is encouraging, as I suspect that to truly find someone with an expertise in obscure long tail subjects (left handed pool trick shots, octopus wrangling, rice grain painting) you are going to have to look much further afield than your own backyard. Also those tutors could potentially earn good money – rare skills command premium rates.

What I would like to see:

1) The ability to rate my tutor and comment on their work. I would like all tutors to be open to a public and open discussion on their methods, knowledge, ability to teach and on going support. Being an expert does not necessarily make you a good teacher. And anyone can sign up so there is no pre-validation of expertise. In a school or college as a pupil there is an (unspoken) trust agreement that the tutors have been through education and a recruitment process.

2) Software built into the School of Everything platform that meant I could video conference/screenshare with a tutor from around the world.

3) See their calendar, check out testimonials, view more photos and loads of other important stuff. I personally want to know more about the tutor, perhaps a chat function that allows me to get in touch immediately whilst the idea’s in my mind. Some stuff about their teaching methods would be nice too.

I’m sure School of Everything have considered the above points and more, they come across as a great team with some big ideas. I genuinely hope they succeed.

They are in alpha development right now and, like us, there’s loads they will want to do but it all takes time and money. C’est la vie.

I can’t help but feel School of Everything (aswell as sharing a similar attitude and space) and ode could link up in someway, via APIs if nothing else. If any of them get this trackback and are listening then get in touch!

We’re currently building some of the really fun stuff – the whole social networking side of ode.

The first building block of any network is it’s smallest unit. In our case, and in most others, it’s the user. And every user needs a profile.

Alongside lots of debate around privacy settings, newsfeeds, sharable content and nicknames I started thinking about the psychology of the profile picture, or avatar.

Every social site (that I’ve used anyway) allows you to upload a picture against your profile. This is a common web function.

So we accept we can upload a picture – but why and what do we choose to upload? What does it say about us? What are we trying to say to other people about ourselves in our choice of picture?

I guess at it’s most basic we have a need to connect on a visual level. Your profile picture is one of the most powerful ways of immediately providing a signal of who you are. On Facebook people regularly change their picture to show a new side to themselves, or to include their new baby or even in fancy dress.

Famously there’s no ugly people on Myspace, due to the rise of the Myspace Angle.

Ultimately it’s all about establishing an identity in the intrinsically anonymous internet.

But those examples are social sites, for fun and frivolity.

On a professional business network platform such as Linkedin (and ode) anonymity is not necessarily paramount – in fact you want to people to know the “real” you to a certain extent.

So it’s clear your profile picture will be chosen more carefully. It is a network used by your peers and therefore you will want to come across as mildly professional at the very least.

So that picture of you drunk and in costume as a Klingon might make people laugh, but they won’t take you too seriously.

Of course not everyone wants to show what they look like and perhaps cannot bring themselves to use an avatar (a “virtual” representation of themselves). Or they simply can’t figure out how to do it.

So, if a profile demands a picture and you can’t provide one the website has to put something in it’s place. This is where we meet the mystery men and women. What I like to call “blankies” (in place of anything better to call them, as they provide a little bit of comfort. And they’re blank. Well, you get the idea).

Universally a pale grey seems to be the colour of choice, not black as silhouettes traditionally are. Their purpose is to encourage you to upload a photo, to personalise your profile to decrease your anonymity and increase personal ownership of your profile.

So to celebrate the blankie, one of the most powerful calls to action on the internet, I present a small gallery and critique of some of the most famous…

Youtube blankie

The Youtube blankie: Dynamic, bold and immediately connects you to the purpose of Youtube using the common language of the video camera icon. Of course as it’s audience gets more and more used to filming on mobile devices perhaps that will have to be changed?

Wordpress blankie

WordPress blankie: (the platform this blog is written on and a wonderful service it is too) have gone for a simple, classic, almost nihilist “fat blankie”, or “Cluedo piece”. Interestingly they have recently employed a much greater range of potions for your profile picture, including the wonderful identicons.

Ning blankie

Ning blankie: “Make your own social network” site Ning have tried to humanise their blankie by giving it a realistic outline. Unless you’ve got Marge Simpson’s haircut it’s clear what needs to go here.

Myspace blankie

Myspace blankie: This feels more authoritarian, more demanding, even a little scary. You have “NO PHOTO”. Interesting fact: that person graphic is often also employed on Gents lavatory doors.

Linkedin blankie

Linkedin blankie: Like the Myspace blankie but with a softer, more natural look, on a white background. It’s even wearing a smart/casual jumper.

LastFM blankie

LastFM blankie: LastFM is a social music platform. It has a built in coolness and it’s where all the hip and groovy cats hang out. Hence the mysterious, Third Man type blankie. One of my favourites.

Flickr blankie

Flickr blankie: Flickr, one of the most popular image sites on the net, has perhaps the most strict and simplistic blankie of all. If you stare at it long enough the straight line mouth appears to morph into a cheeky smile. Apparently you can pick from 3: this is the “ambivalent” one.

Facebook blankie

Facebook blankie: In a break from tradition Facebook has cast aside all human elements and simply gone for the classic question mark. Lazy.

Digg blankie

Digg blankie: Is anyone else picturing Spiderman? Look at those broad shoulders. This is a man’s site, be in no doubt.

Upcoming blankie

Upcoming blankie: Happy, happy, joy, joy. A smiley emoticon for this community for discovering and sharing events. Although does it look a little overweight to you?

So what will ode choose for it’s blankie? Perhaps we’ll design a few and let ya’ll vote. Has anyone spotted any other cool blankies on their travels through cyberspace?

++update 8.5.2008 (hat tip to Peter for most of these, first post below)++

Bebo blankie

Bebo blankie: Social networking, popular with teenagers. In fact if I had to guess the age of this blankie character I would probably say a moody 17. Looks a bit like Morrissey circa 1982. So, good work.

Basecamp blankie

Basecamp blankie: Basecamp is a project management tool that we use, religiously. Now we have 100’s of users across multiple projects so the blankie has to be very small as it’s attached to messages etc. Interestingly, even though this is a professional office tool, of those people who have uploaded a profile picture hardly anyone has used an actual photo of themselves.

Mydeco blankie

Mydeco blankie: Mydeco (“It’s a furniture fix for the decorati!”) has plumped for a large detailed male outline. Rebelliously they have gone for white figure on a grey background and included a question mark. Word. I’ve also been inspired for a new tagline for ode: “It’s a content fix for the teacherati!”. No? OK.

Entertainment Live UK blankie

Entertainment Live UK blankie: I am not wholly confident what this site is, but it appears to be something to do with promotion of live music in the UK. Their blankie is as alarming in it’s complexity as their website, which has to be browsed to be believed. Hardly any of their members have added a photo, perhaps because the default blankie is more interesting than any real person could possibly be.

Indeptharts blankie

In Depth Arts blankie: A digital art forum that again uses the “question mark in face” motif. It’s becoming clear that if you actually have a question mark instead of a face you’ve saved yourself a click, eh?

Reggae Party blankie

Reggae Party blankie: Only a Dutch site called “Reggae Party” could employ a blankie like this. Personally I love it. Irie.

Sailing networks

Sailing networks blankie: Wow. This is almost our first “non-blankie”. So minimalist it’s almost not there at all.

What is ODE?

ODE will be a webstore where educators can buy little bits of digital educational content and put them back together any way they like. Simple.