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Documentum & The Private Option

I want a private equity fund to buy Documentum from EMC and give it a real shot at regaining its former glory.

#26698 Smart Cow Playing Dead To Avoid Going To The Butcher Shop Clipart by DJArtNoted rumor-monger  Brilliant Leap speculates about Documentum in a world without EMC. Tongues were already wagging at EMC World about the SAP-EMC partnership leading to something a little more intimate. It has enough of the smell of truth to make an irresistible rumor.

As rumors go, I still prefer the Microsoft angle because of the obscene anatomy kissing that IIG is still doing.  Truth is it’s just to easy to dispel: Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free? I doubt Microsoft will be stamping shrink-wrapped boxes of SharePoint with Documentum Inside! anytime soon, but I’d bet they have an infinite number of code monkeys banging away to make their own document management Hamlet. Once they do, it’s bye-bye Documentum! Then all those monkeys will get down to business and start flinging feces IIG’s way.

Part of Documentum’s doom was being a software company bought by a hardware company; however, it won’t be saved if another software company buys it next. Such companies (SAP included) would buy Documentum to augment their flagship product, not eclipse it.  With no Fairy Godmother rescue from being passed around from one wicked step-mother to the next, this story’s ending will be more Le Boheme than Cinderella. Or worse, a more-jackal-than-wolf company that hasn’t innovated for decades might gobble it up to suck the last trickle of marrow from its cracked bones.  *cough* computer associates *cough*

I am no Wall Street cheerleader, especially after my time in Big Finance, but the closest thing to a Fairy Godmother out there is a technology-oriented private equity fund. Such a fund buys troubled companies to turn them around and sell them for a profit. Unlike most of Wall Street, they take the long view of years rather than a quarter or the milliseconds around a stock’s uptick.

Their methods can be harsh, but their goal unlike any step-mother’s would be to make Documentum the best product and most profitable (and saleable) brand it can be.  There may still be an ounce of brand left to save. By going private, the recuperating Documentum wouldn’t be burdened with public company regulation or the tyranny of speculative stockholders. It’s an imperfect cure for the age of gratuitous IPOs and acquisitions fueled more by irrational exuberance than smart business.

We have a test case with AOL selling Bebo to Criterion Capital Partners, LLC instead of just shutting it down. Taking Valdes’s animal shelter metaphor a little further, I’m sure Criterion will euthanize Bebo and reap their own “meaningful tax deduction” if the old dog can’t learn new tricks. Sometimes I think I’d rather see that happen to Documentum than sit through the EMC’s little opera until the consumption takes it.

EMC discovers Magnetic Poetry

I can’t find a video of the Mark Lewis keynote from EMC World 2010. Instead I’m depending on reporting from the event like Ron Miller’s article [Documentum group gets new name and new direction] and Pie’s tweets and blog posts. It’s probably for the better; I never had a taste for gruesome videos since Faces of Death, and this may be EMC finally decapitating the Documentum brand.  Rather than plunging into a pages-long diatribe about EMC’s unconditional surrender to the commoditizing of content management or the latest dish of scorn Lewis served up to Documentum veterans, let’s talk names.

Information Intelligence Group is EMC’s new moniker for the product that shall not be named. Lewis breaks down the name for us on his blog [Episode 91: EMC World 2010 – The Birth of the Information Intelligence Group]. It’s hard to read–let alone say–the name with a straight face, and this breakdown doesn’t help. At least the cumbersome and uninspired Content Management and Archiving accurately conveyed something about the product.  This new name is too broad and inherently meaningless; it will continue to erode mindshare for a product that was the de facto definition of document management. Let’s hope this new name doesn’t prove itself a compound oxymoron to boot.

Magnetic Poetry

The “Intelligent” product silos aren’t much better. Granted, this is a product that has to publish a separate guide with each new release to map old product names to new. Not a sheet or a few pages, a document. However, these new silos are so vertically restrictive that EMC had to toss the content server into case management.  Having done case management and having paid my dues in lines of server code, I’m perplexed. It’s like they had a very limited box of magnetic poetry to play with.

The continuing erosion of a strong brand means less mindshare among potential customers. Everybody knows SharePoint even though most don’t know what it really is. I’ve seen first-hand how good marketing trumps good product. Documentum had that name recognition–still does in many parts–and EMC seems determined to stamp it out without something sticky to replace it.

EMC drops Web Content Publisher

Zombie WaspHere are my thoughts on Brilliant Leap’s latest post about EMC dropping Web Content Manager [Brilliant Leap: Na na na na, Hey hey-ey Goodbye].

I remember when Documentum turned its back on their Big Pharma customers to chase the web content management dream during the tech bubble. So now they’re backing away from WCM after dropping DSM? Hmm. Then there’s EMC’s “we’re not worthy” submissive stance regarding Sharepoint. Hmm.

Will users five years from now actually know what Documentum is? EMC will have to wage a “Documentum Inside” campaign like Intel’s to keep any kind of mind share with customers. They still have Captiva, but does anybody really want to be *known* for scanning, the lowest form of document management?

An optimist would claim that they’re focusing on core technologies, and we’ll see long-needed improvements at the server and in the data model. A pessimist would argue this is another sign of EMC parasitizing Documentum. Think “zombie wasp” from the RadioLab episode on Parasites.

I am not exactly known for being an optimist, but this may be good news for alternatives like Drupal and Alfresco as businesses starting reaching for a can of Raid.

Win7: Well, have you tried it?

A friend at Microsoft messaged me on Facebook and asked me if I’ve tried Windows 7 now that it’s officially released.  The short answer is, “No.”

broken_windows_2At home, I only use Windows on my gaming machine. XP after all these years is running (mostly) smoothly and quickly. The newest game I’m running said yesterday that Win7 is not officially supported despite the developer having a very close relationship with Microsoft. Games are particularly sensitive to change, especially in graphics drivers, audio drivers, and memory management. There’s no benefit under Win7 with any of the games I play (e.g., no DirectX 10 games), only risk.

My current client is still on Windows XP. While I expect they will move to Windows 7 eventually, it won’t be anytime soon: The upgrade inertia of a company with tens of thousands of computers, many of which don’t have the horsepower to make Win7 a good experience, is a frightening thing to behold. Especially if you make your living by selling shrink-wrapped upgrades to companies like them.

Win7 is in a bind; Vista’s problems weren’t entirely technical and may reflect the mature nature of the computer market more than mistakes made at the software level. People upgrade Windows when they buy new computers, not to get new features. The economic downturn means fewer computer sales. Some analysts think Win7 will drive more hardware sales,but that’s a cart-before-the-horse argument to me.

People use applications, not hardware or operating systems. Until those applications require new hardware or Win7, people won’t upgrade. It’s cost without benefit. Microsoft is trying to include useful software with Win7, something they (sometimes unfairly) get into trouble for, but people with Windows right now already have 3rd party software for those things. While I’ve come to doubt that people are rational actors in the economic sense, the cost/benefit equation is just too obvious here, especially when money is tight.

On my Mac, I upgrade more frequently because Apple provides functional improvements to applications I use in daily life as well as new/cool stuff.  There are more applications shipped with the OS that I use regularly, so I am more interested in what an OS upgrade includes. It also helps that Mac OS X upgrades are more frequent and lower impact. Although I’ve wanted to do a clean install, I haven’t *had* to do one and therefore haven’t done it.

27 inches of Sexy
27 inches of Sexy

The most likely thing to get me to buy Win7 right now is if I get one of the new iMacs to act as both gaming and desktop computer. 27 inches, video in, and nice horsepower in the CPU/GPU on the high end have me interested. And it’s lickably sexy. My gaming rig is a few years old (another reason I’m hesitant to push it to Win7 even though I have a Gig of memory XP can’t address) but a new iMac would have plenty of cycles to spare for Win7.

Microsoft sticking to a release date is nice to see, but it’s not without risk. My final hesitation (on almost any 1.0 product) is how rushed it was to get out the door on time. How far into the future is SP1 going to be?

For no real benefit, Win7 would only bring me risk and cost, so I don’t do Windows upgrades–for now.

Twitter Lists: Defeat from the Beak of Victory

Unmentionable!
Here we go again!

I wanted Twitter lists about five seconds after I clicked my second “follow”. My life is about categories and contexts: I follow people for different reasons, and I want to group those people and their tweets around similarities. Search and hash tags helped a little, but full-text search and uncontrolled tag vocabularies come with a host of problems–I know that all too well from my day job.  In the meantime, a Rube Goldberg of RSS feeds and multiple Twitter accounts provided some degree of order. Now Twitter’s on the eve of releasing lists, and I can’t say for sure I’ll even use them.

Twitter needs to advertise their betas better.

There’s no telling when I got the feature because I don’t use the Twitter website. It’s all about the client: Tweetie 2, Tweetie for Mac, or Google Reader. I even stopped going to the website from email notifications because they don’t have anyway to handle multiple accounts. The email may be about “A”, but I’d end up as “B” because that’s who I last logged in as. Yes, this is another case of clients having it all over web apps in terms of context and state. I hate living in a buzzword-compliant age: Web 2.0 is roughly Client 0.2 in my book.

An API is no substitute for a conceptual model.

I found the API calls for lists easily, but I never found diagrams or narratives explaining what lists are and how they work. Lists don’t appear to be very complicated at first, but it’s not just twiddling the two radio buttons and one text box on lists that creates complexity.  How things interact with lists internally and externally can create unexpected conditions and counter-intuitive behaviors. That leads me to my biggest initial gripe and likely deal-killer …

Lists do not have RSS feeds; they are a walled garden, and not in a good way.

Lists were looking pretty neat until I noticed something. Actually, I noticed the lack of something–an RSS feed icon in the address bar of Firefox. RSS lets me consume and crosspost Twitter anywhere–Google Reader, my blog, Facebook, FriendFeed. Right now lists are only available through the Twitter website, and that’s fine for a beta release (unless you’re Google). However, even when clients start supporting lists, people will still have to come to Twitter. Maybe that’s a hint that Twitter’s getting ready to monetize, or maybe that missing conceptual model contains some details that make RSS problematic.

A little more experimenting is in order …

Google Docs Shared Folders: More Folders, More Lies

Oh, Google. If you can’t get shared folder permissions right, who can?  Nobody. Because the folder is still a lie!

Google Docs Adds Shared Folders — Mashable.com

The Folder Is a Lie

Mashable claims that Google’s new shared folders work just like they should. I beg to differ. Google doesn’t really have folders under the hood, just like some other document management system I used to talk about. Things get tricky when a document can be in more than one place. Google’s full of smart people, so I decided to hope for the best and kick the tires: Create a few folders, create a few documents, and then permission and move things around to see what happens.

The first no-big-surprise was Google Docs has trouble with state. Web applications are still inferior to stand-alone clients (or operating systems) when managing state. Most of the time a refresh would solve the inconsistencies around location or permissions, but sometimes a logout/login was needed. State issues aside, let’s look at the behavior.

Google walks a tightrope with its “folders” because they really aren’t folders; they’re tags. The behavior you get depends on the context: If you’re in a folder, you get the “move” menu item which works as advertised; something is in one place, then it’s in another–or nowhere since documents don’t have to be in folders. Use the folders menu item and you get the “tag” behavior because you’re directly selecting zero or more items from a taxonomy of tags that happen to have folder icons next to them.

Hacking around, I discovered that Google’s “how it should work” is a most permissive model; it seems to just gather the list of every sharing option on the shared folders. This isn’t horrible; however, the metaphorical mismatch it creates will undoubtedly cross the line into “too permissive”. Most people will assume that the permissions on the “last” folder they put something into will determine the permissions. To Google’s credit, they display a permissions summary next to each document. Maybe that’s good enough to prevent mistakes. And maybe everybody reads EULAs before clicking “I agree”, too.

The shame here is that Google really broke ground with ideas like conversations in GMail. Seeing your replies in the thread of a conversation is obviously the right thing to do; segregating part of the conversation to the Sent “folder” is a broken model that requires people to quote the entire previous conversation with each response. Horrible! Google’s always on the verge of freeing people from the tyranny of folders but never fully commits to a pure tag and search approach, so they won’t be overthrowing The Folder Hierarchy with this feature.

Twitter Misses the Mark with Mentions

Unmentionable!
Unmentionable!

When Twitter changed their reply functionality, now called mentions, my initial reaction was unmentionable.  After a few weeks to ponder and play with it, I still think they made a big mistake.  A reply was originally a message that began with a twitter username, like this:

@zorak No, really?

Replies were public, but Twitter added a link so you could see just your replies and options to filter other people’s replies out of your friends stream.  According to the Twitter blog, the community came up with the convention that Twitter later embraced and enhanced.  Then Twitter added a separate API call and a “swoosh” button to their web site:

twitterswoosh

Just what I wanted! Twitter added metadata underneath so that a reply remembered which tweet it replies to.  Pretty soon every Twitter client included swoosh buttons and “in reply to” links.  This was a philosophical break for Twitter–whether they know it or not–because there was no way to distinguish swoosh and “@user …” via SMS.  Supporting SMS creates a larger potential user base, but it drastically limits functionality.  Until everybody has an iPhone, fledgling social networks like Brightkite must consider this trade-off.

The original reply syntax is still supported and continued to create confusion as Tweetie developer AteBits explained on his blog.  People put multiple names in the message or put the @ in the body of the message, assuming the right people would see the replies:

@me @myself @I Remember the milk.
Give @me some sugar, @baby!

Only @me sees the first tweet as a reply; nobody sees the second.  Search was already catching on thanks to other community-grown initiatives like hash tags; users and client developers began using search on @user instead of the reply API to catch such grammatically incorrect tweets.  Apparently this is a bad thing, or at least something Twitter discouraged, perhaps because of its impact on Twitter’s call throttling.  That and other scaling problems should make for a few good dissertations; I just hope Twitter is keeping the historical record and will be willing to share it.

This brings us to mentions which are basically just searches on @user.  Although it’s a good thing that Twitter learns from their community, the big mistake here was changing the functionality under the existing API calls.  I agree that instantly supporting new functionality in all Twitter clients is attractive to a provider, but it can–and did–create unintended consequences.  All those clients blessed with catching those malformed reply tweets were also cursed by all those side-bar mentions crowding the replies page.  Twitterati like @wilw get many more mentions than direct replies, and now there’s no easy way to sort out the two.

The lesson here is that it’s safer to create new API and UI elements for new-ish functionality and let the community migrate over than to replace the guts and hope nothing breaks.  As any API designer knows, developers will do all kinds of unexpected things once your API is released into the wild.  The Twitter community’s active, inventive role in shaping Twitter also provides for some real “They did what?” moments.  Tweaking reply functionality to support only swooshes and adding new methods for mentions would have made everybody happy.

There’s one thing I want from Twitter that they promise in the API FAQ; I want to see all replies for a given tweet.  I disagree the assertion in the Twitter blog post above that people don’t want to wander into the middle of an ongoing conversation.  Sometimes that’s the best way to discover new topics and interesting people.  When that happens, there is a need to go back and discover the source and all its tributaries.  Twitter is aware of the need, as this quote from the Twitter API Wiki FAQ shows:

How do I get all replies to a particular status?
For now, there’s not a great way to do this. We’ve heard the requests, though, and we’ll be providing a solution for it before too long.

Conversation functionality is cropping up in Twitter clients like Nambu and the soon-to-be-released Tweetie for Mac (20 April 2009).  Looks like Nambu constructs conversations based on cached tweets, building little trees as it discovers reply pointers to other already-fetched tweets.  This single-linked list structure makes it easy to find your immediate predecessor but difficult to walk up, across, and back down the tree.

Hmm, where have I seen this problem before?  Oh yeah, version trees in Documentum.  Every document remembers its immediate predecessor (i_antecedent_id) and the root of its version tree family (i_chronicle_id).  A single query on i_chronicle_id returns every version of that document.  That’s just what I want Twitter to do!

Twitter already has its own i_antecedent_id–with a better name I hope.  So add an equivalent to i_chronicle_id and a new getAllReplies API call.  I suggest topic_id since that’s what the root tweet of a tree of replies becomes.  It would be nice to go back and stitch up all the previous replies-of-replies, but I would understand if the hit on the database would be too big.  How many tweets are in there anyway?