Social Learning Theory

A good reason to be part of communities of practice. From Learning Theories:

Etienne Wenger summarizes Communities of Practice (CoP) as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” This learning that takes place is not necessarily intentional.

Three components are required in order to be a CoP:

(1) the domain,

(2) the community, and

(3) the practice.

I like the part about “This Learning that takes place is not necessarily intentional”. So here is a question.

What practices help a community to be sticky and effective?

Do You Want To Build a Search Engine?

My reaction to the Common Crawl was one big WOW!

Common Crawl produces and maintains a repository of web crawl data that is openly accessible to everyone. The crawl currently covers 5 billion pages and the repository includes valuable metadata. The crawl data is stored by Amazon’s S3 service, allowing it to be bulk downloaded as well as directly accessed for map-reduce processing in EC2.  This makes wholesale extraction, transformation, and analysis of web data cheap and easy. Small startups or even individuals can now access high quality crawl data that was previously only available to large search engine corporations.

With this data, Solr and Hadoop, you have the elements to build your own custom search engine.

Sponsored Projects

We have been experimenting with some ideas at in50hrs and 32hourstartup and here is the latest incarnation of one of those ideas – Sponsored Projects.

Why Sponsored Projects?

Sponsored Projects allow you to work with developers in the region to get concept prototypes built over a weekend. From the developer’s point of view, they get to work with companies and gain experience.

Why Should Companies Be Interested?

There are a few good reasons.

  1. Many of us have ideas but never get the time to work on prototyping them. This is a chance to try out a few of those ideas over a weekend.
  2. We may not have the time or the required knowledge of technology to build concept/functional prototypes. We can get help from the developers in the community.
  3. You time box your effort. The entire effort takes a little bit more time than a weekend.
  4. The process of working through a prototype implementation refines your idea further.
  5. By participating, you help and encourage students and budding entrepreneurs in your community.

How Does It Work?

Do you want to sponsor a project at in50hrs? This is how it works.

  1. Create a project entry (one for each project) consisting of project name, brief description, required skills.
  2. In50hrs hosts this list and requests developers to register expression of interest.
  3. Registered developers sign up for one or two projects to show that they are interested.
  4. You contact developers who show interest in their projects and short list a few.
  5. You will pay the  registration fees for the selected developer(s).
  6. You create a  pitch, specifications (including UI), define milestones and mentor  developers at the event.
  7. You will help present the prototype at the final demo event

Why Should Developers Be Interested?

If you are a developer, there are several reasons to look at sponsored projects.

  1. You will get a project mentor who will be involved in the project.
  2. You will get to choose from a few ideas, before the event.
  3. You will have some one to brainstorm with about specs, milestones, design, features.
  4. It is  great learning experience (especially if you are a student).
  5. There will be some one to review your work and make useful suggestions and provide feedback.

How Do Students Register?

  1. Go to the in50hrs website and click on the sponsored projects link (it is not there yet, but will be put up by 1st Nov).
  2. Choose one or two projects and apply by filling a form.
  3. If you are accepted, the company will contact you through email.
  4. Register for the event and show up on 4th evening to start working on the project.

If you are interested in being a sponsor or working on a sponsored project, leave a comment here with your questions. We will put up some forms for sign up at in50hrs site by 1st Nov 2011.

Role of Blogging in Partner Development

In this article Gilmore, Shipwire’s VP for marketing and business development,  provides useful tips for partner development. At the end he touches upon the payoff of blogging:

“We want to be a thought leader,” Gilmore says. “We want to be a visionary. We want to get our ideas out there.”It’s also a very easy way for us to put out a position and keep our customers and partners up-to-date. It also gives us feedback from them. Blogs can start anywhere in or outside the company, and some of our best have come from our customer support team. They’ll ask, ‘Can we write a blog about how to do XYZ? A lot of customers are asking about it.’ Sure, put it up.

“Finally, the more information you put out there, the better you’ll do with search engines. The more content you have, the better.

“You do have to know who the audience is, and get relevant information out there to start or join a conversation. We had a forum for awhile, but we turned it off because it wasn’t getting a lot of traction — there weren’t enough people involved — but we might go back at some point.”

Having the customer support team blog on how to do ‘xyz’ is a great idea. This article is a great read.

Steve Jobs and Ideas

I don’t think I will ever stop mentioning Steve Jobs in some way. If you are a product guy, SJ is your Product God. From Jony Ives, on Steve and ideas.

You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.

How true!

What You Want to Do…

Quote from Hamming’s talk transcript:

When your vision of what you want to do is what you can do single-handedly, then you should pursue it. The day your vision, what you think needs to be done, is bigger than what you can do single-handedly, then you have to move toward management.

I think there is another intermediate step. Work with a team of peers. Not sure how this works in research (which is the context in which Hamming said this) but it certainly works when you are building things.

Brainstormers and Sound Absorbers

I really like this part (which occurs in the Question and Answers part) in Hamming’s talk. On brainstorming:

Once that was a very popular thing, but it seems not to have paid off. For myself I find it desirable to talk to other people; but a session of brainstorming is seldom worthwhile. I do go in to strictly talk to somebody and say, “Look, I think there has to be something here. Here’s what I think I see …” and then begin talking back and forth. But you want to pick capable people. To use another analogy, you know the idea called the `critical mass.’ If you have enough stuff you have critical mass. There is also the idea I used to call `sound absorbers’. When you get too many sound absorbers, you give out an idea and they merely say, “Yes, yes, yes.” What you want to do is get that critical mass in action; “Yes, that reminds me of so and so,” or, “Have you thought about that or this?” When you talk to other people, you want to get rid of those sound absorbers who are nice people but merely say, “Oh yes,” and to find those who will stimulate you right back.

So why do people merely say yes during brainstorming. Here are some possible reasons:

  • They do agree with what you are saying, partially or fully
  • They do not have much to contribute, so saying ‘yes’ is easier than questioning or making suggestions
  • They are afraid to question the speaker
  • It may be cultural (people may think that objecting or questioning may somehow be insulting)

A culture of questioning is healthy. If you want to be polite, you can choose a tone and style of question that is not confrontational. The essence of brainstorming is getting as many agreements and disagreements out. So how can we make brainstorming worthwhile?

If You Bump Into An Important Problem…

If you bump into an important problem, would you recognize it? Or will you say “Pardon me” and just move on? I am afraid that I might have been doing the latter.

This old essay is a fascinating read. It is from a Scientist, but I doubt that it applies to Science alone.

Here are a few things I want to remember and hence this post. Hopefully this will tickle your interest to go and read the article.

  • Once you get your courage up and believe that you can do important problems, then you can. If you think you can’t, almost surely you are not going to.
  • The misapplication of effort is a very serious matter. Just hard work is not enough – it must be applied sensibly.
  • Darwin writes in his autobiography that he found it necessary to write down every piece of evidence which appeared to contradict his beliefs because otherwise they would disappear from his mind.
  • It took me a while to discover its importance of ambiguity. Most people like to believe something is or is not true. Great scientists tolerate ambiguity very well.
  • If you are deeply immersed and committed to a topic, day after day after day, your subconscious has nothing to do but work on your problem. And so you wake up one morning, or on some afternoon, and there’s the answer.So the way to manage yourself is that when you have a real important problem you don’t let anything else get the center of your attention – you keep your thoughts on the problem. Keep your subconscious starved so it has to work on your problem, so you can sleep peacefully and get the answer in the morning, free.
  • Most great scientists know many important problems. They have something between 10 and 20 important problems for which they are looking for an attack.
  • He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important.
  • The business of abstraction frequently makes things simple.
  •  By altering the problem, by looking at the thing differently, you can make a great deal of difference in your final productivity
  • There are three things you have to do in selling. You have to learn to write clearly and well so that people will read it, you must learn to give reasonably formal talks, and you also must learn to give informal talks.

You Need A Very Product Oriented Culture

Quotes from Steve Jobs:

You need a very product-oriented culture, even in a technology company. Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together. Otherwise, you can get great pieces of technology all floating around the universe. But it doesn’t add up to much.

Source: Beahm, George (2011-10-19). I, Steve: Steve Jobs in His Own Words – Kindle Edition.