What is IBM Connections? And how to explain it to users!

In my work a big part of what I do is to explain both the reasons as well as the interface of IBM Connections. Why? Well because once you get the hang of it it’s not that hard but to a newbie user who opens it up for the first time it can be very daunting and alien.

So then you start to explain and it often comes out a little like….:

Connections is a platform that enables people to work together, offering a box of tools that you can use to share information, tasks and knowledge with others. It’s an environment where you’re connected through your profile to others by way of their profiles so that you can share information and work together with them. Individually or in groups (Communities). The information can be shared through various independent or community apps like Files, Activities and Blogs or through simply sharing status updates.

Which can cause certain people to become even more confused! So what I usually use to help me explain IBM Connections is this simple picture:

 

In short it explains, the concept of:

  • a person-centric environment,
  • that brings together people, one-on-one through profiles or in groups (communities)
  • allowing them to share information & expand knowledge.

But more importantly, it also visualizes the reasons behind the interface of IBM Connections. Allowing you to go through the various elements and helping them understand the differences between the various screens and options.

So next time someone asks you to ‘explain this IBM Connections‘, perhaps this image can help you too!

 

Ephox EditLive pimping the richtext editor in IBM Connections: Hello spell check!

Wow! Now I heard the story two weeks ago at Social Connections where Ephox EditLive! was one of the sponsors but didn’t have time to take a good look at what it was they actually offered. “A better richtext editor for your Connections environment…” Right, have to admit that really didn’t get me excited right there and then. The richtext editor as I know it worked pretty well… or did it?!?

Well tonight I know better. Our Administrator posted a status update earlier today saying he had installed it on our environment and curious as I am I immediately tried it out. On opening any richtext input field within the IBM Connections environment the EditLive! plug-in loads instead of the normal richtext editor so users don’t have to do a thing except for approving the use of the plug-in on first open.

The first thing I noticed: IT SUPPORTS RIGHT MOUSE CLICK SPELL CHECK ACCESS! Ok, yes I know, perhaps not the most important for all but to someone who’s switching between two languages constantly a vital element of text editing and one of the most irritating things in IBM Connections today. Sure, the standard text editor will highlight wrongly spelled words but right mouse clicking it will not list alternatives, it will give you a ‘paste’ option…

Well in the EditLive! text editor it does work, listing me alternatives and even synonyms. That in itself was enough to get me very excited. Even more excited I got after realizing it adds a host of other great features. Things like “Track changes”, image editing and in-line comments.

So I’m more than curious now, can’t wait to test this further but I must say I’m impressed! This is going to be a great add-on for any IBM Connections environment and I can recommend anyone to give this Beta a try.

Sametime meetings – simple but effective

I had an interesting discussion about Sametime earlier this week after I told someone I had been doing trainings all week to users about the new Sametime Meetings options they get with Sametime Standard. The other person didn’t think much of Sametime but asking through it turned out he really didn’t know what it had to offer either.

I really like the ease that Sametime Meetings has. It’s a very basic interface, which is great with users who have no clue (the less buttons, the less they can screw up) but it also has some very strong and nice features that I really love:

1. The option to have participants record the meeting themselves. This saves a lot on large data files having to be shared later on as well as stress for the presenter about having to think about it.

2. The option to set specific types of entries in the side chat. This way input gets categorized as you go and you can filter what types of updates you want to see by selecting the view options and selecting the appropriate filter. By getting questions being asked through the “Questions” option and setting the filter to show ‘questions only’ a presenter can easily keep track of what questions are being asked and by whom and address them without being distracted by other chatting or note taking going on.

3. Which brings me to the next feature: the option to mark an item in the discussion list as a “starred item” to draw attention to it or as an “answered” question. Both the participant as well as presenter have the ability to do this by simply clicking the icon in front of the entry and changing it to the appropriate option. This allows for easy management of still open issues and questions as well as categorizing.

4. Which then can be used to create a meeting report through the option “Room tools” – “Meeting report”. This one I especially love as it is an instant and easy way to get a quick overview of everything that went on during the meeting. The meeting report lists:

  • the room details (url / owner / name)
  • all participants with the times they were logged in
  • all communication going on in the Discussion side window by type so already categorized into “Meeting minutes”, “actions”, etc.
  • any polls with their results
  • the displayed content (documents & screen shares)
  • any recordings made by any of the participants.

So all in all I really like the Sametime Standard meeting options. The above are just a few, there are more, like the polling option but these really set it apart for me.

And it can be used both on-premises as well as in the cloud. The new meeting functionality is fully enabled on the IBM Smartcloud environment and can be tried there for free for 60 days. After that a stand alone web meetings account will cost you $5 a month and allows you to set up meetings that can host up to 200 participants. Similar options on either GoTo meeting or WebEx will cost you 10 times as much at least. Ok granted, you will get some additional features with those services that Sametime doesn’t offer but the question is: do you really need those or will they just confuse your users?

I think Sametime really is a great option for a lot of us there and definitely worth a look!

Lotus Notes Gems: Set the default font for mail

Every now and again you learn about a new functionality or option in your favorite software that has been there for a while and you really should have know about but simply didn’t… And although you love it as soon as you learn about it, it also bugs the hell out of you that you didn’t learn it before!

Well here it is, my gem of the week:

In Lotus Notes mail if you want to set the default font for new messages simply create a new mail, create some text according to the font, color and size you want and click the [Text]; [Set current font as mail Default]. It will automatically update your basic font settings to reflect your new preferred settings. So simple and yes, so easy.

I don’t know how I could have not known about this one! Especially as it has been in Lotus Notes since version 8.5.2 apparently, but as I do right now I can’t help but write it down. Perhaps someone else missed or forgot about this one too and could use a reminder 🙂

IBM Connections 4 gold nugget: Drag and drop file management

Like everyone else I’ve been excited to find out all the little and big new features IBM Connections 4 has to offer and even though I’ve been Beta testing it for months I’m still finding new little gold nuggets of functionality each day. One that I came across while looking at Luis Benitezvideo of new features in IBM Connections 4 is the drag and drop in the files section of the browser to upload new files or versions (at approximately at 2:50). I love it!

It makes it so much easier to upload files as you don’t have to first click a button and navigate to the file location anymore. On drop of the file or files (yes multiple works too!) it will automatically prompt you for tags and sharing options. Giving you the option to share it immediately with individuals or communities. Even better is that it also recognizes files that are already uploaded in your files section, prompting you to save the new version either as a version or with a rename.

This same functionality was already available through the Windows desktop plugin and the Lotus files plug-in that also allows drag & drop and automatic recognition of new versions but lets face it not everyone wants to install plugins and add-ins and sometimes it’s simply not even an option (try installing the Windows desktop plugin on your Mac!). With this you don’t have to, simply open your ‘My Files’ section and drag&drop your file or files in. It works like a charm!

And it turns out this doesn’t just works on Greenhouse or your on premises install of IBM Connections 4 but on Smartcloud as well (thanks to Erik Vos who alerted me to this!). This nifty little functionality is absolutely one of my favorite new functionalities of IBM Connections. What is yours?

 

Do not disturb

Interesting discussion this morning with Sharon Bellamy on availability. If you put your Sametime on ‘Do Not Disturb’ the system will offer you to send an e-mail instead.

So how is that not disturbing? Isn’t sending an e-mail just another way of demanding attention and a reply?

Funny, I always thought it to be a good alternative but at the same time I realize that most people who put their Sametime on ‘Do Not Disturb’ and instead get an e-mail from someone will (if they haven’t deactivated that) get an audible or visible ‘New mail’ indicator about just as fast as they would see the chat window popping up. Demanding their attention and distracting them from what it was they were doing, that caused them to put the Sametime on ‘Do Not Disturb’ in the first place…

Why do we see the ‘Do Not Disturb’ indication on Sametime as just a ‘Do Not Chat’ and not as a (like it actually says) indication of us not wanting to be disturbed in any way…even if by mail? Or should we change that text to ‘Not available for chat’ instead?

Nice example of how the internet and hyper-connectability is really changing our perception of language concepts.

Know your client…

Yesterday I signed up for the life web coverage of the exciting unveiling of the new IBM PureSystem which was hosted not by IBM but by external virtual event organizer Unisfair. Nothing wrong there. Each to its own and they are probably better in organizing these kind of things, but….

I have two pet peeves with how they organized it:

1. At registration you could indicate whether IBM & Affiliates are allowed to contact you by mail, phone or postal mail. I deselected all entries and saved. Guess what. Postal mail and Phone were automatically selected anyway which I saw in a flash while the page was saving. Even logging in and editing the settings does not allow you to deselect this. Sure, it will look deselected but save, switch page and come back and it’s selected again (and yes, I cleared my cache).
Big interface No No here. Even if that is actually saved as deselected you should never show it as selected as it is confusing and misleading. If it is saved as an approval then even worse, don’t give a user an option that really isn’t an option!

2. The second one (and yeah, I know I’m nitpicking here) is that when you organize an event for a major player like IBM and require the attendees to registeryou should at least make sure you know that customers products. So don’t send out a registration message with an “Outlook reminder” option….. sigh

Big issues? No, the first one I simply corrected by changing my info to fictional data and the second one… Well… I’m probably one of the few that even noticed.

But…. it does influence my feeling about the whole thing and makes me distrusting of it all. So if you use external companies to organize events and campaigns for you, make sure they obey to the same standards you do, are familiar with your products and don’t call out competitors products in their communications to your customers. The same goes for organizers. Know your client! It really doesn’t take much now a days for customers to get weary and distrusting on the Internet and that can directly impact the brand as well as you as an organizer….

The bright side of errors (just for fun)

Sometimes errors can really help put things in perspective….. or simply give you a chuckle. Todays highlight were two errors that made my day. Rest assured, neither were real problems but both gave me a great big laugh. So to brighten your day, here they are!

This one made me almost feel proud of the achievement!

And this one from Microsoft online help…. well irony 🙂

Testing – the Japanese confusion test

When I test software I love to test for the quirky details stuff. I know, why bother, but I guess I’m just one of those people for whom the devil is in the detail.

And one of my favorite tests for multi-lingual applications is to test for consistency by changing the language to either Simplified Chinese or Japanese – languages I absolutely do not speak. The reason? Well for one it has a different character set, flushing out non-translated items right away (even if they sound the same the different characters will make it look different).

(‘share’ is clearly not being translated here)

But secondly it also means you are suddenly stuck in a piece of software with no textual hints, forcing you to rely on logic and common sense to find your way.
Now, you shouldn’t do this if you are absolutely new to the software. You need to have a basic familiarity with the functionalities first, otherwise you’ll just get lost. But when you do have that basic knowledge, turning yourself into a temporary illiterate by trying to navigate the application in Japanese is a great way of seeing whether the logic of the application still holds up. Doing this has often helped me find inconsistencies you would otherwise easily overlook. Issues for instance with changing button or menu orders, when on one screen the order of buttons is [Ok] – [Cancel] and on another [Cancel] – [ Ok].

Now why is that important? Surely most won’t bother about that?!? Well, yes. Most won’t, but then there is this thing called repetition… We are creatures of habit and when we use software we often start anticipating moves, almost clicking automatically without looking. Like flipping through a photo album where you always flip through the pages from left to right, expecting the chronological order to follow that. How annoying is it if half way through you find the chronological order has suddenly changed, forcing you to go the other way?

So try it. It’s a great way of finding things you would otherwise overlook and it can be kind of funny to see how good your own understanding of the application really is…

User Experience: Menu & button placement – How to make your users hate you

I’m kind of opinionated when it comes to User Experience and the way users are directed to use certain functionality. Maybe it is because as a Business Consultant I’m usually the one talking most to users about their frustrations with software. Or maybe because I really believe that to fully understand you have to use it yourself. Whatever it is I spend a lot of time going through UI designs, looking at how stuff works. And one of my biggest irritations is with how badly thought through the navigation and placement of functionality options (buttons/menus/actions) is done in some applications & sites. 

Generally you can group action buttons & menus in 4 categories:

Layer 1: Most used options
These need to be glaringly obvious. Things like a “Create” or “New” button need to be there where ever I am. They need to be big and at a logical place. Not placed at the bottom where I can’t see it unless I scroll down.

Layer 2: Regularly used functions
These are things I might use maybe a couple of times each day, so I don’t need them to be there all the time but I should still be able to hit them really easily and within 2 clicks. Generally these are the first level options in my menus. Not buried in the third level of some 40+ option menu or hidden on the 3rd tab of a seemingly unrelated 3 page application wizard. 

Layer 3: Rarely used functions
Ok, these are the things users hardly touch. They can be buried a lot deeper. That doesn’t mean they should be in an illogical place though… So don’t put the ‘Share’ option of a request on the bottom of the versions tracker tab. Also make sure similar functions have similar logic to where they are placed throughout the application. Knowing a function can be found in the left upper corner on one form will mean users automatically look for that function in that same place on another form.

Layer 4: Preferably never used functions
The interesting stuff. Things the application developers rather not have users use but that need to be build in for that rare instance where it is needed. The things they secretly hope nobody will actually need…. Well users will find them and they will find rational uses for it. So don’t try to hide it or make it unnecessary difficult to use. Instead make sure it’s clear what it’s for and how to use it responsible. There is nothing as irritating to a user then an unnecessarily difficult to find action keeping them from doing something they deem important. For me these options are actually of the same importance as level 3 options and shouldn’t be any more difficult to find.

Ok nice, but how? My two cents worth on how to improve…..

  • Determine the base set of functionalities for each page/element based on the use cases  before starting development. Map your menus and buttons for each page.
  • Determine importance. Avoid having an overkill of options on the screen. In general not having more then 3-5 buttons or options in the most prominent layer. All other options should go into drop down menus or at other places.
  • Group functionalities: “Save” and “Save&Close” should be next or close to each other, not on either side of the screen
  • Keep to generally accepted menu build ups. Things like having the “[Print]” option in the first menu to the left which is generally called “[File]”. Users expect it there, so why confuse them by placing it in another menu?
  • Create a uniform functionality naming scheme: Don’t call the button to create a new form “New” on one page and “Create” on another 
  • Create a mockup for each of the main pages/elements placing the function menus/buttons and review it with the users. Do the same with the menu map. 
  • Keep it consistent and logical: A “Next” button typically resorts on the right side of the page/element, the “Previous” button on the left (and yes, I’ve seen this done wrong)
  • Keep it simple: Don’t create more options than necessary. Having 3 options “export to Excel”, “Export to CSV” and “Export to Text” in a menu can also be solved by creating one menu option called “Export” that opens a dialog in which to chose the type of export to use.
  • Think in pairs when it comes to functionality: If you allow someone to “Create” something then they usually expect to be able to “Delete” that something too.
  • During development: Look at the page / element with a typical display size the users would use. Don’t give developers a high resolution wide screen display if you’re not prepared to give something similar to all your users…. 

So what prompted me to write this? Well because I had one of those moments this week where I could have literally growled at a web development team. The simple task I tried to complete was to unsubscribe myself from several groups I was no longer interested in on LinkedIn. Really? Yes Really. I didn’t see the necessity to be a part of them anymore and so they had to go.

I would categorize this as one of those Layer 4 options as in general LinkedIn seems to think people will never leave the groups they add themselves to. So I was expecting having to click a few times to get there. I was NOT expecting to become so frustrated at not being able to locate a ‘leave group’ option I would have to resort to Google. Browsing search results to find out If, and if so How to do this. The fact that I hit a full page of results with people asking the same question just shows how badly this option was build in.