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KnowledgeNet to become part of NETg

Acquisition Will Enhance Thomson NETg Enterprise Learning Offerings

STAMFORD, Conn., – August 27, 2004 – The Thomson Corporation (NYSE: TOC; TSX: TOC) and KnowledgeNet, Inc., a privately held company recognized as a leader in live e-learning, today announced that they have signed a definitive agreement under which Thomson will acquire KnowledgeNet and merge it with its enterprise learning business, Thomson NETg. Terms of the pending transaction were not disclosed.

“Thomson NETg and KnowledgeNet are a perfect fit,” said Thomas R. Graunke, chief executive officer and co-founder of KnowledgeNet. “Both companies have a long history of improving the effectiveness, accessibility and success of an array of training, development and learning programs. By merging our products, learning philosophies and industry expertise we are creating a compelling combination for all of our existing — and new — customers.”

The transaction, expected to close later this year, is subject to customary regulatory and closing conditions, including the expiration of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976, as amended.

Full Press Release

My congratulations to Tom Graunke and the folks in Phoenix. I remember when KnowledgeNet was a pup. When they gave the remote demo (Placeware, if I remember correctly) that landed the Cisco account, I was in the next room working on another project. As they walked out of the room, the Cisco folks appeared quite impressed. The “no travel costs” argument was important back then.

A lesson for training professionals: Thompson doesn’t differentiate learning from information. Neither should you. Both provide value. Training is simply another delivery channel. If it solves the problem, go for it.

“The Thomson Corporation (Thomson) is a global provider integrated information solutions to business and professional customers. The Company generates revenues by supplying its customers with business-critical information from multiple Thomson and third-party databases, and further enhances the value of that information with analysis, insight and commentary. To enhance the speed and accessibility of information, Thomson increasingly delivers information and services electronically.”

KnowledgeNet will be merged into NETg. Joe Dougherty, current president of Thomson NETg, will lead the combined business.

It's More Than ROI

This evening I attended a meeting of BayCHI (Computer Human Interface Group) in South Hall, the oldest building on the Berkeley campus. The topic: It’s More Than ROI: Defining the Business Value of User-Centered Design. Speakers from Leap Frog, World Savings, Adaptive Path, PeopleSoft, and Ask Jeeves spoke of measuring the value of interface design.

I’ve heard precisely the same conversation on the topic of training. How can we demonstrate our value to the business people? Aren’t some worthy activities inherently immeasurable? Why do we always get chopped when there’s an economic downturn?

Sather Tower is directly across from South Hall. It’s foggy tonight.

The difficulty of pinning a credible number on intangibles cropped up. You’d think that in an era where intangibles create half the value in business, more people would have figured this one out. It’s like not believing in microwaves or germs because you can’t see them.

Would any business person in their right mind voluntarily throw away good customer relationships, know-how, and brand reputation? Of course not. Because they have value. So it makes more sense to give them an approximate value rather than factor them into the equation at zero.

Miracles abound

My new ThinkPad should arrive tomorrow; I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’ve lost track of how many computers I’ve owned — an early Apple ][, a original disk-less IBM-PC, several more IBM PCs (often with exotic storage media), a Toshiba 1000, a Gateway Handbook, a Dell portable, a Compaq luggable, three or four Gateway desktops, two SONY Vaio laptops, a SONY Vaio desktop, and two ThinkPads. Still, getting a new machine is as exciting as hopping into a new car. The way prices are going, I should probably drive my Honda Accord for the rest of my life but buy a couple of computers a year to keep my batteries charged.

A couple of times today I stopped to reflect on what was going on around me and was simply amazed. I was tweaking a few things on a website. A dozen times in rapid succession, I made a change, then checked the web to see how it looked. Imagine. In less time than it took some of the old machines to read a file, I can go back and forth with a server on the other side of the company.

More astounding still, I can click a button in an email and track the location of my new PC. I know exactly when it passed customs in Shanghai, when it was rerouted to Anchorage, when it arrived there, and when it’s due to depart for California. One long number retrieves this real-time history.

Matching supply and demand

The sweet spot in business is when supply and demand are in equilibrium. Customers buy all they want; you sell all you got. This morning I noticed a perfect example of this in Google’s Gmail.

Google markets Gmail through referrals. Current users can invite others to sign up for the free service. Early users were allotted ten invitations. After that, the invitation button disappeared from the screen.

Google must have caught up with demand, for these two links appeared on my screen this morning:

I assume these will appear whenever Google’s ready to take on more customers.

Most messages I receive are less useful. What are these messages suggesting I do?

Here’s a real show stopper. Maybe I should say “sale stopper.” Barnes and Noble invited me to an online sale. When I try to place an order, I receive this somewhat geeky message:

Now what? I do have cookies enabled. Do you think they’ll notice the problem before they see that online revenues are dwindling?

Dog wags tail, not vice-versa

The human brain is a trickster. It takes in a gusher of visual, auditory, and sensory input, throws 99.99% of it away without our knowing it, and presents us with a coherent picture of the world. The pre-conscious brain chooses the slides in the show we see. It even gives us the illusion that we’re in control.

Brain wave studies show that consciousness lags reality (and then covers its tracks).. Your pre-conscious mind is a lot closer to “now” than you are. The brain decides to hold up your right arm–and you think it’s something you thought up. Hah!

We can only see what we know. People accustomed to medieval paintings couldn’t appreciate the perspective of Rennaissance painters. Caribbean natives couldn’t see the ships of Columbus until perceptive medicine men told them what to look for. Consciousness is low-bandwidth; being oblivious to things we don’t recognize is a survival strategy.

This train of thought was leaking into my consciousness as I read through the agendas of the five conferences I’ll be attending in the upcoming months. From the topics, you’d think that the only thing that trainers see is training.

Despite my fanning the flames for the last year, the training community is taking a wait-and-see attitude about what I’ve been calling workflow learning. Some say they’ll get to it when the time is ripe. Or when the powers that be express interest in the future beyond getting through the next month.

There’s a flaw in this logic. The trickster brain has you thinking you have a choice. Listen up: a new way of computing is on the way. It’s web services-based, decentralized, rich-client, Internet logic, interoperable, process-driven, individualized, real-time, pervasive, and absolutely inevitable.

The new framework will be everywhere within five years. Early adopters are taking advantage of it now. It’s compelling because it routes around IT and hands the management of business processes back to business people. It does this by overlaying what’s already in place instead of replacing it. You can implement it on a pay-as-you-go basis. In time, tapping into real-time process management will be as necessary as having a phone or a website today.

What do senior executives expect from training professionals in all this? Nothing. Why? Because training is not driving this decision. The new computing, what IBM calls “On Demand,” is on the way because it clears bottlenecks, cuts costs, empowers workers, speeds things up, reduces IT busywork, future-proofs applications, plugs into a universal value network, facilitates process outsourcing, puts managers in charge of improving business processes, and lets the organization focus on its core strengths.

It’s difficult to understate how little say-so the training function is going to have in choosing the new approach to conducting business.

Training is but a grain of sand in a very large desert.

Resisting the future is futile. The world grows more complex by the hour, and a return to basics is not going to simplify it. No one’s asking us to make the major structural decisions. Our function is to help people do their jobs well. Our challenge is to figure out how to leverage change, not resist it, for change will happen with us or without.

This is akin to VCRs in classrooms. Every teacher has access to one. Because of sound pedagogy? Because of a study at Columbia? Because we wanted no child left behind? No, no, and of course not. VCRs became plentiful because millions of adults purchased them to watch pornographic movies, and economics of scale brought the price down from tens of thousands of dollars to less than a hundred. The new computing will proliferate because it makes good business sense.

What the Workflow Institute has been calling workflow learning is no more than the optimal way to improve worker performance in the new environment. It’s up to us to make it relevant, timely, easy to access, and enjoyable to use.

Workflow learning is not the right term for this, but it’s the best I’ve come up with. Workflow has the baggage of document handling; we’re more focused on the progress through the value chain. Learning calls up images of courses and class, but we foresee more focus on small bites, collaboration, reference look-up, and imbedded support.

We’re not convening the Workflow Learning Symposium in San Francisco to sell our vision of the future. Rather, we hope to engage you in a dialog about the new technology and how to take advantage of it to improve individual and organizational performance. Maybe we’ll even come up with a new name for workflow learning.

A Parallel Universe

From the publicity Bersin & Associates and Brandon Hall generate, I assume lots of people read comparisons of Learning Management Systems. One item they probably don’t factor in is vendor viability. How likely is the vendor to go down the tubes or be merged out of existence? Think about it: Which is worse, to discover some glitches in the code or to find out your vendor is no longer answering the phone.

That’s why Emergent Learning Forum has been publishing financial analysis from ThinkEquity since the beginning of last year. We’ve got 90 of these financial snapshots of the learning industry online. Take a look at the latest issue to see what you’ve been missing.

Here’s a summary of ThinkEquity’s Ten Commandments of Research. Great stuff!

This is not a better view of the world; it’s a different view of the world.

Pully, not pushy

Better than any book. Check this animated description of the Olympics. A great example of motion graphics. Noted in elearnpost.

Which reminds me. After years learning from the links Maish points out, I’m cancelling my email subscription to elearnpost. Not that I’m giving it up. This week I’m dumping email subscriptions because I will be tracking their webfeeds with Bloglines. Subscribe with Bloglines

I’m recrafting my life on-line with more pull and less push. I plan to gather news on my schedule, not the provider’s. Also, I can home in on topics that grab my interest without sorting through the chaff. Tools like Blogdigger and Furl make it easy to monitor what’s going on with, say, Workflow Learning.

Love/hate. I just got off the phone with a charming, personable IBMer, someone whose company I really enjoy. Then I opened my next email, from another area of IBM. I ordered a ThinkPad on August 5. It’s a plain vanilla X40 ultralight. The email informed me that my ThinkPad went into configuration on August 18. The configuration process requires approximately 15 business days to complete, about September 8. Then UPS Standard Ground takes 3 to 5 business days. Dell would have put a custom machine on my doorstep the day after my order. IBM is taking six weeks to deliver a standard laptop. What arcane process can IBM be using to slow their production time down like this? What sort of manual backwater held up my order from August 5 to August 18? The eBusiness cobbler’s children have no shoes. Lucky for them I love their product.

Update. 8/21, the next day. Another email arrives from IBM. My PC has shipped! The problem appears to be poor customer communication rather than fulfillment.

Reverse Engineering. The Media Lab’s Nicholas Negroponte is a superb conceptualizer and salesman. His book Being Digital taught me early on to look at bits, not atoms. Today I read about a company that’s reverse-engineering the concept, making a buck translating bits back into atoms.

Download free CAD software

Design the model

Shop creates it

Eats Re-boots & Leaves

The Berkeley Manual of Style

Wired News has announced, “Effective with this sentence, Wired News will no longer capitalize the “I” in internet. At the same time, Web becomes web and Net becomes net.” Same here. For a while, this will be like trying to write the correct year on checks in January.

The Wired News article links to a piece they wrote four years ago explaining why they intended to use e-mail instead of email. On Google five minutes ago, e-mail has 22 million entries to email’s 280 ,000 million. Email it is.

Once again, I’ve been asked if it’s e-learning, e-Learning, eLearning, or elearning. The answer: it doesn’t make any difference. I switched to eLearning long ago and am not about to go back now. Besides, I prefer performance improvement to any of the variations on learning.

The truism “Top-down KM didn’t work” has given rise to something called Bottom-Up KM. No, no, no. That makes it sound as if the underlings are dictating to the topsiders. In reality, the former top is no longer part of the picture in our flattened, decentralized organizations; there’s no there there. To borrow from complexity science, the opposite of top-down is bottom-out. It’s a collaborative thing. Peer to peer. Communal.

By the way, you are reading a blog. Short for weblog. The little orange button labeled XML links to my webfeed.

While I’m at it, Workflow Learning no longer needs a TM. Since I have embedded the term high and low, it will take a while, but I’m going to try writing is workflow learning. No caps.