Ubiquity: turning us all into power users

Ubiquity was officially announced this week. I installed it and I find myself using it all the time for really simple, but very useful, stuff. I use a calculator a lot. Now, when I’m in the middle of typing an email or reading a web page, I just hit two keys and type "calc 3256/3+2456" and there’s my answer. If I see a word I don’t know, I just hit two keys and type "define hello", read the answer and hit escape and go back to what I was doing. If I want to email something interesting that I’m looking at, two keys and "email this to mike" and it emails whatever’s on my web page to Mike. (Actually it gives me a choice as to what "this" is and then it brings up Gmail with an email all addressed to Mike and filled out with the information from the web page I was looking at.)

So easy, so fast.

Have you ever watched one of those power command line users? Or power emacs users? Or even people who use the keyboard exclusively? Their fingers just fly and magic comes out of their computer. I feel like Ubiquity brings that power to the average web user. With just a couple of keystrokes and intuitive commands, they can make the computer magically generate the answer they are looking for.

Ubiquity works in the web browser and can do most things I can do inside my web browser. Now wouldn’t it be cool if Ubiquity also knew about my computer and all the applications and data I have on my computer? So now I could also say "email myspreadsheet to mike" and it would find "myspreadsheet" and email it to Mike?

Luis pointed out that since Mozilla’s projects are all open, and the GNOME Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation work together, we should be able to do that with GNOME. And Abhijit Nadgouda’s post reminded me that we might not be the only ones who’d like Ubiquity to know about our desktop. Plus, GNOME already knows how to do task oriented commands – GNOME Do has provided Ubiquity like functions for a while now. (I’m a big GNOME Do fan as well.) Can we integrate those desktop tasks into Ubiquity?

It seems to me that since Ubiquity, Firefox and GNOME are all open source we should be able to make that happen. It’s a unique opportunity to integrate the web and the desktop. I shouldn’t have to remember what functionality is part of the desktop and what is part of my browser. If I say "add this to myspreadsheet", the data I selected on the webpage should just be added to "myspreadsheet" on my computer.

Social Norms vs Market Norms

Social norms govern whether you are willing to help a friend move or cook dinner for your family. Market norms govern what you are willing to do for how much money. In an experiment to show how social norms vary from market norms, Dan Ariely created a computer task where volunteers had to drag circles into boxes. He then divided his volunteers into 3 groups.

  • Group 1 got $5.00.
  • Group 2 got either 50 cents or 10 cents.
  • Group 3 was asked to do him a favor.

Not surprisingly, group 1 – the highest paid group – outperformed group 2, but group 3 – the volunteer group – outperformed them all.

He went on to talk about how that affects employer-employee relationships. While market norms are at work, employees are asking for a lot of social norm like stuff, working 24×7, giving up holidays, etc. When they don’t repay in “social norm” stuff like time off when the kids are sick, employees immediately feel cheated.

What was interesting to me from a “Would you do it again for free?” perspective was:

“when a social norm collides with a market norm, the social norm goes away for a long time. In other words, social relationships are not easy to reestablish.”

To me, that would mean that once you are paid to work on open source software, it would be hard to go back to doing it for free.

Although based on other research I’ve read, I think open source software developers – ones who did for free, were paid, and then were no longer paid – would move to a different open source software project rather than quit altogether.

Another tidbit, relevant to Friends of GNOME: gifts don’t change how hard volunteers work unless it’s pointed out what the gifts cost.

501(c): (3) versus (6)

501(c) organizations are US non profit organizations. 501(c) is actually the name of the IRS tax code that defines non profits.

There are actually 28 kinds of 501(c)‘s. I’ll focus here on just two:

They are both nonprofits, exempt from federal income tax.

Here are some of the main differences: (Note that I am not an attorney nor an accountant, so you should consult other experts if you are actually creating one of these organizations!)

501(c) (3) 501(c) (6)
Benefit to the public. Trade organization or group of professionals with related business interests. Benefit to the organizations members.
Donations are tax deductible. Membership dues are a business expense, but donations are not tax deductible.
Very limited political lobbying allowed. Any amount of political lobbying that is related to member interests.
Eligible for grants. Not eligible for grants.
Must limit activities to specified cause. Members must have common business interest.

The GNOME Foundation is a 501(3)(c) that supports “the goal of the GNOME project: to create a computing platform for use by the general public that is completely free software.” The GNOME Foundation is supported in its mission by many individuals and companies.

Fundraising for a technical nonprofit

The GNOME Foundation is a nonprofit organization, a 501(c)(3), and is funded by donations from individuals and companies. So as executive director of the GNOME Foundation I figured I should learn a bit more about fund raising.

While there are a lot of books about fund raising, there’s very little information out there about fund raising for technical nonprofits. And technical nonprofits really don’t fit the traditional nonprofit model. (Anybody up for a telephone drive where you call all your friends and relatives and explain what great things we’re doing and ask for donations? Not.)

So what’s the current status? GNOME is doing quite well. We get most of our funding from our corporate sponsors who give annual fees (which I think should more accurately be called annual donations.) We also get quite a bit of money from companies (our regular corporate sponsors as well as a number of others) to fund specific events. For example, GUADEC, our big annual conference, gets funding from our regular corporate sponsors as well as a number of others. Our third biggest source of funding (which is relatively small at the moment) is Friends of GNOME, where individuals can make contributions. (More on Friends of GNOME later, as we roll out some new features and marketing.)

What can we do better? I’m open to everyone’s thoughts on this but here’s a few:

  1. When we ask corporate sponsors for donations, I think we need to focus on what their money will accomplish, not what they’ll get directly from the GNOME Foundation. So we shouldn’t say (as I was originally thinking), if you give us $10,000, you’ll get a seat on the advisory board. Instead we should say if you give us $10,000, with all the corporate sponsor money we’ll be able to send 20 developers to GUADEC, fund a usability study and have three hackfests. (And explain why that’s good for the company or why it furthers the company’s mission.) L. Peter Edles put it this way: fundraising is not begging. People want to be part of a winning team and most philanthropic efforts are to improve quality of life. (Note that the book had some good points but was rather antiquated.)
  2. Speaking of quality of life, we need to be able to explain quickly and clearly why GNOME improves a company’s business, an individual’s life, the quality of life for kids in developing countries, etc. I think we know these things and we have a lot of good stories that we can tell. Pointing out how One Laptop Per Child uses GNOME technologies is a message that would reach a lot of people that probably don’t know what GNOME is.
  3. Friends of GNOME. Friends of GNOME is our program for individuals and organizations to make donations. We do no advertising and yet many individuals and a few companies find our web page and make very generous donations. We are working on revamping this program to make it easier for people to make recurring donations and to spread the word. (This was started before I joined.) The FSF has a very successful associate membership program that brings in the majority of their funding.

So I think we need to continue to work with corporate sponsors as well as our individual fans to spread the word of GNOME!


How do you decide if business travel is worth it?

Deciding where to spend my time and money is never easy. I struggle with a number of things when deciding to go on a business trip:

First Air 727-100
Originally uploaded by caribb
  • Face-to-face meetings. In today’s online, ever connected world, when is face time worth it? It’s really hard to measure the importance of meeting face-to-face – it’s invaluable. While I have in the past (reluctantly) flown somewhere for a one hour meeting, I tend to try to schedule face-to-face meetings around conferences. The right conferences can allow for lots of planned and impromptu meetings. Actually, at most conferences I go to very few talks – every time I try to go to a talk, I run into someone and next thing I know, the talk is half over.
  • Attending talks. Some conferences have tons of great speakers and between the ideas they present and the discussions that happen around them in twitter and on blogs, I learn lots and end up with new ways of thinking about things. But I never travel just to attend talks.
  • Giving talks. Being asked to speak at a conference is a tremendous privilege. It’s a chance to explain your perspective, your ideas and your thoughts to 20-700 people. That’s a huge responsibility, an excellent opportunity and a great privilege.
  • Time away from family. I miss the family when I’m gone and I know it’s hard on them when I’m on the road. It’s especially hard on Frank, my boyfriend, but luckily he’s a superdad! Not only does Frank have to do both his household work as well as mine, but the kids are tired because they have to be up extra early. (Frank has an hour commute and starts work at 7:30.)
  • Frank’s schedule. Frank only travels a few times a year (without me) but those trips are very important to him. Since I travel so much, I try to work around his travel schedule.
  • Support. If you are known for something (supporting a project or idea), your presence at a conference or event can help support the event itself. Imagine a Linux event with Linus Torvalds as a keynote. Just the fact that he’s there lends support to the conference.
  • Costs. To me costs are time – time away from home – as well as the actual money cost of travel.

So while there’s no nice formula to apply to any request for travel, conference I want to go to or meeting I want to attend, those are some of the things I consider.

I worked out my travel plans for the rest of the year and here are the events I’ll be attending.

  • OSiM. GNOME Mobile is an important initiative for GNOME right now.
  • Maemo Summit. Right after OSiM – I’m looking forward to learning more about what Nokia and the Maemo community are working on.
  • GNOME.Asia. GNOME’s first large event in Asia.
  • I also have money set aside for one other inter-US trip that I will save for any necessary meetings with existing or potential sponsors.

Here are the events I really wanted to go to, that I won’t be able to go to this year. They would have been great opportunities to meet up with people.

  • Boston Summit – a GNOME hackfest.
  • Encuentro Linux – they are having a GNOME day.
  • Latinoware – where there will be a Fórum do Gnome.
  • OSAC – HP’s open source advisory council meeting.
  • … and numerous other conferences!

How do you decide if a particular trip is worth it?

How to figure out a company’s culture during an interview

Gregory Waldorf, the CEO of eHarmony.com, has a great idea for how to judge a company’s culture during an interview. In order to judge whether they’ll be good people to work he recommends asking:

"What happened to the people that had this job before me?"

If they know, if they can tell you where they are working now, what they are up to, etc, then that means they had a good relationship. If they don’t have a clue, well, it might mean that they won’t have a clue about you when you leave.

Why putting the other guy down works

I’m a big fan of selling yourself instead of putting the other guy down. I agree with Seth Godin:

John Kerry called George Bush dumb, but it didn’t matter, because
Bush’s base didn’t care that Kerry thought he was dumb. The people who
did care had already decided not to vote for Bush, so the story had no

So I was wondering why people spend so much energy putting the other guy down instead of talking themselves up. One of the reasons I think people bash their opponents is a concept that I learned in Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

If you have two products, A and B, that are very different, it’s hard to compare them. In his example, he uses a colonial house and a ranch house. People have a hard time choosing between them and the split will probably be 50/50 for the colonial or the ranch. (Assuming they’re pretty similar in price, size, location, etc.) However, imagine you introduce A’, a colonial house that needs a new roof. Most people will now pick the colonial house that doesn’t need a new roof over the ranch house. Now they have something to compare it to (the colonial house that needs a roof) and it’s obviously better. The ranch is not obviously better even though it might be just as good.


Picture from Predictably Irrational, page 9.

(By the way, he recommends that if you are barhopping and looking for a date, you should take someone who looks a lot like you but is not quite as attractive.)

So I think that’s one of the reasons why politicians put their opponents down. They are trying to give you something to compare against so that you’ll pick the better one (with regards to that feature.)

Now you can imagine how this compares to products. He gave an example of bread machine company introducing a new model just so that people had something to compare the existing model to. Sales went up because they had two models of bread machines and so now they could compare them, not because the new model was what people wanted.

So maybe that’s part of the reason people bash political opponents, rich people, and other operating systems.

It’s not even going in one ear …

My stepson is a very bright kid but he doesn’t always listen. I’m convinced it’s because he doesn’t even hear us right the first time, not because he isn’t obeying.

I now have proof he doesn’t really hear us. Here’s this morning’s conversation: (There are no lapses or pauses.)

J:      There’s almost a full moon!
Me:    Yes, do you know how often we have a full moon?
J:      How often?
Me:    Every 28 days. (Which isn’t actually right, I know.)
J:      EVERY 20 YEARS!?
Me:    No, every 28 DAYS.
J:      Oh.
Me:    So, how often do we have a full moon?
J:      Every 25 days.

The doctors say his hearing is fine. His teacher is going to have fun with him this year!

Are volunteers more dedicated than paid staff?

As many of you know I’m fascinated not only with how the open source software model works but how companies are unintentionally influencing the model by injecting money. I’ve shared my research and thoughts in my “Would you do it again for free?” talk.

So when I saw Volunteer staff are surprisingly committed, I was not surprised to see that volunteers were more committed on average than paid staff. I was surprised to see that the study authors decided that it:

could have to do with the fact the volunteers
tended to be older. “Older people are motivated to volunteer because of
their wish to fulfil an obligation or commitment to society,”

They forgot a few things like:

  • Were the paid staff volunteers before they got paid? Or were they recruited to the organization with a paycheck?
  • Do the volunteers get more (or less) say in what they work on?
  • Are the work conditions and hours the same for volunteers and paid staff?
  • Do they do the same types of tasks?

…and so on. I would bet that not all of the paid staff were volunteers first, and that while volunteers are drawn to an organization because they believe in the cause, paid staff are drawn because of the cause and the paycheck. Some might do it more for the cause and others more for the paycheck, but it’s not so clearly for the cause like the volunteers.

(Disclaimer: I was not intrigued enough to pay $28 to read the original article, so I just read summaries and abstracts.)

Where will open source lead?

In his LinuxWorld keynote, Bob Sutor said that open source hasn’t really reached the enterprise application space yet.

I used to say that the top of the stack was proprietary and that open source enters into a space as it becomes commoditized. That was 2001.

Now it’s 2008 and it’s time for open source software to lead.

The community is big enough, vibrant enough, active enough, smart enough to really lead the way in innovating new products, not just creating open source solutions that are equivalent to proprietary ones. I’d argue that this is already being done in spaces like subnotebooks – the Linux ones boot much faster than the Windows ones.

So the question is, not when will open source be in the enterprise application space, but what open source applications will appear that the enterprise doesn’t have a solution for yet?