Cleaning up the deadwood…dead links, that is

I’ve been writing Column 2 for almost 13 years, and there’s quite a bit of crud that’s accumulated. I’ve also been seeing some performance problems that are completely out of line with the amount of traffic on the site, so doing some tuning as well.

Please be patient if you see any glitches on this site as well as my corporate website while I complete the following:

  • Moved to the more modern Twenty Sixteen WordPress theme, which is supposed to have better performance than the Twenty Thirteen theme that I was using. I’ve also replaced JPG graphics on the page design with much smaller GIF graphics.
  • Use Cloudflare as a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to cache all images from the site plus a lot of the content to help reduce load. This only includes images that are stored on my WordPress site, not those embedded from Flickr, but should help the load on the site as well as loading performance.
  • Added CAPTCHAs to certain countries and IP ranges that were pummeling the site for content scraping/indexing. If you’re in one of those, you’ll need to click a “I am not a robot” checkmark.
  • Enforced SSL (https). This was a bit of a process, since I had to track down all of the internal links and embedded objects that used http. If I link to your site and it’s http, that will still work but I really recommend that you update to SSL. I may just change http:// to // to provide a protocol-relative URL, which means that the site will map through to https if it exists, or http otherwise, which will be a bit more future-proof.
  • Added an EU Cookie Law banner, where you are notified that this site generates cookies, and you need to accept that to dismiss the banner. I don’t explicitly place cookies, but some of the WordPress services and embedded objects do. To my knowledge, there isn’t anything that’s particularly nefarious in there.
  • Remove the “links” posts: these were older posts generated from delicious and other link saving services. I haven’t been posting these since some time in 2010, when Twitter took over this type of sharing, and many of the links were dead.
  • Strip out the worst of the dead links. I’m using a broken link checker to find the most common of these (usually when a company changes its URL or ceases to exist) and will gradually get rid of them. This is a longer term project, I’ll keep combing through to find them in my spare time but will likely only fix up the past couple of years.
  • Replace the old Flickr Flash-based slideshow plugin with the newer embed code from Flickr. I tried using different plugins but they just don’t work as well; the only disadvantages of the direct Flickr embed is that the slideshow doesn’t auto-advance, you have to click on it to move forwards and backwards through the images, plus it has some wonky sizing sometimes when the images are of different sizes. I’m also gradually moving the screen snapshots over from my personal Flickr account to a dedicated Column 2 Flickr account, although the process of cleaning up the related links within posts is a bit of a pain.
  • Removed other old Flash embeds, such as the original method of embedding a Slideshare presentation.
  • SEO tuning through better use of post tags.

My goal is to create a faster, cleaner experience for readers with a minimum of clutter. If there are other tools that you’d like to see on the site, let me know: I’ve initially set it with search, top posts and categories for navigation.

Column 2 wrapup for 2017

As the year draws to an end, I’m taking a look at what I wrote here this year, and what you were reading.

OpenText pillowsI had fewer posts this year since I curtailed a lot of my conference travel, but still managed to publish 40 posts. I covered a few conferences – Big Data Toronto, OpenText Enterprise World, ABBYY Technology Summit, TIBCO NOW (as an uninvited gate-crasher) and some local AIIM seminars – and a variety of technology topics including BPM (or DPA/digital business as the terminology changes), low code, RPA, case management, decision management and capture.

Inexplicably, the two most read posts this year were one from 2007 on policies, procedures, processes and rules, and one from 2011 on BPMS pricing transparency. The most popular posts that were written this year were from OpenText Enterprise World, plus the page that I published listing the books and journals to which I’ve contributed.

Although US-based readers are the largest group by far, there was also a lot of traffic from India, Canada, Germany, UK and Australia, with many other countries contributing smaller amounts of traffic.

I also made some technical improvements: the site is now more secure via https, and uses Cloudflare to enforce security and fend off some of the spam bots that were killing performance, which has resulted in the use of CAPTCHAs for some IP ranges and countries.

Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting this year, and I look forward to engaging in 2018.

Happy New Year!

Twelve years – and a million words – of Column 2

In January, I read Paul Harmon’s post at BPTrends on predictions for 2017, and he mentioned that it was the 15th anniversary of BPTrends. This site hasn’t been around quite that long, but today marks 12 years of blogging here on Column 2. Coincidentally, my first post was on the BP Trends 2005 report on BPM suites!

In that time, I’ve written more than a million words in about 2,600 posts – haven’t quite got around to writing that book yet – documenting many conferences and products, as well as emerging trends and standards in BPM. I’ve collected over 3,000 comments from many of you, which I consider a measure of success: I write here to engage people and discuss ideas. Many of you have become clients, colleagues and friends over the years, and it’s always a thrill to meet someone for the first time and hear them say “I read your blog”. I know that I’ve inspired others to pick up that keyboard and start blogging, and my RSS reader is still the first place that I go for news about the industry (hint: I’m more likely to read your site if you publish a full RSS feed; I only get to the partial ones every week or so).

In the early days, I blogged more frequently, every couple of days; now I seem to be caught up in projects that consume a lot of my time and have less hours to spend focused on writing. Also, I’ve cut back on my business conference travel in the past year or so, attending only the ones where I’m presenting or where I feel that there is value for me, which gives me far fewer opportunities to blog about conference sessions. I’m not going to make any predictions about whether I’ll blog more or less in the next 12 years; I’m just happy to have a soapbox to stand on.

10 years on WordPress, 11+ blogging

This popped up in the WordPress Android app the other day:

This blog started in March 2005 (and my online journalling goes back to 2000 or so), but I passed through a Moveable Type phase before settling into self-hosted WordPress in June 2007, porting the complete history over at that time. WordPress continues to be awesome, including a great new visual editor in the latest Android version, although my flaky hosting provider is about to get the boot.

I’ve written 2,575 posts — an average of about one every business day, but quite unevenly distributed — and garnered almost 3,300 comments. Those posts include a total of almost 900,000 words, or 10 good-sized books. Maybe it’s time to actually write one of those books!

Reading And Writing Resolutions For 2014

The past year was a pretty busy one for me, with quite a bit of enterprise client work that I couldn’t discuss here, so my blogging was mostly limited to conferences that I attended and webinars/white papers that I created. Okay for information dissemination, but not so much for starting conversations, which is why I started blogging 9 years, 2,400 posts and 850k words ago. I’m also way behind on my reading of other blogs, so much so that the older unread ones are starting to drop out of my newsreader.

Catching up on the reading will likely involve committing a drastic act in my newsreader (clearing all unread – yikes!), trimming down the blogs that I follow, and making time regularly to browse for interesting developments in blogs and Twitter.

Getting back to some more interesting writing will follow from the reading: reading other people’s interesting ideas always helps me to generate some of my own, then it’s just a matter of putting hands to keyboard on a regular basis, and letting the ideas out into the wild.

Here’s to 2014!

New Theme for Column2.com

I’ve been looking for a new theme for this blog that has more functionality built in, especially a more responsive feel on mobile devices. With the latest upgrade to WordPress 3.6 and the release of the Twenty Thirteen theme, I thought that I’d give it a try. I’ve left the sidebar pretty much the same, although removed the Pages and Search items because they are in the theme’s title bar, and added links to my online social presence. I added a custom header image that matches my business cards. The default location for widgets with this theme is at the bottom, but I need to think about whether I want to exclude any content before I move to that format. There are now nested comments, gravatars and the ability to login using your social media accounts in order to post a comment.

Let me know if there are any strange behaviors on any platforms. I’ve tested it on Chrome and IE (newer versions only) on Windows, Chrome and Safari on iOS, and Chrome and Firefox on Android; so far, so good. Note that the mobile theme in Jetpack is disabled; otherwise the header was a bit wonky. The header is a bit large on an iPhone but looks okay on the desktop and tablet versions, and the header fonts are a bit big on the desktop; I’ll continue to do some tuning. And hopefully start adding some meaningful content again soon.

Maintaining Ethical Standards As An Industry Analyst And Enterprise Consultant

Every once in a while, someone suggests that vendors pay me for coverage. The latest accusation actually used the term “pay-for-play”, which is a derogatory term for industry analysts who require that vendors be their paid clients before they receive any coverage by the analyst, and is often considered to be unethical. Vendors who work with me know that’s not true, but I just wanted to sum up how I work with vendors.

Unpaid Work

  • I will accept a briefing from any vendor whose products that I find interesting. I might also write about an interesting piece of news, a webinar that I watched, or information about upcoming events. If I choose to write about any of this here (which I sometimes don’t, due to time constraints or lack of interest), the vendors do not have review/edit privileges before I post: they see my review the same time as all other readers. This last policy, by the way, has resulted in some vendors shutting me out of their analyst programs, since they want to control the message; needless to say, I don’t write about them much since all they give me is the same information as you could find on their websites.
  • I will attend a vendor conference but must have my travel expenses reimbursed since I’m an independent and would have to pay these costs myself.

I know that a lot of analyst firms charge for merely attending briefings and conferences, and maybe I will start doing that some day, but I want the freedom to write (or not) whatever I want about what I see without any sort of oversight or censorship, since I think that’s important to my readers. If there is information presented that’s under embargo or NDA, I always honor that. Note that in both of these cases, I give up my time – which could have been spent on revenue-generating work – to attend events and briefings, so if you’re envious of all my “free” trips to exotic locations, remember that I don’t get paid while I’m there unless I’m doing paid work.

Paid Work

My website describes the types of paid work that I do for vendors, but to sum up:

  • I consult on strategy, including product and go-to-market strategy. When I do this, you’ll probably never hear about it since anything I produce will be under NDA to my client.
  • I give webinars and conference presentations, and write white papers. Although I choose my subject to be of interest to my client (the vendor) and their audience, what I write is my own opinion: the fact that a vendor pays me to write a white paper does not mean that I am endorsing their product, even though they appear as a sponsor of the paper. If appropriate, I will mention their product as an illustrative example. I upload my presentations and papers and link to them from my blog because people always request copies, and because these materials form part of my online portfolio to allow other prospective customers to understand what I can do for them. When doing a (paid) conference presentation, I may also be blogging from the conference, which is covered under the unpaid work section above.

Regardless of my relationship with a vendor, I am never compensated for product sales, nor for blogging about them, nor for giving a positive review about their product. I have a disclosure statement that summarizes these principles and lists current and recent vendor clients. It would be fair to say that vendors who take the time to cultivate a relationship with me and invite me to their conferences tend to get more coverage because I’m exposed to more information about them, but it’s not necessarily favorable coverage.

Since most of my work is for enterprise clients – primarily helping financial services and insurance organizations with BPM implementations – I follow strict ethical guidelines, including disclosing the names of my vendor clients to my enterprise clients at the start. Since many enterprise clients use my blog and white papers as a way to get to know my work, it’s important that I present unbiased information of value.

</rant>

Lightening Up The Travel Gear

Google_Nexus_7_front-back-side_270x206This week at bpmNEXT was my first solo outing with the new blogging setup: Google Nexus 7 tablet, Logitech Bluetooth keyboard, and WordPress app for Android. I was also working on a white paper for a client, so had to edit and view documents in Word and PowerPoint formats, for which I use use the Kingsoft Office Android app, plus Dropbox for synchronizing my work to the cloud for backup and Astro File Manager for local document management. Prior to this, I carried an HP Mini netbook running Windows 7, which provided me with the same functionality as on my desktop, with all of my documents synced locally via Dropbox. When I started carrying the Nexus while travelling for media consumption, the combination of Windows netbook + Android tablet + iPhone started to seem like overkill; a comment from my brother (a non-technical lawyer, of all people) made me start thinking about adding a keyboard to the tablet as a netbook replacement.

wpid-91hO7brqtZL._SL1500_.jpegIn summary, it worked great. Once I learned that some familiar keyboard shortcuts work on Android (Ctrl+X/C/V for cut/copy/paste, Ctrl+A for select all, Alt+Tab for switching active applications, Fn+Backspace for Delete), my productivity increased tremendously. The keyboard is as big — maybe a bit bigger — than my netbook keyboard, so touch typing was speedy as you might have surmised from the thousands of words that I pumped out in blog posts this week. Kingsoft Office had a hiccup over one particular Word document, but I copied and pasted the text to strip out the formatting and had no problem with basic editing. Today, when I had to send off a draft of the white paper to my client, I used Astro to attach the Word document to an email (native Android only allows adding media file attachments). Email worked well, since my domain email is hosted on Google Apps: I could add/remove tags for organization, as well as send/receive and most other functions; since I also had my iPhone, I did a lot of email and calendar functions there. Chrome, Pocket and Feedly kept my online reading in sync, and for tweeting, I used the very capable Buffer and Twitter apps. Also, the battery life on the Nexus is great, lasting for an entire day even with Bluetooth and wifi enabled, which is better than the netbook. If I needed to scrimp on power, I could turn wifi off since most things could be done offline.

There are a couple of remaining challenges:
– As far as I know, there is no way to give a presentation from the tablet using the standard setup that is available at a conference (namely, a VGA cable connected to a projector). That means that I still need to carry the netbook when I will be giving a presentation, unless I am so organized that I have it completely finished before departing for the conference, and the conference has a PC with my presentation loaded. If anyone knows of a small gadget that would allow me to connect my tablet to any standard projector (a Bluetooth to VGA converter, maybe?), I want to know about it.
– The formatting in the WordPress app is a bit basic, with no support for bullets or quote blocks as I would have in the regular web interface or Windows Live Writer on the PC. Unlike the web, however, I can compose offline (as I’m doing right now at 35,000 feet) and it saves a local draft for posting later.
– The usage of Bluetooth devices is not really permitted on aircraft, although I have to believe that there are many devices on my current flight with Bluetooth enabled, and we’re still flying. Flight attendants either haven’t noticed or don’t care about the keyboard.
– Dropbox requires that I mark each file individually that I want synchronized locally, which means that I have to remember to mark the right ones while I’m connected so that I have my reference and editing materials available. A “sync this folder” function would be great.
– Kingsoft Office is good for editing, but I really need to review any document that I create or edit with it on my desktop to make sure that the formatting didn’t get screwed up. Kingsoft is free, and I’d be happy to pay for an Android MS-Office clone if I had better confidence in its formatting integrity.

The verdict: this will be my go-to gear for travel when I do not have to do a presentation, or when my presentation is submitted in advance. If I find a way to present directly from the tablet, then this will be my only travel configuration unless there is a weird requirement such as Visio on the road, and the netbook may be permanently retired.

Having A Spammy Time

This blog has been inundated with comment spam lately: yesterday, I deleted over 4,600 spam comments that had accumulated in the spam folder in the past two weeks, which is about 100x the usual volume. Akismet is doing a great job of trapping it, since I’m only seeing one or two per week pass through to the moderation queue, and none have been auto-published. However, that means that I can’t manually check the spam queue and fish out legitimate comments, so if you make a comment and it doesn’t show up, let me know and I’ll try to find it.

New Mobile Theme

Since the Jetpack plugin is now available on self-hosted WordPress sites, I’m gradually rolling out more of its features. Today, I enabled its mobile theme (disabling the previous MobilePress plugin, which hasn’t been updated in over two years), please let me know if you experience any problems with it. Note that it only changes the theme for smartphones, not for tablets, which is the same behavior as MobilePress.

I’m also using Jetpack for site stats (replacing StatCounter code, although I still use Google Analytics), sharing (for the buttons at the bottom of each post, replacing the WP Tweet Button plugin) and a few other functions. If you’re running WordPress, definitely worth checking out what’s in Jetpack.