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Tools of the Trade (Profession?)

As a group of professionals there are no-doubt tools we should be using as part of our activities.  Most software developers use various levels of development environments, or even Computer Aided Software Engineering tools and such.
However, there is another level of tools that is the core of our interaction with others.  Email is the classic example of this... I recall my first 'real' email address (UVCP:decvax!frog!jim) which is not quite the format we use now, but was able to span multi-vendor systems globally. Curiously this emerged in the 1980s, before the Internet was opened for commercial use (Al Gore's real contribution to the Internet.)

Today we have a rapidly expanding set of tools we could be using -- Blogs (you read it here first), wikis, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, You Tube, web sites, online communities, RSS/ATOM feeders/readers, and the list goes on.  Which of these are "must have" in terms of usage, in terms of skills, for professional purpsoes vs personal purposes, etc.?

I was invited to Google Wave a few months ago, and as some of my associates will tell you, I've become a bit of a evanglist (an intersting term, perhaps first coined by Apple?) for this tool (my previous strong points of advocacy were for online communities (eGroups, aka Yahoo Groups circa 1999) and before that Browsers and the world wide web (circa 1993) so I don't get too tied up in these things. The good news is that, after 10 years of advocating "Instant Communities" as a tool in the Computer Society and IEEE, we finally have Instant Communities available (see http://www.computer.org/portal/web/communities/home ). Perhaps in a future Blog I will lay out my rationale for 'why Wave?'; but for now it is simply an instance of the general question: what tools should we adopt, apply, and advocate as profesionals in our field; and for  what purposes?

My daughter is a fantasy author, and has established web sites, Facebook presence, and even tweets reguilarly. It is a way to keep in touch with her readers, and attract new readers, and basically to market her self.  She also participates in online communities (and email lists, an early variation of this) with other professional authors to stay in touch with what is going on.  Professional authors, like computing/IT professionals, need to stay in touch with others to find out what is going on..In our case, what is happening technically?  Who is hiring, what skills do we need, and so forth.

So which tools should we be using in 2010?  It is hard to imagine a professional without an email address and web browser. While I tweet occasionaly, I would be hard pressed to identify what value it has for us as professionals.  I can envision quick notes exchanged durring meetings and conferences between folks in the same room, or in different rooms ("hey, you got to get over here, this guy's presentation is brilliant", "where should we meet for dinner?", "Hey, Jane, are you at the Pheonix conference this week?", "Would you call the question and put us out of our misery?") But there are many tools to do this (email even works), IM, Chat, (oh did I mention Wave?) ... and it is not clear that Twitter, with it's anybody can follow you (but you can't add folks to your follower list) is a good model for this type of directed interaction. I've had fun using LinkedIn, reconnected with old colleagues, and connected to some new ones -- but it's hard to justify trying to maintain presence in the half-dozen or more similar services. After a bit of exploration in Second Life, I've been delighted to attend a few chapter meetings there (on the IEEE island -- look for the giant robot.)  It may well be that Virtual Reality seminars will be of real value over time ... the addition of voice interaction in Second Life makes it practial for such applications. 

So... here we are, the leading society of Computing Professionals in the world --- what do we use? What do we recommend for others in our profession?  What do we recommend for use in our corporations & universites?  What do we recommend to our friends,  the folks in our local town, religious groups, charitable activities, etc.?

(Blogs are a two way street ... so your feedback, comments and suggestions are encouraged.)


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Hi Jim, thanks for he great questions. One question that bothers me most is not which tools to use (users will end up using different tools no matter what you recommend), but how can we make the tools interoperate. How to navigate a plethora of tools and get to the information I need most.


Posted on 1/7/10 4:30 PM.
Posted on 2/5/10 5:57 PM.
For the communications within my Section we avoid using the official IEEE tools whenever possible because they are perceived as overly complex to use (e.g. submitting an event to the calendar) OR slow to change ( e.g. modifying a distribution list for e-notice). We now have a Google Group for our EXCOM, we have a LinkedIn group for the computer society chapter, a Facebook page for the Section. Seems like a trend towards self serviced, easy to use tools in the cloud.

Posted on 1/9/10 3:45 PM.
Posted on 2/5/10 6:00 PM.
We should use what works. It seems that LinkedIn, twitter, google wave and second life work. I can see interoperability as a challenge but the desire to collaborate will prevail. IEEE should promote collaboration to address the challenge of geography and adapt the official tools to complement what we are already using.

Posted on 1/16/10 1:50 AM in reply to John Baker.
Posted on 2/5/10 6:01 PM in reply to John Baker.
I agree with the general sentiment of "use what works". Asking "how critical is face-2-face interaction" is really meaningless without any context. Disseminating ideas and enabling interaction is very often better accomplished remotely. Face-2-face seems to become more essential for building personal relationships that require greater elements of trust between the parties. Having dabbled with Second Life, it seems less efficient as a vehicle for traditional 2-D land communications such as text and video (there are problems with lag and frequent crashes when too many users congregate, as well as roving elves, wizards, and other disruptive elements). However, the 3-D component is invaluable for some things (e.g. visit the virtual cell at one of the science sites). It's also very useful to setup a semi-automated outpost for outreach or education.

Posted on 1/20/10 8:36 PM.
Posted on 2/5/10 6:03 PM.

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