Is a Dashboard for the Web Possible?

December 2, 2009

I’ve been rolling this idea around in my head for awhile (right Twitter followers?), and I mentioned it briefly in my Shortcts.in post: a dashboard from which I can access the various Web apps and communities I use on a daily basis.

People nod their heads when I talk about it, and the example I have often used to help illustrate my idea is iGoogle. Except that iGoogle is just for Google products or widgets people have built for iGoogle, like weather widgets, games and such. I like that I easily check my Gmail and my Calendar, see if there is anything immediate, but I still have to open another browser tab to access any other Web app or community.

I started thinking about the Web apps and communities I use all the time, which lead to me checking out all the tabs I leave open…and I leave quite a few open. Here’s just a sample:

Toss in teaching email and the education portal, and it starts to get a bit unruly. I’ve taken to breaking them up into different browser windows. One with communication apps, one with communities and one with news and miscellaneous. When researching, I open yet another browser window and multiple tabs, but close it when I’m finished.

You might ask why I just don’t log of all of them, close the browser at night and fire it up again in the morning. FireFox does, after all, let you save your browser and all its tabs, as is. While that makes sense, let’s think about this for a minute.

Logging out means I have to log back in. Now, if I used the exact same username and password each time, that would be easy, not only for me, but or anyone interested in seeing what I do in all these places. So, alas, I don’t use the same username and password for each one. Now that means, every day, I have to remember the username and password for all of those listed (and many others not listed), and then type in the username and password, every day, for each one. That is 15 login credentials. Each day. Right now.

Think about that. 15 different logins. And that doesn’t include any financial sites, either, or open source discussion boards, the T-Mobile discussion boards…the types of sites visited periodically.

Perhaps I am just used to opening my laptop every morning and immediately starting to work, but I don’t think I’m the only one. And I think there has to be a better way to manage all of this, especially as more and more desktop applications move to the Web.

Ugh. Right. Google Docs is another open tab. Which leads to more open tabs whenever I open an existing, or create a new, document. Thankfully it is connected to Google, so just logging into one Google product gives me access to the rest, but again, it’s another series of tabs to manage.

Anyway. So iGoogle had been my common, visual example. But then I was chatting with a good friend of mine through Meebo, which is a Web app that allows you to communicate with people you know in, well, just about all the different IM clients: Gchat, AIM, Yahoo!, Facebook, ICQ, MySpace, MSN…and it hit me. You can communicate with people on all those different clients from one, yes, one single browser window.

Where is the Meebo equivalent for all the different Web apps and communities I use every day?

I have two answers:

  1. No one has thought of it yet (Ahem, I did!)
  2. There are a myriad of technical hurdles to overcome

I’m guessing that the second reason is more the culprit than the first. I’ve thought of it, been pondering it and finally have a solid comparison. So now comes the hard part: implementation.

Meebo grew out of the same frustration I’m currently experiencing, only it was limited to IM clients. One of the founders, Sandy, had to remember 13 different usernames and passwords, all related to various chat clients used at work, at home, with friends, etc. You can read more about it here. The story goes on to explain “playing around with Ajax IM” and proving doubters wrong.

And this is where my technical expertise, that “dangerous v. deadly” comparison I made before, comes into play. I know enough cursory information on Ajax to understand what it does. In fact, I had to write up some SEO-friendly content on the subject a few years ago, but I have no idea how the guts of it actually work.

So, those of you very tech-centric people that read this blog, is it possible to create a Meebo for the rest of the Web? Is it possible to create a central dashboard, accessed from a Web browser, from which I can see and access all the different communities listed above (to start)?

Shortcts.in came up with a solution for finding keyboard shortcuts. Meebo has come up with a solution for accessing multiple IM clients from one browser window.

So who can help me see if this Dashboard for the Web is a solution for the chaos of my (and others) browser tab woes? I guess my real question is this: is a a Dashboard for the Web technically feasible? Or have I just thought up a really big idea that has absolutely no ability to be implemented?

Comment, tweet me, let me know. There really must be a solution.

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Lawyer Connection Reaches 200 Members

October 16, 2009

Today was a big day for Lawyer Connection. Today, it’s membership surpassed 200 members.

For many, that may not seem like a big deal, but for me, it triggers a deal I made with myself when I created the network back in May. I created it as an effort to help others. Having been laid off and suffered through somewhat promising job leads that fizzled, and then dry up completely, I felt starting the network was a worthwhile contribution to the moral of lawyers and legal professionals in particular, and to the population at large. If nothing else, it at least provided a central place to connect, however that connection happened.

I didn’t make a plan. I was still (an am still) trying to plot out my consulting company, but found myself drawn to the philanthropic idea of Lawyer Connection. Helping people, even just by setting up the network, was more rewarding than I anticipated, so I made myself a deal. If the network were to surpass 200 members, and continue to grow, then it would be time to actually sit down and formulate a plan, find ways to make it more useful than just a gathering place.

So, today, Lawyer Connection surpassed 200 members. 201 last time I checked, and the membership has remained active. The key, now, is to provide more useful things, like meet ups in cities, partnerships, maybe CLE-type offerings, and other ideas people toss out. I basically need a plan as the “make it up as I go” plan is quickly becoming inefficient.

A number of people have told me the philanthropic angle, while laudable, is absolutely stupid. I won’t make any money from it, they say, so what’s the point? To be perfectly honest, money wasn’t a factor at all in creating the network, but they do make a good point. There are operating costs that are currently minimal, but costs none-the-less.

And this is where I run into trouble. I don’t want to charge dues or some kind of membership fee. That completely goes against the whole concept of the network. Formalizing it as a non-profit seems to be a lot of work and a lot of expense with very little payoff. So perhaps I’ll just keep it as it is…

Truth be told, money gets in the way everything at one time or another, but things work out one way or another. For me, right now, the pay off is knowing that I’ve been of some help. And now it’s time to be more helpful. Time to step out of the background and take action. And yes, you can argue the ABA Journal article already removed me from the background. 😉

If you have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions, etc. about Lawyer Connection, its direction, funding…just about anything, I’d love to hear them. I doubt it’s a secret now that I’m a fan of open ideas, collaboration and general sharing of information.

So, what say you?


Law School: A Key Area for Change Being Overlooked

September 25, 2009

This subject keeps popping in conversations, and usually under the “reform” umbrella. Most of the focus on billing, virtual assistants, outsourcing – ways to streamline the practice in order to survive the recession. Few argue the legal profession is overdue for a change; but a key area for change is being overlooked. Stephen Fairley points out this area, commonly referred to as “law school,” in a post to his Rainmaker Blog: Why Law Schools are Failing Attorneys and the Legal Industry. His point is that law schools do not teach the “business” side of law, and thus produce lawyer illequipped to start a solo practice, or bring in new business (legal cases) at small, medium or even large firms.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, it comes as little surprise that I agree with Mr. Fairley. In fact, I have commented on more than one occasion that law schools are very much like assembly lines, spitting out identical products year after year that are gobbled up by law firms, year after year. The recession has thrown a wrench into the status quo, and law firms are suddenly realizing that identical products are not working. People point to a variety of factors, but if you want to get to the root of the problem, look to law schools.

In fact, I’d venture a step further and say look at the American Bar Association (ABA), the accrediting institution for law schools. It has list of standards that must be met before a school can be approved, and a rather lengthy approval process. You’ll notice a “Foreign Study Criteria” section that covers summer programs, studying at foreign institutions and semester abroad programs. This makes perfect sense as the world continues to shrink and borders, as we have come to know and understand them, disappear. Law bleeds into itself these days, especially with Internet.

So, then, why is there not such criteria for the business of law? Is not the business side of law as important as the law itself and “foreign study”?

Clearly the answer is no, the business side of law is not as important, perhaps not important at all. And, undoubtedly, someone will point to the various companies and services that A) teach you the business side or B) take care of it for you. After all, as a lawyer, you want to practice law, not deal with all the details of a “business.”

My counter to that is: how do you know the “business” people are being honest, truthful, straight-forward, if you don’t know anything about the “business” side? You open yourself up to a whole host of problems if you don’t have at least a basic understanding, no?

Also, please note that I’m not advocating full-fledged MBA-type courses. And indeed, there are a number of law schools that offer joint JD/MBA degrees, and if you want to spend that money and time getting both, more power to you. Such schools may be jumping out ahead of the ABA, though I think making joint JD/MBA degrees an accreditation requirement is going overboard.

Something needs to be done, however. And if law firms, law students, professors…anyone with a stake in the future of law, are serious about change, it’s time to take your case to the ABA, and your alma mater.


The Usefulness of Twitter

August 31, 2009

Twitter. Twitter. Twitter.

There seem to be two camps when it comes to Twitter: the “total waste of time” camp and the “can’t live without it” camp. The “total waste of time” can’t understand the “can’t live without” and vise versa. Hearing each side argue their respective view points is entertaining, and sometimes infuriating.

To help weave through the middle, Adrian Dayton, a lawyer and well-respected Twitter users, has written a book called Social Media for Lawyers: Twitter Edition. I had the pleasured of editing the book and thought I am avid Twitter user myself (and not a lawyer), I found the book rather helpful. He does a good job of explaining Twitter, and then provides a step-by-step guide to establishing a Twitter presence and reaping its benefits. Twitter does not have to be the “time waster” many think, but it doesn’t have to be the “life blood” of business, either. Rather, it is another tool to add to an arsenal of communication and client development tools.

This concept of Twitter as a client development tool was floating around in my brain at the OfficePort Chicago event, and Twitter came up in a few conversations. I learned about OfficePort first through a Chicago Tribune article my mother gave me, and then through Twitter.

I’ve discovered that Twitter is best explained in one of two ways (or both):

  1. Demonstration
  2. Examples

Since I did not have a computer with me at the OfficePort event, I offered some examples that demonstrate the usefulness of Twitter: my first two clients. One of them was Adrian, whom I met through Twitter, and then in person, at the “Get-A-Life” conference. He needed an editor for his book (and also someone to look over blog posts now and then). The second client is the Managing Partner Forum, run by John Remsen of the Remsen Group. I was introduced to John by Allison Shields, whom I know through Twitter and later met in person first at ABATech, and then at the “Get-A-Life” Conference. John needed help moving content from the old Managing Partner website to the new one. I was working on a similar content migration project at the time, so we connected after the conference and I helped him move content.

Twitter has also been the method for open source educational opportunities. Dennis Kennedy, whom I met at ABA TechShow, needed help writing an article, an open source primer for lawyers. Kevin Thompson, a Chicago-area lawyer, also contacted me through Twitter about presenting a primer on open source applications to the Chicago Bar Association Law Practice Management and Technology committee/group.

And let’s not forget about Lawyer Connection, which started from a Twitter thread about laid off lawyers needing a free place online to gather and support each other. It’s quite satisfying to see the network grow and diversify, and has changed my viewpoint that in order to be a good philanthropist, you first need a lot of money.

The other thing I will say about Twitter is that I get answers to questions must faster than from Facebook or LinkedIn. People either respond directly, or provide links to information sources that answer my question. And the diversity of people who tweet means that I always learn something new, and sometimes find commonalities between areas I had considered to, well, have nothing in common.

Suffice to say, Twitter has more to offer than meets the eye. If you’re still skeptical, try it and see for yourself. It costs nothing to create an account, and you just might find it rewarding in some fashion.