Making Sense of NoSQL – A balanced, well-written overview – #bigdata #bookreview

Making Sense of NoSQL

A Guide for Managers and the Rest of Us
Dan McCreary and Ann Kelly
(Manning, paperback)

This is NOT a how-to guide for learning to use NoSQL software and build NoSQL databases. It is a meaty, well-structured overview aimed primarily at “technical managers, [software] architects, and developers.” However, it also is written to appeal to other, not-so-technical readers who are curious about NoSQL databases and where NoSQL could fit into the Big Data picture for their business, institution, or organization.

Making Sense of NoSQL definitely lives up to its subtitle: “A guide for managers and the rest of us.”

Many executives, managers, consultants and others today are dealing with expensive questions related to Big Data, primarily how it affects their current databases, database management systems, and the employees and contractors who maintain them. A variety of  problems can fall upon those who operate and update big relational (SQL) databases and their huge arrays of servers pieced together over years or decades.

The authors, Dan McCreary and Ann Kelly, are strong proponents, obviously, of the NoSQL approach. It offers, they note, “many ways to allow you to grow your database without ever having to shut down your servers.” However, they also realize that NoSQL may not a good, nor affordable, choice in many situations. Indeed, a blending of SQL and NoSQL systems may be a better choice. Or, making changes from SQL to NoSQL may not be financially feasible at all. So they have structured their book into four parts that attempt to help readers “objectively evaluate SQL and NoSQL database systems to see which business problems they solve.”

Part 1 provides an overview of NoSQL, its history, and its potential business benefits. Part 2 focuses on “database patterns,” including “legacy database patterns (which most solution architects are familiar with), NoSQL patterns, and native XML databases.” Part 3 examines “how NoSQL solutions solve the real-world business problems of big data, search, high availability, and agility.” And Part 4 looks at “two advanced topics associated with NoSQL: functional programming and system security.”

McCreary and Kelly observe that “[t]he transition to functional programming requires a paradigm shift away from software designed to control state and toward software that has a focus on independent data transformation.” (Erlang, Scala, and F# are some of the functional languages that they highlight.) And, they contend: “It’s no longer sufficient to design a system that will scale to 2, 4, or 8 core processors. You need to ask if your architecture will scale to 100, 1,000, or even 10,000 processors.”

Meanwhile, various security challenges can arise as a NoSQL database “becomes popular and is used by multiple projects” across “department trust boundaries.”

Computer science students, software developers, and others who are trying to stay knowledgeable about Big Data technology and issues should also consider reading this well-written book.

Si Dunn

All for Search and Search for All: 3 New Books for Putting Search to Work – #bookreview

Seek and ye shall find.

That’s the theory behind the still-debated benefits of digging through Big Data to uncover new, overlooked, or forgotten paths to greater profits and greater understanding.

Big Data, however, is here to stay (and get bigger). And search is what we do to find and extract useful nuggets and diamonds and nickels and dimes of information.

O’Reilly Media recently has published three new, enlightening books focused on the processes, application, and management of search: Enterprise Search by Martin White, Mastering Search Analytics by Brent Chaters, and Search Patterns by Peter Morville and Jeffery Callender.

Here are short looks at each.

Enterprise Search
Martin White
(O’Reilly, paperback, Kindle)

Start with this book if you’re just beginning to explore what focused search efforts and search technology may be able to do for your company.

The book’s key goal is “to help business managers , and the IT teams supporting them, understand why effective enterprise-wide search is essential in any organization, and how to go about the process of meeting user requirements.”

You may think, So what’s the big deal? Just put somebody in a cubicle and pay them to use Google, Bing, and a few other search engines to find stuff.

Search involves much more than that. Even small businesses now have large quantities of potentially profitable information stored internally in documents, emails, spreadsheets and other formats. And large corporations are awash in data that can be mined for trends, warnings, new opportunities, new product or service ideas, and new market possibilities, to name just a few.

The goal of Enterprise Search is to help you set up a managed search environment that benefits your business but also enables employees to use search technology to help them do their jobs more efficiently and productively.

Yet, putting search technology within every worker’s reach is not the complete answer, author Martin White emphasizes.

“The reason for the well-documented lack of satisfaction with a search application,” he writes, “is that organizations invest in technology but not staff with the expertise and experience to gain the best possible return on the investment….”

Enterprise Search explains how to determine your firm’s search needs and how to create an effective search support team that can meet the needs of employees, management, and customers.

Curiously, White
waits until his final chapter to list 12 “critical success factors” for getting the most from enterprise-wide search capabilities.

Perhaps, in a future edition, this important list will be positioned closer to the front of the book.

Mastering Search Analytics
Brent Chaters
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

This in-depth and well-illustrated guide details how a unified, focused search strategy can generate greater traffic for your website, increase conversion rates, and bring in more revenue.

Brent Chaters explains how to use search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search as part of an effective, comprehensive approach.

Key to Chaters’ strategy is the importance of bringing together the efforts and expertise of both the SEO specialists and the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) specialists — two groups that often battle each other for supremacy within corporate settings.

“A well-defined search program should utilize both SEO and SEM tactics to provide maximum coverage and exposure to the right person at the right time, to maximize your revenue,” Chaters contends. “I do not believe that SEO and SEM should be optimized from each other; in fact, there should be open sharing and examination of your overall search strategy.”

His book is aimed at three audiences: “the search specialist, the marketer, and the executive”–particularly executives who are in charge of search campaigns and search teams.

If you are a search specialist, the author expects that “you understand the basics of SEO, SEM, and site search (meaning you understand how to set up a paid search campaign, you understand that organic search cannot be bought, and you understand how your site search operates and works.)”

Search Patterns
Peter Morville and Jeffery Callender
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

“Search applications demand an obsessive attention to detail,” the two authors of this fine book point out. “Simple, fast, and relevant don’t come easy.”

Indeed, they add, “Search is not a solved problem,” but remains, instead, “a wicked problem of terrific consequence. As the choice of first resort for many users and tasks, search is the defining element of the user experience. It changes the way we find everything…it shapes how we learn and what we believe. It informs and influences our decisions and, and it flows into every noon and cranny….Search is among the biggest, baddest, most disruptive innovations around. It’s a source of entrepreneurial insight, competitive advantage, and impossible wealth.”

They emphasize: “Unfortunately, it’s also the source of endless frustration. Search is the worst usability problem on the Web….We find too many results or too few, and most regular folks don’t know where to search, or how….business goals are disrupted by failures in findability…[and] “Mobile search is a mess.”

Ouch!

Colorfully illustrated and well-written, Search Patterns is centered around major aspects in the design of user interfaces for search and discovery. It is aimed at “designers, information architects, students, entrepreneurs, and anyone who cares about the future of search.”

It covers the key bases, “from precision, recall, and relevance to autosuggestion and faceted navigation.” It looks at how search may be reshaped in the future. And, very importantly, it also joins the growing calls for collaboration across disciplines and “tearing down walls to make search better….”

Si Dunn

Enterprise Games – How to build a better 21st-century business with game mechanics – #business #bookreview

Enterprise Games: Using Game Mechanics to Build a Better Business
Michael Hugos
(O’Reilly, paperbackKindle)

Can 21st-century games and gamers attack and destroy the top-down, assembly-line thinking that still keeps many businesses firmly rooted in the previous century?

 Michael Hugos’ compelling new book makes a solid case that they can. Game mechanics, he argues, can reshape how workers work, how organizations are managed, and how business goals get accomplished in today’s volatile global economy.

“Games and the associated technology we currently refer to as video games offer us more than just a diversion and escape from difficult times,” contends Hugos. “They offer us field-tested models to use for organizing companies and performing complex and creative tasks. They offer clear and compelling examples for how people can work together, build their careers, and earn a living in rapidly changing and unpredictable environments.”

Hugos, principal at the Center for Systems Innovation, offers his well-written views in a 199-page book “loosely divided into three parts.”

Part One focuses on “ideas and case studies to illustrate how games can provide operating models to follow for redesigning work.”

Part Two presents “a discussion of games and game mechanics that are relevant to the way work is done.” He includes “specific examples, pictures, and case studies to show how game techniques and technologies can be applied to the design of new business systems and workflows.”

Part Three “describes business and social impacts of combining technology from video games with in-house corporate systems, consumer technology, and cloud computing. The book concludes with a discussion about where this is all going and what it might mean for the future of work.”

During the coming months, Enterprise Games may spur many discussions and arguments at all levels of enterprise. And these may lead to some business-model reorganizations not only in Corporate America but elsewhere in the interconnected global economy.

For these changes to happen, however, many company leaders will have to stop thinking “top down” and learn to adapt “the four traits of a game…goal, rules, feedback system, and voluntary participation” to how they to structure and operate a business.

“We all have a sense of what a game is,” Hugos notes. But most of us also have been taught that “play” is not “work.” Enterprise Games shows how the two concepts can be brought together in ways that can make companies more competitive and more profitable in these uncertain times.

Si Dunn

The Connected Company – Restructure now or die in today’s hyperconnected economy – #bookreview

The Connected Company
Dave Gray, with Thomas Vander Wal
(O’Reilly,
hardbackKindle)

If you buy only one business management book this year, make it this one. It’s that good, and definitely timely.

Whether your organization chart stretches across continents or consists of just you, your smart phone and your computer, you can learn important insights and paths for new action from Dave Gray’s and Thomas Vander Wal’s well-written book.

“Competitive intensity is rising all over the world,” they emphasize. “Global competition and the Web have given customers more choices than they have ever had before. This means that customers can choose from an ever-widening set of choices, and it seems that variety only breeds more variety. The more choices that become available, the more choices it seems that people want.”

At the same time, like it or not: “The balance of power is shifting from companies to the networks that surround them. Connected, communicating customers and employees have more choices, and more amplified voices, than ever before. They have more knowledge than ever before. These trends are only increasing with time. This means the network—customers, partners, and employees—will increasingly set the agenda, determine the parameters, and make the decisions about how they interact with companies.”

And: “By changing the way we create, access, and share information, social networks are changing the power structure in society.”

Today, one negative tweet, blog post, or video that goes viral can wreak havoc within a company (or political campaign), disrupt careers, damage or destroy expensive advertising campaigns, and turn potential and existing customers away in droves.

In an economy increasingly service-driven, your factory-model training and mentality is now completely obsolete. You must be connected, you must stay engaged with customers and the rest of the world, and you must be able to respond to rumors and actual bad news as quickly and completely as you respond to orders from your best customers.

The Connected Company is organized into five parts that clearly spell out the problems and the achievable solutions.

  • Part One: Why change? – “Customers are adopting disruptive technologies faster than companies can adapt.” And: “Customers are connecting, forming networked communities that allow them to rapidly share information and self-organize into powerful interest groups.” To survive, you have to be more responsive to what they need and increasingly have the power to demand.
  • Part Two: What is a connected company? – “To adapt companies must operate not as machines but as learning organisms, purposefully interacting with their environment and continuously improving, based on experiments and feedback.”
    Part Three: How does a connected company work? – “A connected company learns and adapts by distributing control to the points of interaction with customers, where semi-autonomous pods pursue a common purpose supported by platforms that help them organize and coordinate their activities.”
  • Part Four: How do you lead a connected company? – “Connected companies are living, learning networks that live within larger networks. Power in networks comes from awareness and influence, not control. Leaders must create an environment of clarity, trust, and shared purpose, while management focuses on designing and tuning the system that supports learning and performance.”
  • Part Five: How do you get there from here? – “Connected companies today are the exception, not the rule. But as long as the environment is characterized by change and uncertainty, connected companies will have the advantage. There are four ways your company can start that journey today….”

The traditional hierarchy model of business structure still works when your markets remain stable. But when is the last time, lately, that that actually has happened? Companies divided into functions increasingly go awry in times of uncertainty, because those individual departments cannot adapt, change, and respond quickly enough. In the world of The Connected Company, “companies must organize differently. They must reorganize from hierarchies into holarchies, where every part can function as a whole unto itself.”

Gray and Vander Wal stress: “A connected company is flexible and resilient, able to adapt quickly to change. The path from divided to connected company is not simple or easy. But in an increasingly volatile world, it is also not optional.”

Fortunately, their book lays out some clear strategies and procedures, as well as imperatives,  for getting there.

Si Dunn

Team Geek: A Software Developer’s Guide to Working Well with Others – Solid advice and career tips – #bookreview

Team Geek: A Software Developer’s Guide to Working Well with Others
Brian W. Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman
(O’Reilly,
paperbackKindle)

You’ve worked hard to become a software developer, and now that you’re there, you’ve learned that proficiency in several different computer languages is not enough.

In today’s insecure, competitive, and overly demanding job market, you also have to know how to work as part of a development team. And that team may be unlike any group you have been a part of before.

Some of your co-workers may be in nearby cubicles, and some of them may be on different continents – and you know them only by email and perhaps a few Skype conferences. Some of them may be employees desperate to hang onto their jobs. Others may be hired-gun contractors with no real loyalty to anything except themselves, their current assignment, their paycheck, and their next contract. Some members of your team may be angling constantly to advance, and others may be trying as hard as possible to stay below the radar.

And you – where do you fit in? And what do you hope to achieve by giving your employer a sometimes-outrageous total of hours, both at the office and at home when you technically are not working yet actually are?

And – yes, there’s always another and – what if you go to work tomorrow and your team leader has just been fired or quit and you are now in charge of your project and 15 other people?

Team Geek: A Software Developer’s Guide to Working Well with Others is a solid, useful handbook that can help you become a better, more productive team player and, if necessary or if you desire, also help you rise to the challenge of leading a software-development team.

Many of the principles and tips in this book can be adapted to almost any modern office setting where people work in groups and teams.

For instance, don’t avoid playing the “promotion game,” the authors caution, even if you really want to just focus on your current job and doing your best at it. “This can leave you vulnerable in many situations – for example, your company reorganizes and you get shuttled to a new team, you get a bad manager, or you wind up under the thumb of the office politician.”

They advise: “The higher in the organization you can get (either as an individual contributor or as a manager), the more control you’ll have over your destiny inside the company. Putting a modicum of effort toward getting promoted when you’re comfortable in your position is a great way to invest in your security and happiness when something bad happens to your company or team.”

Most importantly, the authors aim to show their readers how to cultivate and embrace three key principles – humility, respect, and trust – that are “the foundation on which all healthy interaction and collaboration are based.”

Trusting others may be the toughest to accomplish, they concede, particularly “if you’ve been burned in the past by delegating to incompetent people” or if you have spent a lot of time working alone and relying only on yourself and now, suddenly, you have to be a team player.

Si Dunn

The Art of Community, 2nd Edition – Creating online success in the social economy – #bookreview

The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation, 2nd Edition
Jono Bacon
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $39.99; Kindle edition, list price $34.99)

Whether you work for a large firm or operate a one-person shop built around an online presence, you should check out this newly updated guidebook on now to build, maintain and grow online communities.

Yes, it is a work focusing on organizational management — not exactly a topic that lights fires under reader excitement. Yet Bacon’s book is written smoothly and clearly, and it is rich with good ideas and good strategies that can help businesses, nonprofit organizations, and volunteer groups of virtually any size.

Creating an online community is not simply a matter of launching a website, sending out tweets and links, and then hoping and praying a few people will show up, hang out, participate, and occasionally buy something.

There are, Bacon says, effective planning strategies that can help you successfully enter, staying in, and succeed in the social economy. And, once you are there, it is vital to keep attracting new contributors.

“When your community kicks off, you’ll be way ahead if you can get down on paper its primary purpose goals,” he writes. Prior to launch, you need to clearly define its aims and its mission, the opportunities and areas of collaboration it can offer, and what skills will be needed in the community, he says.

These planning strategies can be effective, he adds, whether you want to build and maintain an online community for marketing products or services, or supporting a cause, or even developing open source software. (Bacon, an open source veteran, favors “fixed release cycles versus the release-when ready approach,” for several solid reasons important to a community built around an open-source product.)

A key lesson in his book is making sure that you create and maintain a sense of belonging in your online community. “If there is no belonging, there is no community,” Bacon emphasizes.

This book’s first edition in 2009 drew a good response from readers, and Bacon has both updated his text and brought in new materials for the second edition.

Three new chapters cover: (1) the major social media networks; (2) measuring community so you can track “the work your community or team commits to” and keep the work on track”; and (3) case studies “to help you develop your skills as a community manager.”

In a solo business, you are your community manager, as well as the proverbial chief cook and bottle washer. You create your products or services, you market them to the world, you fulfill orders or deliver services, and you also try to build, support and grow a community of followers, some of whom buy from you and others of whom help keep you inspired, grounded or focused.

In a larger business, however, your job title and sole focus may be “community manager.” The author, for example, is the community manager for the worldwide Ubuntu community. “Community management” is now a hot topic in the corporate world, and debates continue, Bacon says, on whether it is a marketing or engineering responsibility. “I firmly believe,” he emphasizes, “that community management is a tale with both marketing and engineering story lines flowing through it. If one is missing, community can feel unbalanced, misrepresented and ineffective.”

Even though your focus will be the online world, do not plan to base your whole community-building strategy around social media, Bacon warns. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others are, in his view, “just tools. There are many useful tools in the world that have become new and disruptive to our behavior, but few have been immersed in the sheer amount of hype, nonsensical ramblings, and just pure, unfiltered, salty bull that social media has.”

Some of the other tools to consider, he says, include discussion forums, email lists, IRC networks, and collaborative events such as online meetings and physical events where members gather, meet and interact in person.

The goal here, of course, is to maintain good communication, “the foundation of how your members work together, share goals and ambitions, and build social relationships with one another…[w]hen your members feel like they are disconnected from the community, they lose their sense of value,” he points out.

Jono Bacon’s 539-page book can show you how to create and grow an online community into a rich source of new ideas, a reliable support network, and a strong and wide-reaching marketing force, whether you are selling something, promoting a cause, or developing and maintaining open-source software.

Si Dunn