Friday, April 29, 2016

Uploading Files to Connections using the Desktop Plug-ins

The new IBM Connections Desktop Plug-ins are out today... and there seem to be quite a few changes.

I decided to have a play and to document the experience for our users.  The result is another presentation. 

As usual, sorry for all the blurring but I have to provide some protection.  :-)

This particular tutorial simply shows how to get a file from Microsoft Excel 2013 up to a Connections.Cloud community using the File, Save As menu option.

There are other ways but I didn't want to confuse people with them... not yet anyway. 

BTW: If the controls on the slides aren't working, you might want to head over to Slideshare.

How to upload a file to an IBM Connections.Cloud Community using the Plugins in Microsoft Office 2013 from Gavin Bollard

A Word on Updates

The last slide in this series tells you where to get the plug-ins. They seem to update very regularly (monthly) and each update brings great new features. Of course, it's a bit much to expect your users to;

  1. Know where to look and how to check for an Update
  2. Have an IBM Greenhouse Account (which you need to be able to download)
  3. Know how to extract a ZIP file (okay, some people know that).
It was suggested that we should store the updates locally (perhaps in a community) so that our users can access them without all the extra hassle.  This is a very good idea. 

In our case, since our systems are "locked down" and users can't install anything without the administrator, that's mostly a moot point -- but we do still have a dedicated area where we store the current versions so that any future installs will use up-to-date installs which have been tested by the IT Department.  

In any case, your users may want to install these plug-ins on their home or other devices; depending upon your internal network policies. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

How to Share a File for Guests using IBM Connections.Cloud (a Slideshare tutorial)

IBM Connections provides some amazing dropbox-style facilities. If you're finding that you can't email a file because it's too big, or because it's prevented by mail gateways (something that is very common with EXE files), you might want to give IBM Connections a go. 

Note that in order to share a file, you need to have already accepted the person as one of your contacts. This procedure is explained in my previous Slideshare tutorial about How to add Guest Users to IBM Connections

This tutorial explains in simple terms, how to share a file with users. Everyone, even guest users, can share files (though guests clearly have lower limits than fully registered users).

If you do find yourself running out of room, consider creating a community to share your files in. Communities don't have file limits and aren't counted against a user's personal storage quota.

Feel free to use this presentation in your own organisation if it's relevant;

How to Add Guest Users to IBM Connections (a tutorial)

One of the strengths of IBM Connections is the ability to add guest users.  Unfortunately, for the moment, the process isn't as straightforward as it should be. 

Here's some documentation I created for our internal users which, you may find useful in your own networks. I've blurred anything here that could  be identifiable.

Coming Soon.....  I also have a presentation on how to share files in connections.  I'll make this available too as soon as I've done the blurring.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How to Create a Good Email Signature and Use it in IBM Verse

The Simplest Email Signatures are often the Best

These days, email is arguably the most common form of “first contact” with a potential customer, client or colleague. People spend quite a bit of time refining the content of these communications, pushing them through both public relations and legal departments and checkpoints but very few people bother to check beyond the content, specifically ... their signatures. 

The aim of this post is to,

  • Prompt you to do some basic checks. 
  • Give you some ideas on how you can improve your signature
  • Document how to create a Signature in IBM Verse.

Ask yourself… 

  • When was the last time you sent a work-email to your Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo account to see how the signature looks and to find out what your signature looks like with any legalese added by your corporate gateway? 

  • When was the last time you checked out how your signature renders from a mobile device. 

  • Have you recently checked all phone, mobile and fax numbers and email addresses for accuracy?  If for example, your company changed their main switch number a few years ago, how confident are you (without checking) that your signature contains the right number now?

Once you've done these checks, consider scheduling an annual task in your calendar to check your email signature.

Critical Information for your Signature

There’s essentially three pieces of information which are absolutely critical for your email signature;

  • Your Name
  • Your Position Title 
  • Your Company Name
  • Your Contact Number(s)
  • Your Email Address

Redundant Information

Technically you don’t need to include your company name if your company already includes it as part of their standard legal footer. You also don’t need to include your email address because if a person hits reply (or hovers their mouse over the To: field in your email), they will get it.

Personally though, I prefer to include these two bits of information with the rest of the signature. That way, if the email gets forwarded or fragmented, your sections will be clearly identified. 

The trick of course, is to limit yourself to three lines of information.  If you can't fit it in three lines, then it's too much.

Non-Critical Information

The following items are non-critical and should generally not appear on your personal signature;

  • Company Switchboard Numbers
  • Company Addresses
  • Company Website 
  • Legalese 
  • Redirects (if you are out of the office)
  • Social Networking Pages
  • Skype or Hangouts Contacts
  • Favourite Quotes or trite phrases.
  • Personal Profiles (life stories)
  • Pictures (particularly Company Logos)
  • Advertising

All company information including switch and fax numbers, the website and Legalese should appear in a separate company footer.

If you don’t have a company footer, then you should at least allow enough spacing between your personal signature and the company signature that it is perceived as separate.

Pictures of any sort are to be discouraged but if a company logo is used, it’s part of the company signature, not part of yours.  Keep logos with the company footer.

The only picture that could be attached to your personal signature might be a mugshot of you.  If your business requires a lot of face-to-face contact, then this may be okay but otherwise, it’s a bit excessive.

Permanent redirects such as "if you can't reach me please contact my secretary on ...." should also be avoided. If your phone is unattended, calls should go to either a monitored messagebank or to a designated backup person.  Don’t make your customers do your communications routing for you.

Unless you’re in the habit of doing business over facebook and linkedin, these social networks do not need to be part of your signature.

Choosing Sensible Formatting

Things that work very reliably on the internet include boldface, italics and coloured lettering.  Things that don’t work so well include spacing, the use of multiple typefaces and the use of multiple sizes of typeface. The other thing to remember is that some typefaces, like Comic Sans, never convey a business-like feel.

With that in mind, a good signature will emphasise important words with boldface, highlight key areas in colour and depreciate less critical data in lighter shades.

Here’s a couple of examples.

Luke Skywalker
X-Wing Pilot | The Rebel Alliance
t: 61 7 0806 0546
m: 0447 879 216

Master Yoda | Jedi Master and Friend | The Galactic Republic
t: 75 0889 4647 | f: 61 2 0549 0897 | e:

You might notice that the colours also match their business branding… Luke’s is red, like the Rebel Alliance colours while Yoda has green.

How to Set a Signature in IBM Verse 

To set your signature in Verse, click on your person icon in the top right hand corner and then select Mail Signature. You’ll be given a dialog box in which to create your signature. Don’t forget to use the colours and the link tool to create links. (if you need to).


If you tried (and failed) setting a signature in Verse any time prior to about April 2016, give it another shot. The signature functionality was still under development then.  It should be stable now.

Signature Generators

Of course, if you really, desperately have to have a complicated signature with all the bells and whistles, you can do that.  Simply hop on to one of the many online signature generators. To find them, simply google email signature generators.

One that I found is called htmlsig (

The catch with these programs is usually that they want to charge you to store an image. The good thing however is that they often generate html which you can easily edit.

HTMLSig creates html output.  You can save this into Notepad and then save as a local HTML File (eg: C:\TEMP\MYSIG.HTML).  

Double-click on the file to open it in your browser of choice -- naturally for me, that's Chrome, then highlight everything and do a copy.  Go to the mail signature in IBM Verse and paste your text in.  It works well. 

Of course, for the best results, you'll want to retain control of your images.  To do that, edit the HTML and look for all the lines that contain IMG SRC="  This will tell you where the images are stored. Go to those URLs and save a copy of each of those files elsewhere online and publicly accessible (your web server or your Google drive can be used for this). 

Change the URLs to point to the new image locations and you're done.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Simplifying an IBM Connections Community for Rollout - Part 2

IBM Connections.Cloud is a very powerful set of software and services but using the default settings will result in a community that isn't very pretty, has low usability and will discourage your users from participating.

Luckily a few tweaks, some promises and a bit of work on engagement can make a huge difference.

The Overall Plan

Obviously you need to plan out what your guests and members will be doing in your community. It’s basic marketing. People don’t visit the site for nothing, they are there because of a basic need. You can’t begin to provide a solution until you've identified those needs.

The needs could be as simple as, the need to obtain information or the need to collaborate with others. These aren't mutually exclusive needs but they do suggest vastly different requirements. Providing information is usually done via files and/or wikis while collaboration is more of a forums thing.  Understanding the needs will help you to build a community which satisfies the needs of your users.

The best question to ask is; What would you want out of the site if you were a user?

Once you've thought it through, you need to consider workflow and story (how the information and sections should be organised).  Whether you’re providing forums or documents, having consistent, logical and relevant headings is very important.   You’ll also need to load your site up with branding and eye-catching graphics. I covered a lot of this in my last post.

Loading the Modules and Graphics

Assuming that you've done your planning, you probably have a good idea of what you need for your site. I'm not planning to go into detail on the initial construction of a community because I covered adding modules back in June last year.

The first module that you need to add is the Wiki. You may not be using this directly in you community but it’s still the best place to store graphics.   At the same time, you should open Notepad because you’ll want to save lots of URLs for easy reference.

Copy the URL for the Wiki and paste it into notepad.  Once you start hiding things on your community, you’ll have trouble getting back to the Wiki if you don’t have the URL.  Of course you can re-add it and then re-hide it again but that’s extra work. 

You'll eventually want to fill your notepad document with labelled links to to your main community page, any specific folders, forums, topics, surveys or other materials you might want to link directly to.

The Wiki

The Wiki will generally start with a welcome page.  If you're not planning to use the Wiki, then you should still add a nice graphic and link it back to the main (outline) page of your community.  Casual (or accidental) visitors to the wiki will see the graphic, click on it and be quickly redirected back to the main areas of your site.

You can add lots of images into the attachments section of the wiki page, This section won't display for users unless they go looking for it, so it makes a good storage area.  As you add graphics, you might want to right-click on them to copy their URLs into notepad for later reuse. 

Setting App Security

Once you start hiding Apps, they will disappear from the App Security screens, so you'll need to edit their security settings first. 

To do this, go to Edit Community and select the App from the list across the top of the page.  You'll be able to change the settings for your App.  

In particular, since you're not using the Wiki except for storing your graphics, you'll probably want to prevent users from being able to modify it. Change their role to reader and save. 

While you're in this space, consider checking though the rights of the other apps. 

Building Your Outline

If you've been using Connections to create communities already, you're probably fairly familiar with the outline control.  You can change the layout of the outline page (decide on a 2 or 3 column layout and move modules around) but as I mentioned in my previous post, there's only a few areas that can really be customised.... the rest simply cannot be changed.

The best way to get your outline layout to work is to insert a table. It helps if you've already done a rough drawing of what you want in your outline. 

You'll probably want to set the table width to be 100%, rather than a specific pixel width. This ensures that it grows and shrinks with the screen.  You can also right click on cells and set the column width to percentages. 

If you right-click on a cell, you can choose to merge it down or across.  Merging cells is a key part of layout.  You can also set individual border and background colours. 


When it comes to inserting images, you can simply add them via the URLs you copied to the clipboard. You can resize images by right-clicking on them and setting their width and height. If you set one of these values, the other will usually change.

What's not so obvious is that you can set the width to a percentage. At the moment, if you do this in connections, it will muck up the aspect ratio of the image (unless you set the width to a percentage and delete the number in height). 

Using percentages on images is great for rendering on various sized screens however sometimes it doesn't work out so well.  This is particularly a problem when you're using Icon buttons.  In that case, you might want to set the images to a fixed size.

Hiding Apps

You'll find that the more apps you use, the more cluttered your outline page becomes. There's a simple solution to this, hide the app. Hiding an App will retain its data (and indeed leave the app fully usable -- if you have the link).

For the most part, hiding the app removes the app from the outline page and from the drop-down menu.  Unfortunately not everything removes itself from the drop-down. Members, for example will remain even if the members app is hidden.

Before hiding any apps, make sure that you have their URLs copied to notepad.

If you need to unhide an app, you simply choose community actions and add apps.   The hidden apps are in a section of their own and can easily be added back in with the plus button.

Making the Page Engaging

The final part of the community experience is to make the page engaging.  You need to remind your admin users that they need to regularly add and update content in order to capture the audience.  

If you've set a static front page,  you need to find some way to add some more active content.  

In the example community page below, we've removed all of the standard navigation features on the outline and replaced them with our own. As a result, we're able to use the language of the users, for example "Agendas" instead of files.

The agendas link goes to a specific folder for agendas within the files system. We're also able to add more dynamic content, for example the date of the most recent meetings (with links to files for that specific meeting).  The graph links to a full statistical report and could be replaced at regular intervals with either different graphs or perhaps different reports.

The last thing to note is that the main menu content is all on the left hand side while the active content is on the right. This is because in a mobile environment where everything scales down, there's a good chance that some of the extreme right content will be lost. 

The most important part of the site is the overall navigation, hence that's on the left.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Simplifying an IBM Connections Community for Rollout - Part 1

Last Month, I wrote about the many problems with Connections.Cloud. One of the great things about working with IBM (as opposed to Microsoft) is that I've found that IBM are always willing to help. I had three separate contacts from IBM help me through the problem.

It became clear that IBM is aware of the shortcomings with Connections and that they're already well on the way to getting them corrected.  If all goes well, IBM will be in a much better spot than Microsoft by the end of the year. 

We managed to get the problems with our communities down to four things;

  1. Dissatisfaction with the way @Mentions currently work
  2. Lack of Collaborative document editing for guests
  3. Usability Features
  4. General Design Issues (Building without Design)
Of these, we were told that the first two can't be solved now but will be solved soon.  In that case, we had to either switch to another product (and inherit a whole new set of problems) or persevere without those features on the assurance they will be delivered in the near future.

We seriously considered the competition but decided to persevere with IBM.

Improving the Usability of Connections

The third thing, usability features, turned out to be something that we could resolve by configuring the communities better. Our IBM representative came out to our offices and explained how to do this and showed us a few examples. 

Essentially, we replaced most of the connections navigation features with our own and it seems to have made a huge difference. There's still space for some improvements in connections itself but at least now we believe that our guests will be able to use the systems we provide.

I want to go over these changes in detail but I'll do that in my next post. 

Stop Building before you "Design"

The final thing, "general design issues" was actually an internal problem - and one that I've faced many times before in other systems; The idea of building without design. 

In the old days, it used to be IT teams who built systems without design. I think that most of the IT people who were developing in the 80's or 90's can cite an interface (or ten) or an error message that they're not particularly proud of. 

It's something that I feel that the majority of today's IT teams have grown out of.  There's a lot to be said for developing with standards and libraries such as bootstrap. 

Unfortunately, one of the problems with today's systems is that by making them available for configuration by general (non-technical) users, we have once again put interface development into the hands of the untrained. 

Telling a Story, Not Showing off Features

Connections in particular, offers a richness of "applets" which in turn allows you to put "everything" on the screen at once. It's a difficult temptation to resist but if you don't resist it, you'll end up with a bunch of communities which not only all look the same but are also impenetrable to users. 

When you're putting together a community, you really need to be "telling a story".  You need to be asking;
  • Who exactly will be using my community?
    We're not talking about names here, though that can sometimes help. We're talking about attributes. What kinds of age-ranges will be using the community?  What kind of experience(s) will they be bringing with them? How technical are they (mainly high, mainly low -- or perhaps they'll have a wide range of technical experience levels).
  • What kinds of things will they be wanting to see?  
    You need to establish the language of people.  For example, unless they're very technical, they won't want to see "Files".  They might want to see "Research" or "Minutes and Agendas" or Whitepapers.  They probably won't want to see "Events" but might want to see "Meetings". Knowing what your people want is the key to labelling things correctly in Connections.
  • What do people need to get out of the System?
    Pretend that you're a user of the system. Think about what you'd want to get out of it. Perhaps you might want to visit a forum to discuss some design tips on a product?  If that's the case, don't just give your users a link to forums, create a forum (or at least a question) on design tips or on a specific product.

    In fact, I think it's fair to say that your users should never ever visit an empty forum.  You need to kickstart your forum internally (with proper discussion, not just with single questions) long before the first user enters the system. 
  • What are the top five things that a member of your community will need?
    All of the top things required by your community members should be a single click away from the home page of your community.  Anything that isn't a major outcome for your people probably shouldn't be on the front page -- or if it is, it should be much smaller.
  • How will Announcements be Made?
    Depending upon your community, you may find that you have announcements to make. It's not enough to assume that your users will see a red circle on the bell icon and investigate. We asked our user group, what they'd do if they saw a number there and some of them told us that they'd ignore it because it wasn't part of their system. ... (wow.....)

    So, if you've got a particularly big announcement to make, it follows that you should reserve some space on your front page for it. 

Contracting Artwork

The second thing about building without design is the idea of "contracting out artwork" without having a clear intention. 

In particular, don't contract artwork to simply reproduce buttons with the language of IBM Connections on them. Use the words from the language of your intended users. 

What this means is use words like Minutes or Agendas or Product Details.... not "Files" 

Don't assume that your external artwork providers will know anything about connections.  Be very specific. Tell them exactly what you need, otherwise you'll find they'll try to overwrite the whole connections experience, for example telling you to change the top menu in connections to "Red" for all of your guests.  Of course, it's possible to change that colour in your own internal company but it's not currently possible for guests. 

It's critical that you establish a guest account for the people making decisions about your community. Make sure that they know what the system looks like for guests -- because it's quite different from he "paid subscriber" screen.

Below is a screenshot showing my guest user account and highlighting things we were asked to change (but can't).  The blue bar at the top of the screen, the grey panel on the side, the bell, the words in the menus, the entire left hand menu, even the user's personal profile.

Each time we said "No, we can't change that", we were met with irritation from our business users and the designers. 

Designing FOR Connections

Ultimately, the answer was to work WITH connections, and not against it. Design things that will work in connections and plan the user experience to drive them to the things you want to engage them in.

One of the best ways to do this is to get some paper with the connections banner and grey sidebar drawn in -- and a lot of white space in the middle.   

Have your users draw navigation options in the blank space and tell them that almost anything goes in terms of static pictures and text except for overlapping hotspot circles and layers (eg: Editable text on top of graphics).  

Essentially you'll need to be able to draw a table around most of the content, so it's imperative that everything can be fitted neatly into a box.  While it's not impossible, it does introduce a lot of challenges, particularly as you move between screen resolutions. 

Here's how to explain that requirement to users.... Remember, it's only in terms of hotspots (clickable items), everything else can be a picture -- so long as the loading time isn't too long. 

and here's a blank form that you can use..

A Sample Blank form you can use. The three user-configurable areas are in red.
Where possible, print several forms and try to encourage your users to be creative while still considering the story (journey) that they want a user to the site to embark upon. 

A Quick Example

Here's a look at one of our internal IT communities, showing something that (while it might be the right way for overly detailed-orientated IT people like myself to work) is NOT suitable for general use by guests.  In fact, after our recent experience, I think there's some serious redesign about to happen.

What NOT to do

What to Do
Compare this with one of the clean interfaces we considered once we had our heads in the right space for this project.

In my next post, (unless something better turns up in the meantime), I'll walk through the steps to build a "clean" community.