DocTrain West 2008 – Bob Glushko, Document Engineering

Bob Glushko blogs at, great blog name and a fascinating presentation. I liked that he shared and described his semi-retirement as verbalizing his desire to be a beach bum to his wife, but his wife said, I still like my job and I want to work, so go get a job! He has been teaching at UC Berkley ever since. 🙂

Building information supply chains – example of the E. Coli scare in lettuce in March 2007. Basically had to figure out how to track heads of lettuce, similar to tracking heads of people to avoid long lines at security in the airport. With enough data tracking – input and retrievability – you can make informed decisions.

Common themes of new information services – document exchange, patterns, similar to supply chains and distribution channels. There are hidden documents in business processes.

His “ah-ha” moment? he had always focused on the document, but with ordering on the web, his user experience is what really matters – did the business process work? Did the lobsters arrive dead or alive? Did his shipment get to him in time and was it the right order? You have to know the back-end, the time difference, the travel distance, the choreography and design of the pattern determines success and a happy user experience.

I’m reminded of the fact that there are 39 time zones in the world, and for collaboration across the world, we have to figure out the time zone difference relative to the person you want to collaborate with.

Bob offers an excellent analogy for wiki-based, community-collaborative content – a restaurant’s lines of visibility. At McDonalds, you have backstage production lines for food prep, at Benihana you have food prep as part of the entertainment right at your table (remeber that onion volcano so expertly prepared?) We should try to strategically determine where to draw our lines of visibility – what point of view do we wish to present to our users?

Ah, now he’s talking about a cooking school where the kitchen is the front stage for the cooks, and the back stage for the customers. A restaurant’s dining room is the front stage for the customers, but the back stage for the cooks. I’m reminded of a webpage I read where people proved that writing on a wiki actually helps you learn more about the tasks because you have to figure out your conceptual understanding of the task to write about it. If you allow more writing to happen next to the backstage when it’s the cooks in the kitchen, or the expert writers in the wiki, more beginners can learn by not observing or reading but by actually participating in the writing itself.

While you may have identified more with either the front end or back end design issues, you can choreograph the information experience for the user.
Here are Bob’s slides, also found on


  • May 8, 2008 - 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Wow. I really couldn’t keep up, so I’m glad you managed to collect all this from his talk. I’m still mulling over the fact that we ship lobsters from Nova Scotia to Kentucky. Thanks for posting this. Helps me to remember.


  • May 9, 2008 - 8:46 am | Permalink

    Thanks Tony – I’m glad you named the locations because I honestly didn’t hear the exact locations in his lobster example. So I love that we can knit our notes together on this blog entry!

    I was reminded of a shipping story from my Dad the axle engineer. He works in a small town outside of Dallas, Texas. He was surprised to find that shipping parts in from a Chicago-area location was faster and less mileage than a Texas-based company (although that also speaks to how vast Texas is in size, not necessarily about the design of their business process.)

  • May 11, 2008 - 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the good review…

    I’ve got a paper called “Bridging the Front Stage and Back Stage” that explains this more.

    -Bob Glushko

  • May 11, 2008 - 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Bob, for the link to the paper. It has an amazing list of reference in it as well. I think I’ll add Smart (Enough) Systems to my reading list for this year. I also appreciated the discussion of personas. Vivid imagery and analogy helps with understanding of a varied and complex set of modeling systems, so it’s much appreciated.

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