Schmaltz ..

.. sort of defines me. Not that I’d confess that ..but  let’s discuss:

So .. when I can, I find the Schmaltz story on the video player on a plane. You’ll LOVE how the Web defines it:

.. I get that (those).

You’ll find me, on the aisle, watching an unnecessarily sentimental film and feeling deeply about it.

“Come on Irene”

Argh .. I guess it had to happen.

Here’s a music video on YouTube (recognizing / celebrating / acknowledging) the arrival of Hurricane Irene to the United States’ East Coast:

Seems that those of us on the West Coast are missing some of the drama associated with the evacuation. I seem to recall a story about Harry Randall Truman and Mount Saint Helens .. and the Branch Davidians and Waco, Texas.

That said: I feel for the folks who have to take leave of their lives. I hope that they find safe places (physically and mentally) to reside while the storm passes .. and it will pass.

Maybe a bit of humor is welcome, given the circumstances. Let’s get through this.

A Kudos to the IE9 Team .. Blocking Social Hacks

I have to give a shout-out to the Internet Explorer 9 team: according to an NSS Labs report, IE9 provided 99.2% protection against socially-engineered threats (you know: those wacky “see what my boy / girl friend did on his / her webcam, amongst a host of others).

Yes: your friends are now hackers. Not intentionally, of course. Too many good folks click on too many bad links and spread the ‘love’ of a hacker attack.

Even now, we find ourselves trusting Internet denizens who are ‘known’ to us, much to our (or, at least, our IT departments) chagrin.

My short answer: even if you use another browser, set IE9 as your default. It will do its best to block recognized or habitual threats. A solid defense against the bad folk.

Redmond Magazine has more in “Report: IE 9 Best Defense Against Social Malware”.

Changes to LinkedIn Privacy: aka “Pulling a Facebook”

LinkedIn came under some fire this past week for a change in their privacy settings. In essence, they introduced a setting that allows them to use user names and photos to target third-party advertising.

The big rub? The setting is ‘on’ by default. Yes: members can turn it off .. if they know about it and can navigate to the proper settings.

Note that Facebook has quietly made similar changes over the past few years, followed by member outcry and articles on how users can make changes to their account.

In fairness to LinkedIn: the change occurred a few months ago, and they did warn users of the change by updating the LinkedIn Privacy Policy on June 16, 2011. I’m sure an attorney could advise that users were notified .. after all, we did click the ‘okay’ button, or the ‘I accept’ link .. however, both under the duress of being denied our use of the application.

Granted, some self-employed types (me, for example) might enjoy exposure to a wider audience, or an implied association with a favorable advertiser .. but conversely, I’d not enjoy just any implied association, or an advert for a competitor. As the new policy doesn’t give me any control, I would resist this change.

The firestorm started when blogger Steve Woodruff posted “A Box You Want to Uncheck on LinkedIn”, including a number of follow-on updates as the story progressed.

In light of the member response, LinkedIn has reconsidered this strategy. See the LinkedIn blog post: “Privacy, Advertising, and Putting Members First”. A kudos to them for rapid reconsideration and their public response.

Why is it ‘share’ rather than ‘post’?

Well .. we’re more inclined to share with our selected audience than post to the world at large.

IF .. we control our selected audiences, that is. Right, wrong or gray .. let’s look at a proto-social map:

  • I have close friends and family
  • I have friends with whom I have personally interacted on projects, or through connections
  • I have people I ‘know’, due to a mutual introduction or reference
  • I have people of whom I am aware, because of a mutual interest.

These audiences have different attributes. While some overlap, there are items I’d share (or avoid sharing) because of mutual .. or lack of interest.

Is this a privacy issue, or something else? Quick tangent: ‘Social Networking: The “Third Wave” Explained’ tells an interesting (and relevant) tale.

Back to topic .. it’s both .. and more:

  • Privacy dictates content (location and status .. what and how I might word something to a particular audience).
  • Context dictates a “who cares” attribute. My non-game playing friends aren’t too keen on my Mafia Wars posts, so I send these updates to a special list of MW players.
  • Timing dictates when I’ll share a particular item .. I might hold a business blog post for the wee hours to ensure it’s above the fold when the business audience logs on.
    Whoops .. did I just introduce a temporal aspect?

Why yes, yes, I did. A significant component of ‘Information Snacking’ is when you are where and what you seek to do:

  • During the day, I’m in work mode .. I don’t want to be disturbed with notifications from the Gap that my jeans are on sale.
  • From Friday at 6pm to Midnight and Saturday from 6pm to Midnight, I’m in ‘party’ (such as it is) mode .. where I want to hear about special deals in my vicinity.
  • I’m in church (or should be) from 6am to Noon on Sunday, so don’t bug me.

Yah; there’s not much granularity for the general public here .. deal with it. I’m trying to prove a point. The ‘ideal’ system is expected to provide you with a level of control over what you will share; on what you will be alerted as you go about your day .. regardless of the daypart in which you find yourself.

The ‘ideal’ system will also apply the context of your location and your ‘mode’ (as defined above):

  • where you are dictates what you want to see / do
  • when you are dictates in what you might take an interest
  • what you seek (selecting ‘mode’ carefully) helps a system tailor results to your current (temporal and location-based) interests.

Food for thought. Let’s discuss.

iPad – iOS + (HTML5 + Safari) x Facebook =

Developer opportunity!

Hmm .. someone should check my Algebra. Moving on.

In light of Android’s sales figures outpacing the iPhone (ZDNet), it’s no surprise that “iPhone Developers start to work on Android” (Mobile Dev Pro Online). Advanced skills may be necessary to put your apps on the map.

It’s not the first time developers have looked at other platforms. In the past few years, they chased iPhone projects to ride the consumer wave. Prior to that, they moved enterprises to the Windows platform (see “How to store and access (a lot) of protected content” for my thoughts). Developers have gone from moving the enterprise market to chasing the consumer .. with that kind of motivation and a decent universe of reasonably-priced devices, an Android option could really move the needle.

Other motivators? Well, Facebook, Planning an iPad App, Looks to Work around Apple. Their 700 million users (aka, consumers) could establish a significant beachhead on the iPad device. Rather than coding in iOS (Apple’s mobile operating system), Facebook is encouraging developers to write HTML5 code that will run in the Safari browser .. a nifty way to get dynamic code onto the device. When you leverage HTML5 and the Facebook platform, you have a ‘runs-on-PC and runs-on-Apple’ code line for the target market.

The target market? In a word: Huge.

Note that the lack of Flash support on earlier iPad devices may have impacted sales .. without Flash, the iPad could not run FarmVille (or my favorite, Mafia Wars). In the news: iTunes now offers a version of FarmVille by Zygna (the release date was June 2011) for the iOS devices. Somebody got wise.

In the realm of “follow the money”, HTML5-plus-Safari may pilfer sales and the margin Apple collects from the AppStore.

In the realm of breaking chokeholds, leveraging the popularity of the device and combining it with the reach of Facebook gives game and application developers a whole new playground in which to play.

Facebook of the Future?

Well, not just yet. Extrapolating here. Online PhD has information about advanced programs that could provide you with the info you need to compete in today’s Internet market. People who think they could be person to develop the software or site that would bump Facebook out of its top slot may be interested in increasing their skills.

I just read “Using Facebook: One Teenager’s Story” on ExtremeTech and arrived a few interesting thoughts:

  • The student generation is beyond connected .. they’re embedded.
  • Facebook and the social lives / networks of students are so intertwined, those who choose not to participate “fall off the grid” in social interaction.
  • It’s not just just social: Facebook represents the conduit for a wide variety of student activities .. from Senior Skip Day (I remember mine .. there was beer) to school-sanctioned events, oh, like graduation.
  • As to graduation, some schools are distributing information to their students solely via Facebook.
  • It’s not just school activities: students are learning about current events at a pace and participation level not before seen .. students who cannot vote are getting involved. Remember Rock the Vote? This generation wields boulders.

While some of this may sound frivolous to an adult reader, there are some very interesting use cases and situations to consider .. things that didn’t exist when today’s adults were in their teens:

  • We passed notes, met in the cafeteria and made phone calls from our homes.
  • We heard about things from flyers, bulletins and garish signs in the cafeteria (well, it was the 70s).
  • We avoided the table with campaign signs and student volunteers (well, it was the 70s).

So .. what does Facebook (or, insert social network name here) look like in the future? I’m guessing:

  • Always connected, perhaps with surgically-implanted connectivity chips (okay, I’m kidding). Suffice to say that I don’t think the future will suffer a disconnected (or at least, a de-synchronized) user for long.
  • Always relevant to the user. This plays into my “Information Snacking” paradigm, where tomorrow’s home and personalized pages will truly be their own, containing information that is relevant to the page’s owner.
  • Insanely simplified interactive-ness .. the ability to “poke”, alert and engage with other users as a matter of course.

Functional expectations (read: demands) of the embedded generation will drive application development to include services from a variety of sources. if Facebook provides all the content and functionality to meet these demands, then Facebook wins. If they don’t, someone else will.

Original Post: August 20, 2008

Social Networking: The “Third Wave” Explained

I’ve been quoting this (a bunch) of late and promised to write a post.  This puts me into dangerous territory .. I am wearing a fireproof suit.

This is as best that I can explain Social Networking technology adoption (purely from observations) at the 200,000-foot level.

The first wave included geeks, techies and an enlightened mouthpiece or three (I’m in the third batch, with smatterings of the first two).

The second wave included the ‘cool kids’: folks who could use ‘it’, base (or extend) their careers on ‘it’ and famous folks (celebrities and celebutards), politicians and social lights with great PR staffs.  Enlightened mouthpieces were here as well, riding the wave and advising.

The third wave (here’s the pain .. for them, and for us) includes:

  • Your mom.
  • Your dad.
  • Your non-technical friends.
  • Your butcher, your baker and your candlestick maker.
  • Your bartender (the guy / gal with the Acer netbook from CostCo).  Keep these kids close: they know the WiFi codes at your watering hole.
  • The rest of your kids (your hipsters adopted in the second wave).
  • Most everyone else.

How did these waves behave?

  • The first wave was paranoid .. but for technical reasons.  These folks wanted to play in the new sandbox, but were careful of what they said, posted, shared, etc.  Without this group, we’d never have worked out the bugs.
  • The second wave was paranoid .. but for PR reasons.  They accepted the system had flaws, and chose to share only what they wanted to appear .. in carefully-worded statements (with the exception of the celebutards, who posted not-so-carefully-worded statements themselves .. PR handlers hate the iPhone).
  • The third wave appears to have no clue.  Pictures of crazy activities (silly hats and drunken poses), posts of “I’m on vacation this week and I love it” (meaning their house .. the address of which they shared somewhere, is unoccupied), “I’m eating a bagel for breakfast”, and the like.

Apply this to Twitter and Facebook (both of whom who reached heights in roughly the same timeframe), but not so much to MySpace .. they reached the second wave early, but did not go as mainstream, for any number of reasons.  Windows Live?  In the game, and with huge worldwide numbers, but not exactly critical mass in cocktail conversation.

What do you think? 

(originally posted 1/13/2010)

Is Social Portability Getting Closer? Is this a good thing?

Back in May, I posted "What does Social Portability Mean?", pointing out that ‘portability’ is more like ‘copy-ability’ .. where parts of data can be can be copied from one social network to another. Much progress has been made in the past six months; not all of it to your benefit. More on this in a moment.

A few weeks ago, Google and Facebook announced "connect" services; essentially competitors / co-operators (connectors) to each other. Google launched “Google friend connect” and Facebook “Facebook Connect”. Not to be outdone, MySpace followed a day or so later with the announcement of the “MySpace Open Platform”.

All three companies announced beta versions of these solutions earlier in year, and since then had been racing to be first-to-market. Looks to be a three-way tie, actually.

In short, the purpose of these services is to enable a user to use their current social network profiles to log-in, connect to, and participate with other social networks.

Is this needed? I do think so, from the social network maintenance perspective. My opinion was echoed on Twitter just the other day: "I don’t know how many more social networks I can continue to maintain". I agree fully. With everyone, their cousin and every vendor to which I can point, social networking functions abound.

How many do you maintain?

But: what does this mean to your privacy?

There are huge issues with privacy. Disparate bits of data about you from one source can be combined with data from other sources. Together, these data can create a complete enough picture of you that a concerted social engineering effort can put your identity at risk. Once site might have captured your date of birth, another your place of birth. A third may have your favorite pet’s name, the street on which you grew up, or your mother’s maiden name.

One site I encountered just today offered the last four of my Social Security number as an alternate means to identify me. Are they for real?

Add all these bits together and you run the risk of someone convincing your bank, your credit card issuer or most any financial entity, that they are you.

My points:

  • Social Portability is something that the web needs.
  • Security and privacy need to be built into the system at the very core.
  • Assurance of identity is something else the web needs. Power it with OpenID, LiveID or some other identity provider. We need secure federation systems that connect these identification paradigms; we need a unified methodology to log on to Web resources.

The risks to the social networking sites:

  • Sharing customer data essentially refers one network’s customers to competitors.
  • Reducing the ‘moat’ that one social network has over another; people belong to one site or another, based on features and the critical mass of other users’ interests with each other.
  • Advertising revenue.

How many social networking sites do you maintain? How much do you share with your favorite network? How much are you really willing share with the web at large?

"Web 2.0" Bubble?

Maybe, but probably not. Some mostly random (but painfully organized) thoughts.

Caught between worsening CPM figures, savvy consumers and Click Fraud, companies who derive the bulk of their income from online ads might just find themselves being squeezed for cash.

Even the social networks .. the darlings of the 2.0 moment are struggling. Sure, they’re showing a lot of adverts to their huge memberships, but the folks who frequent these sites typically aren’t there to buy .. they’re there to connect. Poor CPMs? The social networks have them .. in the neighborhood of $0.40, it takes 2.5 billion impressions to earn one million dollars.

The web isn’t comprised solely of social networks and ad-funded business models .. and this is a good thing. Other features and business models are emerging at a rapid rate.

Pragmatic financiers of the VC variety are now looking very carefully at exit points before they enter into transactions with "Web 2.0" companies. Hence, deals are few and far between, and all expenses are scrutinized.

Pragmatic founders might avoid the VC discussions entirely. The decisions of "going public" (where the big exit bucks live) versus being acquired are on every VC and founder’s mind. However, due to the requirements of Sarbanes-Oxely, the costs to maintain financial disclosure for a public company are estimated at about $5 million per year .. for a company whose revenue is $50 million, that’s a big chunk of dough. Better for them to be acquired than try to grow their business and incur that kind of overhead. Penalized for growth .. imagine that!

Acquisition is a far less appealing exit strategy for VCs, who may hold sway over these decisions, encouraging founder avoidance for VC cash (for as long as they can afford it, of course .. Angel Investor, anyone?).

Facts to back up some of these bits? Glad you asked. From WSJ blogs "Afternoon Reading: Mission Critical for Venture-Backed IPOs" you’ll read:

The second quarter saw zero venture-backed companies go public–the first quarter in more than 30 years without a venture-capital-backed initial public offering in the U.S. And it follows a lackluster first quarter, when only five such firms went public. Now compare that to the first half of last year, when 43 venture-backed firms went public, according to this Washington Post article reporting on a study by the National Venture Capital Association and Thomson Reuters.

Overall momentum in technology isn’t lost, however. The market appears to be moving toward a "smaller success" model, where more realistic goals are set, growth is managed to cash flow and literally hundreds of companies can chase the same feature opportunity. Thanks to low cost-of-entry, these companies can survive longer, creating a "thickening" of the Web 2.0 bubble.

Business runs in cycles, with booms following busts following booms. Nowadays, this is happening in Internet time, and in many cases, through the release of a new technology or the discovery of a feature / paradigm that can be monetized. Further, booms for a particular feature may overlap booms for related features, creating a "rolling boom" that keeps interest levels high.

Greed and the perception of opportunity fuels a boom, while the fear of of an opportunity loss throws gasoline on the fire. Fear comes in another form though, a form that causes a founder to well, founder .. continually monitoring progress (or lack thereof) questioning their business plan. A high level of market research, common sense and pragmatism, coupled with fiscal discipline is very handy as a boom starts to age. A well-planned exit / stop loss strategy is handy as well; including considerations for merging, selling out or shutting down.

There’s good news here as well. It is far less expensive to launch a Web 2.0 company today than it was back in dot-com days. Capital needs are far lower, thanks to the plethora of sky and cloud services, which are available at little or no cost to start up companies. Start-ups deploying into these highly-commoditized infrastructures enjoy immediate visibility on the web, potentially unlimited scalability and a cost-to-operate model that suits minimal cash flow. Founders and VCs can make a larger number of smaller bets when chasing an opportunity.

What about new business models? I’ve seen an interesting social network tangent emerging .. the rise of product-based social networking, where consumer companies use the social networking paradigm to promote their products to like-minded consumers .. also for brand awareness (not the same as advertising) .. or both. More on this as it develops.

Location awareness is potentially huge .. and potentially intrusive (and therefore, annoying). Imagine a coupon in a text message because a system knows you’re near a Gap or a Starbucks. Creepy (but saving cash is fun!). I’m watching this too.

Twists on old business models? Sure. Subscription-based models are proven only with the most fanatic / devoted / sole-source audiences (think World of Warcraft or Major League Baseball) or to services deemed critical to security / LoB (think OneCare or SalesForce). Maybe there’s a consumption-subscription hybrid working out there (stream x hours of content for a set fee, with additional y costing only z). A few years ago, we were fighting micropayments: a small enough charge that would provide no barrier to entry to making a small purchase ($0.99 per song on iTunes, or a copy of USA Today online) .. that seems to have sorted itself out. What else is waiting in the wings?

So, bubble? Not likely.

There are a huge number of really smart folks looking at extending existing business models in ways that take advantage of new web-based features and social interaction. Add a low cost of entry and there should be enough boom for us all.

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