Thursday, July 28, 2011

Your browser knows who you are #Panopticlick

A throwaway comment in yesterday's post needs further explanation: I wrote, "we can be pretty much uniquely identified by our browser settings, our search history, or the computer hardware and IP address combinations that we use"

Firstly, part of the rationale behind Gmail and Google's purchase of YouTube and Blogger and other services, now also Google+, is to get us to login - and stay logged in - as we surf the web and use our browser. That way our interests can be matched to our identity to learn what we might buy if it's advertised to us.

Facebook, too, has that nice, convenient "Keep me logged in" checkbox that's 'On' by default. Part of their strategy to get other sites to offer a connect with Facebook option, or to allow people to login using their Facebook id, is to capture an ever more rich picture of what users do on the Internet when they're not on the Facebook home site.

However, it's not even necessary for users to login to a site such as these to be uniquely identified.

Check out and see whether your browser settings are sufficiently rare that you are one of a kind. Mine were. This can be used to identify an individual's web history, Google searches, page clicks and a constant stream of data personalized to me in the cookies that all major web sites store on each visitor's machine.

Of course, if I then use my browser to login to Gmail, Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the other sites then these unique browser settings can be matched to my name so I'm no longer anonymous. Hmmm
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You are what you click? Or what you share?

A fab insight: there's a difference between our identity revealed through what we click in Google search listings; and how we choose to portray our identity through the photos, links and status updates we share on Facebook, LinkedIn and elsewhere.

I don't want all who know me to see what web searches I'm conducting, even if they're nothing more private than my discovery of business opportunities. I have a somewhat private identity, a set of interests revealed through what I click.

Through Facebook and LinkedIn, I'm somewhat consciously forming a persistent public persona - and Facebook users are fairly evidently aware of that through their choice of photos and status updates. They are intentionally shaping the way the world sees them, even though Facebook's CEO is on record as saying that he thinks the existence of a private identity represents a lack of integrity.

We perceive a Google search to be anonymous (even though we can be pretty much uniquely identified by our browser settings, our search history, or the computer hardware and IP address combinations that we use). We know that Facebook isn't and we act accordingly.

The battleground is becoming well defined: both Google and Facebook want to understand 'the real you,' because then they can sell increasingly well-targeted advertising: not just what you want, but precisely when you want it - Google's Eric Schmidt believes the perfect search engine gives you what you want precisely at the point you know you want it.

For that, the goal is to narrow the gap between the public and private self, to know almost more about us than we know for our self. Facebook is valued so highly because it represents the world's biggest database of really detailed information about named individuals, surrendered voluntarily and mostly blindly by users who just thought they were chatting with friends or playing Farmville.

Google+ is changing the equation: increasingly the search giant knows precisely who we are, and in very great detail everything that we're interested in. And we can't opt out because our friends and acquaintances are putting us into their 'circles' and our precise identity is progressively being 'triangulated' through the actions of others.

Imagine the dollar signs rolling behind the eyeballs, like in a Tom and Jerry cartoon! Should we expect class action law suits as users resent and resist the lack of opt-out? Or are we all too hungry for what feels like a material bargain?
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mirror, mirror - distort my views

I'm reading The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser: sit down at a couple of computers with a friend; both search for the same term in Google and you'll see different results. Or both check Facebook and see how different your news feed looks, even though you share many of the same acquaintances.

Pariser notes the rise of Internet personalisation, sold to us to help us filter the gigabytes of data created to flood our awareness each day. But warns that by reinforcing what I already think and believe, the Internet which was created with a hope of breaking down barriers will instead build up stronger walls, imprisoning us in an individual silo of self-awareness.

  1. The 'Filter Bubble' is increasingly so tightly personalized that we are essentially alone in our views.
  2. Next, the filtering is invisible - none of us knows why the Google algorithms make the selections for us that they do.
  3. Finally, we don't choose to enter the bubble - Increasingly we have no ability to opt in or out of the tailored choices we are presented with. For example, I don't even have to be a user of Google+ to be profiled by others who have put me into their named 'circles' and Google gets to see a complete and rounded picture of me the more circles I'm placed in to by my network of contacts.
I certainly hope the book provides some "So what?" answers because the case made in the Introduction is powerfully scary! Pariser warns that an unintended consequence of the commercial move to personalize what we're sold will be a breakdown of the bonds in society that depend to a large degree on our ability to see life from another's perspective.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Overcoming unnecessary obstacles

'Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.'

I like that definition of game playing by the late Bernard Suits. But I focus too much on the 'unnecessary' - I see too many necessary obstacles to be overcome to choose to engage in something as apparently frivolous as a game and, rather boringly, I often choose not to get involved in the game to start with.

Yet games have much to teach us about life and business. All games share four common traits, according to game designer Jane McGonigal:
  1. A goal
  2. Some rules
  3. A feedback system
  4. Voluntary participation 
And we can see these traits at work in much of the rest of life, too. For example, businesses most definitely have goals, even if they're of the rather tame 'make a profit' kind. There are rules, which we sometimes see in their absence or when ethical codes are broken as at Enron or the News of the World. Certainly business has a multitude of precisely measured feedback systems, whether sophisticated digital dashboards or simply the P&L and Balance Sheet numbers. 

Maybe it's just in the area of voluntary participation that businesses differ so much from games: in the present climate, those who have a job generally appreciate how lucky they are and won't rock the boat for fear of losing it. And yet they mostly work for the salary reward at the end of the month. 

Perhaps one of the keys to success is to do as Google and similar have so famously done; to make the work place a source of fun and entertainment to increase that measure of voluntary engagement. That way, we unleash the best of our collective creativity. 
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Remember that main thing!

I got a couple of reminders today about what's important:
  1. The chief executive at a client told me he thought we'd saved them about £100k ($160k) and 18 months. First thought: how nice to be told. Second thought: wish they'd paid us £100k! Next thought: what's vital is that the client gets value for money and feels that the relationship is worthwhile.

    What matters is not what I think but what the client thinks and wants, even if in some situations we think they're 'wrong' or could get even better results by tweaking their approach - we should still do it their way, at their pace!

  2. Then, I responded to a LinkedIn request and saw one of my contacts had written, "People don't buy from websites or emails, people buy from people." Absolutely right! In the emphasis on e-everything that we get from the Twitter people I follow, the blogs I read - and the stuff I write - it's really easy to be bamboozled into forgetting the personal touch, and that electronic media is simply a way to try to scale one's reach. That won't matter a jot unless what's behind the reach is a genuine concern to benefit the other's interests.
And, this week captivated like the rest of Britain with the unfolding media drama about corrupt practices and cynical phone hacking, I'm resisting the temptation to bang on about integrity. Just to observe how lacking it is; and how often those who have it get accused of not.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Google+ social networking users giving up control

"If you make G+ (or Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or Tumblr any other service that hosts your conversations and other "content") your primary online presence, you are in effect giving away something enormously valuable. You are giving your contributions to the emergent global conversation to a company that values you largely as a contributor of data it can then turn into money." Read the rest at The Guardian.

As I said last week at #DigiTalksChelt, if you're not paying for your Internet service then you're not the customer, but the product that's being sold!

The problem is that, for now, most users just don't care: it's too important to them to jump on board with the latest thing (Google+), to feel that they're not missing out on their friends' action (Facebook), to be part of the uber-cool info flood (Twitter) or not risk missing an opportunity (LinkedIn) ...

By the time that users realise that it is massively more profitable to these companies to gather data for marketing than to provide the services, it's pretty much too late! There are scare stories of people trying to disengage from services like Facebook, only to discover that it takes hours and is incomplete: terms and conditions allow the companies to retain user content in some cases so as not to 'damage the experience' of the service for others!

Expect the market to shift and unfold with increasing rapidity: Google+ for example gets users to segment others into distinct 'circles.' I can't see or opt-out of the circle(s) you put me in to; and Google is getting an amazing amount of rich, crowd-sourced data on the profiles of G+ users, aggregated by their inside view of all the circles I've been put into by all the Google+ users who know me. That will prove to be of astonishingly profitable value to the company; and we're all rushing blindly into the honey trap!
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Friday, July 15, 2011

Social media complements live events at #DigiTalksChelt

The interaction lives on: so many 'conferences' are traditionally set up as one-way show-and-tell broadcasts. Social media turns the tables and makes them truly a place to confer.

#DigiTalksChelt is set up as a regular meeting on technology, design and ideas on digital media.
  • The organizing team uses Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and a bunch of other social media properties to draw a crowd of fifty or so industry specialists keen to lift their eyes from the keyboards for a couple of hours every couple of months. It's a chance to think more generally and interact with others who have insight.
  • Three speakers or so introduce their subject and the audience gets to interact with questions during, after, and over drinks breaks during the evening.
  • But the #DigiTalksChelt hashtag provides a means for folk to comment during the event; and afterwards; and over subsequent hours and days, even though the crowd disperses.
  • Last time round we got a web-delivered pitch on HTML5 and CSS3; and the social media also makes it possible to review slides, notes, presentations after the event and over time.

With a brief to get interaction going and put a couple of alternative points of view, Twitter has proved invaluable as a means to keep the conversation alive during the night and morning after the event. Here's a sample:



 Rich Mehta 

 Rich Mehta 

 Reid Derby 

 Rob Mason 

 Mike Schorah 

 Rob Mason 

 Andy Davies 

 Mike Schorah 

 Andy Davies 

 Jeremy Power 

 Sue Ryan 

 Andy Davies 

 Andy Davies 

 Mike Schorah 

You get the idea... This selection shows how the debate is continuing even beyond the boundaries of the conference time and place... Cool!
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