Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back on the treadmill

Well, it's been great to have a few days vacation time, getting away from the daily pressures and gaining some perspective.

We made sure that the holiday rental had WiFi because I had some conference calls scheduled in the away-time and I can't quite bring myself to drop out of touch completely. The recent BBC article on "worlidays" (a combination of work on holidays) struck a chord.

However, it was great to unplug from the fire-hose barrage of info through Twitter and the other channels for a few days, even though it was tempting to reach for the nearest electronic device in the down-time. Initially it was an effort of will to choose not to check for updates; it became easier as the days of August wore on.

Now, though, I'm back to the constant flitting from channel to channel, afraid to miss the next vital update. Sure, it was great today in London when an afternoon meeting fell through to turn to Twitter and text and the other tools on my iPhone - and I was glad the tools enabled a spontaneous meeting over lunch with the chair of a brokerage firm...

But I can't help but feel that our 24-7 news cycles, where everyone is now a publisher in their own right, has enslaved us in a way that even the great period of historic industrialisation in factories could not: at least factory workers could leave the conveyor belt behind when the whistle blew at the end of the shift.

Now, I take the conveyor belt of constant work and information flow with me 24-7. It's the first thing I check each morning and the last thing I switch off at night and with me in my shirt pocket in between,; even on the beach.

Progress? Or modern-day information worker slavery?

Thursday, August 18, 2011


One of the great benefits of bringing a product to Market as soon as possible is that you can begin to get reactions and feedback.

I'm so grateful for comments and questions that indicate where extra training support will be required; and for feature requests - with some indication of priorities ...

It's all about putting Drucker's maxim into practice: marketing is about listening, then responding.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Business model challenges

"Information wants to be free" is the rather lazy call from those who focus on the costs of distribution without factoring in the costs of production. It's certainly near-free to distribute an electronic newspaper, but the journalists who fill its pages still have food, housing and other bills that need to be paid somehow.

One of the challenges of the Internet economy is that users have become conditioned to paying zero, in purely monetary terms, for the services they consume. Mostly they currently accept advertising based on an increasingly intrusive data-gathering model that harvests their personal profile details so that ads can be targeted more precisely.

But in the smartphone 'apps' world, users have become conditioned to paying small amounts for applications.

I'm intrigued, though, by the experience of Hungry Shark publisher Future Games of London who switched from a paid-for app with 1,000 daily downloads at $1 to 250,000 daily active users of their free version who can be 'monetized' through in-app purchases of upgrades.

Firstly, it's nice to be getting $1,000 per day of gross revenue; but nicer still to increase revenue from $1 to a claimed average $3.26 per gamer.

However, doesn't this model rely on the supplier having to find ways to continue to get the consumer to buy 'stuff' within the app?
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On or Off; asset or threat?

The riots in London last week have stirred controversy about the role of social media and modern network communication tools.

Earlier this year we heard the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, preaching on the value of social media to empower those revolting in the 'Arab Spring.'

Now, in Britain, there is debate about whether to continue to allow social media/network communications because they provide such a valuable intelligence monitoring asset; or whether to restrict or disable access at times, as the BART did in San Francisco last week. Or as the former USSR members are doing:

 Evgeny Morozov 

What do you think?
Are the tools we use like a knife that can be used to prepare a meal or stab a victim?
In other words, are the tools morally neutral?
Or do we say that only responsible adults (or chefs) can use knives?
In which case, who makes that call?
Who gets to decide who is the parent here?
And what do we do if we disagree?
Is it true that 'everyone has something to hide?'
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Monday, August 8, 2011

What they know - guide to online tracking

Maybe you missed the special edition of the Wall Street Journal entitled 'What they know' - Here's the link
And too much else crammed on to this one page to highlight here. Browse around this great resource acting as a mini-portal to one of the most contentious subjects to dominate current affairs.
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Friday, August 5, 2011

Why be nervous about the info companies hold? #InfoStress

A great Tweet from @SheldonW this morning prompted today's blog post:

 Sheldon Witney 
 by MikeSchorah

He said,
 Sheldon Witney No one complained about the phone directory, which afaik gave tel, address, name, etc. Do people just assume it's bad?
 Sheldon Witney I think there are some real reasons, like changing people's behaviour, which isn't always good. But interested to know other peoples reasons
Chris Byrne responded

 Chris Byrne 

I think Chris is  right that there's some scare mongering going on, a drive to sell papers. And I completely agree with Sheldon's reminder about phone books. They still publish name, address and phone number information in a way that's publicly accessible. And you can even get at the info from the web, not just the paper copies.

  • However, you can't mash the phone book together with a map easily: there's something a bit eery about seeing my info on someone else's Google Map, when I didn't put it there.
  • With the phone book, I can opt to be somewhat 'ex-directory.' But in our increasingly interconnected world, it's hard to opt out of online services. Even that choice, to opt out, leads to often negative conclusions being formed.
  • And the phone book online limits the number of queries at any one time to extract data; re-keying that from the paper copy is a non-starter. But online databases give those with access to them a lot of info to crunch quite quickly, and with almost no cost of data acquisition.
  • I think people are spooked at the ways in which supposedly professional organizations have had their systems attacked and their data sources exposed, releasing information that people feel is personal.
  • There's frustration that 'stuff' given up for one purpose can now be re-purposed to results that no one really envisaged at first. For example, in putting my photo on Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites I never imagined that it would then become fodder for facial recognition programs  that can snap me via CCTV or a smart phone app and then work out who I am and other information about me by connecting databases.
  • Perhaps another reason why people are getting suspicious of the use of their data is that they are beginning to realize that Facebook and Google and others have huge stock market valuations and revenues and profits; but it's all based on user data that people have given up for free. There's an economic inequality that gives the profit advantage to others and those of us giving up our data feel a little bit used.
So, those are the reasons I've come up with in response to Sheldon's question. What do you think? Can we get any thoughts going around hashtag #InfoStress?

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Expect more culture clashes on privacy

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that Germany has demanded that Facebook cease the automatic tagging of users in photos uploaded to the site or face a fine of €300,000. (That's hardly a sum that will register on Facebook's balance sheet, but that's a separate point.)

The German concern relates to the automatic calculation of biometric facial profiles and Facebook's technology means that they can still calculate and store those profiles, even for users who choose to opt out of public display of this feature that's currently automatic.

Why the concern? Simply because this week researchers at Carnegie Mellon university have reported their ability to combine image scanning, cloud computing and public profiles from social network sites to identify individuals in the offline world. And to link profiles of people at online dating sites with their real name information. They simply used off-the-shelf facial recognition technology (similar to that purchased by Google recently) to search publicly available Facebook profiles; and have even produced an app to add personal data to an individual's photo captured on a smart phone screen.

The team's leader is quoted by the BBC as saying, "When we share tagged photos of ourselves online, it becomes possible for others to link our face to our names in situations where we would normally expect anonymity,"

Hamburg's data protection official, Johannes Caspar, notes "If the data were to get into the wrong hands, then someone with a picture taken on a mobile phone could use biometrics to compare the pictures and make an identification," he said. Such a system could be used by undemocratic governments to spy on the opposition or by security services around the world. "The right to anonymity is in danger," he said.
  • Expect companies to become ever more resourceful in providing systems that attract us into sharing stuff that can then be combined and re-purposed in surprising ways that give them an economic advantage. 
  • Expect globalisation to force a trend towards the lowest common denominator which is to erode the assumption of privacy that's found in European countries such as Germany but not, for example, so much in California. For example, as we noted recently, Microsoft confirms that much of European data is essentially subject to the provisions of the US Patriot Act.
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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cyber attacks represent a real economic threat

"Companies and government agencies are getting raped and pillaged every day. They are losing economic advantage and national secrets to unscrupulous competitors"
More than 72 organizations, including governments and the United Nations, are known to have suffered long-term cyber attacks. Some for more than five years. And this week it's emerged that personal information belonging to people entering newspaper competitions at The Sun have been hacked.

"What is happening to all this data ... is still largely an open question. However, if even a fraction of it is used to build better competing products or beat a competitor at a key negotiation (due to having stolen the other team's playbook), the loss represents a massive economic threat."

There are obvious costs and risks at a geo-political or large company level; but for an individual consumer or small business the impact can be just as devastating. Several people I know have had their Twitter account hacked to start generating 'get rich, work at home' spam ... and the cost to them is significant, not least in time to fix the problem, damaged reputation or relationships, and the opportunity cost of the other things they could have been doing..

Expect demand for better solutions to increase.
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Impure motive: "LinkedIn CEO says no one has time for Google+"

Gosh, does LinkedIn's CEO really not think people would question his motives in claiming that no one has time to add Google+ to their social network use? Does he really imagine that the triumvirate of Twitter, Facebook and - unsurprisingly - LinkedIn can't be toppled? Does he not remember Visicalc supplanted by Lotus 1-2-3? Or the way in which 1-2-3 and WordPerfect were blasted into oblivion by Excel and Word? Or the death of MySpace? Isn't it just a bit obvious that LinkedIn is threatened by Google+?

Anecdotally, I'm seeing a few of the people I follow on Twitter declaring that they are abandoning Facebook for Google+; and I overhead a couple of excited conversations by people who noticed that they could create a Google+ "circle" with just one member, giving them the equivalent of a Twitter Direct Message.

It's entirely possible that Google+ will supplant some of the more currently established networks, and I don't think LinkedIn is entirely safe, either.

The "network effect" can spin in reverse and once people start to leave, the trickle can become a flood as MySpace found.

What might give people pause is not so much the time they spend on other networks, but concerns over Google+ privacy. Google has got itself into some hot water on that issue and its playful logo and reputation for cool working environments aren't enough to kill the concerns that are gently brewing. Mostly it seems that members of the public don't yet care; but Google+ is not fit for business use where product plans and financials need to be transmitted and, as Microsoft confirmed, the rest of the world's data is not safe from the prying eyes of the US Patriot Act.

Expect Google+ to do well; but not in all environments. Millions will continue to use Facebook and Twitter - and LinkedIn, not only out of inertia but because they fulfill a felt-need role. Millions will invest in Google+, and not just the early adopters currently exploring its capabilities. But expect a need for niche tools that cater to privacy concerns and focus on business markets, not consumers.
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Big problem: not piracy, but obscurity

This weekend's light reading was Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. You can download it free of charge.

It's an interesting book which Doctorow summarizes:
Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

But something else captured my attention beyond just the excellent storyline: his comment that he enjoys giving away his books for free because, in part, he fears obscurity more than the loss of revenue. After all, if people don't even know about his books they can't possibly buy them and he's lost the money anyway. At least by giving stuff away he draws attention to his ideas, builds his reputation, gets called upon to speak at conferences, or write articles and more ... all of which can generate income.

These are powerful insights and part of the formation of the new economy that's unfolding around us.
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