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March 26 2012

I Quit Path

pathmoon150.jpgThere are too many apps. "There's an app for that" has passed the point of cliché and become some strange kind of axiom. Path is the perfect example. We have an app for staying in touch with friends: Facebook. We have an app for sharing pretty photos: Instagram. We have an app for checking into places: Foursquare. We have approximately 9,182 apps for auto-tweeting what song we're listening to right now. And yet, Path.

For which "that" is Path the app? Is it the app for being all of those apps at once, but prettier? Is that a problem we have? Do we need an app to solve it? When Path pivoted into version 2.0, it called itself a "smart journal." That sounds like a nice thing. But after a good run, it doesn't seem so smart anymore.


Path Is a Monument to Path

I had my doubts about Path 2.0 when it launched. It was like a gorgeous mirror for gazing at oneself. It seemed vain and unnecessary. But after awhile, to my surprise, a few friends began to join. Over the holidays, Path became wonderful.

path_timeline.jpgNot long after I learned to love Path, I read this great post (now gone, unfortunately) by Tag Savage. It shook my confidence a little bit. "Path is pretty in the same designy way as our modern museums," Savage wrote.

"These museums are very exciting when they open. You show up and marvel along with all of the other fans of architecture. Maybe you return for one of those nights where they stay open late and there is a band and drinking. 'A great space,' you think... The art doesn't get talked about so much at these museums."

At the time, I couldn't see that happening, but it turned out to be prescient.

"Path is a monument to Path," Savage said. It is no place to scribble in. I wish it longevity so that it might find shabbiness."

It has that shabbiness by now, but it's not charming. It's boring. It's cupcakes and workouts. Guilt and pride. Your friend's moment of self-satisfaction is brought to you by Nike+! The little emoticons mar the bottoms of the posts like graffiti, and it's the same handful of people day in and day out. There's no novelty.

I've long since lost the reason why I'm sharing these moments with all these people. The reactions are nice and fuzzy, but they're inscrutable because everybody interprets emoticons differently. They're very crude approximations of human expression.

For a quiet place, Path's signal-to-noise ratio is no better than any other network. The content is mundane on purpose. Without the Web in it, what else is there to do? At least links are clickable now, but there are no previews or anything. It's really not a great place for sharing.

"We Are Sorry. We Made a Mistake."

Then, of course, there's the sliminess of the company. Path was shady about privacy. It uploaded users' address books to its servers without asking. When caught, Path publicly apologized and said it would delete the data if asked.

Lots of people asked, including my friend David Barnard. He emailed Path and asked for all his data to be deleted, and the support person said it would be done. But when David tried to sign up again a month later, he found his data right there waiting for him.

Path may fix the problem going forward, but it obviously doesn't care about it that much.

Whose Path Are We On?

David's incident was almost enough to get me to quit there and then, but it got me thinking about what kinds of data I have in Path. The dust-up was over our address books, which is bad because it's other people's data, not ours.

pathsmash.jpgWe probably shouldn't be able to do with our friends' addresses and phone numbers as we please, but we can, and so does Path. It's not just Path. Our contact info is basically up for grabs out there.

But the data I own that I put into Path is stuff I made. I keep some of it closed off within Path, but I'm sharing it with other people. It's not like I expect it to be a secret. I don't really care what Path does with it, either. Presumably, someday, they'll try to monetize it.

But like I said, I don't really know why I'm putting it in there anymore. The museum has gotten shabby.

So before I decided to quit, I tapped over to my Path and started scrolling back to see what I'd put in there. And for the first time in months while using Path, this feeling of wonder came over me.

All these memories were so touching and vivid. Big, momentous photos punctuated by little thoughts and check-ins and a handful of my favorite songs. It was so beautiful... So me. My friends' little emoticons adorned the margins of the posts, but this was all about meeeeeeee.


Give Me Back My Journal

After gazing intently at my own life for a few minutes, I snapped out of it. Just like I thought at the beginning, I mused. Path is just a pretty mirror to gaze into narcissistically. It's a journal you let other people read.

Path calls version two a "smart journal." What is smart about it, exactly? The smarts are all on Path's side. I don't own the data. Path is the one using "smart" on it to calculate some kind of business model.

Yeah, I thought. I should get out of here.

And then I realized I couldn't. Months of my life are beautifully recorded inside this app, lured out of me by my selfish lust for an audience, and I can't get them out.

Path has stolen my journal, and it won't give it back.

Facebook is doing the same thing, you know. Timeline is going to be a big ol' billboard about our whole lives, and years from now, we're going to want to scroll back through it and see what we were up to. And Facebook will be able to show us nice, nostalgic ads along the way. I bet that's what Path wants to do, too.

But screw that. If we have any data we should host ourselves, it's our personal journals. I don't care whether it's digital or analog, paper or plastic, but journaling is important. It's just as narcissistic on Path as it has always been; we occasionally need to reflect on ourselves to remember what has happened to us. But our journals could never "pivot" or "exit" before. Nor could they advertise to us.

I've been convinced by the handiness of digital journals. I use Day One, myself. That lets me keep the data on my computer and in my iCloud account, not on someone else's leaky server. I used to be paper all the way. Now I'm a bit scattered. But I'm not putting these valuable memories in the hands of a private company like Path. I'd better close the book on this journal before I risk missing too much of my life.

That's it. I'm about to go to sleep and watch that goofy moon rise for the last time.


Are you using Path? How is it going for you?


Tags: Op-Ed

March 02 2012

Introducing Your Hyperconnected Online-Offline Identity

shutterstock_online_identity.jpgYesterday we wrote about the positive and negative consequences of living a hyperconnected life. One becomes more accustomed to multitasking, shuffling through personal and work-related tasks, and a heightened ability to pick out nuggets of information that are actually useful. On the downside, one can become obsessed with the Internet, and find themselves feeling sad and lost when they do leave the glowing screen(s). As we become more accustomed to being kings and queens of our own Internet worlds, our brains do quietly adapt to new stresses and modes of cognition.

But what of identity? How do we define who we are online vs. who we are offline? In our hyperconnected world, identities are fractured. Facebook wants to be your online identity's one true login. Studies have shown that we perhaps divulge more online than we otherwise would offline. Social networks are strange indeed.


Will we be happier, healthier people if we follow Zuck's advice and become one with the Internet (and give all our data to Facebook)? Or should we stick to a more 4chan-esque approach, which suggests that we're way more complex than that?

In our real lives, we constantly struggle between who we think we are, what others think we are and what people think we think we are. The real self is saddled somewhere in the overlap between these three circles. These ideas of the self apply in both an online and offline context.


This abstraction, explains ScepticGeek, may come at least partially from Carl Rogers.

Online, we battle with the same conflicts, plus a few other quirks. We are a Facebook identity (or two), a Twitter account, a LinkedIn oh-so-professional account and maybe even Google+ (plus search your world, no less). Each online identity is in and of itself an identity. Maintaining them is hard, often times treacherous work. We must slog through the Internet-addled identity quagmire.

shutterstock_marsh_frog JPG.jpg

"It's not 'who you share with,' it's 'who you share as,'" Poole says. ReadWriteWeb's Jon Mitchell continues that thought: "In other words, we're only presenting one, Facebook-facing aspect of ourselves when we share online via Facebook," he writes in his story, A Proposal to Fix Online Identity. "The advertisers who make Facebook possible don't have a full picture; they have a Facebook caricature."

Keeping that in mind, your online persona will always be just that - a persona, a caricature of the real you. But how much should that differ from the real life you?

It all comes down to trust: Are you who you say you are? Can others trust you?

In ScepticGeek's post, he suggests that you'll experience quite a bit of stress if you are different online from how you are in real life. It's not easy being two different people. But one writer argues that online it is indeed easier to make oneself vulnerable.

"When people have the opportunity to separate their actions from their real world and identity, they feel less vulnerable about opening up. Whatever they say or do can't be directly linked to the rest of their lives," writes Rider University's John Suler. He coined the term "disinhibition effect," which suggests that people on social networking sites feel free to share very personal things that they might not share in real life.

That's one way to look at it. Another is to get square, and consider how much of your online persona does match the offline you - not in terms of ads you look at and click or products you buy, but how you behave.

It might actually make life a whole lot simpler, too.

"A Marsh Frog" image courtesy of Shutterstock. Complex identity chart via ScepticGeek.


Tags: Op-Ed
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February 28 2012

Some Really Good Points About Ad Cookies & Privacy

Thumbnail image for shutterstock_online_privacy.jpgLast week's online privacy fracas-of-the-week was about the revelation that Google (and other advertisers) had learned to circumvent Safari's settings to let third-party cookies track users more easily. Apple's browser's default setting messes with the way advertisers track users.

The gist is this: Cookies are set by the site you're on, but some allow third-party sites to set a tracking cookie through them. That's how advertisers (like Google) personalize ads for you all around the Web. By default, Safari allows cookies from the site you're on, but it blocks third-party cookies. Google and others found a way around that. That sucks... I guess.


For the most part, I'm with my colleague, Dan Rowinski: track me all you want, just don't think we won't catch you if you do something wrong. I don't think Google's new privacy policy is a big deal. All browsers worth their salt make it very easy to either block cookies or go totally incognito, and Google lets you dump your entire Web history if you so desire. So while I'm public, track me. I'd rather have personalized ads than totally irrelevant ones.

I don't have a problem with the idea of ad tracking. But this end-run around Safari's settings has wider implications. I just read a post by Jonathan Mayer at Web Policy about this topic, and he makes some excellent points. There's a slippery slope here. Even if Google's tracking is innocuous now, cracking other companies' preferences sets some bad precedents for users.

"No account, login, or user preference was required for circumvention. The circumvention behaviors affected all users, independent of whether they had a Google account, were logged into a Google account, or had made a choice about social advertising."

Users who have a Google account can change their Google privacy settings. They can tell Google not to track them, and they can delete their histories. But Google tracks users without accounts, too, and there's nothing they can do about it.

"Circumvention is not a commonly accepted business practice. We only identified four advertising companies that deployed technology for circumventing Safari's cookie blocking, and all have since stopped the practice."

That doesn't look good.

"Furthermore, a self-regulatory organization for the online advertising industry cites Safari's cookie blocking feature as a way to stop cookies from advertising companies: '[Safari's] default setting will block all third-party cookies, including those of our member ad networks and those of other, non-member ad networks.'"

And, as Mayer points out, Apple makes it pretty clear that this setting is intended to block ad tracking. Whether or not Google's tracking is inherently bad, it's messing with Apple's user experience without regard for Apple or its users.

goodtoknow150.jpgBut, importantly, Safari has worked this way since long before Google was advertising this way. Apple just wants its users to have this privacy when they're browsing the Web.

Google argues that its users had "opted to see personalized ads" in their Google preferences, so it thought it was fine to honor those preferences over Safari's. But first of all, what about people who didn't have Google accounts? Secondly, why do Google's Web preferences get to overrule the user's browser preferences? Google used to say Safari's default preference "effectively accomplishes the same thing" as opting out of its tracking. As of last Tuesday, that's gone.

Again, it's my opinion that Web ad tracking, in and of itself, is not a big deal. But Mayer's points are important. Google and the three other advertisers who did this (and stopped when caught) were breaking into the agreement between Apple and its users, even when they had made no agreement whatsoever with Google or the others. That's not kosher.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock


Tags: Op-Ed

February 10 2012

A Proposal to Fix Online Identity

shutterstock_constellation.jpgFacebook's social graph of you isn't you. It's an approximation and an extrapolation based on little clues you've left lying around the Web. Using your Facebook or Google identity gives those services more data points about what you do, but that doesn't mean it substitutes for whom you are.

The central thing wrong with the social Web is that users don't own their identities. Users share themselves with identity services - like Facebook and Google - that then act as representatives of the people using them. Facebook and Google allow other sites to rent those identities. But when you log in to a new service using Facebook Connect, you are actually constraining your identity to the Facebook version of it, though you're expanding Facebook itself. Do you want to be the same version of yourself everywhere else as you are on Facebook? Or Google?


Facebook & Google Act on Our Behalf

Sponsored-Like-Story.jpgBy doing things this way, Facebook, Google et al. can lend your name to things without really asking you, like ads and promotions of various kinds. You have implied your permission by "liking" things or "checking in" to places.

But you didn't create the ad. You just initiated an action that triggered it. Social applications that speak for us this way are using our identities without us.

Identity Is Prismatic

Our Facebook and Google identities are like constellations. The stars are our actions on the Web. Facebook and Google are on the ground, staring up at the sky with a bunch of marketers and advertisers. They're the know-it-alls pointing at abstract shapes and confidently labeling them with names.

But the actual user, not the vague constellation of her online actions, is a multi-faceted person. "Identity is prismatic," as Chris Poole says, and "Facebook and Google do identity wrong."

"It's not 'who you share with,' it's 'who you share as,'" Poole says. In other words, we're only presenting one, Facebook-facing aspect of ourselves when we share online via Facebook. The advertisers who make Facebook possible don't have a full picture; they have a Facebook caricature.

Today's Social Web Is a Performance

The more about ourselves we share with Facebook, the more stars you can see in the night sky, the clearer the constellation appears. Hence, Facebook rolls out Timeline and asks us to share our entire life story.

But what Facebook has to acknowledge is that this is still a performance. It's a make-believe Facebook self. And Facebook's (and Google's) business consists of spinning that self on our behalf, mapping it and stereotyping it and selling it.


It's not wrong of Facebook or Google to do that, per se. But I have a feeling that better products, better ads, and a better Web would be possible if users owned their identities, showing as many (or as few) facets as they want to show.

A Proposal: Online Identity as a Fingerprint

Users should have signatures that are truly theirs, instead of their Facebook and Google guardians signing on their behalf.

Identity on the Internet should be embedded by the user like a fingerprint. It should be written into the digital material we make using hardware we have authorized. We should also be able to withhold it whenever we choose and make the content anonymous.

We should also be able to sign multiple and pseudonymous identities, but we'll have to hash that out later, as a political issue, once this is even technically possible. The first step is to create a protocol that lets us sign off the bits we've written as being of us, so that they remain identifiable no matter where the content is repackaged or republished.

Why Do We Want This?

We want this because it would delineate a difference between something we made or we said and something an outside service extrapolated about us.

We want this because it would simplify problems of attribution and copyright on the Web. If we didn't sign something we created, it would default to the other ways we deal with unsigned content. But content that is signed would have an unmistakable origin.

"There would be a layer of protection between who we declare we are and who companies assume we are."
We want this because it will make identity services like Google, Facebook and the rest compete honestly for our attention instead of boxing us into their worlds.

Facebook and Google can only make enough money from their profiles of us by tracking our activity and extrapolating who we are and what we do. But that would still be possible on top of a layer of authentic identity that those services didn't own. They would be able to compete based on whose recommendations were more accurate, but there would be a layer of protection between who we declare we are and who companies assume we are. We would no longer be tied to just one of those identity constellations.

OpenID is not what I'm talking about, either. It's more than just logging in to websites. This is something we write in. It's not a handle and a password. It's like one of those wax seals on a letter, except with Information Age security measures.

The Naïve Things About My Idea

Many things about my above proposal are naïve. Here are just a few:

  1. I am not well-versed enough in the longstanding projects of this nature that already exist, like GnuPG signing or Mozilla's BrowserID, to know what the challenges are. But I'm working on it.
  2. I haven't specified at which layer of the user interface this identity signature should take place, whether at the device level, the browser level, or what. Again, that's because I am not well-versed enough in the technical requirements of such a project.
  3. And yes, the inertia of moving away from siloed Web identities (Google/Facebook) towards this is unconscionably humongous.

So I know there are experts on these problems out there. Talk to me. What's right and what's wrong about this idea? Who's working on it? How is it going? Is it impossible? Is it unnecessary? Is it hopeless? In the interest of a better Web, let's talk about this.

See also: Scott M. Fulton, III's year-end post, "Issues for 2012 #3: Who Gets to Define Your Online Identity?"

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock


Tags: Op-Ed

February 09 2012

Stop Saying "Finally"

shutterstock_crybaby.jpgFIIIINALLY! Google released a Chrome beta for Android! GODDDDD. What took them so long? All the Ice Cream Sandwich users have been waiting, like, FOREVER!

Finally, Tweetbot for iPad came out. I've only been asking them for, like, EIGHT MONTHS! Jeez.

Apple fiiiinally released iTunes Match after a whole month, and it didn't even work right!

Listen to how this sounds. How do we, the tech bloggers, get away with headlines like this? Where do users get off complaining impatiently about updates to a service that costs them $2.99? Or a free service? Let's have a reality check. Remember how awesome technology is?


This is an appeal to all of us, myself wholeheartedly included, to start appreciating how amazingly fast the world is changing and stop complaining about having to wait a week or two for the next incremental update of the future to arrive.

Let's Walk From San Francisco to Los Angeles

Sometimes, it takes longer to build amazing software than developers planned back at the beginning, when they were all psyched to get started. A great Quora thread about this popped up last week: Why are software development task estimations regularly off by a factor of 2-3?


Michael Wolfe's answer lays it out. Developing software is like planning a hiking trip down the coastline. When you're zoomed out, looking at the big map, the line is pretty straight. But as you actually start walking, you realize that the line on the big map glosses over the details.


The actual coastline twists and turns. There are cliffs and boulders and sand. "Angry sea lions!" It's not as simple as walking a straight line for the distance calculated by Google Maps. It might take 10 times longer to go one mile today than it did to go five miles yesterday.

So that's the part of the problem we can't control. Software projects take longer than expected. But the customers - and the bloggers - have to do more than just cut the devs some slack.

An App Costs 1 Cup of Coffee

We have to appreciate a few things. First of all, if you can afford a computer, if you can afford a monthly Internet bill, you can afford an app that costs $3. Let's assume we're talking about Apple stuff here. If you paid $3, the developer made $2.10 (and Apple took 90¢).

Just think about how many times a developer has to make $2.10 in order to make a living. That is your personal share of the app you bought. If it takes the developer a month longer than you wanted for a big update full of new features, just keep that in mind before you go ranting off to the Internet and leaving ★☆☆☆☆ reviews.

If the app is free, you should be saying "thank you."

Time & Perspective

The other part of this problem is our perspective on time. This is the one that affects the bloggers. We have our noses in this stuff every day, so the cycle of software releases tends to feel longer than it really is. But it affects lay users as well. We've gotten so used to things changing online all the time that we've started to think one month is a long time for a technological innovation.

That's craziness. It used to take a month to send a message to someone. Let's dial back the whininess and appreciate the amazing speed and plummeting costs of technological change. You can write your best-selling novel on an app that costs as much as a beer. I'm reminding all of us, especially myself, to try to stop saying "finally" and start saying "thank you."

Lead photo courtesy of Shutterstock


Tags: Op-Ed

January 27 2012

The Cost of Doing Business: Foxconn, Apple and the Fate of the Modern Worker


"Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." - Immanuel Kant

Ours is an imperfect society. The nature of our reality, our desires and our need to possess, while maintaining a façade of moral righteousness, puts us at odds with the reality that exists within the systems we have created.

In recent days, the character of our era of consumerism has been put in question. We want what is new, shiny, fashionable. We want it now. With this desire we turn our heads from the consequences it takes to produce our toys, our symbols of status. When The New York Times reports that our gadgets are made in Chinese factories where working conditions can be horrendous, we express outrage and tweet the article from our iPads. The culture we have created comes with the cost of doing business.


The Conditions at Foxconn

ipad_200_aug10.jpgThe conditions at Chinese factories that make our gadgets can be deplorable. Workers often live in crowded dorms, work more than 60 hours a week, are punished with physical labor and withholding of wages, according to The New York Times report on conditions at Foxconn, which makes Apple's iPhones, iPad and iPods. In a response to the article, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent an email to Apple employees and the company released a "Supplier Responsibility Report." This is not a discussion solely about Apple though. Apple is the most valuable company in the world, so it naturally faces the most scrutiny. Other device makers, such as Dell, Nokia, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, are clients of Foxconn as well.

Apple and Foxconn are just two examples in a larger system. Companies have to weigh the cost and benefits of the manufacturing process. This is not a new dilemma but is a matter of fact within the economy created by the Industrial Revolution. Nor is this quandary solely a matter of high tech devices. Companies like Nike have been cited in the past for the conditions at their manufacturing plants in Asia. How much do you really want to know about the synthetic polymer that is the backbone of much of the world's textile industry? What about the bread you eat, the TV you watch, the socks you wear?

Framing the Utilitarian vs. Deontological Conversation

"The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but when you come to realize your fact, it takes on color. It is all the difference between hearing of a man being stabbed in the heart, and seeing it done." - Mark Twain


Image: Samsung Galaxy Tab

The dilemma created by the source of our products can be explained in a utilitarian framework. Utilitarianism, "is generally held to be the view that the morally right action is the action that produces the most good." Another word for this is consequentialism. In philosophy, consequentialism is the determination of the moral good of an act based on its consequences.

A utilitarian worldview can be beneficial. The most good for the most people is the highest degree of morality that can be strived for, many believe. The detriments to a utilitarian view are that it does not factor in the needs of the individual. "One must die so a thousand can live." Is it fair to that one person that must be sacrificed to the greater good?

On the other side of utilitarianism is the concept of deontologicalism. It is the opposite of consequentialism: "no matter how morally good their consequences, some choices are morally forbidden." Deontological ethics suppose that humans have a duty (the Greek word deon) to support the moral rights of the individual. The boundaries are thus drawn between the concepts of utility and duty.

How do we then rationalize these concepts into our modern era of consumerism? When we hear that four people died and 77 were injured at explosion and subsequent fire at Foxconn, where do we place our own morality on the spectrum between utility and duty? While many of these types of accidents are avoidable on a case-by-case basis, the nature of industrial manufacturing has always lead itself to these types of catastrophes. In a perfect world, everybody would be happy and well fed and the conditions at such factories would never cause harm to those employed. It is something to strive for but a reality that is not easily attained. We have to reconcile our idealism where all parties' interests are satisfied against the reality of the systems we have created.

This is not a perfect world; we create systems that are fundamentally unfair. The more money is spent and made, the harder it is to change these systems. The two largest device makers in the world, Apple and Samsung, announced this week a sum total of nearly a hundred billion dollars in revenue ($46 billion for Apple, $42 billion for Samsung) in their most recent quarters. The two companies make devices that make people's lives easier and happier and enable them to perform acts that are a benefit to the greater good. There is little question about the utility that is being produced from an individual perspective and in the dynamics of a worldwide information system. It can also be argued that the existence of companies like Apple and Samsung make the lives of the people that work in their factories better.

foxconn 150.jpg

There is no doubt that the companies that are customers of factories like Foxconn (and Foxconn itself) can do a better job in maintaining safe, happy, healthy work environments. Yet, implementing changes that are beneficial to those workers may also lead to an imbalance in the system. Can the diverse nature of technological consumerism be monetarily supported if the efficiency that is demanded by companies like Apple and Samsung from factories like Foxconn is diluted?

For The Good Of Whom?

When we speak of the most good for the greatest number of people in this scenario, who are we talking about? The good of the consumer, the good of Apple's shareholders, the good of the plant owners or the good of the workers? The different stakeholders will give you an array of answers.

Consumers want high tech devices can make their lives simpler, more efficient and arm them to do their jobs and make the world a better place. Shareholders want profits. Similarly, there is profit motivation for those who own the factories. The good of the plant owners theoretically could mean the good of the factory workers as the factory owners can open more factories, employ more people and create a higher standard of living for their employees.

The good of the factory worker... well, that is what is missing from the conversation. From a utilitarian perspective, what is morally right for the factory worker may not be of the greatest good to the other parties. From a deontological perspective, the other parties have a moral duty to uphold the rights of the factory worker. This is the dilemma that must be reconciled.

We are stuck at a crossroads. How to balance the utilitarian systems that provide the world with the devices that make peoples' lives better versus the deontological morality of those systems. This is not a new dilemma but a scenario that has been played out thousands of times throughout the course of humanity, from the feudal systems of agrarian Europe to the factory towns of New England in the 19th century to the manufacturing plants in Chengdu that make our computers today.

While we all hope that humanity can rise to create a more perfect world where the balance of human moral values is no longer a question, it is not the world in which we live.

That is the cost of business.


Tags: Op-Ed

January 19 2012

Top 0 Lessons Learned from the SOPA Protest

Young Frankenstein.jpgSo what just happened? Well, several of the world's most prominent Web destinations interrupted their regular programming to remind their readers of the dangers of a world where certain content may be arbitrarily made to disappear. For most Americans, this was probably the first they'd seen of any efforts by Congress to change the Internet, for whatever reason they'd want to do so.

They were given links to click on to learn more. Some of those links led to the White House Web site, where over a hundred thousand people signed petitions urging the President to veto any bill that would suborn Internet censorship. A few of those links led, to our own surprise, to ReadWriteWeb; and for a few hours yesterday, our traffic rose to unprecedented levels.


You can never step in the same river twice

Whenever you divert a river through a narrow channel, the result is always raging and torrential. Google, Wikipedia, several blogs published through WordPress and Tumblr, and a few other sites yesterday successfully stuck a few logs in the river. They diverted people's attentions for a moment, and got quite a few of them to agree that changes in the Internet to divert traffic away from content (except for this one) are usually bad.

The result was a logjam of public support, a signal of concerted public opposition to government altering the mechanism of the Internet. Principal sponsors of the SOPA and PROTECT-IP (PIPA) legislation publicly withdrew their support of both bills in their respective houses. Now, despite new markup hearings scheduled for next month, it is extremely unlikely that anti-piracy legislation will emerge from Congress this term.

Victory, it would seem, for the SOPA and PIPA opponents. But we need to ask ourselves, do millions of Internet users truly know more today about the efforts to preserve the Internet and the industries that depend on it, than they did 48 hours ago? Or did Google and Wikipedia just present everyone with yet another popup (like the one with the green button and the red button where the green one says, "YES, I'M 18 OR OVER") and people click the one closest to the content they're really looking for.


But you can surely step in it once

You've often told us this yourself: We in the media are too full of ourselves; we think we're so clever. We can stick our foot in the river, and when it changes direction we proclaim ourselves God and say we, too, can change the course of mighty rivers. We're always trying to make ourselves "mainstream," and we scratch and claw for any means necessary to have Google make us "mainstream."

But we typically fail to keep track of where the river goes from here. Which makes the report this morning from Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood an ominous and foreboding indicator of future events for anyone preparing a "Mission: Accomplished" banner for the victory party. Finke cites an "anonymous" memo from an unnamed Hollywood studio executive (who, despite not being named, openly states he produced a TV series called "24") as making clear that Hollywood's campaign contributions are not guaranteed to anyone. After last Saturday's statement from the Obama Administration, the content industry may be rethinking its support for Democratic Party fundraising efforts in the near-term.

Hollywood, which is in California, the home state of Rep. Darrell Issa, who has become the loudest SOPA opponent in the House. California, with 55 electoral votes. The state where recent polls expressed a preference for that nice fellow who worked with Hollywood to help produce the Salt Lake City Olympics.

In the two decades-plus that I've covered anti-piracy legislation in the U.S., as well as other countries, I've provided the nasty details, the ironic twists, the points of conflict where the legal, creative, and technology worlds fail to connect. And in all of that time, I've been told by editors (when I've had editors), and even frequently by some readers, that folks like you simply don't care. I can still hear the words of one editor who hosted a media workshop resounding in my head: "The Internet is not about facts," he said. "It's about traffic. And you don't get traffic by publishing a bunch of facts, facts, facts, facts."

If anything is less about facts than that particular editor's view of the Internet, it's politics. You can't garner public support or opposition to an issue, I've been told, through a technical recitation of every use case. Instead, it's been suggested, to make an issue popular, you should boil it down to two words that fit on a protest sign. Case in point: Easily the most convincing explanation I've ever read about the potential effects of the anti-piracy system SOPA suggested comes from the blog of an ISP named SoftLayer. It's a detailed technical description of the mess that any DNS server would have to wade through if it were to be amended with instructions preventing it from resolving only certain domain name requests.

As an optimist, I'd think a reasonable person would come away from that blog post convinced that SOPA's suggested remedy was not viable. But you can't fit "DNS Pre-emption Would Break Name Resolution Cycles" on a campaign banner.

Insert cause here

You need something else. Up until 2009, the two-word slogan that anti-piracy opponents went with was "government conspiracy." (Which still made for a big protest sign.) Yet it did not resound with a broader audience, probably because none of the players in the alleged conspiracy had any direct relationship with you, the everyday user. It was all taking place in soundproofed, smoke-filled, underground bunkers, probably with Peter Sellers playing at least three roles.

What ended up working was something more like this: "Censorship bad."

And you know, it's true. Censorship bad. You don't want censorship? Of course not. Here's a nice popup for you. Click the button that says censorship bad. You can do it. Good boy.

Never mind that none of the bills are really about censorship. If they have the same effect, I've been told, it's the same thing. As you go forth about your business today, and as you take heart in the very probable fact that the Internet will not be ruined by an ill-considered bill from folks who didn't comprehend the technology, ask yourself this: How long will the Web maintain its integrity as a source of unfettered, unfiltered facts, facts, facts, facts as long as congresspeople, service providers, content providers, artists, publishers, journalists, political candidates, and you continue to let yourself be used as a tool for someone else's two-word-slogan, private interests?

Scott M. Fulton, III is the author of this opinion article and is solely responsible for his content.


Tags: Op-Ed

Why SOPA and PIPA Won’t Stop Real Piracy

Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Supporters of the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA (and its Senate-sister the Protect Intellectual Property Act, PIPA) legislation — like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) — argue that legislation is needed because online piracy puts jobs and industries at risk.

While I agree that content piracy is a real problem, the language and implications of SOPA has the potential to hurt the very industries and content creators the bills purport to protect.

Artists and content creators are understandably bothered by how easy it is to obtain content without payment. My musician friends cringe when their albums are available for download even before the CD is pressed. My filmmaker friends distress over seeing the blood, sweat and tears put into a project more easily accessible from MegaVideo or other filesharing sites than from Amazon or Netflix. It’s only natural to want to put a stop to these types of infringing sites and situations.

SEE ALSO: Artists: SOPA Would Hurt More Than Help

The backers of SOPA and PIPA believe that forcing ISPs, search engines, web hosts and users to take responsibility for infringing behavior will put a stop to the infringement. This is short-sighted and misguided.

Let’s be clear — there is a large underground business that profits off of copyright infringement and digital piracy. For the most part, however, that business is not online. In parts of Asia, such as China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, it’s a chore to find content for sale that is not pirated. Perfect digital copies of movies, television shows, music and software are for sale in packaging that looks and feels as if it were authentic.

First-run movies hit the streets in China before the films play at the Cineplex. This is not a new phenomenon; it’s been happening for decades.

That industry will not disappear because of SOPA. The groups that source and distribute content will not be affected because they are technically savvy enough to get around restrictions. Finding a web host in another country and using a VPN service to tunnel to a different server is a trivial task.

Moreover, the countries where the bulk of the actual profit from piracy takes place will have little incentive to enforce a U.S. law. Just look at the situation involving the now-defunct AllofMP3.com — a site that sold DRM-free music to users in the U.S. and other parts of the world for $0.10 a track under a Russian copyright loophole.

The site was eventually shut down, thanks to pressure from the Bush administration and payment companies. But Russian courts ruled the site was not guilty of infringement in that country.

SOPA and PIPA have the potential to stop less tech-savvy individuals from downloading the latest episode of 30 Rock. For the most avid infringers, however, years of USENET, “warez” forums and private invite-only BitTorrent communities have already taught them how to get around those ISP-infringement letters.

Spend Money on Solutions, Not Legislation

The issue of piracy and copyright infringement needs to be addressed. But this legislation does not do anything to adequately solve the problem.

I have never hidden the fact that I have downloaded content without paying for it. Call me a pirate, call me a freeloader, call me a thief. The truth is, I’ve downloaded hundreds of music albums, television shows and pieces of software since 1998.

To be totally fair, I’ve also spent at least $25,000 on DVD and Blu-ray discs alone, easily another $10,000 on music and books, and at least that much on software.

Most people pirate or purchase pirated content because legal access is unavailable or too difficult to decipher. For years, I frequently purchased an album on iTunes and then downloaded a higher quality version from a BitTorrent tracker to get the best fidelity, as well as portability. Likewise, I frequently downloaded episodes of TV shows immediately after airing but then later bought the show on DVD to get the extra features.

The reason that services like iTunes, Spotify, Hulu and Steam have found success is because they make it easy for users to pay for content they want to access. Instead of investing in legislation that attempts to turn back the digital clock, these lobbying groups should be focusing on initiatives that modernize the way content is delivered.

Stop looking at infringers as pirates or criminals and instead look at them as potential customers. Find a way to make content worth obtaining legally so that artists, distributors and producers can all get paid.

SOPA and PIPA do neither of these tasks. Instead, they focus on an untenable goal of stopping piracy. The real pirates and infringers will be untouched by U.S. legislation. But online freedom will be at risk.

Image courtesy of Flickr, ToobyDoo

More About: op-ed, Opinion, PIPA, piracy, SOPA, stop online piracy act

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January 10 2012

Path & The Art of Keeping It Real

path150.jpgPath 2.0 is the first newfangled social app I've been able to get my friends to use since Facebook complacency set in. I had my reservations at first, when I was worried that Path would turn out to be nothing more than a pretty mirror for gazing at oneself. For a while, it was pretty lonely in there, but after using Path to document my week on jury duty, I knew the app could offer something meaningful.

As it turned out, the Path experience wasn't only compelling to me because I'm a professional nerd. Over the holidays, I showed Path to a bunch of my best friends, and they all fell in love with it. Now that I have close people there, Path has become important to me. It's on my home screen, and Facebook is not. Path is not on the Web; it's a place in itself, and that's why it matters.


Mat Honan at Gizmodo had the same experience over the holidays, and his take is eloquent. He calls it "a backyard barbecue," and he points to one key feature as the thing that makes Path feel intimate: it shows when someone visits you.

All this closeness has apparently rubbed some the wrong way. It's attracting vibes of A-list exclusivity, a trope familiar from its version 1.0 days.

The 150-friend limit (which used to be 50) reinforces this feeling. At the bottom of your friends list on Path, there's a gentle yet firm warning: "Share your Path with close friends." Since connections are scarce, Path has built into it a subtle tone of rejection.

pathsmash.jpgYou can't be friends with everyone on Path, and you might have to turn people down. You might get turned down. I really hope that doesn't hurt your feelings. If it does, I'm afraid the Internet has screwed up your mind.

Facebook people always say they're serious about the word "friend," but its interface constantly harasses you about adding more "friends," and makes it nearly impossible to say "no." When Facebook changed the button for rejecting a friend request to say "Not Now," I simultaneously laughed and barfed.

Path is not conducive to networking or discovering people. Twitter and Facebook are great for that. Google+ can dump thousands of new people on you without even asking. We don't need another place to network. What we need is a place for intimacy and trust that is still enhanced by the sharing power of the mobile Web. That's why my friends and I love Path.

Marshall and I had the above conversation in public, on Twitter. That's what I love about Twitter. Sometimes people's conversations, even about little things, are useful, interesting or amusing to others. Twitter feels personal, but it's not intimate because other people are watching.

Facebook and Google+ allow "selective sharing," but it doesn't feel special. The interactions happen in the same old place with the same old crap-ridden interface, you've just chosen a different option from a drop-down menu. Facebook Groups are a bit better, but they're still not far removed from the cacophony of the Facebook feed. All these services want to be something for everybody, and they want to be everything for as many people as possible.

Path is not everything. For example, it's not the Web. People on the Web can see things you share on Path if you post them to Twitter or Facebook, but you can't use Path itself from anything other than the app on your phone. That's my why my dear friend Randall won't accept my request:

You also can't link to the Web from Path. URLs don't work. That's an intentional decision by the Path team, and a bold one. On all the everything-networks, linking to the Web is part of the experience. Google+ may suck at it, Facebook may kidnap your links and keep them inside its walls, and Twitter may butcher your URLs, but, in their weird ways, they let you bring in all the signal and noise of the Web. Path does not. That's one of Marshall's gripes:

Let this be okay. Path is its own place. It is constrained on purpose. It's smartphone-only because that's the computer you have with you when you're out living life away from the Web. It only allows 150 friends because it wants you to think carefully about what you share and with whom you share it.

It lets you share thoughts, photos, videos, songs, places, the people with you, when you go to sleep and when you wake up. It lets you live real life with people, even if they're far away. My best friend from back in the day is on a work trip to Liberia right now. Path lets him share some of that with me. He could share it on Facebook, too. Yes. But it would be swept up in a sea of other noise. Instead, it happens alongside the lives of several other dear friends of mine.

This same friend also told me the other day that Path is making him a better person. It's keeping him "on the path," as it were. Because sharing to Path means that one's trusted, close friends will see something, it makes one carefully consider what matters to them. Thinking about sharing his life with us makes my friend plan each day more deliberately.

I don't credit Path with that. I credit our friendship. But when Path uses the word "friend," I don't barf. I may laugh, but it's no "LOL." It's actual joy.



Tags: Op-Ed

January 04 2012

SOPA, GoDaddy and the Bottom-Up Democracy (or Mob Rule) of the Web

It used to be that large companies could pretty much do as they pleased in their ongoing quest to maximize profits and please shareholders. It was only when the harm done to workers, consumers, the environment or a firm's own self image got particularly bad that anything changed. This isn't to say that all big companies do bad things, but some do and in the industrial age, they could often get away with it pretty easily.

Well, the industrial age has given way to the information age and the balance of power is shifting further and further toward consumers, especially those with actively Web-connected lives. For a telling example, look no further than the recent fiasco surrounding GoDaddy and their now former support for the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA).


It was only 24 hours after last month's Reddit-fueled rebellion against GoDaddy that the company reversed its stance on SOPA and began calling customers, begging them to stay. If the gleeful, videotaped slaughter of an African elephant and notoriously sexist marketing campaigns weren't enough to tarnish the company's image in any meaningful way, public support for controversial legislation would apparently do the trick.

GoDaddy could have weathered some Twitter name-calling, but when customers started transferring domain names to other providers, the company was forced to publicly reexamine its position on SOPA. In just two days, more than 37,000 domains were transferred from GoDaddy to competing providers. That's a mere drop in the bucket amidst the 50 million domains currently registered with GoDaddy, but if allowed to fester, the company's latest PR disaster could have cost it some serious revenue.

The Crowd or the Mob? Either Way, Its Voices Are Loud and Clear

The lessons of the incident were not lost on other companies, who have begun to pull support for SOPA. It's unlikely that the RIAA and other industry groups will have a change of heart, but companies more closely aligned to the tech industry, such as Nintendo, Electronic Arts and Sony, saw what happened to GoDaddy and have since reversed their stance as well.

The episode was an instructive one for GoDaddy, but it also speaks volumes about the power the Web and social media hands to everyday people. No longer are things strictly top-down, even if real power and wealth are still largely concentrated among a relative few. In the past, a company of GoDaddy's size could support whatever screwed up and backwards legislation it wanted. Today, if such a move is perceived to strike at the heart of the Internet, the Internet will strike back.

This is not the first example of the power of the crowd. Things got noisy enough on sites like ComcastMustDie.com for the cable behemoth to take a more proactive role in online community management and customer service. As many subscribers will attest, the company still has a long way to go, but it has made progress. You can just about manage to hit the "Tweet" button after typing an angry anti-Comcast sentiment on Twitter before getting a response from one of the company's many social media managers. This may or may not lead to a satisfactory resolution in each case, but at least the company is paying attention. That was something they didn't have to do on quite this scale before.

But Is This a Good Thing?

A recent post on Gawker makes the argument that this phenomenon is actually a bad thing, resulting in a power trip for the Reddit community and leading to some less-than-ideal consequences down the line.

"While great for short bursts of fundraising or getting out a timely message, purely digital mobs like Reddit or the hacktivist collective Anonymous are not well-suited for thoughtful, sustained participation in the political process," writes Adrian Chen. "Fuck the "Wisdom of the crowd." The thinking of the internet hive mind is shallow and frantic, scrambling from one outrage to the next."

To be sure, some of what goes on amongst the Reddit is questionable and not every member of that particular community has their facts straight at all times. But they're far from the only player in these scenarios, even if they do often provide a solid launch pad for digital protest campaigns. What's more remarkable is how the architecture of the Web generally, as well as its social tools, are beginning - yes, only beginning - to enable.

This isn't to suggest that the Internet can solve all of our problems and lead to some utopian, ultra-democratic society. Indeed, most companies won't reverse their stance on SOPA, only the ones that are uniquely threatened by the ire of loud, Web-based communities. Ultimately, the online outcry could fail to block the legislation itself.


Tags: Op-Ed

Google+ Is Going To Mess Up The Internet

googleplus150.jpgI hate Google+. Can't stand it. It is agonizing to use. The stream is so noisy, it won't even bother me when the inevitable Google ads arrive. Culturally, it feels like walking into a religious school. It swarms with disciples of the + waiting for the messianic downfall of the Evil Internet, so that the One True Google+ is all that's left.

But I've been polite. It's my beat, so I've covered it fairly. When it gets a feature I love, I say so. When it does something obscenely bad, I give its creators a fair chance to respond. But it's getting harder to grin and bear it. I've been a happy Google customer product for a long time, because Google tools used to enhance the Internet. But as Google ships "the Google part" of its new Google+ identity, it's breaking the Internet it once helped build. I can't take it anymore.


Expand This Post

It all crystallized for me this morning when two Google+ transgressions presented themselves at once. Mike Elgan, "The world's only lovable technology columnist™," re-shared a post by Rohit Shrivastava, a manager at IBM. Elgan's post bore an awfully familiar headline, although the punctuation and capitalization had been maimed. It was familiar because I had written it. I didn't see any attribution, though, let alone a link to the story.

So I clicked 'Expand this post' on Shrivastava's part, and there was a giant chunk of my article copied and pasted into Google+ without a link. Not even a '+ mention,' or whatever, of +ReadWriteWeb. I wanted to click through and get the link to Shrivastava's post, and I couldn't do that. So I thought, "WTF, Google+? Why can't I link to the original post? Is the popular kid's re-share of someone else's post more important?"

Then I remembered that public G+ posts count as websites now, as far as Google search is concerned. Furthermore, Google search now obscures natural Web results whenever possible, giving Google+ results from users' networks instead. And it hit me: True Believers of the Holy + might see this re-shared Google+ post of an almost-unattributed rip of my story instead of the original. Google+ hates the Internet!

Google+ Hates The Internet

That brought me back to an incident on December 24. I was on the iPad, not on my main machine, and I was trying to find a link to one of my posts. The quickest way to do that was to type 'jon mitchell jury duty' into the Google search bar.

To my astonishment, the post I wanted was not the first result. It was the third. Ranking above the result I wanted were two Google+ posts, one by me, and one by our webmaster Jared, that were nothing more than links to the article with brief comments. Google thought I would prefer to click through Google+ to find my article than to go straight to it.


I posted this screenshot on Google+ to see what my 8,000 ... Followers? Plus-buddies? Plussers? +Friends? Friends+? Circlers? Encirclers? ... To see what my 8,000 Encirclements thought. One comment (to which Google+ allows no way to link) said, "Yours is the top result when I search." I presume she meant the article itself. Well, that didn't make me feel much better, because now I know Google is showing different Internets to different people.

But there were two comments I found even more disturbing (and again, Google+ will not allow me to link to them directly). One commenter said, "It's an algorithm. Get over yourself." Typical, orthodox devotion to the Almighty Google Algorithm and its Infallible Wisdom. Okay. But then another guy offered this gem:

"Speaking as a user/reader, to me the G+ version of your posting is more interesting than the readwriteweb.com version, because I can comment here without having to jump through hoops."

This might be the Googlest thing I've ever seen. First of all, he designates himself a "user/reader," which is just spectacular. And he goes on to say that he'd rather see a Google+ post about the article than the article itself, because, and I quote, "I can comment here without having to jump through hoops." Hoops like reading the article?

Google+ Is Social SEO

This darling "user/reader" has hit on the most touted feature of Google+: the conversations. Everybody finds it so much better than other forms of conversation on the Internet. It's okay, sure. You can't link to comments, but it's not bad. It lets you make things bold and italic. That's pretty neat.

But never forget that you're Google's product, not its customer. Why does Google want to facilitate long, riveting conversations on Google+ (with only one permalink, so the search results don't get confusing)? Exactly. For the same reason blogs allow comments, despite the outrageous overhead of fighting spam. Traffic and search engine optimization.

Google+ is the new SEO. Just look at what it's done to Google News. In the name of highlighting authors, it now pulls in Google+ profiles. It doesn't let the author choose, say, her own website as her profile. If she wants a clickable, personal link on Google News, she has to use Google+.

Google does all this in the name of personalization. The public face of this effort is Amit Singhal, who presents personalization as this crucial element of context. Google can better figure out what a query means to each user if it has social signals, his story goes.

But my query for "jon mitchell jury duty" didn't mean "Show me what my Friends+ are saying about 'jon mitchell jury duty.'" It meant "Show me Jon Mitchell's article about jury duty!" The Google of a year ago would have known that. All this personalization and real-time stuff surely helps Google organize its content, but it's breaking search.

And Then There Are The Little Things

Meanwhile, I don't know about you, but I think Google+ itself is infuriating to use. Remember when it was "minimal?" This is what it looks like now:


The mobile versions are cleaner, but it's still Google+. I know the Android experience is apparently wonderful - is that surprising? - but despite the many glorious iterations of the G+ iOS app, there's still literally no way to post a rich link to Google+ on iOS.

You can paste a URL in with your text, but it won't expand into anything worth clicking on. If you try to load the full Web version in mobile Safari, Opera or Dolphin (I've tried all three), the browser crashes when you click in the text box. Even Facebook can do this, and don't get me started on how Facebook is ruining the Internet.

Sure, I can re-share and +1 things that are already inside Google+. Of course I can. But if I want to share something new to Google+ while I'm mobile, it had better be content that's 100% inside Google+ (or my location, which it always seems to grab). And you may reply, "Well, why don't you get an Android, then?" To which I reply, "No."

Google's Weird Attempt At Social

Mobile is increasingly the key social device, because it's the one you have when you're out living life. Path knows it. Yobongo knows it. Even Facebook has rescued its mobile apps from the edge, giving its users as much consistency across devices as it can.

It follows that Google would try to push Android as a vector for Google+. It's trying to get us addicted to yet another free Web service and sell us to its customers, the advertisers. Google's not alone there. That's what Facebook does, and it's what all of the above apps will do, presumably.

But Google is different. Google used to be about organizing the world's information. It was a service to the entire Web. But this social tangent is changing that. It's turning the Web into a Google+ popularity contest. It's making us labor to prioritize our Friends+ by how much they matter to us, or by other undefined criteria, while Facebook just sorts them for us. Google+ may have bought Katango to do the same. We'll see when it ships.

Google+ is encircling our relationships, and it's encircling our identities. It doesn't care how we want to present ourselves; our Google+ profile is our identity as far as Google is concerned. No pseudonyms or alter egos allowed. Large swaths of the blogosphere and the Web at large think this is wrong. At Web 2.0 this year, Vic Gundotra said pseudonyms are coming to Google+. Again, we'll see when it ships.

Back To Work

Thanks to the Scoble effect, I have 8,000 encirclements on Google+. It creeps me out, because I don't know why I'm encircled by all these people, and I don't really get what they're talking about most of the time. Since I presume it's because I'm a tech blogger, I am waiting impatiently for the day I can migrate this whole thing over to my RWW Google Apps account and just let Google+ be a work thing.

Google is great for work. Gmail and Google Docs are nice things. Hangout meetings are fun. My work personality is much more measured, flat and bland than my real self, and Google tools are great for expressing that. Now that this rant is over, I'll go back to covering Google and giving it as fair a shake as I can. I just had to get this off my chest.

Have fun flaming, +Friends!


Tags: Op-Ed

December 20 2011

The Worst Tech Buzzword Of the Year: Mocial

mocial_strikethrough_150.jpgThe technology industry loves to come up with pet names and terms for trends. To name a few that have come out in the last year or so: gamification, social dynamics, check-in, onboard, pivot, open graphs, closed graphs, social graphs. Lots of graphs. Most of these words and terms are fine, if overused, additions to lexicon and fit well within the nerd nomenclature. Yet, there is one that should be banished before it has a chance to spread its wings.


Mocial is a mix of mobile+local+social. To be fair, this is definitely a trend in the mobile realm. Apps are becoming more social and are increasing engagement by being localized to that person. At the same time, the tech industry may have jumped the shark though on creating this pidgin.


Mocial first popped into my inbox on October 5, 2011. Predictably, it was one of the first lines from a PR person trying to get my attention about some service or another. I read it and may have thrown up in my mouth a little bit. In a 200 PR pitch the word was used six times. "We are one of the only companies that can provide full mocial benefits to our customers!"

First of all, that was a complete falsehood. Mocial is not a service. Nor is it really a suite of products. What the idea of mobile+local+social means is to give context to user actions within and app or a mobile website by relating it back to their friends and contacts while honing it to the world around you. This can be achieved in a variety of different ways. There are SDKs like Socialize that can be mixed with Google Maps

Where do these words come from? Really, look no further than the tech hotbeds of the United States. If there is a term dripping in BS, it likely emanated from the office of some startup or PR firm in either San Francisco or New York. I am sure they were incredibly proud of themselves too.

In an unscientific survey, a couple of people asked felt that the word did not fit the space well because it loses the concept of "local." On its own, mocial sounds a lot like mobile+social. Where is the location? Damn it, our made up word does not actually fit the needs of the space it is describing. What are we going to do now? Molocial? Locialmo? Mobilocial?


I think we are travelling a slippery slope here.

If we truly want to have a word that embraces the direction that mobility is going, we are even missing a term that should be incorporated into mocial, one way or another. That would be the cloud. Cloud services are the backbones of apps. They provide data to the developers, help with basic functionality, cut back on the need for local storage, send push notifications. Help coders create better environments for app building tools. I do not know how we can expand this anymore ... Mocolocial?


The fact of the matter is that we are out of control. The Internet has us creating pidgin words, acronyms and conjunctions for everything. It took me months in the early 1990s to figure out what AFK meant and then I wondered why the person I was trying to talk to was not there. Language is devolving into a series of truncated grunts anyway, do we have to speed it along with buzzwords that our marketing departments came up with?

How do you feel about mocial? Let us know in the comments.


Tags: Op-Ed

December 16 2011

What I Learned About the Wired World on Jury Duty

juryduty150.jpgLast week was the first time I'd ever been called for jury duty. I put it on the RWW team calendar weeks in advance. I figured I'd miss one day at my desk. I'd spend it sitting in a waiting room, voraciously reading Twitter and shouting from the sidelines. I was wrong. I was chosen for a jury trial that lasted all week. I sat in the voir dire session, answered questions honestly, and before I knew it, I was in the booth.

Before long, I could tell why I was chosen. It was a civil case, and practically all the character evidence was in the form of email, Facebook and Myspace posts. That's all we had to juxtapose with the in-person testimony and figure out who was telling the truth. It was a bit embarrassing at first. What did this have to do with justice? But that became clear. There are lots of new lessons to learn about being civil in an online society, and judges and juries are how we common-law countries work that stuff out.


juryduty1.JPGSpoiler alert. We found for the defense. I'm allowed, but there's no need to rehash the details of the case here. I'd be happy to talk about it in the comments below. But suffice it to say, the plaintiff was using the court to settle a personal issue with the defendant and her whole former place of work. We didn't think she deserved money as compensation.

It was fascinating to watch these former colleagues testify for and against each other's character. We had to be judges of performance. We had massive binders full of of printed online exchanges to weigh against the testimony, and that was how we were to make our judgment.

This was a lesson in how the Web has become a part of our character in both our professional and personal lives. Too much overlap, especially online, can dissolve the work/life boundary altogether. And here we were, 13 jurors tweeting, Facebooking and emailing on breaks, doing our best to reassure our networks that we weren't just AWOL for a whole week.

I mostly used Path to document the experience, an awesome answer to all my questions about that app. The plaintiff and the defendant were more into Myspace.


I learned so many lessons about the Web on jury duty last week. Here are just a few.

Write Like What You Say Will Be Read To A Jury

I'm not speaking abstractly here. If you document your life dramas online, and if those dramas end up in court, the lawyers will dig it all up. Work emails are one thing, but people in this case admitted private Facebook messages as character evidence.

The plaintiff deleted one message that would have been a key part of the testimony, and the very omission was damning. After so many of these people's emails and wall posts had been read to us in the courtroom, we knew what that message said.


juryduty4.JPGYour Online Life Is Your Character

More precisely, if you share your life online, that life can substitute for your character. If these people hadn't waged so much email war, we would have had to use more traditional methods of assessing their testimony.

Instead, we could weigh their spoken testimony against the words they wrote and sent to one another years ago, when the events of the case were taking place.

You see why they wanted a tech blogger on the jury? Most of us were tech-savvy people. One guy read the New York Times on his Nook Color tablet every morning. I had never held one of those before. On breaks, many of us were tweeting or IMing, and if not, we had to talk about anything but the case. So we talked about what we had been reading, watching and listening to lately. By and large, that meant we were talking about the Web.

This case required the jury to understand and extract meaning from online communications. That was all the evidence we had. And these were not super-nerd early adopter people in this case. They were just people who worked in an office together, and they sometimes used Myspace and Facebook to flirt and fight with each other.

Work/life Imbalance Online Makes A Mess

juryduty5.JPGWe should all know this one by now, but we don't. The people in this case brought their work dramas home and their social dramas to the office, and email and social networks tied it all together. Ranting about work on Facebook is not smart. Remember, your rants can be read to a jury, and if you delete them, the jury will notice that, too.

Likewise, if you have personal problems with someone in the office, emailing your other coworkers about it is not a great way to handle it. What we saw on the jury was lots of lost productivity and wasted time, as well as unnecessary and damaging tribalism in the office. That's nothing new. What's new is a work email that says "OMG, look what so-and-so said about me on Facebook last night."

Don't Friend Your Colleagues... Unless They're Your Friends!

This is the bottom line. I read an illuminating interview with Tiffani Jones Brown in Contents magazine about her work on the content strategy team at Facebook. These people choose the words you see on Facebook very carefully.

The word 'friend' could be any number of things. It means something very different from 'follower.' Contrast 'friend' with Google+, which doesn't have a word for your connections. It just says 'in your circles.' What do you call people, then? Circlers? Encirclements?

Whatever. That's Google's content strategy problem. Facebook chose 'friends.' It did so early on, when the only users of Facebook were college friends. Facebook has hundreds of millions of users now, but the word 'friends' is still there.

Suffice it to say that, after a while, the people in this case were no longer friends. They didn't "unfriend" each other until it was too late, though. They ranted in status updates, taking passive aggressive stances they each knew the other would see. It screwed up their whole lives, both socially and professionally.

After seeing what transpired on the witness stand last week, I know this: Facebook is for 'friends.' Twitter is for 'followers.' LinkedIn is for 'connections.' Those words are hints. These networks facilitate our lives now, if we're the kinds of people who read (or write) tech blogs. We need to use them with good judgment.

I took this shot with my iPhone 4, using Path, as I walked to court on my last morning. juryduty6.JPG

Coincidentally, Dan Benjamin and Andy Ihnatko released this awesome podcast about documenting our digital lives last week. I was listening to it when I took the picture above. I highly recommend it.

Have you served on a jury before? Did the Web factor into the case? Share your experiences in the comments.


Tags: Op-Ed

December 13 2011

WiFi Won't Do; Why I Need 3G On My Tablet

My tablet goes everywhere I go. I use it for work, for navigation, for music streaming in the car. It always has my work email, which I do not push to my Android phone for fear that it would never stop buzzing. I tweet from everywhere, all the time with it, read my Kindle and various news apps.

I fundamentally disagree with the assertions made by the R. Paul Singh, the CEO of SocialNuggets, in his guest post on ReadWriteMobile earlier today. He said that Wi-Fi is all you need for a tablet. I want to have 3G/4G cellular data on my tablet. Otherwise the device is more or less useless to me outside the house.


The Cost Is Not As Great As You Think

Foremost, let's be clear here. My 3G tablet is an iPad 2. I pay Verizon $20 a month for 1GB of cellular data. I can change that plan on a month-by-month basis if I so chose, dropping it one month or increasing my limit the next month. So, I pay $240 a year for the convenience of having connectivity everywhere I go, $480 for two years. Less if I drop the coverage for months when I know I am not going to need it. As of yet, I have not needed to change the plan once.

For most users, 1GB is going to be more than enough data for their particular uses. Twitter, maps, email, news apps and nominal music streaming do not consume mass amounts of bandwidth. With the extra cost of a 3G iPad, my total cost-of-ownership is about $600 more over a two-year span. Again, less if I turn off the cellular plan for months when I do not need it. The choice is a decent ploy that Apple has pushed on the carriers.

The carriers do not sell iPads on contract. The device costs the same no matter where you go. If you are looking at buying an Android tablet you then will get into the realm of carrier contracts. That was more of a concern before Android tablets started dropping in price. The first real Android Honeycomb tablet, the Motorola Xoom, cost $799 without a contract, $599 with a contract when it was first released. Samsung 10.1-inch Galaxy Tabs costs $529 on a two-year contract then the data plan you get roped into. What Singh maybe should have said is that you may not want to buy an Android tablet that has 3G/4G capabilities.

Image: Motorola Xoom

Wi-Fi Is NOT Everywhere Nor Is It Always Free

I hate coffee shops. I do not spend a lot of time in McDonalds or Starbucks. The coffee shop down the street from me in Boston charges for Wi-Fi as do most of the other coffee shops in the general area. The fact of the matter is that, while Wi-Fi is increasing in prevalence across the U.S. and Europe, it is far from ubiquitous. Also, I do not like shared Wi-Fi. There is little I dislike more in life than having to pay to use someone else's insecure Wi-Fi.

Another place where I rely on my tablet is in the car. The car does not have Wi-Fi unless it is one of those new-fangled cars that come with its own hotspot. My iPad and Android smartphone have completely replaced physical maps for me. The maps app is more powerful and accurate on the iPad than on my Android.

I have stopped getting lost. It does not matter where I am, I rely on my 3G tablet to show me where I am. Part of Singh's argument also has a tint of urban-bias. Yes, in the city, there is going to be more Wi-Fi available with AT&T Hot Spots, restaurants and coffee shops offering wireless service. All those different Wi-Fi spots are not going to help me when walking down the street looking at a map trying to figure out where I am going or if I leave the city. A good portion of the U.S. does not have ubiquitous Wi-Fi. In terms of abroad, I was recently in London and Montreal trying to figure out where I was. I had no cellular data because international roaming rates are outrageous. So, I tried logging onto various Wi-Fi spots available around me. This proved to be a complete nightmare, especially as I started moving around the cities.

I do not believe that I have to make a concerted effort to pre-cache all of my reading material on Wi-Fi before I leave the house. Maybe it is part of my profession, but I want the news, in real time, wherever I am. If I am getting on a plane? Sure, I will pre-cache my reading material but the plane is one of the only bandwidth-less places in all of modern society.

Hotspots & Tethering Are Not Always Practical

Mobile hotspots through carriers like Sprint, AT&T and Verizon are not really cheap. The hotspot receiver is often on contract and will cost anywhere from nothing to $250. On Sprint, you get 3GB a month for $35 with 6GB and 12GB options for $50 and $80. You want to talk about total-cost-of-ownership (TCO)? A MiFi hotspot is going to cost you more than most any tablet data plan. It is also probably more data than you need for your tablet. The people who use these are professionals that are often out of range of Wi-Fi or are trying to create their own secure and private connection at a crowded conference (smart reporters love them, if they can write the bill off to their companies).

Then there is the matter of tethering you phone. What that comes down to is you are more or less going to spend the same amount with that tethering plan that you would on tablet. It is convenient at times to tether your computer but the tablet is a stand alone device. Users should not need to rely on one device to power the other. The rates for tethering from At&T and Verizon are the same they charge for data on the iPad. AT&T charges an extra $10 for a single GB above the threshold.

There is then the issue of the battery. When you turn on tethering on your device, a pop-up warning comes up saying that you might want to make sure you plug your device in because it is about to suck through its battery. What if I am trying to navigate or I am not close to a charger but would like to conserve my battery? My tablet becomes useless because I am going to burn through my phone's battery. What am I stuck with then? A tablet without connectivity and a smartphone with no battery.

To be honest, the lack of 3G/4G is not going to affect the majority of users. It has been pretty well established that most people use their tablets in the home anyway. Wi-Fi tablets outsell cellular versions. Mostly, that is because they are cheaper.

Is Wi-Fi fine for your tablet? Maybe. But that is only if you do not plan on using the device to its fullest functionality anywhere you are at anytime. To me, that is handcuffing the capabilities of these great devices.


Tags: Op-Ed

July 19 2011

7 Things Facebook Should Do To Increase Security [OPINION]

This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Eugene Kaspersky is CEO of Kaspersky Lab, the company he co-founded in 1997, which is now the world’s largest, privately-held anti-malware company. You can follow him on Twitter @e_kaspersky and his blog at eugene.kaspersky.com.

For the past seven years we have seen how Facebook has dramatically changed the way people communicate while it has formed a new culture of online socializing.

For most people, Facebook has been about keeping in touch with friends and family in a totally new way. But for security researchers, such as myself, it has led to seven years of new challenges for the security industry. The main issue with social networking and security is that social networks are, well, social, and when the human mind gets involved, vulnerabilities can be exploited. I’m talking about human vulnerabilities, those against which it’s hard to defend.

Many Facebook users lack knowledge and experience about how to protect themselves in the social networking environment, which has made the situation worse. Facebook appeals to new Internet users who often lack the computer savvy to identify online threats, and the most vulnerable segment of the audience — kids — have little life experience required to make reasonable decisions.

Because of this, I believe Facebook needs to enhance the security and privacy features of its site so the problems don’t escalate out of control. With the help of my colleagues, here are seven key recommendations I believe will make Facebook a safer place:

1. Enforce Full HTTPS Browsing

This way, all users can make sure no one is snooping into their conversations, even if they’re browsing Facebook through an untrusted Internet connection. Additionally, it will render attack tools such as Firesheep completely useless.

I admire the fact that Facebook has enabled optional HTTPS browsing in its recent security features roll-out. However, I don’t think the option is clearly marked enough for most users to find and utilize it. Therefore, I feel that this feature should be made mandatory for everyone.

2. Implement Two-Factor Authentication

Banks are offering e-tokens to their customers to safely access their online banking accounts; but in a world where social networking sites are becoming more and more important to what we do online, users should also have the same technology available for protecting their Facebook accounts.

This option should be enforced and mandatory, otherwise it may easily be lost in the depth of account settings. Following Facebook’s initiative to send verification codes via SMS, I suggest the company develop a mobile application that will generate a one-time password in addition to the master password. This way, an attacker would have to compromise not one, but two devices to access a Facebook account. This is not an easy task even for an experienced hacker.

3. Make Clear Which Facebook Apps Are Trusted

Malicious Facebook apps are being analyzed and reported by researchers on a daily basis. Facebook needs to perform a thorough security check and approve all incoming applications to make sure no malicious app makes its way onto a user’s profile.

At the very least, allow users to add a list of trusted/approved applications to his or her profile. If the person wants to use an application that is not trusted, they should be able to run it in some sort of “profile sandbox,” so that any malicious activity would not affect their friends and family.

4. Tighten the “Recommended” Privacy Controls

Currently, Facebook’s recommended privacy settings easily allow for an attacker to become the friend of a friend of a target, and consequently to access data needed to reset a password for an email account, or to misuse other personal information. Why does Facebook allow “everyone” to access status, photos, posts, bio, favorite quotes and family and relationships by default?

In the security market we follow a simple rule that works: “Disable everything, then enable the things you really need.” If Facebooks wants to take steps to actually make its site safer, the default setting should make personal information visible only to friends. Allow the users to decide later whether they want to change their data exposure.

5. Allow Permanent Deletion of Facebook Accounts

Permanently deleting a Facebook account should … permanently delete the account. Respect the user’s will to entirely wipe out his presence on Facebook, without worrying that some materials have been left available on the Internet, and make permanent account deletion a simpler process that doesn’t require a special request to Facebook customer support.

6. Commit to Parental Controls

Allow parents to set up limited-access accounts for their children, as sub-accounts under their own Facebook presences. The limited sub-accounts could automatically be turned into full-access accounts once children reach the age of consent.

My colleagues and I support initiatives to protect users under 18, as expressed in California’s SB242, which extends the opportunities for parents to control their children’s social media accounts.

7. Better Educate Users

I value Facebook’s commitment to educate users about security and privacy in social networks, including the initiative to set up dedicated Pages to these topics (Facebook Safety, Facebook Security and Facebook Privacy). However, no matter what sort of protection surrounds Facebook users, those privacy features will remain useless should users lack the awareness.

For this reason, I recommend extending the practice by introducing more opportunities for user education. A good example would be to launch daily webinars that cover the most important aspects of Facebook security in the clearest and simplest way possible for the general public.

It is also the belied of myself and my colleagues that a closer interaction with security vendors will assist in building a stronger community to bolster critical Facebook initiatives and allow for more informed decisions. An advisory board consisting of the most authoritative experts in the security community, and regular summits to review past and future initiatives could bring additional value to the development of a safer Facebook.

These are seven realistic, doable and actionable steps that can dramatically increase the safety and privacy of Facebook’s users. Of course, no technology can guarantee 100% security as long as the human factor is involved. Still, Facebook can and should do everything it can to protect its users and keep them safe.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, malerapaso

More About: facebook, letter, mark zuckerberg, op-ed, Opinion, privacy, safety, security, social media

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June 27 2011

Can Silicon Valley-Style Entrepreneurship Help Ease the Greek Debt Crisis? [OPINION]

This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Alex Christoforou is the CEO of Wadja, Inc., a social media site focused on interest based networking, with offices in Athens, Greece. You can follow Alex on Twitter and read his wadja pages.

The other day, someone told me that Silicon Valley was built on the failures endured by countless entrepreneurs. Failure in the Valley is nothing to be ashamed of, and, in many ways, is considered a badge of honor. It signifies that you had the guts, passion and desire to go for it. You took the risk and stared uncertainty down. This is how progress is made, how great companies are built and how ideas spread.

I arrived here three months ago from Athens, Greece, under an exploratory initiative by the Ministry of Education who, with the leadership of local Greek Valley VCs and entrepreneurs, had chosen my company as one of four to take residence at the Plug and Play Tech Center in Silicon Valley. We were to be part of an accelerator program that would introduce us to the Valley ecosystem. The goal for the government was to learn why and how the Valley community is so good at building businesses that change the world.

And so I find myself, for the first time in ten years, living outside of Athens, witnessing the collapse of Greece play out on CNN. I watched as angry crowds amassed in front of the Parliament, organized through Facebook pages and tweets.

It’s a surreal experience to see a country you know so well unravel from so far away. We all saw this coming, and if any Greek citizen says otherwise, he is lying. Greece was the ultimate bubble, and most of society was content with that — the promise of stress-free living was impossible to pass up. Over the years, I witnessed the powers-that-be strip away all mechanisms of entrepreneurship, risk and innovation in favor of the alternatives: a bloated public sector and a guaranteed employment structure. The government (on both the left and right side of the political aisle) ensured that everyone was well-fed, regardless of competency and effectiveness, but always with the precondition that those who ruled were first to the dinner table.

And so we all played along because life was predictable and comfortable. Our homes, our jobs and our relationships were all neatly laid out for us. The government and the parea (Greek for “group of friends”) would take care of everything as long as we fell in line. We failed to realize that by removing risk, we gutted opportunity, and fell victim to our own complacencies. We are now up to our ears in debt with no means to negotiate our way out.

Now Europe, and arguably the world, seeks change in Greece. The coffers that kept us propped up for so many years are empty, and in their place is a heavy burden that must be paid back. The alternative — to simply walk away — is a road better left untraveled.

Once upon a time, Greece was the Silicon Valley of the world, full of brilliant people taking artistic, philosophical and mathematical risks. Challenging the status quo and upending common beliefs was what made the ancient Greeks so great.

So as this tragedy unfolds, I am left feeling that somehow, some way, we need to channel the free thinkers and risk takers of the Bay Area in order to build lasting and sustainable change back home. The Valley ecosystem understands that it’s hard enough developing product, defining market position and getting customers, and that red tape (an integral part of Greek society) only reduces the already low chances of success. The Valley can provide us with a plethora of structural examples that would move the business environment in Greece from hostile to friendly. But external guidelines need to be accompanied by internal change.

As a society we need to look within and change our mentality, or face dire consequences. And for this too, the Valley can serve as an example that believing in a dream and embracing its risks will help reinvent our community and country.

If I can take away one thing from my experience here and ingrain it into Greek society, it would be to move toward uncertainty, embrace the challenges ahead and find the joy in solving the problems of the present day. We need to drop the cynicism, forget the past indiscretions of our leaders (we are all guilty to some degree or another) and band together, roll up our sleeves and get to work.

The web is a force of nature unlike anything we have ever seen, and we need to recognize that tapping into this force requires trial and error. It is part of the game, and entrepreneurs play the game well.

For the last decade, Greece has been hindering entrepreneurship. Now it’s time to reverse course, embrace risk and welcome the entrepreneur back with open arms. Entrepreneurship is alive and well here in Silicon Valley, and while the semantics to overcome the debt in Greece are complicated, the spirit of the Valley entrepreneur is in the palm of our hands, splashed across the profile pages we use daily.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Nic_Taylor

More About: business, greece, op-ed, Opinion, Silicon Valley, social media, startups

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March 08 2011

Why QR Codes Will Go Mainstream [OPINION]

This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

qr code imageHamilton Chan is CEO and Founder of Paperlinks. With the free Paperlinks iPhone app, featured previously by Apple as the #1 New & Noteworthy app, consumers can scan and view QR code content with a native app experience. Paperlinks also provides a powerful Content Management System for managing campaigns.

Observing QR code adoption by mainstream America is sometimes like watching Charlie Brown set up to kick a football: The moment always seems so promising, but in the end, the effort comes up empty.

Jimmy Fallon’s recent QR code moment and New York City’s QR-linked building permits are two more notches on the belt of early adopters. But were these just blips or an indicator of things to come? Will QR codes ever become part of everyday life or be relegated to “only-in-Japan” status?

I believe the answer is yes, QR codes are coming to an advertisement or object near you, and sooner than you may think. Here are the reasons why, along with suggestions on how advertisers can catalyze this movement by making QR code campaigns as useful and rewarding as possible.

Why QR Codes Make Sense

As I had mentioned in a previous article, hyperlinks are now making their natural migration from desktop monitors to objects in the real world. We no longer need to be tethered to a desktop computer in order to use the internet to interact with the world around us. When you see something that you want information about, you no longer have to make a mental note to look it up later on Google. You can simply point your smartphone at the object and obtain the desired information without typing or speaking. In essence, the QR code has become the shortest distance between curiosity and information retrieval.

The beauty of QR codes is that they are an open-source and freely licensed standard. They cost nothing additional to add to printed materials and can be scanned by free readers on all smartphones and even some feature phones.

Old habits die hard, so it will take some time for people to get used to engaging the real world with their phone, but the unique look of a QR code, a strong call to action, and valuable rewards will help further their surging popularity. The ability to measure click-through rates on real world items, while capturing temporal, geographic and demographic data will make QR codes a favorite among advertisers.

Meanwhile, here is what businesses, institutions and individuals can do to make QR codes an effective part of their marketing arsenal.

1. Optimize for Mobile

Advertisers who embed desktop URLs in a QR code are missing the point of real-to-mobile interactivity. People interact with their mobile devices with significantly shorter attention spans than they do on their desktops. Once a QR code is scanned, the resulting view should be thumb-interactive, easy to read, and purpose-driven.

2. There Must Be A Payoff

A QR code is like a scratch-off card — people have to apply some effort to engage, so the payoff better be worth it. Content emanating from a QR code needs to be useful or an easy redemption of an exclusive reward.

The use of QR codes on the Jimmy Fallon show was moderately effective in that the QR code led to a mobile-friendly music video featuring Tyler, the Creator, who was performing that night. However, viewers were already watching the band perform on TV. Did they need to see it on their phone at that moment as well? What if, upon scanning the QR code, a page was displayed asking viewers to download the artist’s single for a 50% off flash sale, with single-click purchasing ability through iTunes or Amazon MP3?

Other QR code applications, such as HBO’s recent campaign for Boardwalk Empire this past September, have gone further by offering exclusive content and rewards for those willing to scan. In this case, the QR code connected to a password to enter a themed “speakeasy” event. Even Starbucks is on board with a QR-linked mobile payment system that, with a quick scan, serves up convenience along with your morning coffee.

3. Be Patient and Stick With It

Given our late adopter culture, tech trends should be expected to take a while here in the U.S. CDs were popular in Asia long before they made a dent in America. The same was true of DVDs, mobile phones, and now QR codes. Given this predisposition, the only way forward for any new technology is to be relentless in providing inherent value and easy uptake. By experimenting with QR codes early, advertisers can become adept at engaging with users on a mobile basis, so that when QR codes do hit the mainstream, they will be ready.

The Tipping Point

If the volume of inquiries at my own company is any indication, it appears to me that QR codes are very steadily percolating up into the mainstream. I think there will come a day when URLs will be replaced by QRLs. Just as consumers were wary of e-commerce in the mid-’90s, so too are they now taking their first inevitable baby steps towards m-commerce.

I believe the tipping moment will occur as a result of a major media event, such as QR codes serving as an alternative to texting in your American Idol vote or QR codes being used regularly by a major retail brand such as Costco or McDonald’s. Those advertising icons are also pragmatic and they, along with us, will be watching for that magical moment of impact.

More Business Resources from Mashable:

- HOW TO: Grow Your Sales and Revenue Using 2D Codes
- 2D Codes: The 10 Commandments for Marketers
- How The iPad Is Helping Businesses Go Green
- HOW TO: Jump-Start Your Career by Becoming an Online Influencer
- 4 Small Business Mobile Predictions for 2011

Image courtesy of Flickr, Projeto Sticker Map

More About: 2d code, business, MARKETING, Mobile 2.0, op-ed, Opinion, qr, qr code

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February 24 2011

Why Online Marketers Should Not Track Children [OPINION]

This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

James P. Steyer is CEO and Founder of Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that provides education and tools for parents and kids about the media and technology in their lives. You can follow them on Twitter at @commonsensenews, on Facebook, and read reviews and advice at commonsense.org.

Most kids today live their lives online, immersed in a mobile and digital landscape. While the Internet is a platform for innovation and provides rich resources for entertainment and learning, the nature of digital interaction creates deep concerns about the privacy of children. Parents fear that their children will inadvertently make personal information public, potentially damaging their own reputations and those of their friends. But they also have profound — and justified — concerns that what their children say and do in the digital world is being tracked by marketers and information aggregators who aim to profit from their personal information and online activities.

Children’s online privacy involves two key concepts: our fundamental right to privacy and our need to protect our children from potential harm. At the moment, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which prohibits the collection of “personally identifiable” information from kids ages 12 and under without parental consent, is the cornerstone policy protecting children’s online privacy.

But COPPA was written before 1998, long before the advent of social networks like Facebook, information aggregators like Google, social game sites like Zynga and geolocation announcers like Foursquare. These sites all have business models that are based on following online activities. It’s no wonder these companies and their competitors oppose legislation that would in restrict their access to information — even if it means not protecting the privacy of kids.

Recently, congressional leaders introduced a “Do Not Track” bill, which would build on the principles of the national “Do Not Call” registry, and set clear standards for how and when a consumer’s personal information can be collected. It also would enable users to opt out of online tracking.

But this legislation may not end up addressing the issue of tracking of minors. Kids should not have to opt out of something in order to protect their privacy. Both sides of the political aisle should agree on that point, but to truly protect our kids, we need a comprehensive approach, and one that includes these important components.

Ground Rules

usb image

Children and teens should not have their online behavior tracked or any other personal information about them profiled by or transferred to third parties. Companies — whether Internet service providers, social networking sites, third-party application providers, data mining companies or advertising networks — should not be permitted to sell or transfer that personal information.

Without parents or kids knowing it, companies collect, store, and sell information about what kids do online and on mobile phones. Companies can track which websites kids visit, what searches they conduct, which videos they download, who they “friend” on social networking sites, what they write in e-mails, comments or instant messages, and more. This type of tracking is what needs to stop.

The Industry Standard for All Privacy Should Be Opt In — Especially for Kids

Companies and operators should not collect or use personal information unless users give explicit prior approval. The opt in standard is fundamental to our ability to control our personal information. If online companies, services and applications want to collect and use personal information, they should get permission beforehand by asking people to opt in to the service.

Most sites and networks achieve this through a terms of service agreement, or a privacy policy, which users must agree to before signing up for an account. The trouble is, many policies are extremely long and complex, and few people actually review them before hitting “I agree.” While this is ultimately the responsibility of the user (or the user’s parent, in this discussion), it’s in the industry’s interest to simplify these agreements (see below). Additionally, if any changes are made to the policy after a user registers, the user should be notified and required to review and agree to the new terms — especially when it comes to minors.

Privacy Policies Should Be Clear and Transparent

Privacy policies need to be easy for users to find and understand and should be carefully monitored and enforced. Any significant privacy policy changes should require a clear new opt in by the user or the parent, depending on the age of the child. Most privacy policies today are lengthy legal documents written at a college level or beyond. Instead, companies should use icons and symbols that would be easy to understand and would clearly convey how personal information will be used.

Parents and Children Should Be Educated About Online Privacy

Kids and their parents need to do their part to protect their online privacy and the privacy of their friends. We need a large-scale, multi-year public education campaign to help them learn how to do so effectively. I believe that it should be funded by the industry. Young people need to learn to protect their own privacy and to respect others’ privacy. There should be a digital literacy curriculum in every school in this country with privacy as an essential component.

Privacy Protections Should Apply Across All Online and Mobile Platforms

Current privacy regulations need to be clarified and applied to all online and mobile services and platforms. Social networking sites shouldn’t be able to collect or sell kids’ private information, and neither should third-party apps on those sites. Location-based services shouldn’t be allowed without prior parental consent to a clear and understandable privacy policy, regardless of whether the service is provided by a non-FCC carrier.


After years of complaints from consumers, industry leaders have finally begun to acknowledge the enormity of the privacy issue. Now it is time to step up and make it easier for parents and kids to protect themselves. Through a combination of legislative action and advocacy, we can make the web safer for kids.

More Social Media Resources from Mashable:

- 4 Effective Tools for Monitoring Your Child’s Online Safety
- 6 Valuable Social Networks for Parents
- School Tech: 6 Important Lessons From Maine’s Student Laptop Program
- 8 Educational Gadgets That Make Learning Fun
- 10 Free Online Resources for Science Teachers

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, RBFried, and Flickr, loop_oh, Franklin Park Library

More About: childrens privacy, kids privacy, op-ed, Opinion, privacy, social media

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February 02 2011

Will “The Daily” Do for News What iTunes Did for Music?

Patrick Kerley is the senior digital strategist at Levick Strategic Communications. He is also a contributing author to Bulletproof Blog™ and can be found on Twitter @pjkerley.

With the introduction of The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has expanded into uncharted territory. Never before has an online-only newspaper been available exclusively to iPad users who subscribe to it via Apple’s iTunes store. To some, today’s unveiling at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City represents a landmark moment in how Americans will consume information. To others, it is just the latest in a series of attempts to monetize online journalism in a world that has come to expect so much of its news and commentary for free.

As is the case with most product launches in the digital space, The Daily’s reality likely lies somewhere in the middle — short of the hype, but still possessing the potential to significantly alter the media landscape if it can tap into a growing tablet market that already represents a significant niche among American news consumers.

What’s Working in The Daily’s Favor?

Because of its initial exclusivity to the iPad, The Daily’s brand is inexorably tied to Apple. While seemingly a limiting factor, this relationship won’t diminish the prospect for success. If you had to pick a partner in selling a product that once was profitable but is now being traded for free, Apple’s history with the music industry must be appealing. And that’s precisely what The Daily is hoping to do. A successful subscription model for online news will provide journalism the lifeline it needs in much the same way that iTunes made record labels profitable again.

At $0.99 a week, The Daily is less expensive than most online news publications that have experimented to date with paywalls and subscription-only models, notably The Wall Street Journal and The Sunday Times, which are, coincidentally, also owned by Rupert Murdoch. Has he finally found the price point at which consumers will now be willing to pay for what used to be free?

Arguably, The Daily’s greatest advantage will be the experience it provides its readership. The quality of content promised by The Daily looks to bring together the best of how news travels on the web; podcast-like audio reports, vivid images, streaming videos, options to share through social media, and, of course, its ability to report breaking stories without waiting for the next morning’s edition. Further, it will all be delivered on what many see as one of the most user-friendly portable devices available. Just as the iPod-iTunes ecosystem made digital music easy to find and transport, the combination of the iPad and The Daily could very well make news reading easy, informative, social, and, dare I say, fun.

What’s Working Against The Daily?

One major challenge for The Daily is that the price point that most online news consumers prefer is still zero. No online subscription news service to date can really be called a success. Those that have managed to entice readership do so through the niche reporting — or high profile reporters — that readers can’t access anywhere else. Content is still king, and we still don’t know how The Daily’s reporting will differ from that of its competitors. If there is no significant distinction, there is less of an incentive for consumers to shell out their hard-earned dollars.

Money won’t be the only limit to success. The Daily will need to find support in an audience that wants
increasingly customized news. It is doubtful that a publication with an international scope will be able to deliver the focus that helps bolster the readership of hyper-local and interest-specific blogs.

And there is also the question of The Daily’s brand recognition and loyalty among information consumers, which have yet to be established and must immediately compete with the biggest names in news. If content is king, credibility is queen — and today’s major dailies have been building that credibility for more than 150 years in some cases. Perhaps the greatest threat to The Daily’s success is the fact that credibility and trust are only built over time, and its competitors have a significant advantage in this respect. Furthermore, the most popular blogs and online thought leaders often build trust by railing against the establishment that many see embodied by The Daily’s heritage — namely The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Rupert Murdoch. That’s another hurdle The Daily must clear if its potential is to be realized.

How Will It All Play Out?

At the end of the day, The Daily will be judged — and purchased — in the same way as its competitors; on the content it provides and the way that content is delivered. Could it — and other services based on its model — one day be the primary portal through which we learn about the world? It’s certainly possible — but not without providing the quality reporting and delivery that news consumers expect in return for even a nominal price.

More About: business, ipad, media, News, op-ed, Opinion, publishing, The Daily

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January 31 2011

Why Social Media Is Bringing Back Our Grandparents’ Values [OP-ED]

This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Josh Rose is the EVP, digital creative director of ad agency Deutsch LA, who, when time permits, moonlights as a photographer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshrose.

On January 4 at 9:46 p.m., I posted this message to Facebook:

“Vegas tomorrow. Who’s in?”

I was preparing for my drive/pilgrimage to Las Vegas for CES. And, as one does, I alerted 500 of my closest Facebook friends of this fact. I didn’t even think much of it.

The next morning, before I settled into the long drive, I stopped in to my local coffee shop. Ashley, who works there and knows my kids’ names, asked, “Your usual?” And then added, “Heading off to Vegas, huh?” She’d seen my status update.

Some may find this intimacy alarming. I found it oddly comforting. I bet this is what it was like for my grandparents, in a time when communities were close-knit; when someone knew if you were going on a trip or noticed if you didn’t show up somewhere. But this is just one of many parallels between our behaviors today and those of our grandparents. Here are a few more ways I think that social media has bridged these generations, culturally speaking.

The Return of the Slide Show

Our grandparents celebrated travel. Being worldly and seeing things that others hadn’t was a privilege. It opened your eyes to the world and that knowledge made you a more enriched person. But you also shared those stories with your friends and relatives. To go, see things, and then come back home and share your observations through pictures and stories — that was part of the experience. I can still remember sitting next to that slide carousel.

We’re doing that today with Flickr, Instagram, blogs and Facebook photos, to name a few. There’s a theme in iMovie that makes your video look like a beautiful travel log.

Two years ago, I went to Japan for a few weeks by myself. I logged all my experiences on a Posterous site for my friends and family to see. My parents’ generation never did this. They just kind of disappeared for a while, then came home. But it is remarkably similar to the behavior of my grandparents, who wanted to tell the stories and bestow their knowledge to anyone who’d listen.

The Return of Family Bonding

Our grandparents talked with their parents. Family dinners were an essential part of life, not to mention ball games, religious discussions, family outings and just plain hanging out on the porch. But the culture of our parents’ generation became somewhat more escapist; James Dean, punk rock, The Outsiders, TV dinners, video games, and yes, even the Internet.

But, a good portion of our grandparents’ sensibilities are back today, thanks to social media.

Kids aren’t blocking their parents from their Facebook profiles — well, OK, some are, but not all of them. Teens are texting their parents about their comings and goings. And although it looks a whole lot different than the Cleavers’ family dinner, in a strange way the book is wider open today than it has been in 100 years. Because of blogging, tweeting, checking in and status updating, the lock is off the diary.

Additionally, emotions are more accepted. Pain more vocalized. I know someone on Facebook who is dealing with cancer and posts regularly about that for all her friends and family to see. We are rediscovering what we once knew inherently; community makes us less lonely.

The Return of Being a Regular

Our grandparents didn’t frequent a lot of places. They had less to choose from, but they also understood the symbiosis of the customer/retailer relationship. I had one older relative who went to the same restaurant so much they named a sandwich after him. That’s old school, right? Maybe more new school than we realize.

Isn’t this what we’re doing with location applications like Foursquare, Facebook Places and Gowalla? Yesteryear’s sandwich naming is today’s Mayor’s Badge. We’re being rewarded for our patronage in ways reminiscent of the days when you could put something on a tab, and the owner knew your name; when frequent patrons got the best seats in the house.

If I “Like” your organization, I become part of your community; privy to your deals and offers. That’s the kind of preferential treatment that used to be a part of daily life. And, not coincidentally, restaurants are probably doing some of the most interesting things with social media today.

And, really, word-of-mouth is the oldest form of marketing. Social media often reflects on the tools, but it’s our opinions, spoken aloud, which are the true story — and fuel — in this medium. I’m as encouraged and excited today with where technology is leading us as I was the first time I saw my Grandpa Joe turn on that slide carousel. In a funny commentary on how he saw the world changing, he used to tell me, “There’s only two of us left. And I’m not sure about you.”

I think he’d like where we’re going.

Where do you see social media rekindling the values of previous generations? Let us know in the comments.

More About: community, op-ed, Opinion, social media

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