technology


Well, last night I joined in an event that I won’t soon forget.  In case you missed it (and I almost did) U2 broadcast their concert from the Rosebowl LA last night online via YouTube live for the world to watch – and FREE.  As I watched it really felt like a new dawn (although it actually was very late for me) with many technologies coming of age over past years were put to full test to share an experience globally.

First a note on how I found out about this.  Maybe my head had been in the sand, but I was not aware of this event until shortly before when I saw notes coming across my twitter feeds (which is quickly becoming my news and information source).  I am no U2 expert or even one who follows them closely, but I recall many of their songs from my youth and thought this might be fun to watch – I had no idea what I was in for!

I followed a link and logged online and within minutes the band took the stage around 12am EST.  Now this being U2, many expect nothing short of a great show.  Certainly for those attending live in LA the show had too have been phenomenal considering the stage, lights, 360 degree rotating screens, energy, etc – the list goes on.

But what about those of us watching online? Generally the online community ends up getting the “scraps” when its a live broadcast as the show is produced for the live audience.

Not this show!  The sound quality was incredible – mixed well, clear, crisp.  The video production was also great.  I watched it full-screen and the clarity was superb almost the entire time providing incredible camera angles and effects to bring the show home to me.  The online broadcast worked for me without any issues, which seems like a major accomplishment as I assume quite a few were watching globally.  I definitely felt like a 1st class participant receiving the same attention to quality as those in attendance.

While I’m no expert in U2 songs, I did hear messages tonight touching on violence, war, sickness, and most importantly God.  They sang one of my favorite songs – Amazing Grace as an intro to “Where the streets have no name.”  It was incredible hearing a message being sung for the world of God’s love and grace for all of us even though we are all lost and blind.  I know that God’s love can move mountains in our world of pain and brokenness.

And beyond watching and listening was the social experience.  The twitter feeds were alive with posts in various languages across the globe.  Folks were posting where they were watching from and the band referenced several remote simulcast (I think).  Having a global audience U2 used this experience to communicate on important social issues including hunger and democracy!  They had Nelson Mandela talk via video and a special focus on the Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi even providing everyone signs to hold up.  At one point they also spoke directly to anyone who might be online from Iran.  And there was what appeared to be a live message from the international space station.

My only negative was Bono at one point took an American flag from an assistant and opened it up on the stage floor and was nearly laying/walking on it.  I don’t think Bono was trying to be disparaging, but this is definitely not a proper handling of our flag.

I’m not personally equipped to gauge the impact this event may yield – but realizing that folks across the globe were watching left me feeling at a minimum there may be someone watching who is facing repression and who may have received encouragement.  And for those of us living in freedom it was an important reminder of the value of our freedom and life battle that others face for their own freedom.

In case you missed it – here is the YouTube link where it will be rebroadcast –  http://www.youtube.com/user/U2official

If you’re an audiophile you may enjoy this post on the sound setup – http://clairglobal.com/u2/

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Recent advances in software design, often referred to with such labels as Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and Social Media provide a great opportunity to look at old problems and consider if they could be solved better with a new approach.  We are already seeing this with social media applications where collaboration (i.e. email based on 40 year designs) is being reinvented with new integrated platforms for email, blog, wiki, IM, micro-blogging.  Now we should ask what opportunities exist to solve other “old” problems with new 2.0ish solutions.

What are we learning about software?

If you asked folks what “social media” or “2.0” means – you likely get some varied answers.  There is already much written on the definitions of Social Media and W20/E20.  Instead of focusing on specific features or platforms, my intent is to focus on how this revolution is changing how folks approach using software to solve problems.

Some important attributes I see include:

  • Simple.  The features for the products tend to be simpler, how they are used is simpler.
  • Easy to use.  Users of software now expect it to be easy to use and not get in their way.  This is related to “simple” but not identical.
  • Anywhere/Anytime.  Users can access from anywhere anytime, especially mobile devices.
  • Collaboration.   Where possible allow for open collaboration amongst involved parties.
  • Transparency.  Folks are becoming far more transparent – just look at tools like Facebook.  This breaks down barriers and provides opportunities for software to be more efficient.
  • Cloud.  Whether the “cloud” is internet or intranet, users are becoming more comfortable with cloud based computing and seeking the benefits of this application delivery model.
  • Mashup & Integration.  Information and access to services to operate on this information is key.  Users are expecting more to be able to connect with providers of both to help better solve their problems.

There are many concepts/features emerging from this 2.0 revolution and include Wikis, Blogs, Micro-Blogging, Profiles, Mobile Apps, Portals, etc.  And we should expect more new ideas to continue being introduced which users will want to leverage.

Can we do better with social media influences?

So the big question – can we solve old problems in new & better ways providing improved efficiency, user adoption, transparency and availability?  I think so!  But this cannot be achieved by simply taking an “old” app and gluing on a couple of 2.0 features – the app needs to be re-conceived from the ground up.   A simple example relates to hybrid cars – you do not simply take the engine from a hybrid and drop into a traditional gas powered car.   Instead it gets redesigned from the ground up taking into account weight, strength, aerodynamics, etc.

How about some examples?

Ultimately I believe this revolution could provide opportunities across most software.   For example:

  • Documentation.  Imagine the possibilities if documentation were prepared, reviewed, managed in a wiki like form!  Available on-line, anywhere allowing for distributed contribution and collaboration.  For example a writer who is participating in translation could be working in near real-time on latest docs from remote locations.
  • Expense Management.  Consider if your expense management tool were simple to use, seamlessly integrated with your mobile device, collaborative to allow for efficient review!  This might decrease the time spent entering, allow one to get reimbursed more quickly, and better allow the business to manage/monitor expenses.

These are just two simple examples.  Can you see how this could dramatically change how a lot of old problems have been solved?

Is Twitter poised to become a public enterprise message bus enabling a new range of transactional applications?  You can already see this happening with new on-line services/applications which (following your registration) monitor your twitter feed for specific/tagged data which is captured for use within the application.

For example http://www.fuelfrog.com/ will collect your auto fuel and mileage information – which you publish with your mobile twitter client when you are filling up.

The uses could become far reaching.   Some examples might include

  • Manage expenses real-time using twitter
  • Manage contacts & calendar events
  • New (enhanced) “devices” which publish transactional information for your use by applications

The simplicity, universal access and proven scale of Twitter are part of what make this possible.  It has a rich set of mobile clients making it very practical to participate in real-time from anywhere.   Twitter is continuing to support significant growth with fewer down times.  And Twitter provides a simple yet powerful public API allowing applications to connect.

One big challenge is privacy.   Currently Twitter status updates are wide open (unless you password protect) and expect you don’t want this type of data public, nor would your followers want to be distracted by it.  Maybe a feature allowing a category to be associated with updates (default would be status) and then clients could leverage this in queries to filter data messages.   Or maybe the direct messages could be leveraged – however this would be limiting as it prevents multiple applications from receiving an update.

Could this be in the future of Twitter?   I think the possibilities would be exciting especially with the rapid explosion of mobile devices with application stores and on-line services.

With the rapid adoption of social media and use cases, are we seeing the birth of a new content structure with a need for management?   Instead of a content having only a single dimension, content of the future will be a composite which includes the enrichment of social activities.  Leveraging the full value of this enriched content will require looking at this content differently including new tools.

The term “social media” has gained prominence in reference to the various forms of content used in social circles – blogs, tweets, micro blogs, wikis, bookmarking, podcasts, UGC, etc.  While these technologies and content have led to an introduction of software to monitor the social activities in user centric manner – what about looking at it from a content threaded view?  Ultimately these social activities help to enrich, promote, correct, and clarify various content sources.

What if instead we had a concept labeled Social Content that effectively drew a connection through the social world to create content which leverages the power of community to become enriched?  This new content much like any other will have needs for tracking, capturing and viewing.  For example, I can imagine users might want to embed a piece of “Social Content” into an application allowing users the ability to see and interact with the additional dimensions of this content in real time. 

Current Social Media modeling

Today the social media landscape generally is viewed as:

socialcontent_current

 Here you can see how the focus is more centered around the base content type with links/references in/out based on social technology.  As social activities have increased, we are seeing tools to help tie activities together, often around a user model – showing their tweets, blogs, status changes, etc.

New “Social Content”

Now imagine if we considered a new form of content taking shape which more represents an active multi-dimensional content that at any one time is the composite of the base content (or multiple) and the various activities which have occurred around this content.

socialcontent_future

For example, someone publishes a video which then gets reference within a blog, tweeted about, emailed, commented on – each step of the way adding more information about this content and either enriching or possibly extending the content.  Even social analytics data, i.e. Twitter trends, could be correlated to the content and activity.

Just as a picture communicates more than words and video more than pictures – social content recognizes that community communicates more than individual

Managing Social Content

Treating this information as a new form of content will allow for it to be tracked, used, embedded, referenced – allowing the additional dimensions to be available and visible as part of the content.   One challenge in managing the content is the consideration that data exists across multiple tools, technologies and interfaces – and will likely remain this way.   Another challenge will be how to uniquely identify this data – likely to leverage the base content as part of the identification.   I am hoping to go into more detail on these challenges in a follow-up posting.

Using Social Content

Consider, for example, how someone might share a blog about a restaurant which could then be enriched with references to write-ups, information about the type of food and even other pictures/video.  This entire experience could be automatically identified and “packaged” as social content which could then be used in another blog, online publication, etc.   In practice one might embed a piece of social content into a power point or blog and the viewer widget would provide access to the original content along with the additional dimensions of community input.  These additional dimensions could reflect a point-in-time snapshot or live real-time updating content.

Now what?

While I have seen related concepts, I have not yet found a technology which captures this as described above.  In a follow-up I hope to further discuss the vision, challenges, and ideas for managing this content including usability considerations.  I would welcome any input!

Recently I was asking myself whether or not to enroll in one of the identity theft protection services.  This began a long and winding road of research that raised more questions and unfortunately did not lead to a clear answer.  I found this a difficult topic as the horror stories are scary making it ripe for preying on fears.  After doing some research, thought it helpful to share what I learned and hopefully get more feedback from others.

What is the issue and what can happen?

I am certainly no expert, but did find the information on Wikipedia to provide a nice introduction including references.  

Ultimately there appear to be varying degrees of identity theft.  For example someone can steel your current CC information and end up billing goods to your current cards.   I have personally been a victim of this at least twice (once in the US and once overseas).   Thankfully both times the CC company caught it before I did and had already started corrective action before notifying I was notified.  The biggest pain in this case was having your current card get canceled and your left to update auto-payment services.  

The more severe case is where criminals use your information to obtain credit in various forms which is then tied to your identity (but generally with different addresses).   In addition they can use children’s information which may take longer to surface since children rarely need credit reports.  In these cases, you may not be aware it has occurred for some time and it seems clear if you are a victim of this crime you can be left with a real mess to resolve.

How real is this risk?

While there is much written about the number and severity of “thefts” each year, there seems to be debate about what these numbers mean.

  • As summarized by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse from the Javelin Strategy & Research Survey of 2007, while decreasing over recent years the number of US adults who reported identity fraud was 8.4 million in 2007. 
  • However you can also find articles such as this one from Bruce Schneier posted in 2005 talking about the issue of Identity Theft Over-Reported.  Although a dated article, it raises a point of how much is hype to drive an industry (I am not making a conclusion here, simply pointing out a consideration).
  • And just last week (April 16), this article came out in the Washington Post suggesting that Organized Crime Behind a Majority of Data Breaches.  This would likely indicate heightened risk (compared to just some hackers) as one can assume their intention is to try and profit from the data.

Ultimately I think we can conclude that identity theft is real and carries at least a reasonable level of  risk.  Therefor you as a consumer must make a calculated decision of “Cost+Headache of prevention” vs “Cost+Pain of identity theft.”

What are the possible services

There is quite a list of options ranging from credit monitoring to identity protection services.  Rather than try to list them here (and certainly miss some), suggest you start with a Google search on “Identity Protection Service.”  While not an endorsement, following my research I had narrowed down my selection of services to the following:

  • TrustedID – provides a monitoring service
  • Debix – provides a monitoring service
  • LifeLock – provides a monitoring service
  • Zander Insurance Group – recommended by Dave Ramsey, while not a service provide directions on what to do and insurance.

It should be noted that generally the actions these companies perform on your behalf can be performed on your own.  The services simply offer to do the work for you (some requires periodic updates for example) along with varying forms of insurance although the requirement and quantity is debated.  Generally the cost is relatively low for a single individual, however if you have a family the cost can quickly climb especially when considering you must pay it annually.

How do the services compare

To understand how these services might compare I asked for internal feedback from coworkers and research the net.   My request for internal feedback included asking for feedback from anyone who has used a service or has an opinion on the risk of identity theft.  Interestingly I received only 2 responses from about 3500 employees (certainly not all saw the request).  This small response is likely telling in itself.  Assuming only 10% saw my request, then 2 responses represents 0.5% maybe suggesting this is either an unknown issue or one that most are not concerned about.  One respondent said they felt these services don’t really do much for you, but this person did recommend Debix and uses it today.  A second respondent claimed to have been using one of the services when the identity of their child was stolen and did not find out until they entered university!  From searching the net, it is clear these services are not perfect (they do not claim to be either) and so the question remains of how much do they help – a subjective question which is hard to answer.

I also found it interesting how both of my internal responders shared about the headaches that signing up for these services can bring.  The process involved in these services generally involves performing actions which should trigger further validation to occur whenever someone trys to obtain credit (or do something that req’s credit like opening a checking account), the goal being to prevent this fradulent credit from being obtained.  With the number of activities which may leverage your credit information (more than you might expect), it sounds like you need to be prepared to complete additional authorizations and verifications if the services are working properly!

From my research, I found the following guides and comparisons helpful:

Would love to hear from you

Do you have any experience with any of these services?   I would love to hear from real customers as to positive/negative experiences.   Ultimately my purpose here is to make a decision, but am hoping to learn a little and possibly help others with some unbiased information and references (meaning I am not paid nor affiliated with any of these groups) .

Finally had one of those “ah-ha” moments to appreciate how micro-blogging (Twitter, Yammer, etc) is basically “hall conversation meets the internet!”

In years past much collaboration occurred in the halls at work (or around the coffee machine).   During these ad-hoc discussions folks share what they are working on, maybe something new they have seen, possibly even something personal.   Key was short and often disjoint bits of information, but often valuable to your work.  As you would come and go you would pick up parts, some days more than others and might followup on something you heard.  

And then there was Twitter… and Yammer…

These new technologies and communities provide almost an electronic “coffee machine” around which discussion occurs.  While it took me a short while to appreciate and understand, this is clearly part of the significant change underway in how the internet is used.  And now the field of scope from whom I can have ad-hoc conversations has grown to be global.  This is really exciting – I can see this filling a critical gap in distributed work environments. 

So is there a negative?   Does this promote further distancing in folks from developing good interpersonal skills?   Take a look at this article at mashup http://mashable.com/2009/02/10/mobile-dating-stats