Friends – who loves ya baby?

I have been thinking a lot about friends lately and the real value of social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo etc. I came across an excellent (if long) presentation on slideshare by Paul Adams of the User Experience team at Google. It looks at relationships (friendships) and the differences between the way your online social networks (such as facebook) work and your real life social relationships and how they influence each other.kojak

Online, people are either your friends or they are not. There is some filtering at a very high level, Plaxo and LinkedIn for example are typically limited to business acquaintances not personal friends, but beyond that everyone is treated the same, from your best buddy to the guy you met yesterday. To paraphrase that wise TV philosopher Theo Kojak, “(online) Who love’s ya baby?” the answer is all your online friends. He uses the analogy of the time and trouble folks take on planning the seating at a wedding in real life and yet how on a social network they are all just lumped together.

Paul provides a view of your offline relationships that can be segmented by groups of people (family, college, neighbours, activities etc. (most people have 4 to 6 major groups)) and the strength of the relationship (strong (4 to 5 relationships), weak (up to 150 relationships) and temporary) and how they influence your decisions. As he points out,

Social Networking is a means to an end.

You need to understand what the end is.

So what does this mean? I think there really is a need to be able to segment friends on social networks to better reflect how life really works. Until then, I for one will continue to be just a casual user of facebook (social networks). As always comments welcome.

Be very careful in the coffee shop–someone is compromising your privacy.

I am not usually one to forward on emails describing the latest virus and what you need to do about it, but when I saw this snippet on our local ABC affiliate I was alarmed.  It describes a Firefox extension that allows anyone to capture and reuse cookies for unencrypted sessions such as facebook and twitter.  A short video of firesheep shows off its power and everyone’s exposure.

Now it should be noted that ‘cookie capture’ is nothing new but firesheep changes the game by making it available to virtually anyone. To see its potential for harm the video at the KOMO TV  link shows what happens when firesheep is used in a typical Seattle coffee house.

The motive behind this extension is to point out how vulnerable we are to having our privacy violated and not even know about it. The authors point out correctly that the major websites have known about this security hole for years, to really fix it websites HTTPS_Everywhere_new_logoneed to move to always on encryption and not just for the initial logon. One of the actions, you can take is to install an extension for Firefox distributed by the EFF called HTTPS Everywhere that forces all of your sessions to be encrypted. It works with the major web sites.

There are a number of other precautions that can also be taken to reduce your exposure to session hijacking a.k.a. side jacking. from the KOMO TV article.

    • Always log off sites not just close your browser. Cookies can have a life of their own unless you take steps to prevent it. (some sites are better than others in this regard)
    • Using a virtual private network will also prevent Firesheep from capturing your network traffic.
    • Look for an “https” in the address bar of the website you’re visiting. It should be there when you log into the website, but if it’s not there after you’ve logged in, anything you send could be easily hijacked by someone using Firesheep.
    • Sites that keep an “https” in the address bar during the entire session are using encryption and cannot be accessed with Firesheep. Banks and other financial institutions commonly use “https” for the user’s entire online session.
    • If you are on an open and unsecured Wi-Fi or wired network, do not go to sites that require a login to access your information. Looking at sites that require no action on your part should not compromise your privacy.
    • Beware that any communication you send over an unsecured Wi-Fi network has the potential of being viewed by anyone else on that network.

    So is there a silver lining to Firesheep?, I think so the publicity may force sites to follow GMAIL’S lead an institute encryption throughout the session and if you want to track your kids activities on facebook and twitter etc.  while they are on your home network, you now can.

    Some questions that have occurred to me that I have no idea about.

    1. What about Wi-Fi on airplanes?
    2. Firesheep has been downloaded over 750,000 times, how many of those are just curious and how many are nefarious?
    3. What do I do about Chrome and Internet Explorer?

    We’re on the map.

    Hey, I can see my house from here!

    In the space of seven days, Google Street View showed my house to the world, and the Ordinance Survey man came to visit me and asked if he could take GPS readings from my property so that the next publication of the OS would include my house as a little black dot.  A curious juxtaposition, I thought.  The wife is unimpressed with Google.  The man with the van, on the other hand, and the big GPS stick (why does he need such a big stick?  I have a GPS thingy in my blackberry!) is strangely welcome, an established component of the firmament.  I am under orders to write to Google, and demand that they remove our property from their heinous project forthwith.  The reason?  Discomfort. And, frankly, that’s enough.

    Google Street View is an interesting project.  there’s significant investment going into it.  Ultra loyal investors are actually questioning the return on investment (though recent results silenced them).  It’s all a part of a future vision – Google doesn’t do things the normal way.  Business cases are actually not normal – because Google is creating assets, and an infrastructure, and a platform, for a world that doesn’t exist yet.  Google is managing for change, and therefore the rules that apply today simply will not apply tomorrow.  Therefore, how can you apply today’s rules (i.e. a business case)?  And it is not easy.  Indeed, Google may be approaching the end of its road in terms of genuine innovation, as a function of scale.

    Google began life as an innovator.  A silicon valley startup, it was brash, unashamedly different, innovating (and therefore exciting!).  As an early public company, it was ridiculously profitable, as its search advertising business accelerated through growth targets like they were a joke.  That accelerated profit led to little scrutiny of its other businesses.  If you make $100m in a quarter, and invest $10m in hokey projects, that’s ok.   And that pretty much continued, even through the YouTube acquisition.  The pressure’s on now though to make YouTube profitable in a conventional sense – i.e. through reselling media and doing deals with media houses – and that’s where the vision starts to wear.

    The YouTube project direction is interesting for two reasons – first, because it goes against Google’s basic model.  Google is free, and that’s important.  Free is being compromised by this and other proposed projects.   The second reason that it’s important is that there is a sense that Google is bowing to market pressure to support the media sector.  Google is no longer redefining segments, but supporting a consensus view of markets.  Google has reached a scale where it can make or break industries.  It has already done that with segments – like email, satnav – but now it is genuinely threatening an entire industry, media.  It could potentially do the same with telco, and the net neutrality debate is well underway.  Suddenly we are starting to see artificial brakes being applied to the innovation machine.

    Making or breaking industries is expensive.  Therefore it is not really something that startups can do – or at least it’s really hard.  Segments can be changed or compromised by startups, but not entire industries.   So maybe Google is finally reaching a crescendo in innovation.  Maybe it’s reached the point where Google needs now to bed down its core business for a few years, and leave the innovation to others. Google’s time as a leader of innovation, essentially, is done.  Apple had two phases (Mac / iPod), but it needed to be near-crippled in order to earn the second.  Microsoft had one (Windows/Office).  IBM’s largely been a follower of innovation, notwithstanding the patent record.

    Music video of the future ??

    Came across this collaboration between Google, arcade fire and film maker Chris Milk. It is a mash-up of Arcade Fire’s song “We Used to Wait”, a location (where you grew up, went to school, etc.) and Google maps/earth. It is optimized for Google Chrome and is a multi-window experience.

    Here is an example, based on my old English grammar school. [link]. Check it out, put in your address. What I really like is how it makes something quite impersonal, the music video, relevant by basing what is shown on your input.

    Screen capture of [link]:

    arcade fire film

    The Googlification of Everything Part 73: Television

    The fifteen foot factor explained (Anthony's feeble attempt at Google-cool by using animation).

    Google launched Google TV last night.  Their video (see below)  is graphically cool.  I really like the way they communicate – they define cool so many times.  But TV isn’t just a channel like they think it is.  TV is an institution.  It’s furniture.  It’s immovable.  That’s ok though, Google have not moved it.  We’re still watching the TV, and the fifteen foot factor has not been eliminated.

    What’s still the problem, however, is that Google are acting on the instinct that has bedeviled attempts to connect the Internet and TV.  This is what I call the moron paradigm.  The moron paradigm is a little like Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a metaphor for the dumbing down of society, as TV and mass communications began to drive lowest common denominator type social development across America.  We don’t so much shows, as watch TV.  We may have a cellophane wrapped trilogy of “The Godfather” sitting in a drawer in the lumber room, but if “two” is on TV (as Tony Soprano may have put it), we’ll get in the popcorn and finish dinner before it starts.  Why?  I don’t know.  It’s part of the moron paradigm.

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    Social Networking and Web 2.0: Just a Fad?

    When MySpace was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp all of five years ago, some people said they were crazy.  $580m was lunatic dollars.  A year later, Murdoch’s minions flipped a deal for $900m worth of advertising with Google that centered on the MySpace platform, and proclaimed that the acquisition was now worth something in the order of $6bn.  Microsoft valued Facebook at $15bn in 2007 with a derisory “strategic” stake, and Twitter’s funding round valued the company at $1bn just last year.  The numbers seem to be hitting something of a plateau, however, and even declining in some places, with a good deal of market cannibalization (certainly between Facebook and MySpace).  Now we hear that Bebo – with only 40 staff, after being acquired by the anti-Midas Internet company AOL for $850m at the height of the social networking boom – could close by the end of May if a buyer is not found.

    Add to this concepts like defriending, and I think what begins to emerge is a picture of an outlet or a communications medium that is maturing.  These sites continue to be popular, and useful, but they are fragmenting.  While secondlife had its time in the Sun, and now seems to be beating a hasty retreat back to oblivion, starting with a bank run back in 2007, then a property crash in 2008, followed by a slow creaking yawn factor permeating the genre, the Internet now scratches its head wondering how can we take the weirdness and the fun and the tools and the relationships and connections, and make them useful?

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    What means this? By the skin of our teeth?

    Fascinating NY Times article dictionaries and sidebar on Google’s efforts to improve language translation and some examples pitting machine translation versus a human translator (the gold standard). The participants were Google Translate, Yahoo Babel Fish via Systran and Microsoft Bing Translator. Google seems to have the others beat by a large margin and is about 80 to 90 % of a human translator.

    This made me think of my time when I was on assignment for a US company in Italy and ended up having the de facto responsibility of helping my Italian colleagues with their English. In particular, I remember my good friend Elena asking me in exasperation one day What means this? By the skin of our teeth?” (see the second item on Yahoo Answers for a comprehensive answer).

    So in the spirit of checking out Google Translate, I decided to plug in the above phrase and also use Jonathan Feinberg’s babelizer utility. The translation English to Italian to English works quite well.

    Google Translate (input) What means this? By the skin of our teeth?
    Google Translate (output) What does this mean? The skin of our teeth?
    Babelizer (input) What means this? By the skin of our teeth?
    Babelizer  (output) What means this? From the skin our teeth

    However when we get English to Japanese to English it is a little more problematic for the babelizer although a bit more amusing.

    Google Translate (input) What means this? By the skin of our teeth?
    Google Translate (output) What this means? The skin of our teeth?
    Babelizer (input) What means this? By the skin of our teeth?
    Babelizer  (output) Something means this? Using the skin of our teeth

    The moral of the story is machine translation is getting better and better but isn’t quite there yet and there may well be unintentional consequences for the unwary.