“Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.”

While I would very much love to claim the above quoteoscar-wilde as my own, it comes from Oscar Wilde. As he so succinctly puts, we rarely acknowledge mistakes but are very good at sugar-coating them.

It was brought to mind by an article in the New York Times about a non-profit group, MobileActive, who are focused on helping improve the lives of poor people through technology. One of the ways they accomplish this is through a gathering called Failfaire where the focus is on developing world mobile/telecom-based projects that didn’t work and discussing why and what lessons can be learned. I, for one, would learn a lot form such a gathering.

Lots of times it is not a failure of technology per se, but unintended consequences. The New York Times’ article uses as an example, a thriving woman-based hammock business based in Guyana that proved so successful that it was viewed as a threat to the local male-dominated culture and the plug was pulled.  So while we typically focus on the technological problem, it is usually the cultural obstacles that can derail even the most well intentioned project.

I do take exception to one quote in the article -

Mr. Walji said he was surprised to find, when he joined the bank from Google last fall, that mistakes were rarely discussed, so different from the for-profit world, where failures are used to spur innovation.

I think that this just isn’t true, mistakes/failures may be acknowledged but the lessons learned are rarely shared and in the for-profit world, there is still a focus on looking for someone to blame. It is usually camouflaged in a “learning from our mistakes” wrapper, as anyone who has sat through a loss-review can attest.

Ghost in the Machine

Yesterday, I got a note from Facebook.  “You’ve been away,” they said, “and we’ve missed you.  Your friends have missed you.  Please come back!”  Well, it wasn’t quite as gushing, but that was the gist of it.  I’ve been away because I finally deleted my facebook page, and so it was a little bit of a surprise to hear from them.

I left for a number of reasons.  First, I really didn’t want to know as much about so many “loose acquaintances” as I was being exposed to.  It was a little, well, familiar.  Second, I was becoming less aware of who was following me.  Third, it became increasingly difficult to moderate my communications, knowing that relatives, friends, old friends, not friends anymore, work colleagues, former work colleagues, and Goodness knows who else was listening in.  I know I had a list, but there were well over a hundred people and growing.  I can compare it to this.  If you’re speaking to family and friends, then you’re comfortable, and even with work colleagues who you know, and so on.  But if you’re giving a speech at a wedding – to, mostly, family, friends and so on, you moderate your language.  So that became uncomfortable.

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Facebook as the new “walled garden”

I have followed the world-wide-web as it relates to Telecom companies for it seems for ever (surely only 15 years? Ed). They were well positioned to use their relationships coupled with their ownership of the transport part of the internet value chain to become major factors in the internet space. It never happened. One of the criticisms, leveled at the Telcos was their insistence, early on, of operating a walled garden, where the Telcos controlled access and gave significant preference to specific applications (mostly their own or white-labeled from other providers).Walled Garden Consumers viewed this as restrictive and not helpful. It was obvious up front that the benefit of a walled garden was almost all Telco.

So where goes Facebook, in an opinion piece in this Sunday’s NY Times, Randall Stross makes a number of strong points – how Facebook has changed and how its original premise has been lost, in its frenzy to become the de facto web.

The Facebook model of organizing the world’s information involves a mix of personally sensitive information, impersonal information that is potentially widely useful, and information whose sensitivity and usefulness falls in between. It’s a tangle created by Facebook’s origins as the host of unambiguously nonpublic messaging among college students.

The company’s desire now to help out “the world” — an aim that wasn’t mentioned on its “About” page two years ago — has led it to inflict an unending succession of privacy policy changes on its members.

People often talk about the two leading social networking sites in a way that sounds like they’re a single entity: FacebookandTwitter. But the two are fundamentally different. Facebook began with a closed, friends-only model, and today has moved to a private-public hybrid, resetting members’ default privacy settings. By contrast, most Twitter users elect to use the service to address the general public.

As I look at this, I see Facebook building its very own walled garden. I am reminded of a quote by George Santayana

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Photo courtesy of Ell Brown

The dilemma that is Facebook

Facebook started out with a wonderful premise, the automation of the college freshman book. Then it got caught in the feature trap that is the bugaboo of way too much software ~ just because I can do something, ought I to do it? Facebook has become unwieldy and bloated as it has sought to commercialize its initial premise – facilitating contacts.

facebook privacy small The New York Times published an article on the Facebook privacy settings, including a very unsettling infographic. As the NY Times points out, there are now 170 privacy options, and the policy statement  text has ballooned to 5830 words. What Flickr is able to say in less than 400 words requires 14 as many words for Facebook.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Facebook and finding ‘lost’ friends and acquaintances, but the software is broken and Facebook may soon suffer a Yogi Berra-like fate;

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

Further discussion on facebook’s privacy settings (and the fact that not many people seem to understand what they actually are) can be found at the following link.  CNN Tech Facebook Delete.

At 400 million strong, is Facebook imploding under its own weight? I wish there was a better alternative.

Common Sense and Copyright (300 years and counting)

Last week’s Economist had a leader titled “Copyright and wrong” inspired by the signing of the three hundredth anniversary of the original act.  The leader discussed how the the concept of copyright has changed from its original concept of balancing  “incentive to create” with “society’s free access to knowledge and art”. It did this by protecting books from privacy (14 years plus another 14 years if the author was still alive).no to 95

As the Economist so eloquently states,  with the US now granting copyright holders 95 years of protection and other countries enacting similar legislation, it is time to restore the balance.

When you see a term of 95 years, it is clear that the benefit has very little to do with providing incentive to author’s to create works but much to do with heirs and companies created to monetarily exploit the works under the protection of very long copyright.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for allowing an author to derive benefit by  controlling their work’s dissemination (and/or derivative works) during their lifetime or for even 5 years beyond.  I just think that allowing that protection to pass to heirs and/or corporations for such an inordinately long time is wrong. Accidents of happenstance that could benefit society and not the lucky few. Culture and knowledge should not be restricted.

The Economist suggests a return to 28 years. They are right on.

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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Game on … (Buzz vs. Facebook) Round One

In an interview on silicon.com, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, the company behind the # 1 blogging platform WordPress (used by brazethoughts no less), makes some insightful comments on the future of software and how it can learn from the gaming industry. He believes the biggest challenge for the software industry is to make sure users can take full advantage of the increasing complexity of applications.

“If you think about it, complexity is actually not a bad thing – I mean users are not dumb, they’re actually very smart. You just need to give them the best way to learn and discover all the power that you have, and the best example of this is computer games. Computer games are so, so good at this. Think how complex the average computer interface is. It varies from game to game almost 100 per cent – the way you play Mario is not going to be the way you play Modern Warfare. But it starts you out on a training level – you start out, you get your legs, you walk around and you advance from level to level. And this applied to traditional software I think is going to one of the most interesting trends.”

He then attributes much of the success of Facebook to its game-like nature.

“They’re really brilliant how they encourage certain behaviours and how they tailor their news feed and the way images work and everything like that. Essentially it’s a social game but the other players are your friends and the objects are updates and photos, videos and news stories. The game never gets old because it’s constantly fresh from the content your friends are feeding into it. It’s utterly brilliant.”

facebook vs buzz Google’s Buzz has now entered the social networking arena,  it has a nice feature set but it doesn’t appear to have anything like the game aspects of Facebook. This got me wondering if the smart minds at Google have not thought things through and missed an opportunity.