Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Technology policy and innovation

john markoff wrote a great piece in the ny times on sunday on the forces that created and shaped the early internet.

as a technology and policy wonk and a product of 70s scandinavian semi-socialism i've always thought that government has an important long-term role to play in our technology infrastructure and innovation landscape. radical ey!

capitalism works fine with a one year horizon, sometimes it can look out three years and occasionally even five years. but try doing something longer than that and it requires the kind of leadership and long-term thinking that is at odds with most corporate charters... i.e. profit. layer in a situation where the profit motive is unclear or non-existent and free market forces won't do.

Monday, November 5, 2007

At Starbucks with new camera

At Starbucks with new Leica
Originally uploaded by hanbron
Got a new Panasonic DMC-LX2 camera a few weeks back. 10mp and manual mode option. Will replace my five year old Cannon D60 and complement the iPhone and Photobooth :-). Leica private labels this camera for an extra $200 if you're so inclined.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

OpenSocial - Open or Not?

Let the games begin. Facebook has had the stage all to themselves for six months with their application platform. That's enough. Enter Google last week with OpenSocial.

Exactly who is it open for/to? Developers or users? So far it is an API that a bunch of different players have said that they will adopt in order to support third party application developers. That's a fine start and it reduces friction for the developers by creating better widget portability. But OpenSocial's real openness test is going to be whether I can bring my friends along from one network to another. And bring along my profile too. Or see my newsfeed from one site on another. etc. etc.

The "openness" will be determined by the networks that choose to adopt the OpenSocial APIs. They don't have to support the full API so lets wait and see what they choose to support before anyone declares it open.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


"a curved goat's horn overflowing with fruit and ears of grain that is used as a decorative motif emblematic of abundance"... ah no that's not the definition I was looking for. How about: an inexhaustible store : abundance.

Where do I turn? How do I filter? What's worth following? Who should I listen to? And even if I answer those questions today, how about tomorrow? Then how do I get to it all?

I have a strong interest in politics and international affairs. I love the movies and I like to sail. Skiing is a passion. I'm in my forties and I suddenly care more about my health than I used to. Nutrition matters and I want to understand the effects of what society as we live it is doing to our planet - socially, culturally, environmentally. I'm a geek at heart and really like gadgets. I want to track what's going on in technology. I run a business and care about trends. I obsess about big questions and small ones too. I like to write code.... and so much more.

I am overwhelmed with too much information for me to process it in meaningful ways. Yet I love the fire hose of the useless and the profound that comes at me through the net every day. So I need help.

When I need help I turn to my friends. I think friends are the answer. I have really smart, really interesting friends. I need to convince them to be my filters? I must be a voice for them too?

My friends' opinions matter to me most. I should be able to tune to their attention.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"There are more than nine million children around the world who are suffering as a result of the global refugee crisis. Whether displaced from their homes by war, hatred and persecution, or natural disaster, these children are in desperate need of help – and hope. UNHCR will begin to address this dire situation by helping 9 million of these children immediately through this ground-breaking initiative.

Ninemillion’s mission is to create a global movement – leveraging new media and Web 2.0 technology – that will educate people about this issue, catalyze action by those in a position to do so, and most importantly provide the children who are so terribly in need with a way to connect – to their displaced families, to communities, and to other children globally. This program also serves to bridge the digital gap for the UN Refugee Agency by bringing its established presence forward using leading-edge technologies."

Thrilled to be a part of this!

Your Electronic Soul

Back in the summer of 2001 I testified at a US Senate hearing on Internet and Privacy. I proposed a new model in my testimony that would create greater accountability in the way personal information is managed by private organizations and the government alike. And in the spring of 2003 I started work on a book with the title: Your Electronic Soul - Why you must… and how you can… take control of your personal information and digital identity.

Here is an excerpt from my introduction:
Your Electronic Soul is a small book with a big idea. It jumps into the middle of a raging battle in the quest for corporate profitability, the need for national security and the inalienable right in a free society for personal privacy. It is a blueprint for a radical and intuitive new model built on the premise that in an information economy, our personal information and identity is a valuable asset. And like all valuable assets powerful forces are vying to harvest and control it. Big businesses are trying to control the asset, and governments want it too. And in the shadows of cyberspace sundry characters are lurking, trying to steal it. The problem is that while everyone wants control over the asset we have no established framework that defines who has the legal right to claim ownership. Business and government is claiming rights to what they collect at the same time as the individuals’ legal rights to access, manage, and control information about themselves are very limited.

In short, we don’t own or control personal information about ourselves, information that is becoming more comprehensive, detailed and intimate every day and this spells big trouble, the scope of which is only beginning to become apparent.

Your Electronic Soul exposes the core issue and dilemma of personal information control and ownership facing the information society. It does so by moving beyond diagnostics and analysis and proposing a powerful, usable framework that gets to the heart of the matter – how to reconcile the reality and inevitability of living in a “surveillance society” with the rights of the individual to control their identities and protect their “electronic souls”.

I chose not to write the book back then, but am glad to see that the issues of personal information control and ownership are getting well deserved air time. Earlier this week Google called for Global Privacy Rules within 5 years. And on a related topic, a few veritable 2.0-ers Smarr, Canter, Scoble and Arrington recently posted a call for a Bill of Rights for the Social Web. It proposes "ownership" as one of those rights. While a great start, this issue is much bigger than "taking my friends with me" from Facebook and other social networks. Central to this discussion is the legal issue of personal information ownership. In order to legally own something there needs to be an underlying model that makes it possible to claim and protect ownership.

When I was working on the book I discussed the issues of personal information ownership with a few IP lawyers I know, but the moment you put the word "ownership" and "personal information" in the same sentence they uniformly seem to get palpitations. As far as I'm concerned, property rights is the best model we have. But, the legal community will shoot that down based on case history.

So while I agree that Ownership and Control are two foundational elements, there are significant legal hurdles that stand in the way of real change. Here is what I said about it in my non-book:

Let us therefore begin with the simple and powerful notion that individuals should own and control personal information about themselves – their identities and reputations. Today we have no clear and accepted model for ownership of personal information. This does not make sense in an information economy where information is becoming an increasingly valuable, critical and strategic asset. While legal property rights and copyrights are established foundations upon which our entire economy rests, personal information rights have not yet been defined so we must begin here.

Until we agree who has primary interest in and control of the information that represents an intimate profile of our private person, the legal landscape will continue to be a patchwork and we won’t be able to define broad and mutually beneficial practices that govern the use of personal information. The best we can expect is a wide variety of unpredictable and inconsistent use, the worst is gross inaccuracies, lost economic value and threats to our civil liberties.

Between the inadequate patchwork of international privacy rules (or total lack thereof), the social networks trying to create lock-in, the Patriot Act shenanigans that render us open to all kinds of surveillance and wiretapping and the rising public awareness of how much information is available on each and every one of us in the public domain... might there be a perfect storm brewing?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Beyond social networks

I swear, there is a new one every day. You know what I'm talking about. A new social network. Invitations to join social networks of all kinds and flavors are coming at me from the bit-space faster than I can figure out how many monkey friends it takes to make one of these new networks nominally interesting....

The world doesn't need more social networks. VCs take note. Don't invest in more social networks. They are not going to make it. The model is old. This gets a lot more interesting when the people and the network are not joined. Check out Marc Canter et. al. with their Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web.

Mark Zuckerberg's "social graph" is cool. Facebook has changed the rules in a bold, game-changing way. This will make Mark and many people around him a lot of money. But get this: Facebook denies being a “social network”. They call what they are doing a "social utility". Yet the last time I looked (7 minutes ago) they sure seemed a lot like a portal and a destination to me. I say we call them a social network.

So what is hot if new social networks are not? What is hot is being able to be social where you want to be social.

Why should I have to go to Facebook or Myspace to be social? Why can't my friends just come with me so we can all interact whereever we want to? In the world of atoms I go to a club to hang out with people there. Then I go to a friend's house. I stop by my local Internet cafe to get my iced tea and a croissant, do some plumming and write a blog post. All the while I meet and communicate with friends. Some in person others through the cloud.

As I cruise around to my favorite places online, I'd like to hang out with people I know, check in with my friends wherever they may be and share my discoveries, thoughts and ideas as I go. I want my friends to come with me. I want to connect with them wherever they are. How about if I could know where they are too so I can stop by and say hi. Why should I have to go back to one single place or application - read: a social network" - to hang with my friends. Doesn't make any sense.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Yahoo Mash - new network or fun feature?

Yahoo Mash was “accidentally leaked” this week to the NYT according to this post by Saul Hansell on the NYT Bits blog yesterday. A social network where you can mess with your friends’ pages. MySpace ugly meets Facebook friend access without basic communication features. Hmmm.

Interesting comment by Saul’s on why Y!’s last social networking foray, 360 didn’t get more traction: “the site was so utilitarian that no one used it.” Not sure I buy that. Exhibit LinkedIn. Social utilitarianism works if there is utility to the utility.

Mash sounds to me like a cross between a cool feature, more akin to the many cute Facebook applications that let you mess with your friends profiles, and a network where you can hang out with your friends. Unclear to me why Y! chose to built YASN (yet-another-social-network), rather than fix 360... "spray painting" somebody else's profile would seem like the perfect way to spruce things up a bit if they're too utilitarian. Wonder what the inside story is on this one?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Conversational marketing summit quotes

I'm at Federated Media's conversational marketing summit in the Presidio in San Francisco. A few notable quotes.

Scott Cook, Founder Intuit - "Best way to kill a brand is to drive people to a product that won't delight them."

Jeff Weiner, Yahoo! "We make money by understanding the intention of people's attention. From a media perspective the media is becoming object oriented. To the extent you can allow media objects to become embedded, that object has value."

Steve Hayden, Vice Chairman Ogilvy "67% of economy influenced by "word of mouth"

Ross Levinsohn, Former President Fox Interactive Media "All we're doing is waiting for the advertisers to catch up. If I could reset the world I would make all music free... the real money [for the artist] is in touring, but the labels don't make any money that way.... the executives at the music companies are hanging on by their fingernails waiting to retire."

Jon Miller, Former CHairman & CEO AOL "All the big search companies are trying to become the operating system for advertising."

Carla Hendra, Co-CEO Ogilvy "Only 2% of women worldwide think they are beautiful. 85% of women said they felt worse about themselves after looking at a fashion magazine."

Plus, lots of YouTube videos and questions that all map back to "so how do you make money again"?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

How social can you get?

All of a sudden there seem to be more social networks than you can shake a stick at. Social networks for kids in high school, social networks for college kids... ok so that's not news. How about a social network for euro trash, a social network for boomers, a social network for 18-30 year old disabled people, social network for people who like corsets... if you can think of it, there is probably a social network you can join for it.

Exactly what is a "social network"? I sure don't know. The folks over at Facebook seem to be trying to distance themselves from the concept. They are NOT a social network any more. According to the Guardian "the site is simply a utility, a communications tool, and a social graph that maps the real world actions of its users".

If you believe Facebook is a trend setter - I sure do - then its worth paying attention to how they are positioning themselves. Is "social network" yesterday's label? I think it may be.

Social networks have a stigma of being a place where young kids "hang out and party". That's not what this all this social stuff is about.

NetFlix just made an interesting announcement in an updated terms of use email they sent out this week. Here is part of what it said:

Effective this weekend, we're improving our Netflix Friends feature so you can enjoy:
  • Seeing your Friends' Friends - including their 5-star movies as well as their nickname, city and state.
  • Saving reviewers and other members of the Netflix Community as "Favorites."
  • A new Community home page that shows your Friends (and Favorites) rating and review activity, as well as other ways to discover movies Community members have enjoyed.
That's a lot of "friends" stuff in a terms of service upgrade. The point?

The point is that social must become a part of the fabric of any web property or application that wants to stay current. Netflix is making their rent-a-movie experience a more social experience. Social is about sharing, discussing and discovering with friends and that will start happening everywhere you go. It's not about joining a network, its about being able to share, compare and collaborate where you are. That's social.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What it means to "friend"?

Steve Rubel raises some excellent questions about what it means to be a friend in the world of social networks in the post The Web Changes How We Define Friendship on his Micro Persuasion blog.

He missed two really important aspects of the "friend phenomenon" though. First, being somebody's friend on a social network is not the equivalent to saying that they are your terrestrial friend. The verbification of the word "friend" is something you would expect William Safire to cover in his On Language column as an interesting linguistic evolution. To "friend" someone on MySpace or Facebook is not the same as being their friend. Second, the issue of how people brag about how many friends they have should not be taken as a meaningful indicator of a broader social phenomenon. To hypothesize that having 700 friends in a social network makes a statement about the demise of meaningful social relations in our society, seems like a gross oversimplification. Rather, I see it as a function of the fact that the social networks don't offer a good way to segment relationships a.k.a. friends.

I want to bucket my online "friends" into three groups. The first group is my family and very close real friends with whom I share intimate information, photos, videos, messages and more. The second group is my extended social and pseudo personal network where I am willing to share lots of the stuff I care about, but perhaps not the fact that I'm about to have a colonoscopy. (That's a hypothetical!). Finally, the third group is everyone else. Former co-workers, industry acquaintances, and others that I find it interesting to have an informal relationship with. I may network with them and want to receive their updates and share information, humor and perspectives.

The problem with "friending" is that every relationship is indiscriminately dealt with through a model that was not designed for the many facets of our online lives. If you are in high school (MySpace) or college (Facebook) or if you want to have professional relations (LinkedIn), or you are looking to date (Match) these are some of the many social applications that have been designed to serve the specific needs and interests of their niche constituents. Yet, many of the applications that worked well for one constituency are not scaling or keeping up as new people enter the world of online social networks with their own needs and requirements.

Finallly, if you did not catch the NYT article omg my mom joined facebook describing a young woman's angst as her mom tries to friend her on Facebook, its a must read. Captures a really funny and poignant POV on the question of what it means to be "friends" online.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Facebook applications hit 3k

The number of applications on the Facebook platform just passed the 3,000 mark. And that's after being live just over two months. Pretty amazing.

I wonder what number of installed applications the average FB user has? And what is the average user count for all applications. One thing is certain, there have been 10s of millions of applications installed. That makes Facebook look a lot like an OS to me.

So when is Microsoft going to buy these guys?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

DropBox is live!

Plum's new cool app DropBox on Facebook is live. Its our second app. Shoebox was the first. We think of it like an open inbox. A place to share, discuss and discover with friends.

I want to improve the way we have discussions. DropBox is a start. Try it out.

Shoot me your thoughts. hanspeter-at-plum-dot-com

What's the revenue potential of Facebook applications?

There are 2,872 applications in the Facebook application directory today... and counting. I was speaking with my friend Scott Rafer yesterday at the DEMO alumni shtick down in Palo Alto. His new gig Lookery is trying to become the ad network for FB apps.

So I was wondering. What is the actual revenue potential if you could place an ad on every third party application page approximately two months after Facebook launches the application platform.

Say that the average CPM for a FB app is inching up to $0.30. Its a bit lower but we'll be generous and let Rafer convince us that he can get us there soon. How may page views per day do all the applications combined generate today? Lets say its 100million. Here's the math:
  • 10 million FB users use one or more third-party applications every day.
  • Every user has on average 10 page views per application session. (Only the canvas pages count since that's the only place you can add external ads.)
  • Math = 100 million page views per day.
  • I'm assuming that every page view has an ad opportunity AND that there is enough inventory to fill the space... these assumptions cannot be supported today, but we're talking "potential" here.
At $0.30 CPM that's $30,000 in revenue potential per day, $1m per month, $12m annualized.

What's going to change? Improved targeting and new ad formats will help boost CPMs. Usage will continue to rise so there is huge growth potential in page inventory. No doubt that there is growth potential.

I could be off by orders of magnitude regarding today's numbers and probably am. But even with order of magnitude corrections, we've got a ways to go before there is an eco-system that supports real businesses here.

What am I missing?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thoughts on violence

I was watching the Bourne Ultimatum the other day. The camera sure did move a lot. The previews were painful. One they're-out-to-get-us-and-I-the-lonely-hero-will-save-the-day-flick after another. If movie previews represent a snapshot of popular culture, Moore was right. We're inundated by fear based news and entertainment.

My inlaws are visiting. They are from Alabama. Don't live in this world with Facebook, Twitter and Plum. So we were having a conversation about violence in media. I think it started (branched off) with my musings about how much Facebook is changing social exchanges. I wasn't participating much in the violence discussion. Just listening and thinking that its basically harmless escapism. Realized I've adopted a defeatist POV really.

The point that resonated with me was hearing Harry (my father in law) describe a scene from the film about Daniel Pearl (the WSJ reporter killed by his abductors in Pakistan). The wife's grief was in your face. You saw the ramifications of her loss up close and personal. So he asked the question, what if every person killed in a video game or movie was accompanied by a snapshot into the grief and loss. What if "the bad guys" had brothers, sisters, wives and mothers too. Pretty good question.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007