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.