Categories
Technology

Open sourcing privacy: my master plan

The advances in neurology are fascinating right now. MRI scans no longer limit themselves to one brain.  It is the interaction of people which ups the ante.  How do my mood changes affect you?  If you don’t want to get bogged down in mirror neurons and spindle neurons and the detailed science of it all, I thoroughly recommend “Social Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman.    Snap judgements on whether or not we like someone or a product are well worth analyzing because the same principles are even more important online.

I famously wrote that I would sacrifice one of my hands for access to the raw data of Facebook or Google.  Well, I just thought of a good way of keeping all my hands and still getting those invaluable insights!  While the media suddenly get excited about privacy online, projects like Diaspora are a good idea.  Yes, I don’t like the idea of giving away my personal information, my thoughts, photos or anything else to someone else.  Of course they will try and make money out of it!  But what if we could establish a research cause worthy of being a part in?

Remember when everyone installed SETI screensavers to help crunch data from alien-looking observatories?   Or the global appeal to help process human genome analysis?  (The idea was we would help discover solutions to global diseases, turns out we just helped pharmaceuticals get richer!)  But we can use the same principle, that same altruistic sensibility to get people’s personal data.  Heck, we can beat Facebook at it’s own game!

Here’s how it would work: a set of totally trustworthy institutions throughout the world, something like the United Nations, runs the show.  OK, we don’t really trust anyone and we all think that once data is digitized it can and will go anywhere, but we will have to settle for the best available trust levels.  Then we get widgets, could be in the browser, could be anywhere else on your computer or mobile phone, that monitor what we do.  Facebook, Twitter, email, whatever we feel comfortable sharing.  Here’s the catch: the data is whitewashed of our names and other personal details from the beginning.  I may choose my data to be shared as “a guy in Greece”.  In fact I, and many others I suspect, would be more willing to give really private information to such efforts, stuff I would never put online otherwise.

Open privacy policy from the beginning because the whole point of this tool is to help you understand how much information you are giving away with everything you do.  (Yes of course Symantec or some other security company could attach it to their antivirus but it wouldn’t be the same, read on.)   And here is where I get my data at last:  universities or other researchers from private or public institutions can apply for access to your data.  They write up a proposal, what they will do, what they will look for and what insights they will give us.  Maybe they will give whoever gives their data up more detailed information to make it worth participating.  So in fact, I won’t even have to do the research, I will just install the browser plug in and choose whichever scientist makes nice proposals!  Then they will give me their findings to mull over.

We will effectively be breaking the monopoly that large institutions like Google or Facebook have over user data this way.  Sounds hard to sell but simply getting the academic community involved would be a huge leg up; in fact they would sell it for me as they would all need the platform to get their research done.   We could even make sneaky Facebook apps for it!

Categories
Business Technology

Web friendly new art technique using Pantone pens

illustration made with pantone marker pens
Click on the image to zoom in and see more like it

The web enabled world makes us all very choosy in terms of eye candy.  We just see too much good stuff to take notice of a striking visual.  Which makes it all the more interesting when someone actually does something new.   A children’s book, just out, is possibly opening a whole new stylistic category and one that is very web friendly.

Dimitris Fousekis executed it entirely using Pantone marker pens!  (I would link to the relevant product page but at http://www.pantone.com it is impossible to find anything.)  It isn’t just the textures that are interesting.  For sure the artist’s view on even something as simple as a fish is fascinating and with unique levels of detail and character.  But it is the richness of the image based on something as simple and standard as Pantone colors which opens up whole new worlds for images going around the web enabled world that is fascinating.

Apparently the artist is working on an exhibition of oil paintings for the Fall of 2010; it will be interesting to see how the colours are used in relation to this technique.  I personally think that this is so original it merits being made into a type of brush for Illustrator or Corel Painter like they have Van Gogh or other master brushes.

Categories
Communication Society Technology

Self organized criticality in our brains (and media consumption)

Example of a small world network from Mathaware website

There has been a lot of work done on the way human organise their social activities.  (Here is an excellent summary)  From Einstein to Aristotle, these are serious questions regarding just how many people we “know”.  With our global markets steaming along and more and more people trying to decipher Facebook and other such phenomena the questions are more pertinent than ever.  If nothing else because we are reaching the limit of what our brains can handle.

And brain research indeed is what has helped me move ahead on this issue.    John Beggs at Indiana University has done some groundbreaking work to show what we always suspected:  our brains are tittering on the brink of chaos!

If we had a regular network of neuron operation we would be too slow.  If it was random it would again not be the most efficient way of dealing with our environment.  Small world network organisation fits perfectly with all previous work on the topic.

And it also explains “aha” or “eureka” moments.  Our brain works like sand on a beach.  The wind piles it up and then suddenly it crumbles.  (Here some recent research on this in relation to sudden realisations or discoveries.)  You can apply the model to natural disasters or avalanches.  What is interesting is that Beggs figured out how to test (and prove) the theory in our brains.

It is the changes between a calm state and a flurry of activity that defines intelligence in many ways but that is not what is interesting for social media.   In many ways, people using them will reflect similar patterns.  And if you want to use them you will have to adapt.

The reverse side of this coin was proved in an interesting experiment with believers and atheists.   It showed that believers’ “deactivated the frontal network consisting of the medial and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally in response to speakers who they believed had healing abilities”.   ie to accept religion your brain actually switches off critical parts of it’s functionality.

The slogan “TV is dead” is simply not true (as proven by increased consumption of television globally) exactly because it is a great way of doing something similar.  We (well some people more than others!) need a method of “switching off” and relaxing like trash TV.   It is just a shame that so many people do it through passive soap opera and reality show consumption instead of just getting out for a walk.

Categories
Technology

An insane privacy bug in Facebook for Blackberry

So I am at  party and someone is really interested in an event I heard about on Facebook.  In fact she is so keen she wants to go asap.  She insists and we are in the middle of nowhere so she logs out of her Facebook account on  her Blackberry and hands it to me.  I log in, find the event, send her the info and log out myself.   Seems straightforward.   We continue the other discussion and she shows everyone how cool it is that her brand new Blackberry shows up pictures of her friends when one of her friends calls.  “It did it all by itself!”

Two days later I log in to my Facebook account and I am greeted by a message.  Facebook noticed that I have been using Facebook for Blackberry.  Would I like to import my contacts?  What contacts?  Her contacts!   All I did was click “yes” and all her Facebook contacts came to me!

I realise that for any American reading this I am already way off the mark.  This shouldn’t be a blog post, this should be a law suit already!  (OK, it is all documented with screen grabs etc just in case I change my mind…)  With the amount of negative publicity they are getting these days about privacy problems, this could make me a fair amount of money.   It is almost a media frenzy right now without adding one of the most popular mobile platforms for accessing Facebook to the mix.

The beauty of this one from a litigation point of view is that nobody can escape the blame.  I looked over the technical aspects of setting up Blackberry Enterprise Server and the options for social networking integration and sure, we could blame Vodafone (the service provider) for anything mistakenly set up in her account.  But then it was the Facebook application on my computer that offered me her contacts!  And she had done everything “properly” by logging out before handing it to me.

But no, I won’t add to the calls for everyone to delete their accounts from Facebook.  Yet.  In fact I just started a second Facebook account for myself in English.   I will just be more careful not to post any information more personal than I do on this public website.  And for sure I won’t be handing my Blackberry to anyone at parties…

Categories
Business Technology

The politics of software piracy statistics

Working with software in the Balkans, piracy has always been a prominent issue.  Whether it was during an initial meeting with a new vendor trying to figure out which parts of the market to first aim at, or with an old partner looking to squeeze out some particular segment.  “Nah, we can’t do that.  Too much piracy.”  Discussion ends.  For people in technology as long as me, a big part of us is resigned to the situation.  Everything can be copied.  Change your business model.

But then BSA (the Business Software Alliance is the most polite version of the acronym) came along.  Sure it was only backed by a few companies but they were the big ones that matter.  And their PR, well, I don’t need to tell you how many millions piracy costs the software industry because everyone else does.  OK, it sort of makes sense to accept a number like this from an organization that represents software companies.  Not!  Why on earth should we not assume that they are greatly exaggerating?  It is like accepting the data from McDonald’s about the nutritional value of their food!  “Ultimately, determining the global PC software piracy rate includes collecting 182 discrete data inputs and evaluating PC and software trends and data in each of 111 economies.”  No mention of the exact data inputs…no wonder Pearson is selling of IDC with shoddy work like that.

And it gets worse.  “Worse” as in “worrying that most people/journalists/politicians take them at face value”.  You read a title like “Piracy down in Canada”.  Based on what numbers?  BSA.  Well, actually a mish mash of pseudo proper looking numbers from IDC and whatever else they can combine to make it look scientific.  In Canada’s case even IDC and BSA admitted they overdid it.  Their numbers were wild guesstimates!   Now this sort of megahoax gets people like me interested.  Why should BSA want Canada to appear like a low piracy country?   A good example.

It seems that the main purpose of BSA is to get legislation passed so the companies involved can sell more while doing less.  To achieve this:

1. Statistics are fabricated and presented in such a way so as to apply pressure when and where needed.  Yeah, let’s change around the top ranking so as to get different countries in the spot light.

2. PR and advertising focuses on either general wishy washy “principles” or specific cases (for intimidational purposes – it is cheaper than actually suing every culprit)

3. Position the lobbying effort as high as possible with as many vaguely relevant organisations as possible.  Then get them to regurgitate the rubbish data, or – better still – to simply take action based on the false information.

So why has piracy dropped in Greece?  I would love to take the credit through the increased retail presence of ProgramA.  It has been a truly massive change in retail indeed.  But let’s be honest.  Not even GfK monitors most retail sales!   So it must be, because the Greek government bowed to the pressure and passed the laws BSA asked for.  Bill Gates shook hands with our prime minister, got his top level deal, threw in a bone with a Microsoft research centre in Greece.  Guess what?  We are no longer top of their list!

The list of countries on this year’s BSA report read like a US terrorist suspect roll call!  Georgia    95% Zimbabwe  92% bangladesh  91% Moldova    91% armenia    90% yemen    90% sri lanka   89% azerbaijan  88% libya    88%  belarus    87% Venezuela  87%  Indonesia   86% Vietnam    85%  Ukraine    85%  Iraq    85%  Pakistan    84% algeria    84%  cameroon   83% nigeria    83%  Paraguay   82%  Zambia    82%  Montenegro  81%  bolivia    80%  el salvador  80%  Guatemala  80%  botswana   79%  china    79%  Ivory coast   79% Kenya    79%  nicaragua  79%   On the other hand “Serbia is one of a handful of economies, including Italy, Greece and Colombia, where tax audits also include software license compliance. This is one of the reasons piracy has dropped six points from 2005 to 2008.”  Great work guys, you got government agencies working for you in these countries!

You know what the initials BS stand for.  Now you know what BSA stands for.  Only believe statistics you have made up yourself!

Categories
Communication

Why I wish our prime minister would get a stewardess (like his Dad)

George Papandreou is nothing like his father.  He tries sometimes when giving speeches to large crowds, but only in the mannerisms and style.  The most important difference I would argue, is that he is not a womanizer.  And before all female readers close this window offended I need to clarify that this is a serious political point.

Andreas Papandreou famously attached himself (though it was probably the other way around!) to a younger woman, Dimitra Liani, a stewardess at Olympic Airlines.  His sizable grin, even after heart surgery, matched the size of her breasts as the story went around the world.  I still get asked about it when travelling abroad!

It takes a certain kind of audacity to pull off moves like that.  Sure, it can go too far, like Silvio Berlusconi has done.  But with every timid public appearance of Giorgios Papandreou it is striking to think how we would handle an extramarital affair.  I think it would do him good.  He would have to stand up for something and wiggle his way around.  He would have to add an aura, that star power that politicians use when necessary.  He has been cast by friendly US media as “The Greek Thinker” but we all do way too much thinking.  And talking.  It is the actions that have been missing!

So get yourself a girlfriend please Mr Primeminister.  Heck, get yourself a dozen, do a Tiger Woods on us.  And while you are learning how to get out of that, you might get better at international negotiations rather than lying down and playing dead.

Categories
Business Communication Technology

Social CRM is better than flossing

A long time ago I helped develop what was at the time the cutting edge of CRM.  My gripe with traditional CRM systems, even the really big, fancy, expensive ones, was that they made you do double work.  Keep your contact details in one system and then remember to fill in all the details in another one.  Finish a meeting and then don’t forget to open up a different system, find the contact and write what happened.  It is too much like a visit to the dentist for me: yeah I know I should floss every day, it just never finds its way into my schedule!

So my CRM system made sure all the inputs where automatic.  Send an email through Outlook if you want but with the press of a button it gets attached to your contact’s activity record.  Incoming emails can even be tagged automatically based on rules.  They can even autogenerate actions like being considered a lead.  Same with phone calls or any other action.  The CRM is integrated with the ERP system so all products, knowledge base items, prices and customer or company information is in one single database.  Even setting up a meeting is better as it can link to a touch screen enabled monitor at your entrance or meeting room door.  “Enter your invitation number to enter” it says to the visitor.  When you finish your meeting and get back to your desk there is an open window showing that your guest left two minutes ago (he checked out using the same touch screen) and asking what happened at the meeting.  Like everything else in this CRM you can generate next actions easily from any item.

It was cool.  It still is cool and you can buy it as a finished product, complete with a web front end that seamlessly allows you to make any of this information available to the customers themselves as any self respecting company needs to do in 2010 in order to be transparent and online.

Enter sCRM.  Yet another acronym, but this one makes sense as it solves many new problems in one.  What it gives you is a way to very quickly “touch” many contacts.  Open up a project and see all the people involved in the decision.  It shows you how long since you “touched” them in some way.  A “touch” is a contact, but in this day and age it doesn’t have to be an email, phone call or visit.   It could be a comment on their status on LinkedIn or a discussion in a group.  You are in “touch” and in a way that is much more meaningful than calling up out of the blue.

In many ways, the “S”(social) in front of CRM is not necessary.  Customer Relationship Management is one acronym which will always be around as business and life itself will always be about our contacts, the people around us.  We can call it People Relationship Management or whatever else in the future but that is what it is about.  Who are my friends and what can I do for them?  So, if you haven’t tried out Flights, I thoroughly recommend it.  If there are other similar systems out there, I am not aware of them yet.  (Please tell me!)

You can use the free version of Flights (up to 5 objectives and a few other limitations) even for personal goals.  Heck, most people have turned to professional networking tools like Xing, Plaxo, Viadeo and LinkedIn in order to find a job in this climate, they might as well be a bit more systematic about it!

Categories
Society

Cutting the deficit part 1: the Eurovision song contest

While the rest of the planet thinks that we are all killing ourselves on the streets of Athens, as Google Insights demonstrates, over the past 90 days, what is really on our minds is the Eurovision song contest!  Yes, Greece tops the entire planet in Google searching interest for the word “eurovision” with a score of 100, followed by Spain (only 60), Roumania (57) and Turkey (50).

This is ironic for various reasons.  Not least of which is that ERT, the national broadcaster is the most prominent example of government waste.   Over the years it has simply collected civil servants of all description and many with no descriptions.  Anyone who has visited the main building (of course there are many) can easily bring to mind images of Kafkaesque depth.  Even the corridors are filled with desks and drawers, thus creating makeshift “offices” and a real maze to navigate.

It is an obvious cost to cut first.  The national broadcaster offers absolutely nothing in terms of increasing productivity.   It is a pure cost centre.  It’s educational role has been shrinking steadily as it sought to emulate private television more and more thus destroying any sense of social responsibility it may have had.  It has advertising.   The programmes it sponsors are usually commissioned on a political basis, so the quality is terrible.  Private channels have taken over even on the documentary front where ERT used to prize itself.  And it gets revenue from a fee attached to the electricity bill, a system even worse than the BBC license fee.

Yet of course nobody mentions this possibility of such a cost cutting exercise.   I think that it is the ideal symbolic move (almost on par with asking the prime minister to get himself a girlfriend!) to give everyone a clear message about how desperate the situation really is.  But they are all obviously too busy preparing for the song contest…

Categories
Communication ENGLISH Technology

How to lose 90% of your web traffic in one day

Looking through all the analytics since moving www.alexanderchalkidis.com/blog  old stuff to www.alexanderchalkidis.com/dotnet it was obvious that Google bots were not going to figure this out for themselves. First I put in a few links in other blogs to see what would hapen. Nothing. If you search for any older articles on Google, you get the old link. Even after a month! So I put more links in other articles, even really popular ones at http://alexartisia.wordpress.com  and other blogs. Obviously the free version of WordPress behaves very differently to a properly hosted one, SEO optimised and all. So then my new www.alexanderchalkidis.com/blog , which is all properly WordPress hosted and optimized started featuring links to the new location. Still Google bots weren’t picking up.

So I shot off a Joomla website to test out how it behaves.  Completely prematurely and it looked terrible at first . I did not update any indexes or submit anything to Google Webmaster tools and see how long it takes them.  It was almost instant thanks to a few well placed links to older articles.   Essentially, what the machine had to figure out is that any link to my old blog can be easily converted to the correct new location, simply by adding a www.alexanderchalkidis.com/dotnet  at the beginning and replacing the “aspx” ending of the file with “html”.

So: http://www.alexanderchalkidis.com/blog/post/2009/12/Will-Xing%2c-Viadeo%2c-LinkedIn-or-Facebook-win-the-networking-war.aspx  is now http://www.alexanderchalkidis.com/dotnet/www.alexanderchalkidis.com/blog/post/2009/12/Will-Xing%2c-Viadeo%2c-LinkedIn-or-Facebook-win-the-networking-war.html

In bold the bits you have to add or change to the old location to get a new – working – one. My six year old son can probably do this, Google bots can’t.  Then again the whole point of the exercise is to increase targeted results without paying a penny in Google AdWords so maybe they don’t want to!  

While in retail with Public I really got excited about the experimental approach to business. Set an experiment up, test it, adjust, measure, tweak and again. Properly done in retail it is phenomenally useful. Now I am using a similar techniques with SEO. The way I handled this change, total visits to www.alexanderchalkidis.com  fell dramatically. From around 800 on an average day (peaks are 2500, lows are 450) it dropped to less than two hundred!

This gave me a unique opportunity to test assumptions about where the actual traffic is coming from.

1. Several permanent visitors which I thought were regular fans, turn out to be corporate (PR agencies probably) searchers, checking whether I have written something about them every day. From the looks of their queries, this is done automatically. Hey, that’s what you get for writing nasty (though true!) things about people!

2. My main loss is articles in minor blogs or websites which are not following up on their broken links, or not bothering to update them. (And just deleting them as they don’t work.) They were sending me a very healthy 30% of my traffic since several articles were deemed as “unique in their perspective”. These were articles I wrote specifically to examine how necessary a “other” opinion was in the cyber world and how it would circulate. Things like questioning whether eye laser surgery is really worth it which may have plenty criticism in the US but not in the Greek language.

3. Several other websites and journalists have tagged me by topic or category. I am obviously heavily plagiarised, thank you very much for the honour! Most do include a link to the original article. Now if only they would update it…  Google searching for one of my articles is up to 70% of what it was before the switch and rising rapidly.

Categories
Communication ENGLISH

THAT is how Onassis fans best

In one of it’s versions, the joke involves Aristotle Onassis on his honeymoon with Jackie deep in Africa.  Night after night Onassis cannot satisfy his new wife in bed as a large negro swings a large fan to cool them.  Eventually Onassis asks the servant to try his luck with his bride while he holds the fan.  Afterwards he asks Jackie:  “Was that better, my love?” to which she responds extremely positively.  Onassis turns to the negro and declares: “See?  THAT is how you need to fan to get results!”

Some time ago I wrote a summary of all the reasons a televisual show about technology is a tough nut to crack.  And then a few days ago I got asked again whether I would be interested in doing a TV show.  As I mulled the question over in my head I wondered:  where did all those ideas about new TV shows go?  Have I just lost interest?  Is the fact that I don’t watch any television affecting my motivation?  Is TV, that same medium that I so enjoyed producing for, suddenly dead inside me?

And then last night I watched episode six of The Pacific.  (My summary of how war film and television shows have developed is here.)  The Pacific started out as pretty bad television really, confused in its targets and only of interest to veterans and their kin for historical purposes.  At the end of episode five, the producers kicked in with the sort of power that Saving Private Ryan had.  Big time.  But that isn’t what interested me so much at this point.  (Though I did make a point of keeping those ten minutes to show my eldest son as an educational tool.)

It was the ecosystem build around the Pacific.  Starting with the great HBO official site.  Click here for a sample relating to this week.  There’s maps, there’s storyboards, there’s books, audio books, veterans, discussions…it is easy to say “well, they did all the work, why not show it?” but this is pretty stellar work.  Not in terms of web presentation or community building online but in pulling together the related work.  It pushes the related issues up in my agenda.  Even if I didn’t have a thing about the second world war I would get interested in learning about all these strange sounding little islands and the related battles.  Heck I even watched the Alister Grierson film about Kokoda in Papua New Guinea!  (Warning: if you are not Australian, make sure you get a version with subtitles, I missed half the story trying to figure out what they were talking about!)  The ecosystem of information around an old war on the other side of the planet seventy years ago increased the relevance of the show to me.  I always like to talks about “hooks” in any marketing concept and this is like a wall of velcro!

It is no profound statement that television is no longer the main attraction.  The interesting part of media production and consumption is now precisely the integration of all available media and products.  Firstly to become part of the consumers’ lives.  And secondly in order to make some money, one way or another, from the whole exercise.  More and more television is a loss leader, supporting or promoting other revenue streams.  This may even be true in terms of it’s reason for existing.  You might do a television programme these days simply to get your hands on enough video material to support a web concept.

Wow, writing a blog really does help you think.  I am now bursting to the seams with new ideas about TV shows.   All I need is a team of people producing interesting content and side products and I will stride in to enjoy myself. 

THAT is how you fan your bride Aristotle!