Trust, authenticity and transparency in the online world.

Why definitions matter.

A few minutes a day, I indulge in a Tweet treat where I scan my relatively small network (I only follow about 75 people) to see what’s going on. In barely five minutes I can get a clear snapshot of the topics both broad and specific to my work.

Yesterday (March 7), during my mid-day Twitter snack, I catch this tweet from Klout’s PhilipHotchkiss -“@Scobleizer unleashes on Steve Cheney in strong defense that FB Comments promotes authenticity http://scoble.it/fkicaJ

Kinda of provocative since I’ve never heard Robert Scoble (well respected tech blogger) “unleashing” on anyone. He will disagree with folks – but “unleash!”  Well that’s another kettle of fish so I checked it out. The more I read, the more I wanted to respond thoughtfully – not just scream and shout.

The “unleashing” it seems was prompted by a blog posting from Steve Cheney  entitled; How Facebook is Killing Your Authenticity. It provocatively opens: “Facebook’s sheer scale is pushing it in a new direction, one that encroaches on your authenticity.” He explains that since more and more sites are using Facebook’s commenting platform it is likely to blunt people’s authenticity because they will naturally censor themselves given the broad audience. “The problem with tying internet-wide identity to a broadcast network like Facebook is that people don’t want one normalized identity, either in real life, or virtually.”

So far – I was agreeing with Mr Cheney.

But then he states: “A uniform identity defies us.” And this is where I must jump off the bandwagon because that’s just not the case. In the real world, we have one identity with all the attributes in there which we naturally adjust to the situation. Some attributes we apply to our legal ID, other attributes for social situations and so on. One identity – just different expressions of it.

The trouble is, in fact, we have few technologies to achieve this layered equivalent in the binary, digital world where we can only have one identity. It’s not that Facebook is bad for looking to be the singular identity but it is a mismatch between how we want to live and what technology can let us do – especially given Facebook’s reach.

IMHO Cheney confuses “authenticity” (as in a “real and unbiased POV”) with a verified identity which is an entirely a different point.

Scoble then disagreed utterly with Cheney with his opening salvo: “Steve Cheney has never written something that so pissed me off than the blog he wrote today stating that Techcrunch’s switch to Facebook comments has killed authenticity.” Tough words indeed (hence Hotchkiss’ “unleashing” reference).

He goes on to explain that today “authenticity” means being identifiable and having the courage to go public with your opinions – no matter the cost. I found myself agreeing with Scoble here especially when he highlighted the idea that the medium and the message are merging in the social/ digital space. He explains quite correctly that the exact same message can be uttered by two different people which makes all the difference as to its “authenticity.” This is very true and a point many marketers continue to miss.

But despite the fact that, generally speaking, I agree with Scoble’s mandate to have the courage to be “authentic,” IMHO he seems to argue the wrong point. “Being truly anonymous and untrackable on the Web is very difficult.” is one reason why he argues everyone should be authentic.  Also true but that argument speaks to the notion of transparency not authenticity which was Cheney’s point.  Scoble’s heartfelt lengthy explanation about how people should be “authentic” by using their real name is really important but frankly not really about authenticity.  You can be “authentic” and still not be transparent.

Then, as read ALL the comments and the cross comments, I could see this general confusion around terms like trust, authenticity, transparency. Everyone seemed to toss these terms around as though they were synonyms – they are not. And with so much unleashing going on largely because everyone was cross talking – there little possibility of understanding.

So, let’s try and nail down some basic, common definitions of key terms (these definitions are grounded in my years spent in security software at AT&T, Bell Labs, Lucent, Computer Associates and Comodo. You may quibble with my terms – so feel free to suggest alternatives):

Transparency – Typically, this is used to describe a lack of “cloaking” where we hide behind a fake persona. When we let people see our identity, we say our identity is “transparent.” The rub here though is that there is no “standard” identity that we can use to simultaneously enable transparency, allow us to adapt our identity to the situation and do it safely while balancing desire/ need for privacy. Just ask Facebook. This is easy to say –but hard to achieve technologically.

One approach is around creating a “transparency layer” where a single signon (SSO) platform could apply. Lots of people are in this space actually (FB notwithstanding) but I would argue that Twitter has emerged as the most effective version of SSO today. I can control (sorta) what Twitter has about me and thus manage what percolates out there about me. Not ideal by a long shot but the other contenders are still quite early in their development (e.g. Diaspora).

Authenticity – Ah this is a tar pit of interpretation, a mucky business altogether. It usually means that a person can be vetted or an opinion is real and unbiased. Well, that is certainly riddled with subjective interpretation further complicated by time and context. Within this bucket, we encounter challenges of author disclosures, planted “customer” feedback and the trolls who are hired by competitors to disrupt user forums.

The technologies to address this are diverse and fragmented and include encryption, digital authentication, e.g. digital signatures, SSL security and  two factor authentication typically used in banking security. Common to this “authenticity layer” is that it would be activated when interactions “on the edge” have a high transactional or information risk factor. Given its relative high infrastructure cost, these technologies are reserved for relatively high requirements authentication requirements as would be needed in ecommerce.

Trust - This is the hardest to achieve in the online world because many of the cues we instinctively use in the real world are gone. If we see a store in a mall versus a stand on the side of the road – it utterly shapes how much we are willing to risk in the transaction. That’s what makes trust so hard to duplicate in the online world since the online world is very “flat” – just a bunch of pixels on a screen – little context or other reference points we normally use.

Here is where we can create a “Trust layer” to fill the context void – a middleware layer (Cloud based or not) that delivers trust indicators – digital identity management, content verification, real time feedback and social connectivity vetting at the precise moment of need. This is a sophisticated level of interaction that has a way to go before we can create this type of online trust.

At this point, you may be tempted to dismiss this whole post as a semantic exercise. But that would be a mistake because with proper framing of the problem – we can begin to see solutions.  We also can see how our gaps are impacting how all this connectivity technology is evolving today.

So what’s the real prize here beyond the English lesson?

For me the end goal is something I call The Trust Web.  Trust is the foundation of any productive civilization and this concept must apply meaningfully in our digital world too. Today we do not approach this topic systematically nor do we consider carefully how can we confer trust – in all its rich meanings and nuances – to the digital world, in some measure, because we do not frame the questions clearly (this whole unleashing makes my point).

If there is any “unleashing” to be done – let’s unleash the technologists to crack the code on transparency, trust and authenticity.  How do we coordinate all the fragmented pieces of the trust puzzle being worked on by many companies … from content verification technologies to rich, semantic based technology to deliver more trusted content. From intelligent agents who will scour the internet for verified, trusted ecommerce sites to new approaches to digital identities.

I wish it were as simple as throwing a single powerhouse company to push a single solution through. I almost wish I could wave a magic wand and Facebook could drive this question forward. But that is daydreaming especially since TBH Facebook has not yet demonstrated the business maturity to go down this road. In fact, most moves lately have been antithetical toward helping shape a Trust Web.

I’ll end by hoping I’ve made one clear point – language matters, definitions matter because without clarify we can’t imagine another vision.

And then we have to hear a lot of unleashing without a lot of traction.

Judy Shapiro

Author’s disclosure: I have been tracking Facebook’s evolution from communications platform to an uber social hub in Ad Age for just over a year now. My latest article in Ad Age “Has Facebook Jumped the Shark?” is the basis for an upcoming panel discussion at SXSWi.


Symantec and VeriSign; a new online trust powerhouse or some techno-Frankenstein built from mis-matched parts.

This little, nerdy, techie nichy type of article would normally go right over my head, but given my background in security (Computer Associates and Comodo), the recent news about Symantec acquiring VeriSign got me thinking. The deal, in a nutshell, means that Symantec, known for its security suite is looking to expand into the authentication business by buying VeriSign, a certification authority, whose core product, SSL certificates, is BTW shrinking.

Here’s the official Symantec spin:

The combination of VeriSign’s security products, services and recognition as the most trusted brand online and Symantec’s leading security solutions and widespread distribution will enable Symantec to deliver on its vision of a world where people have simple and secure access to their information from anywhere.”

Symantec and VeriSign actually have a lot in common. They both grew by acquiring technology (as an aside I think Symantec is good at integrating new companies into its line-up). Both are in a commodity business with real challenges in managing partners and pricing:

“With this acquisition, we extend our strategy to create the most trusted brand…The VeriSign check mark is the most recognized symbol of trust online… Symantec’s security solutions and the company’s Norton-branded suites protect more than one billion systems and users around the world. By bringing these security assets together, Symantec will become the leading source of trust online.”

But one is left scratching their head when you continue to read the Symantec explanation of why they are acquiring VeriSign. Here is clincher:

“Symantec plans to incorporate the VeriSign check mark into a new logo to convey that it is safe to communicate, transact commerce and exchange information online.”

You read right. While the clearly appreciate the power of the VeriSign icon – they intend to ditch it. Something does not compute.

What do I think is going on here? For my money, both companies needed each other as a defensive stance rather than as growth measure. Let’s start with VeriSign. Their product line has come under significant pressure from a wide variety of sources given the wide net of their largely unsuccessful acquisition efforts. Worse, in their core SSL business, there was no way to maintain a premium pricing structure given the success of value based alternatives such as GlobalSign or Comodo.

As for Symantec, they are frantically acquiring companies and the VeriSign deal was the third encryption-related purchase for Symantec in three weeks! Their land grab in the authentication space is necessary because; a) there little home grown technology to build from and b) as security solutions become utterly commoditized, the higher margin opportunities are left in authentication services.

I can only speculate on the net gain or loss for the shareholders of both companies, but Symantec’s sudden fondness for becoming “…the leading source of trust online” seems rather “Johnny come lately” especially given their current “confidence in a connected world” focus.

Becoming a “leading source of online trust” is not something you wake up to one morning and decide to do. It is has to be the central “why” to a company. It has to drive how you innovate, what you acquire and how you build your offerings. Have I ever seen that kind of intense commitment to online trust from Symantec? Nope. Can you say that the VeriSign is a brand that means some notion of online trust? Yup. Are either company known as a technology innovator? No and not in this lifetime.

That’s why when you add this acquisition to the other companies Symantec acquired, you start getting this vague techno-Frankenstein quality to its brand as though some “mad board of techno-scientists” tried to create a viable company from the parts other companies. Paying $1.3B for a company with about $400MM in sales seems a lot to pay so possibly some “trust” dust will cling to the Symantec brand. IMHO though – the math doesn’t add up.

But hey – don’t trust my opinion – I’m just a curious bystander.

Judy Shapiro

Is the Internet devolving into a segregated, class-based system?

In the real world, segregation by class or race or age is rightly understood as under utilizing the full potential of people in society. There is universal recognition that people should be free to achieve their highest potential based effort and talent – not on what money they were born with. And this ideal is what we all believe delivers the best humanity has to offer.

Now when the Internet was created barely 20 years ago – it seemed to emerge from a perspective of an open, “democratic” framework where anyone could achieve anything. It leapfrogged over our normal inclination to create a stratified society but allowed unfettered potential to anyone irrespective of class.

The promise of this egalitarian digital society fueled so much hope. In this digital utopia, the thinking went, small ecommerce sites could challenge the big guys. Or anyone from any corner of the world could enrich their mind with a mouse and an online connection. And closed societies could now be opened within this enlightened new world.

While the real world continually and relentlessly divides the world into the “have’s and have nots”, the Internet seemed to have sidestep that whole unsavory dimension of our human nature.

But as the Internet emerges from infancy into maturity, I sense a new dynamic that is subtly introducing segregation into the system. It started when the small ecommerce sites realized that it took more than digital pluck to get ahead in the online ecommerce world since SEO and advertising did cost money.

Then, when Microsoft introduced BING as a “decision engine”, it was another, subtle form of class division. After all, most of the time a decision is only required in a buying process not in true information discovery. And the recent news about Murdoch making his content invisible to Google continues the segregation momentum. No more can news be available for all – but only for those who can pay.

It seems to me see that our digital society is following the sad patterns of our real world societies of info “have’s and have not’s”. It is sad to watch. It is sad to contemplate that in the drive to monetize the Internet; our early ideals of the Internet seemed to have fallen by the wayside.

But there are companies who are fighting this trend and who continue to offer the promise of a free Internet and have innovated to generate revenue while maintaining this ideal. Some great examples include Comodo who offer the best in PC security for free and a social networking company called Houseparty who empower anyone to earn revenue from the Internet legitimately (and without any financial investment).

Can you spell R-E-V-O-L-U-T-I-O-N?

Judy Shapiro

Top 6 Free Social Marketing Technologies for E-Commerce Success

                              

I am often asked by friends who have ecommerce sites what they can do to improve sales. They have noticed current E-Commerce tools like SEO and Pay-Per-Click advertising are no longer delivering the bang they once did. And my friends also know that “social marketing” has become a valuable marketing tool, but they are not sure what terms like word of mouth, grass roots, and viral marketing even mean – much less what they can do to drive business.

 

So I recently posted an article on HostReview on my top 6 free social marketing technologies for E-Commerce. http://www.hostreview.com/icontent/the-blog/top-6-free-social-marketing-technologies-e-commerce-success

 

As I wrote in the article, these tools are … “all free … all powerful … to help drive your business.”

 

1) Create an online community.
Why is an online community important for E-Commerce? It allows a company to utilize their customers as evangelists; enlisting them to advocate your brand to potential customers. Additionally, this expands your ability to engage with existing or potential customers. For example, take a look at a case study put together by Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) about how
customer recommendations influence buying products and services.

 

Myspace offer online networking and Paltalk offers free, on-site communal chat rooms that can include webcam chat.

 

2) Stay abreast of your category by subscribing to Google Alerts.
This is a totally free service that allows a business owner to track trends in their industry. Simply list which keywords you are interested in, and Google will send you news, blogs, web pages, etc…that include those words.

 

Why is this important? It’s because social marketing is about participating in the conversation. Once you see which articles and reporters are relevant to your category, you can participate – and in a meaningful way.

 

3) Deploy a Customer Feedback platform
E-merchants can also take advantage of free customer feedback platforms. One such platform is UserTrust offered by Comodo, a leading provider in online verification and security infrastructure services. UserTrust is a
free tool which allows online merchants to gather customer feedback. Just as important, site visitors can see other user’s real experiences. These testimonials provide one of the most powerful social marketing technologies available on the market.

 

4) Utilize free digital PR
In order to create additional SEO rich content, online merchants can create press releases and distribute them using free digital PR sites such as
i-Newswire.com, PR-inside.com, PRLog.org, Free-Press-Release.com and 24-7pressrelease.com. Don’t be intimidated to write these releases yourself – they need not be brilliant works of literary art. Your press releases should reflect news that your customers or prospects care about (even if the NYTimes will not). You can announce a new product or a big customer win or even a great review.

 

The point is that this tactic is mainly about driving improved SEO rankings and ultimately traffic to your site.

 

5) Blog it
Creating and regularly posting on a blog is another good way to increase SEO value. WordPress.com is a free platform that lets users quickly and easily create a blog.

 

6) “Birds of a feather” affinity marketing
It’s useful to know what your customer profile looks like, not to mention those of your competitors. Quantcast is a
free service that gives you a demographic profile of a website’s visitors. Their reports also include a fair amount of detail on what your audience likes and even other sites they visit. This information can be invaluable in helping businesses identify opportunities.

 

So there you have it – my top 6. I will keep adding to this list as I uncover new tools that really work. If you have had great success with a social marketing technology – I’d love to hear about it. Share the knowledge –

 

Judy Shapiro

What’s up?

            

It’s a common greeting among kids.  “Hey, what’s up?” they ask wanting to get the latest updates on what’s happening in their friends lives.

 

Now technology provides a way to let our connections perpetually know “What’s Up” with us – all the time, if we want. The new social networking platform has made the act of keeping up easy and far more powerful than ever before. But the new digital transparency raises some tough questions.

 

How do we keep our sensitive information out of the hands of fraudsters as we tweet publically about what we buy and where we are?

 

How do we know if a “friend request” is real or really some Trojan virus planted on a site?

 

How does security, identity management and social networking intersect to ensure a way to stay safe online?

 

Should there be standards for the social networking industry today? If so, who should drive it – the government, the industry or some other new standard body?

 

These are new and difficult questions that affect all of us. This is why I am pleased that Paltalk will be bringing a new series called TechNow where industry experts and you will discuss important technology issues of the day.

 

On Tuesday, March 3rd at 3pm EST we have two industry experts, Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo and Henry Blodget, CEO of Silicon Alley Insider, in a live interactive event entitled; Your Digital Identity – Manage It Or Lose It. They will delve into this compelling topic and I invite you to come along for the debate and share your thoughts, live.

 

To join the room when the event is on, March 3, 3:00 pm EST, please visit http://TechNow.Paltalk.com. To learn more about the event or submit a question, please go to http://TechNow.Paltalk.com/crashdummies

 

Now when you ask “What’s Up”, the answer can be just a click away. But are we too easy a mark? I want some answers. Join me as I get them.   

 

Judy Shapiro

 

Trust Me!

         

Nothing evokes more distrust than someone asking you to “Trust me”.

 

Yet that is what the Internet asks us to do every day! We must conduct confidential transactions online – yet we often have no way to verify the authenticity of the site. We want to share our lives with our trusted network of friends, yet we worry that in our transparency and our tweets to our colleagues, we risk our very identity to the bad guys. How do we balance our desire to go online with our need to know that we can trust sites, information and communications?

 

Can we ever hope that the Internet of today becomes the Trusted Internet of tomorrow?

 

These are questions we all confront as we conduct more of our lives online. Join two leading tech titans, visionary Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo and noted Internet commentator Henry Blodget as they discuss live on the Paltalk Network their ideas on the future of the Internet in a three part series entitled, “Are we the crash dummies of the new Internet age?”   

 

This live, interactive Internet event gives Melih and Henry a chance to share their thoughts with each and with the audience on a range of subjects organized in three parts. The first program, airing February 10 at 3 pm (EST), will cover, The Internet Today: Like Cars before Seatbelts. This talk will address the truth about where we are today and how the criminal elements may very well take over the Internet. The second program, scheduled for March 3 at 3 pm (EST) will focus on how much should we reveal about ourselves online. This show, entitled “Your Digital Identity – Establish it or lose it”  will discuss how do we continue to live online without risking ourselves. Lastly, the third program, entitled, Transforming the Web into Your Web, airing March 19 at 3 pm (EST) will challenge us to address how we navigate through an increasingly complex Internet while leveraging new powerful tools, such as our social networks, to carve out a personal web for each one of us. 

 

LIVE SHOW DATES & TIMES (Eastern Standard Time):

Tues 2/10, 3:00 PM

Tues 3/3 , 3:00 PM 

Thurs 3/19, (TBD) 

 

For more information about this groundbreaking series, please visit  http://TechNow.Paltalk.com.

Show link is: http://TechNow.Paltalk.com/CrashDummies

 

About Melih Abdulhayoglu
CEO and Chief Security Architect of Comodo

 

Melih Abdulhayoglu created Comodo in 1998 with a bold vision of making the Trusted Internet a reality for all. His innovations have challenged some of the largest corporations and his pioneering business model earned him Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2008 Award in the Information Technology Software Category for New Jersey.  

 

Melih has led the industry in new digital security technologies for large enterprises, computer manufacturers and governmental organizations worldwide. This success has resulted in Comodo Certificate Authority, becoming the 2nd largest CA worldwide and Comodo’s award winning desktop security solutions are now one of most popular in the market today.

 

To learn more about the Trusted Internet, please visit http://www.comodo.com/corporate/manifesto.html

 

 

About Henry Blodget

CEO of Silicon Alley Insider

 

Silicon Alley is an online business media company based in New York. Prior to founding SAI in  May, 2007, Henry was CEO of Cherry Hill Research, an Internet research and consulting firm.

 

From 1994-2001, Henry was an investment banker at Prudential Securities and an equity analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. and Merrill  Lynch. As a Managing Director at Merrill, he ran the firm’s global Internet research practice and was the top-ranked Internet analyst on Wall Street. Blodget’s first book, The Wall Street Self-Defense Manual: A Consumer’s Guide to Intelligent Investing, was published in January 2007.

 

I hope you can join me for the pivotal live event. Bring your webcams :)

Judy Shapiro

The state of things to come – The Trusted Internet

Here’s a laugh. Among my circle of friends I am considered the quasi geek who can answer questions about online security and safety. I am considered the resident expert because of my experience with Comodo, an internet security company. The funny part is that at Comodo, I am considered the LEAST techie person around. 

But the real point is that everyone is looking for ways to stay safe online because everyone is getting MORE worried about online security. Everyone does more and more stuff online that causes them to be jittery. And, unfortunately, not without good reason. The “baddies” are getting better and better whereas most people still use 25 year old anti-virus detection technology to keep them safe.

No wonder people are scared. They should be.

But things are about to turn around because companies like Comodo are really focused on creating this state of the Trusted Internet. Here’s an excerpt from their Trusted Internet manifesto.

“The Internet has become the central communications engine of our time, expanding our reach more broadly than ever before. With this tremendous reach however, the Internet has yet to achieve its full potential as a Trusted Internet. Today, we must contend with an Internet fraught with fraudsters. We go online but we do so knowing that not all sites are equally trustworthy… 

This is why we, at Comodo, have committed our hearts, minds and resources to the vision of a Trusted Internet. This is where every digital interaction, every online interaction will include a new layer of security and trust enabled by an entire infrastructure designed to help us create mutual and real time trust.

And for it to benefit everyone, it must be delivered as a right to everyone; not as a luxury or a privilege dependent on a person’s ability to pay! To reach this state, we intend to change behavior and help people move from not using PC security because they can’t afford it to using PC security because we give away it away for free. We intend to change people’s low expectation of not being able to authenticate anything online to being able to authenticate everything online – identities, content and even a site’s legitimacy.

This will be how the Internet and the power of communications intersect, unleashing new ways for us to communicate, collaborate and exchange ideas that advance us all. And this is why Comodo believes that creating trust online is a mission that inspires us forward towards our vision of a Trusted Internet!”

That’s quite a noble vision. But they are putting their money where their mouth is. They now have in BETA a new Internet Security software that is state of the art in PC protection though prevention technologies combined with AV. You do not have to buy it — it is free – to anyone and everyone.

That is how the Trusted Internet will be built. By visionary companies who understand how a secure Internet will benefit everyone. This is the state of things to come… being online while taking for granted that you can interact within a state called the Trusted Internet.

To check out the BETA version go to: http://forums.comodo.com/beta_corner_cis/comodo_internet_security_35_beta_released-t26993.0.html

Judy Shapiro 

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