The “turning point” moment that harkens a new beginning.

The life of an entrepreneur is an emotionally volatile one. The ups and downs are extreme because often so much is at risk.

As a newbie entrepreneur, I was especially battered recently by the wild swings of bad news and good news so as to make me ill with startup sea sickness.  Yet, as I began to get my sea legs; slowly the nausea was replaced with a serene inevitability that this little venture might, against all odds, make it.

It’s not arrogance that colors my thinking. Nor is it an irrational faith in my brilliant thinking.

But it is the realization that if I make it will be because of the community around me. The vision for Eden was to create a way for consumer’s to create a trusted web space starting with Eden Network – a social network of topic based communities that serve high search but badly served topics (e.g. karaoke).

The sheer audacity of my attempting a tech startup, in retrospective, was stunning. As a marketer, the notion of being a tech CEO was about as likely as me going bungee jumping any time soon. Sure – perhaps the opportunity may come up but it’s unlikely I would ACTUALLY do it.

Yet this venture was born of pure passion – actually passionate frustration at how there so much brilliant marketing tech innovation going on and a total lack of operational practicality in being able to use much of it.

But while frustration goes a long way towards driving me forward – it doesn’t make me a seasoned entrepreneur. I’ve made many rookie mistakes but I am encouraged to continue mainly because of the support of the community around me.

And because of the encouragement of my community, despite all the pitfalls and pratfalls, within the last week, I sense a fundamental shift.

I turned a corner.

Different key pieces are coming together in a way I could have never expected; brands are excited to participate in Eden Network; agencies are anxious to offer new social marketing options that’s easy for them to buy and monetize. Key management holes are being filled with ease and partners are approaching me with increasing volume making me dizzy with potential.

My community of friends and colleagues are the foundation upon which this venture rests. It is an honor to have such loyal and supportive friends. It is also humbling and inspiring to be sure I don’t let them down. Just a few weeks ago, I felt like I was in a free fall dive and now I am buoyed by a sense of “knowing” that we have a shot at making it.

The Jewish New Year is about to commence and for thoughtful souls, it is a time of acknowledgement and gratitude to all that we have been given.

In that spirit, it’s up to me to be sure that the community knows the depth of my gratitude.   May we be privileged to share a year of peace and awareness at how precious each one of us is within the community of humanity.

Judy Shapiro

The surprised entrepreneur – I’m having the time of my life.

I am not sure what I expected to be doing at this point in my career. I have been blessed to have been at the center of the changing, blossoming technology landscape of the last 20+ years.  My earliest days were at an advertising agency called NW Ayer which gave me a broad perspective on Corporate America’s practices, problems and possibilities for triumph. I then gracefully made my way into the tech stars of Corporate America itself with stints at AT&T, Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies and Computer Associates. I also had the great good fortune of working at small innovative technology companies led by visionary innovative leaders. Two prime examples include Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo and Jason Katz, CEO of Paltalk.

This unusual combination of corporate marketing experience coupled with the feet on the streets training born of working at tech startups, gave me a balanced perspective of how the marketing business is evolving in this technology driven world.

So here we are.

The marketing business is going through a fundamental shift that throws into question almost every tactical practice built over the last 20 years. And, amazingly, it seems that just as marketing becomes this new discipline that weaves creativity into an interactive user experience that is tech heavy – it’s a perfect fit for my peculiar type of networking meets technology marketer experience.  

This seems nothing short of extraordinary. Which is why I am all the more stunned at the work I am doing today. I had not planned on any such seismic move in marketing, so I certainly did not plan on launching a marketing tech venture.

But here I am.

My journey has been one of surprising excitement at the possibilities in marketing excellence that was simply not possible before. The vision of this venture, therefore, is to take advantage of these new trends to deliver a sustainable and productive “marketing machine” (a phrase I attribute to Melih) that can turn the tables on how marketing gets done.

In our vision, we don’t approach monetization like Google or Facebook’s who are about pushing more accurate marketing messages to consumers. We are looking to deliver a marketing platform that lets consumers decide what content they see, what ads they see, how their social networks are managed, how they conduct commerce, even how they communicate within the social networks. The organizing principle for this platform is not ad-driven monetization but oriented around Judy Consumer. Our vision is to create the kind of system that we want to live with for the next 10 years . In effect, we want to give Judy Consumer the tech power to create her own personal “Trust Web.”

To the few friends we have shared our vision with – all have come to a similar conclusion – it is an ambitious (maybe too ambitious) vision. They are correct. But as I entered marketing in the 1980s most of marketing at first was human powered with marketing systems emerging later on.  

And here we are – again.

This next generation collection of marketing technologies is rich in creativity but is not organized for sustainable marketing programs for brands. This is work that I, among others, are focused on – creating v1.0 systems to operationalize the business of social marketing.  

We are all at just at the beginning of this journey and it’s a journey I didn’t expect to be taking at this point.

But here I am – and much to my surprise – I am having the time of my life.

Judy Shapiro

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.


The Surprised entrepreneur – Diary of a new tech venture – Entry #2

The roller coaster ride feels thrilling and yet …

Last week I had some ups and downs. I was happily surprised to be asked to speak at ad:Tech NY this November and I got my press credentials approved for the Clinton Global Initiative. The Social Media Technology Resource Guide is coming along and the team is working hard on creating the Sports Community of Interest for a few properties. On the sales front, we closed a small client that is doing interesting things with their mobile site. On the product front, our CTO – Louis Libin ideated for a way to provide an “overlay” to existing sites using a combination of social media technologies that we put together. It’s a great way to capture our “systems” approach to social media within a marketing environment. This is all good :)

On the down side – I have to cancel a Sept 28 Meetup event we scheduled to launch the Social Media Technology Resource Guide site. We are delayed by about two – three weeks :(. I developed this free guide as a directory of social media technologies since I could not find one anywhere (and my apologies if one exists – I could not find it). I am more bummed about this than I should be. After all, the delay was because we are pitching some really excellent clients. That is always good. But I am disappointed that I am delayed nonetheless.

At a more philosophical level, though, this set-back triggered one of my bigger challenges — managing the extreme highs and lows. Good things taste almost too wonderful – disproportionate to their “real” good news-ness. And inevitable bumps that occur feel more extreme than they should. I know not all CEOs suffer from this – they are more even-keeled. Some compartmentalize to keep things in check. I see why that might work – but it’s not me. Still groping around on that one.

But on the positive side,  more than anything, this time of year is special to me. Yom Kippur is just over and with it comes a potential for a new start. It is a time for refocused purpose, re-organized thinking and re-energized gratitude for all the people that are helping/ rooting for me. It is incumbent on me to hang onto to the intense feeling of positive potential that characterizes this time of year for as long as possible. I hope to rise to the occasion but I credit myself with a fair amount of talent in that department.

Now – onto the “what keeps me up” list:

  1. Creating a simple way to communicate what we do -this is a carry over from last week and it remains a top priority. Some good progress on one hand but nothing substantive yet.
  2. We have quite a few follow up conversations coming up soon. This is good news but they want to see “under the hood” which leads me back to point #1.
  3. I see an undercurrent of “downsizing” already going on in the social media space. Bigger companies are buying up smaller companies if they are in any way related to social media, especially on the technology side. On the one hand – these roll ups don’t worry me at the moment because they lack a cogent system for integrating the technologies (programmatically if not literally), but I worry that there will be too much consolidation too fast leaving just really big guys and then lots of tiny fish. Hmm.

Now, how am I doing against the milestone list I posted last week:

  • 3 page executive summary of engageSimply with financial outlook – some progress but not as much as I would like.
  • 1 signed client using the entire new Interaction Engine platform – new “sports” channel may be first one to launch or Trust Web – but tantalizingly just out of reach (a note of frustration intended here).
  • Initiate discussions with at least 2 possible funding partners – no progress
  • Get website up to date – no progress
  • Expand sales funnel to having 20 active leads in pipe – added 2 more
  • to write in this diary a minimum of once a week or 8 entries (hey – I need some wiggle room J) – so far so good.

OK – all. I am off for now. As always your comments are welcome.

Judy Shapiro

This is post #2 in a series on the life of a new tech venture (and its CEO). Wish us luck. .

Crystal ball was not needed to predict Google Wave would fail

Forgive a momentary “I told you so” outburst because back in October 2009 as the tech world was dazzled by the Google Wave launch, I somewhat singularly wondered publically about whether it would succeed in a piece in Ad Age entitled:  “Google Wave should beware of the Communications and Collaboration Pitch”

It was an unpopular position to take at the time; after all, Google “Anything” was considered magic.  And after less than a year, being right like this is no fun actually because behind the failure are real people who invested a lot of heart and soul. It is a bitter pill to swallow.

History is a great teacher and in the Ad Age piece, I provide a history lesson on how “communication and collaboration” failed commercially utterly in the 1990s:

“Looking back at it now, I realize what we failed to do last time around is to symbiotically couple this whiz-bang technology with fulfilling a fundamental dimension of our humanity. Technology by itself is sterile and a communication and collaboration play was pretty sterile sounding.”

I also generously give them the secret of how to get it right given what we learned in our previous failed attempts to market unified collaboration platforms:

“This time round, though, Google Wave really has a chance to get it right if it forges a tight symbiotic link between this technology and a core element of our humanity.”

Finally, I gave them what I believed to be the secret to success with Google Wave. Clearly they ignored my sage advice (even if I do say so myself):

“It all comes down to understanding that Google Wave should be about the creation and management of our trusted communities. And if it can take those bonds and marry them with real-time, unified communications, the product has the makings of a technology milestone. But without the human dimension of community, “communications and collaboration” are just technologies. And technologies alone will not “connect” with Judy Consumer. At least it never has before.”

Never to put too subtle a point on it, I expanded my arguments and provided even more detail in a post here entitled; “What might Twitter and Facebook teach Google Wave about market success.” I fully explain why Google Wave has the potential to be a paradigm shift:

“Now I think Google Wave has the potential to be a technological milestone because it merges unified collaboration and communications (not new) within the fertile soil of a trusted community (this is new). “Pull” models coming online now enable this combination of dynamics to “gel” into a platform that can be vibrant and paradigm shifting. …”

I ended this piece in October 2009 hopeful; “I suspect that if anyone will know how to use this treasure it will be Google. I am rooting for them.”

So much for a happy ending :( .

Judy Shapiro

Where have all the authentic voices gone?

There’s a new project, Hum News I learned about that has me so excited. It is about bringing authentic news voices to regions of the world where the major news organizations do not go. In fact, the large 4 news services do not cover about 70% of the world’s population.  The facts are sobering:

  • The GEOGRAPHIC GAP – There are 237 countries/territories in the world. Yet, the 4 largest newsgathering and distribution organizations entrusted to supply content to 90% leave 116 countries ignored. (HUM Research- Associated Press, Thomson-Reuters, Bloomberg News & Dow Jones). This means that  two-thirds of the world’s population are without any authentic voice in the world’s media.
  • CHANGING POPULATION – Nearly half of the world’s population (3+ billion people) is under the age of 25 and over 85% of this group live in developing countries (World Population Foundation, 2008) which goes uncovered.
  • REDUCTION IN NEWS MEDIA ENTITIES RESOURCES/BUDGETS – News and journalism resources are decreasing, but demand for global coverage is exponentially increasing. (The State of the News Media.org, 2008)
  • WEB & MOBILE ACCESS – In 2009, over 1.5 billion people have access to the Internet up from 360 million in 2000. (Internet World Usage Statistics). By 2013, there will be 4.5 billion mobile users worldwide. (Parks Associates). Within these countries, 70% of the population is under the age of 25 and mobile devices and internet usage outpaces traditional content consumption by Western counterparts. The result of this growth in access is that the infrastructure barriers that held these countries back, are beginning to give these regions a huge voice to influence world opinion and consequently world events.
  • EMERGING MARKETS – Nations such as Algeria, Libya and Turkmenistan symbolize the globe’s new growth areas in terms of population; and countries such as Angola, Congo (Brazzaville) and Malawi represent the fastest growing economies in the world (UN.org). But here’s the clincher — 86% of the world’s population will be living in these emerging markets by 2050. (Population Media Foundation)

Today, news from these remote local regions is often inaccurate, biased and lacking in authentic voices. The ramification of the “information gap” is life altering. Let’s just cite a few recent examples to make my point dramatically.

1) Jonathan Gosier is the Director and System Architect of SwiftRiverat Ushahidi, who are  working on an open-source software platform that helps journalists and emergency response organizations sift through real-time information quickly, without sacrificing accuracy.

He wrote an article recently entitled: “Curators of the real-time web” describing the challenges a lack “on the ground” credentialed news coverage can bring:

“This past year in Kampala, Uganda, there were a series of deadly riots that occurred under the radar of international mainstream news for days. Yet it was a situation that affected millions of lives here. My peers and I relied upon Twitter and SMS for information. Later, when the mainstream news picked up on what was going on, they were often wrong or misleading in what they reported.

In such a scenario, the news outlets were either clueless, or useless to people like myself. Conversely, friends of mine who were chased down by military police as they tweeted absolutely earned my trust. In that situation, I followed the information sources that it made sense to monitor for that situation. Every scenario will be different, which is why a good distributed reputation system should be equally nuanced.”

The lack of trusted on the ground sources delayed aid and extended the misery of millions of people in this region.

2) “Outsiders” tend to portray the situation in Gaza often as desperate, as the recent news coverage of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade suggested. The blockade news story was pretty single minded from almost all news services; Gaza citizens lack in basic needs and these noble, heroic, brave humanitarians were running the blockade and carrying nothing more dangerous than chocolate. The storyline continued, these humanitarians were then brutally attacked by Israel resulting in 9 casualties.

This is the only story that got told around the world and the results were sadly predictable. There were riots across the world, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel and Israel is branded (again) as the aggressor.

Now I am making no comment on what the truth really is, but surely no thinking person can believe it is so one-sided? Nor can any thinking person not concede that the lack of authentic voices from within the region deeply distorts the truth making all of us vulnerable to media manipulation.

Think I am exaggerating? I wish I were. Just take a listen to a recent interview Helen Thomas, chief White House Correspondent for Hearst did at, no less Jewish Heritage Day at the White House. She very literally told Jews “to get the hell out of Palestine” because it is not their land and Jews should go back “home” – to Germany and Poland! This was so unbelievable that this Youtube video was played nearly a million times in just 3 days. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnALLK5g–I&feature=rec-LGOUT-exp_fresh+div-1r-1-HM

Don’t get me wrong. I am not calling for Thomas’ head, but the shock here was that a White Correspondent should have such a one sided view of the facts. How can Jews go back to Poland for heaven’s sake? Worse, how can she assert that “Palestine” belongs to Palestinians – Jews were there way before Palestinians? This episode most dramatically demonstrates how a lack of balance, credible news from within a region can lead to respected reporter to be blinded into a clearly biased view of facts on the ground. The consequences for everyone are dire.

So next time someone says to you; ”Ah the world really does not care about news in some remote place in the world.” The answer is; “Lack of trust in news and information is not a regional issue – but a global one.” The ramifications for all of us are very very personal – much more urgently than you think.

Judy Shapiro

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