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. A diary of a new tech venture.

“But isn’t that everyone’s goal” exclaimed a business friend who learned I had started a company. My friend, a clever software developer, expressed the reality for most of his kind – smart, talented and ambitious to have their own company.

It was never a goal for me actually. I had the best marketing career working at an amazing mix of large and small technology companies. I was fortunate to have learned from the best about digital and social media at an intimate, practical and hands-on level beyond the experience of most of my peers. But starting my own company had not been a high priority for me – at least not until about 12 months ago.

You see, I was working at a profitable social networking company and I wanted to create a marketing program to gain more subscribers. I had a very healthy digital budget ($ millions) and so I did a few agency RFPs. I struggled to assign the projects because the agencies pitching were often very narrowly focused. Sure, many of them had a cool technology or creative concept – but in isolation it had very little value. I found I needed to put together a few of these new technologies to create programs that seemed worthwhile.

But becoming a “system integrator” was not really practical so in the end, I usually did not award the business to any agency. While I nursed my frustration publically in AdAge.com, one day in September 2009 I simply snapped. I had enough after a particularly tedious 2 hour presentation with a large digital agency who, towards the end, insisted that social media could not be branded. That was it. I was done. I kept thinking to myself; “I can do better than these agencies” and I left my employer at the end of 2009.

This was the seminal moment where I made the leap to business creator. I knew the agency business well since I spent 11 years at an agency before going client-side. I knew many of my friends at companies could not find agencies that “got it” either.  Consistently they told me their agencies seemed stuck in a model that was becoming less effective and they (brands) were the poorer for it. There seemed to be a place for the type of agency I could imagine and I was determined to create it.

But how to begin? I began by I listening carefully to what my marketing peers were telling me; “My agency does not get it”, “I know I should be doing more in social media but I have no idea what.”; “We don’t do Twitter because we don’t see the value”.  In hearing the litany of complaints, I quickly realized that agencies were “stuck” because they were furiously trying to adapt their “one to many” business model of the last 30 years to the emerging “many to many” marketing world of the next 30 years. I could see that was not going to work. I could see that the agency model I had known for 25+ years was giving way… I was on my own.

I took a deep breath as I became amazed that this was my chance to start creating an agency fresh – with no assumptions or sacred cows. This was my chance to do a “green field” build as one might see in the tech space. This was to be an agency built entirely from the perspective of a “many to many” marketing model.

With clarity of purpose, therefore, I set about to the task of creating this “many to many” marketing agency. And in doing so – it seemed I had rethink everything.

My first 60 days (March and April 2010):

I was interested in offering a new type of marketing platform using this new technology so brands could efficiently execute social media and direct response within a sustainable engine. But it became very clear very fast that I had to build this type of engine for myself since all the attention was on individual technologies that VCs were pouring their money into. No one, it seemed, worried about how any of this technology was supposed to operate together at a practical level within a marketing system.

This realization meant, like it or not, I had taken (hesitatingly) my first steps to becoming a technology company. Once I took that first tentative step, I sensed there was no going back and the “Failure is not an option” mantra of a previous boss, Comodo CEO, Melih Abdulhayoglu rang in my ears. My friend, the brilliant writer Gay Walley encouraged me onward. As daunting as it felt, I knew I had to create the right technological platform that could execute the type of marketing campaigns I had seen work in my real world experiences. The agency in the “many to many” world is as much, maybe even more, about robust technology as it is about the creative (again many thanks to Melih for teaching me this vital lesson). There’s just no getting around that point.

The next 60 days (May & June 2010):

Using my training in direct response, I created the engine to functionally curate users (not content) within a “community of interest” paradigm. I designed a three part marketing platform that uses promotional video, live internet programming and custom content within a highly architected “hub” to curate users. I had worked with video innovators like David Hoffman and Stephanie Piche, who were doing amazing things using video to drive audience engagement. I asked them to join me and they did.

Next, I had to create my own custom content network so I could get messaging out there efficiently thus driving traffic to the hub. I realized ads were not designed to engage in a “many to many” architecture but content had become the “new advertising platform”. While the logic of creating a custom content network was sound, the task seemed beyond daunting. Then, right on cue came two wonderful people, Donnetta Campbell and Joy DiBenedetto (CEO of HUMNews), who had deep roots in the content/ media world. Soon they had organized all their media assets and outlets into a content network we could use to push our messages through. I asked them to come play with us too.

Then there’s the “hub” (note to self – need new name for this part ASAP!!!). It’s a different type of web experience that is a mashup of live communications, content, community, video and commerce designed on the “community of interest” concept. My previous experience in monetizing communities gave me a blueprint for which techniques, overlooked by many, I needed to include to drive results. The secret sauce to the hub was to build it as a real time community with a lot of real time connectivity and video engagement baked in (emphasis on “real time”).

All the pieces were coming together … but there some real technological challenges to deal with. The platform was clear in my mind – but it was in no condition to be useful to brands – at least not yet.

And the 60 days of summer (July and August 2010):

To make this vision a reality, I needed to round out my dream team. I found out about a cool company doing real-world work in measuring social media which we needed to match this system. The CEO, Dag Holmboe, whose background in engineering was invited to join and came on board too.  I managed to snag an ex technology leader from NBC, Louis Libin; a CBS network pro, Lester Spellman and Jerry Cahn, an IR pro with PhD in psychology (always useful). As the dream team came together, I laughed to myself when I realized the days where a creative guy, a copywriter and a biz dev guy can just; “put up an agency shingle” are long gone.

I spent hours and hours seeing what the leading tech companies were doing. I was writing for Ad Age DigitalNext as a way to learn about how marketing technologies were evolving in this “many to many” world. I wrote about the all the amazing technologies at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in Ad Age (and yes I did lament the lack of women at the decidedly he-geek con-fest). And every time I got stuck on how to do something – I wrote about it and asked for advice. I got plenty.

Then, I began to outline my business plan. The task was made easier by the fact that I had other tech friends who were generous in guiding my progress. My thanks to Igor Seletskiy, CEO of a new company called Cloud Linux who was an invaluable technology sounding board. With his patient coaching, I had crystallized in my mind the outline of a product roadmap largely so I could understand exactly how any agency could financially thrive in this “low billing, social media, many to many” world. As I started creating the revenue model, all I knew for sure was that the old agency revenue models were falling apart.

After more thinking and talking, the product roadmap came into view. Importantly, it does not solely rely on “client” fees. In this roadmap, our agency offers real products (not just services) that can be used by a variety of companies – large and small. It also includes healthy, alternative revenue streams from a wide variety of sources. I lay my “product roadmap cards” on the table even though some of you may gasp at my seeming lack of concern about competitors because TBH — I am far more worried that too few agencies are even thinking along these lines. The agency business needs outliers – agencies who are willing to go where few agencies have gone before…

Here we go (and if this inspires others out there to do something similar – have at it :)

  • Near-term product/ service roadmap (through 2010):
  • Goal – Create integrated marketing platform for social media/ direct response campaigns.
  • Revenue model:   1) Service fees from brands to create content assets for marketing programs    2) Licensing/ Media fees from Brands to run program through the Interactive Engine. IE can be sold as a whole program or in 2 modular “mini campaigns”;3) Partner revenue from affiliate partner technologies that are being integrated into the platform
  • Development status: This is a three part “platform” – 1) Custom Content Network, 2) Specialized Promotional program and 3) Hub web experience. Items 1 and 2 are live. Prototype hub under construction.
  • Sales readiness: Key elements of the Interactive Engine platform are live today (yes – I know – I need to update the damn website :(
  • Funding needed: None – this is self funded through sales
  • Mid-term product/ service roadmap (through 2011):
  • Goal – Create self-serve platform of integrated social media technology campaigns so companies (small/ medium businesses) can launch integrated programs without the need for a serviced based agency. (This concept is following the “control panel” model used today by web hosts to provision lots of services to their customers.)
  • Revenue model = 1) Service fees from brands to content create assets for marketing programs 2) Product fees: a) Brand use of IE with existing client content assets; b)License fees paid by SMB for “self serve” campaigns executed 3) Partner revenue: Expand affiliate fees from partner technologies since many more options can be integrated into offering.
  • Development status: Lead developer identified and overall architecture being mapped.
  • Sales readiness: 9 months to working prototype/ 14 months to sale-able solutions
  • Funding round = $2MM
  • Long-term product/ service roadmap (starting Q3 2011 through 2012)
  • Goal – Create the first “trust agency” for “Judy Consumer” so she can pull trusted information, software/ services and advertising for herself.  At this stage, we reverse the revenue model. Instead of brands paying to get to “Judy and Joe Consumer”, consumers hire “trust agencies” to curate their digitally connected experiences (see my article in Ad Age about “The Six Screens” – Aug 23, 2010).
  • Revenue model = 1) Service fees: – a) from brands to create assets for marketing programs; b) direct subscriptions from consumers 2) Product fees: a)use of IE with existing client content assets; b)License fees paid by SMB for campaigns executed 3) Partner revenue: a) affiliate fees from partner technologies; b) As a perfect “opt-in” ad platform, charge brands premium ad CPM rates; c) content producers via affiliate revenue (they pay us for new subscribers)
  • Development status:  not initiated
  • Sales readiness: 18 months to prototype/ 24 months to launch
  • Funding needed: $1.8MM

Which brings us pretty much up-to-date.

When I step back, I can see our progress after six months:

  • We created the tech platform, called Interaction Engine (IE), that integrates direct response techniques within a social media ROI program.  Today, companies are using elements of the engine effectively.
  • We have coalesced into a solid team of 8 people who all had “hands on” experience in this “many to many” paradigm. Rare folks indeed because they had (often painfully) walked the walk.
  • We are in serious discussions with 2 media agencies, 2 F100 companies and had “tentatively” closed one new direct response account (I say tentatively because as if this date – no contract has been signed yet).

These days are spent getting everyone on the team coordinated, getting some basics housekeeping done (e.g. web site is totally out of date!), pushing forward in the sale process and writing the biz plan. It is very intimating but amazingly exciting.

I will end this and each future entry in this digital blog (expect a once a week post), with my “What keeps me up at night” list. I expect this list to change over time.

  • While we are doing well at getting meetings, the close process is slow because prospects want to see a fully working engine in action. The classic chicken/ egg problem. We have some great clients who have used parts of the engine – but none is currently using all of IE in a singular campaign. Pressing ahead.
  • I don’t wan to be the Edsel of my industry – too far ahead of my time. My team keeps coaching me to keep my presentations simple and they are correct. The trouble is that this platform is simple in concept but not in execution to understand.  So the presentations swing wildly between being too complicated or too simplistic. *Sigh*. My biz dev head and CTO are on the case though. I hope they can come up with a solution – I have hit a wall.
  • I now have 7 senior, wonderful people who have joined this venture – this is in addition to the 8 or so junior workers that are also part of the company. Keeping them all motivated and engaged as we build our sales pipe will be hard especially since many of us are virtual. I have no good model in my head for this yet.
  • Knowing the difference between networking and over networking. There are many people who want to connect with me now especially since I also write for HuffingtonPost in addition to Ad Age. I have to make choices about which contacts I can commit to. I find this very very frustrating and difficult since I never know which contact can lead to the break we need. URGGHH! Anyone with advice on this point?
  • Figuring out what’s the best use of my time as I try to lead both the sales process and the business plan development process. Most people in the company have a role here, but it still requires lots of “hands on” management from me since too much in still in my head and not on paper. I wish I were 3 people (would I get 3 salaries – hmm).

Now, finally my milestones for the next 60 days (not necessarily in this order):

  • 3 page executive summary of engageSimply with financial outlook
  • 1 signed client using the entire new Interaction Engine platform
  • Initiate discussions with at least 2 possible funding partners
  • Get website up to date
  • Expand sales funnel to having 20 active leads in pipe
  • to write in this diary a minimum of once a week or 8 entries (hey – I need some wiggle room J)

So much of this journey is a surprise. I am surprised that as a woman, I am starting a tech business. I am surprised that I am woman of a “certain age” starting a new company. I am surprised at the generosity of people who have agreed to throw their hat into the ring with me – they are a very faithful and brave group of people.  I am surprised at the graciousness of our partners who give of their time and contacts unreservedly.

But mostly I am surprised at how utterly confident I am that one way or another this is going to work. My confidence (perhaps even overconfidence) is the biggest surprise of all because with my long experience with tech venturing, I know my chances of success are not, rationally speaking, in my favor.

I remain undeterred. I remain unabashedly optimistic which is why I decided to document my journey in this blog. When I first started this blog (about 3 years ago), I did it because I sensed that fighting the marketing wars happening “in the trenches”. That remains truer today as I start this new venture. So as the Jewish New Year begins later this week (Year 5771), it seems particularly propitious to begin this digital diary. I may be “in the trenches” in starting this business but my view is firmly focused on how we reach the stars.

Judy Shapiro, CEO/ Founder, engageSimply

P.S. – Have advice, an idea or wanna do business with us. Just drop us a line. We’re ready.

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

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

How can it be OK that 1,000 PC’s are lost in the malware wars every time a bad ad is served up in ad networks?

I admit a certain hyper sensitivity to all things security when it comes to Internet. I worked at CA and then Comodo – both heavy players in the online security world. I learned about the scary things that can happen if you go online alone. It is not a pretty picture.

So it’s no wonder that I tend to have a zero tolerance to bad online security practices – among my friends, my family, my peers.  I have even less tolerance (is that possible?) for online security industry practices that can allow 1,000 PCs to get infected before an ad is checked for malware.

That’s right! I recently learned that all the ad serving platforms check ads in their networks after it has been served. In the case of Right Media I am told an ad is served 1,000 times before it is checked. If the ad is malware – oh well – 1,000 PCs are likely to get infected. I was shocked TBH. And I was even more shocked to learn that according to all the large ad serving platforms it seemed perfectly OK (at least the 4 large ones) to check ads after they have been served already.  I had the chance to press a rep from Right Media for an explanation about why are ads not checked before they are served. It was explained to me that the sheer tonnage of ads would make checking everything before it ran impractical.

That answer seemed pretty lame actually. And one does not have to look hard to see how this causes problem up and down the ad market value chain. Recently, TechCrunch and The Drudge Report were hit with malware on their sites served up by an ad in the network. http://news.cnet.com/8301-27080_3-20000353-245.html. The backlash was felt by the likes of Michael Arrington who had to explain the issue to his audience. I felt his pain, more keenly felt because I knew there was little he could do to make it better. It is likely to happen again – the only question is when.

Here we see most blatantly the bad things that happen when you detach consequences from accountability as is the case here. The ad server networks are the ones who serve up the ads, good or bad, but if there is fall-out, it is largely felt by the site that delivered the ad. That ruptures the basic laws of accountability and consequence which ultimately leaves at least 1,000 PCs infected with malware every time there is a virus outbreak.

Now I really do not understand the technological limits of checking ads within an ad networks – but how can it be OK to permit ads to be served before they are checked? Could it be that 1,000 is too small a number to worry about? And as the number of ads being served grows, will a higher 10,000 threshold be OK? Then maybe 100,000 will be a tolerable number?

Here is a challenge to the industry. Elinor Mills’ article on this subject mentions Bennie Smith, a vice president of exchange policy at Yahoo’s Right Media who I invite to respond here. Maybe I it got it wrong. Set the record straight – please – I really want to be wrong.

Better yet – I would love to start a dialogue to solve the problem – between agencies, ad networks, advertisers and the security industry. Sometimes talk is not enough. An alternative is needed – an alternating current. But more on that coming…

Judy Shapiro

Why Facebook is succeeding and MySpace isn’t

The techno-pundit circuit has been good enough to provide detailed explanations of what went wrong with MySpace along with lots of advice about what MySpace needs to do now. All this intelligence made all the more accurate given their perfect 20/20 hindsight vision. 

But most answers I read seemed fuzzy and unclear until, that is, I met up with the 16 year old son of a colleague who happened to be in our office one day. 

This fresh faced young man came in with his expected teenage uniform – jeans, t-shirt and his PC. He was quietly but intensely doing something on his PC when I started to talk about how we use our Paltalk Facebook group and I must have snagged the young man’s attention because he lifted his head in interest. Seeing an opportunity to learn from him, I started to ask him what he thought of Facebook. “Oh, he said, “all of us in school are on Facebook now. Yeah”, and then he added on his own, “we all stopped going to MySpace. No one ever uses their real name on MySpace.”

In that one exchange I understood what went wrong for MySpace and in my view, that 16 year old accurately put his finger on the heart of the problem (all the high paid consultants notwithstanding). MySpace simply failed to find ways to help users establish connections that “stick”, connections born of a trusted bond.  As a result, MySpace became a haven for spammers, causing a loss of more trust and the decline trust spiral began.

Before you skeptics reject the simplicity of this answer, consider MySpace’s fate with that of Facebook and the answer becomes easier to fathom. Facebook started as a way for college kids to connect with their trusted peers (trusted only in the sense that they went to the same university – but hey – trust is fluid depending on the context). These students already shared a trust bond, they were already part of trusted community and Facebook provided the platform that let people create these “trusted”, sticky connections. Further, as Facebook grew, it was able to attract a mass audience because it expanded by staying true to its very DNA – its ability to let people make trusted connections. It was a killer strategy and a risky move, but it is now paying off just as, paradoxically, MySpace seems to be feeling its way through the digital dark. 

If one tests this theory to see how it stands up in real life, we see this principle operating at many of the most successful social networks out there. For example, LinkedIn thrives as a professional network because you invite “trusted connections” and video based communities achieve a higher level of trust than a text chat community because one can see who one is talking to. These are just a few different strategies to achieve a similar goal – create ways that let people make trust bonds with each other and within communities.

The core concept I am advocating is that we learn to transform online trust from something we do to avoid digital harm into something we can expect in a next generation web. I am advocating that, like Facebook began, we learn to create the trusted digital society of tomorrow.

In fact, I favor the name the Trusted Web for the next gen web in the hopes that injecting trust as a proactive expectation of the internet is a requirement that should drive our innovations. 

People joining together to make a difference is what trusted communities are all about. Trusted communities are something we all need to help create together – for all of us in technology, education, government and business.

The ties that bind are the one based on trust. Let’s help shape what that means in the next generation web – The Trusted Web.

Judy Shapiro

Enough already! We’ve been here before.

I can’t believe the media frenzy around how, according to “everyone”, Twitter virtually single handed heralded a new era of citizen journalism. This little 140 character wonder is able to leap tall political buildings in a single bound …

From all the reporting you would think never before in the history of man has broadcasting ever had a more profound impact on the political landscape.

How ridiculous.

One only needs to look back over the years – these “media game changer” moments happened again and again. From the impact TV coverage of Vietnam war had on the American psyche to the availability of bandwidth for public access to the ability of anyone to broadcast via the internet – whether it be Twitter or any number of other video based chat rooms.

These all share one fundamental trait – they allow the one:many broadcast model. Technology just made this capability available to almost everyone … whether a news station or a civilian broadcasts a riot on his cell phone.

The opening up of a broadcast platform to so many more people is not without significant issues. It is not hard to fathom how, a particularly clever influencer, could recruit an army of citizen journalists to broadcast a particular version of a story. The lack of credentials and accountability is a startling development that should not be ignored.  

It’s one thing for anyone and everyone to become a mini broadcast network – the question then becomes which broadcaster can we trust.

Unfortunately, now you’re on your own, my friend.

Judy Shapiro

Why Twitter and Twine matter

Much digital ink has been spent trying to explain the likes of Twitter and Twine. Often, they are characterized as the poster children of the Web 2.0 techno trend. Pundits wonder if they represent a new, democratized broadcast platform. Others imagine that they serve as the next gen CRM tool. And skeptics believe these are just tech toys to be quickly dispensed with once the novelty is over.

As I read the plethora of opinions, I was left more and more unsatisfied largely because the answers ignored the “irrational exuberance” often surrounding media’s descriptions of these technologies. Either the media is very easily seduced when it comes to new technology (and that is not a hard argument to make) or they sensed these technologies represented an important trend taking shape beyond the current Web 2.0 craze.

I come down on the side of the latter opinion and believe these technologies do represent “something different”. Yet I could no more articulate the “something different” than anyone else until a recent conversation I had with some colleagues about Twine. I was explaining why I like Twine and how even the name appeals to me because it suggests interconnectivity where like-minded people form a “mini, trusted search circle” among themselves. When you participate in a Twine, you can get more trusted information about the subject of the Twine because it is strengthened, enhanced and expanded by real people. The “twine”, in effect, creates a “trusted search community” becoming more relevant and thus more trusted over time. The name says it all.

And Twitter matters for the same reason. You can follow people whose opinion you trust within a loosely bound and loosely trusted community. Or, you can share with your “followers” (a.k.a. your trusted community) what you think is useful, important, even trusted. Taken even further, I attribute Twitter’s popularity to the media friendly way reporters can get bite-sized updates from their “trusted sources” which is probably one reason why the Twitter scent carried so far and wide. But don’t let the hype around Twitter obscure the value of this technology – it is a means to receive or broadcast personal, relevant and yes, trusted information.

Now I think I can better put my finger on the “something different” I detect in these newer technologies and it revolves around how we use trust in this new web world. In today’s Web 2.0 world, we don’t expect much trust nor does it drive much how people use these social networking technologies. And if “trust” comes up at all, it is thought of as a risk mitigation requirement as in; “I need to be sure I can trust this person trying to friend me because I don’t want to get scammed.” But for this new web to materialize, trust will have to be transformed from the risk mitigation attribute to the key driver for how we optimize our personal, web experience. In essence, the next gen web hinges on the next gen kind of trust that is a proactive, positive part of the web experience.

When thought of in this light, then it becomes clear that the likes of Twitter, Twine and the many other forms of communities (from forums to bloggers to chat rooms) lies at the heart of how the next gen web will accomplish its charter. People today are creating all forms of communities as a way to proactively create different kinds of trust through relevancy made more potent via communal sharing. In the cases of Twitter and Twine, they provide a key, community-based “trusted information filter” to help sort through the deluge of relevant data, (after all, there are only so many “OMG, check this URL/ video out” emails we can sort through). Forums provide a different kind of trust by letting users share experiences and the sharp rise of bloggers’ influence in the social media celeb heap is proof of their power to create trusted communities.

As more and more people become more dependent on the Internet, the community creation groundswell is one indication of how people are imaginatively and proactively filling the “trust gaps” (a phrase I gratefully attribute to Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo) using their trusted communities. I broadly think of Twitter and Twine as variant versions of communities and this is why I assert it makes sense to think of all these emerging communities as smack in the middle of the next gen web rather than the Web 2.0 landscape. They represent people’s desire to create a personal, relevant web and that will, increasingly, be a function of how people are able to create trust in their ever widening web world.

That’s why Twitter, Twine and all forms of communities matter. They are the building blocks of the next gen web – the Trusted Web.

Welcome home.
Judy Shapiro

“It’s good to be open minded, just don’t let your brains fall out.”

I was reminded of this line, credited to my Grandmother Margit, when I spent a very interesting day last week at the Web 3.0 conference. So many smart people talking about how smart the Web will become.  I was overwhelmed at how little I really know about semantic technologies and data architectures.

But despite my infantile level understanding of these emerging technologies, I was struck by the seeming gap in all the talk. Nowhere could I find anyone talking much about how to make the next web more human by being more trusted.  Trust is the glue that holds society together in the real world and it should be the same in the web world too. But in the conference, you would be hard pressed to hear more than a passing homage to the idea of trust vis-à-vis the next gen web.

My Grandmother’s expression popped into my head probably because staying open about technology is easy for me. What’s harder is staying wary enough to maintain perspective to challenge the technology if/ when it veers off course or worse does not serve humanity. In the case of Web 3.0, I am trying hard to maintain perspective and not be seduced by all the glitz of the technology because our human need for things like trust could get sacrificed on the altar of technology if we are not careful.

Whew! Talk about being a drama queen. But it’s true. I see lots of great technology revolving around the evolving web without a lot of humanity factored in yet. There’s a lot at stake for all of us.

“And what”, you must be wondering at this point, “has this got to do with your Grandmother?” Simple. When I start to contemplate heady stuff like that, my Grandmother’s image usually makes her way into my mind because she was always able to inspire greatness in others. Therefore, permit me a brief digression so that  I can tell you a bit about her which will help you appreciate the power of her words.

My Grandmother was not typical in any way fathomable. She was a Chassidic Rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife), but if any of you think you have an idea of what an ultra-orthodox, rabbi’s wife might be like – I suggest you suspend those conceptions right now. She would blow them away.

For a starter, she was, without a doubt one of the most open minded people I ever knew. She was also, without a doubt, the spiritual leader of the community.  Her husband (the Rabbi) was the final authority in Jewish legal matters, but in every other way, my paternal Grandmother, Margit, was the pillar upon which the community rested. And we all knew it.

Second, one would think she be fairly limited in scope as to who she would interact with. On the contrary. She was the confidante of business leaders, heads of hospitals, politicians, entertainment personalities, religious leaders of all faiths.  She stayed open to all lifestyle and ideas.

Third, she was truly blind to a person’s background in every sense of the word. Everyone was equal in her eyes and the one who needed her help the most was the one that got her attention … every time.

Fourth, through sheer force of personality was able to save all eight of her children and herself while in the Bergen Belsen death camp. Her youngest child, my uncle, was only 3 years in the death camp and is only one of ten babies known to survive the camps.

It is hard to put a finger on her power, but it rested in the simplicity of her world view which rested on trust. She trusted in people. She trusted her God. She trusted her instincts. She understood that people come before religious dogma. She saw the best in you even when you had just done your worst. But mostly she understood that the weakness of the human heart can be strengthened through trust.

The power of this woman shaped many generations after her, myself included. From her I learned to give everyone the benefit of doubt. From her I learned how to refine my ability to grasp the essence of someone quickly and correctly. From her, I began to understand how precious life really is when she told a sad, bitter man who barely survived the war why she did not hate the world, it was because; “Mer hut niche kan berara” – Yiddish for “there is no choice”. She could not fathom a life filled with hate – it was simply not an option for her so she chose to have no choice in this matter. That is an act of will few are capable of. These were the lessons I learned from Margit.

So I am inspired by her to dedicate this effort to rename the next gen web, a.k.a. Web 3.0 etc to the Trust Web in dedication to hearts world over that understand the power to transform rests with the power to trust. The next gen Web can transform us in ways are truly paradigm-shifting and we must stay open to those possibilities.

Judy Shapiro

 

Brilliance without wisdom is like fire without a hearth.

                                  

It was inevitable.  

Today I read that Twitter is vulnerable to a cross scripting attack. Forgetting the technical jargon for a moment, it is continued evidence of the overall state of social marketing … it is brilliance without wisdom.  

The innovation and brilliance of newer companies like Twitter is that they allow us to connect in diverse and wonderful ways, which underlies the truth that these are brilliant companies. Yet, their relative business “youth” suggests that wisdom is yet to come.  

They are creating huge networks of interconnected people who will become the key filter for how we see our online world. Yet, even as their influence grows, there is no ability to create an environment of trust. There is no ability to authenticate the person you are looking for or who has found you. There is no ability to efficiently harness the brilliance of your social networks to provide you with trustworthy information. Worse, the new social openness that these social networks enable can either be like a fire that can warm since it connects us so easily or, it can burn as in the case of identity theft, if not properly managed or contained.  

This is a tough balancing act to pull off (remaining open and connected yet secure) but I believe the introduction of trust into the web (via an authentication layer) will create the wisdom that lets the brilliance of social networks to fully emerge and warm the digital planet. 

That is what the next generation web should be about. Not just intelligent agents (courtesy of Google) or intelligent computers that understand context or some other “hot” technology that can burn if not well applied. But the next generation web should be about how to apply human wisdom (in the form trust) into the online world.  

We should not call this next generation web, Web 3.0 (after all – that refers to a software release). We should call this next generation web, The Trusted Web. 

Human wisdom — well applied in the digital world.    

Judy Shapiro

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