The surprised entrepreneur (entry #5):

The great talent hunt yields an unexpected gift that keeps giving. 

Hiring is tough on all companies.

Hiring is brutal for new companies.

One bad hire could spell irrevocable disaster.  You have to pick people who can get the job done today, have a passion for the work we are doing, be a mensche, be creative and be just quirky enough to add to the color of our community. But I also know enough though to know, practically speaking, there’s a thin line between a “quirky” and a high maintenance team member.

No wonder it scares me to death.  No wonder I put if off. I’d rather have oral surgery. Honest.

But in the past few weeks, I could avoid the truth no longer. I needed to balance out our team and I needed to find the perfect tech architect. In my view, every tech venture needs three architects – the vision architect,  the business architect and the tech/ product architect. Sometimes this is all one person, but not in our case.

So with a deep breath  – I began what I thought would be a painful process.  I was wrong.  In fact, I’ve learned much to my surprise, that the hiring process was the best gift I could give my business because I got to learn about the very essence of my venture itself.

I began the process hesitantly knowing that the type of talent I wanted can be highly selective about where they go. Quickly, I was lucky enough to get the chance to chat with the head product guy at a large, very cool social media company. He was thinking of leaving and he graciously agreed to hear my story. Then a few days later through another contact, I was put in touch with an “ex-Microsoft guy who was looking for his next project.”   I talked my heart out to convince him to see the vision.

Both of them gave generously of their time and advice. Both reminded me how much I love to talk to developers. I love how their individual creativity is reflected in their choice of languages. I love the quirky, binary-colored way they see the world.

But in talking to them during this process, I also realized I could not really express my vision with the technological crispness to satisfy these folks. I was horrified and I knew from experience, any hint of uncertainty would send the best talented developers running from the virtual room.

It was a surprisingly painful lesson I needed to learn. I thought I had created the elevator pitch suitable to satisfy any audience. I was wrong. I thought long about how they reacted and it was then I had a breakthrough. All of a sudden I could see where I had gone wrong in how I described the platform, and thus the venture. Through my openly sharing with talented people during this process, I vastly improved our architectural vision.

I confess. I would never achieved this revelation on my own or even with the team I have now.  My aversion to hiring could have deprived the company of this precious gift of clarity of technological vision.

I’ll end with a note of gratitude. To any candidate we are talking to now – my deepest thanks. To all future candidates – I can’t wait to meet :).

Judy Shapiro

P.S. – Wanna help architect the next big gig – (hey – optimism is part of job req’s :). We are working on creating The Trust Web. Interested? Drop me a line.

 

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

“Privacy schmivacy”.

The history of privacy is full of public disclosure.

My Grandmother’s notion of privacy was quite different than my own. And my teenage daughter’s notion of privacy is, correspondingly, different than my version. So while the concept of privacy changes over time, within the public imagination, we all seem to cling to some gauzy, vague notion of privacy to mean we have control over what information should be kept private and how our information is distributed over the web.

This universally romantic notion gets universal support from government agencies, the media, websites, trade organizations – just about everyone.  Corporations world over struggle mightily with new, complex questions about how to assure privacy. And privacy advocacy groups vigorously defend this principle because they see privacy as the thin line in the sand that protects us against autocratic [fill in “evil” corporate or government name here] control.

So while you see a lot of lip service paid to privacy, there seems to be little concrete progress on how to execute privacy in today’s fluid information flow environment. Worse, I think all the privacy rhetoric has perhaps, imprudently, raised consumers’ privacy expectation to a level that is possibly not even achievable today.

It seems, therefore, that a recalibration of the notion of privacy is in order that strips away dogmatic devotion in favor of a real world, practical approach that can get the job done.

To gain insight about what a practical approach might look like, let’s go back a few thousands years and see how privacy has evolved. The first thing we notice when we look at this subject is that today’s concept of privacy as a universal right was simply not operative for most of civilized history (if you didn’t guess already, my early training was in history). One’s identity was assumed to be “public” and fully transparent because “people” were considered the “public assets” of the prevailing rulers. In virtually every society since ancient times, there was a rigid code for conduct and dress that clearly identified everyone by class and depending on variations of this code, by village or clan or family. Nor was privacy operative in “private spaces” since communal living was the norm.

Our modern idea of privacy really did not fully emerge until the middle of the 20th century. The massive expansion of the middle class post World War II “democratized“ lots of things like dress codes so identity became more cloaked (pun intended). The middle class could “pass off” as anyone and with that, the first modern sensibility of “privacy” was born. This budding notion of privacy was then buoyed by the new affluence of the middle class who started living in bigger homes which increased our appetite for privacy because it became a mark of success. Finally, during the paranoia of the Cold War when the government had aggressive wiretapping programs and the McCarthy black lists, our current notion of privacy hardened into the near sacred status enjoyed in our popular imagination.

This brings us back to today. Our understanding of privacy seems misaligned to the realities of today’s Internetworked world. This is why we have a confusing, ambiguous and inconsistent set of processes across the digital landscape. There are, for instance, verification companies selling web site seals to reassure visitors that the site has a privacy policy. Unfortunately for the site visitor, this privacy “trust” seal makes no judgment about whether the site has a “good” privacy policy since there are no real standards for a “good” policy. Then you have a confusing set of privacy practices and standards driven by trade organizations like the IAB, governments and even digital marketing vendors who all have different “best practices”.

Looking at it from an end user’s perspective, the view gets even more confused, (unless of course you have an advanced degree in electrical engineering plus about 10 years of hard core programming). Cookies are handy for end users but they are quite “invasive”, despite assurances from cookie crumb collectors that they only collect information, not individual user data. Or would end users consider a remarketing campaign as crossing the “privacy” line? And don’t get me started on how email privacy standards are violated shamelessly.

Now to add to the confusion, the rise of social networks raises new issues; should we assume the profiles we post in our social networks are private or public? Who should control where my profile is displayed? It’s not hard to understand why Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy is famous for having said; “You Have Zero Privacy Anyway. Get Over It”.

I do see where he is coming from, but that is rather a draconian approach that undermines the value privacy does have in all societies – digital or otherwise. I would rather advocate we need to update our notion of privacy and build standards and processes with an updated vision of the concept. What I am proposing here are a few starter “how to’s” that can begin to pull us out of the quagmire we seemed to be stuck in.

First, for those of us who operate social networks, communities or websites, let’s start to apply a consistent “default public” set of business rules to reflect the general consensus that social network participation is acceptance of a public digital life. Similar to your phone listing in the phone book – you are “defaulted in” unless you opted out. That begins to shift the basic model that allows people to take full advantage of their digital social lives by helping them manage efficiently their public information. Be sure to recognize that the inevitable demographic differences in privacy requirements between groups means you will need to provide all users granular controls to keep everyone happy.

Second, it would be useful to create an industry-wide, standardized hierarchy of information sets which would have specific privacy practices appropriate to the risk factor. For instance, typical “low risk” information gathered by social networks can be handled one way whereas “high risk” information could be driven by a different set of processes. This data architecture and practices can be standardized across networks.

Third, the industry, I mean here social networks, corporations and media, need to better support the W3C’s noble work in this area. I was at a conference on Semantic technologies recently and I heard a fairly desperate appeal to help support continuing the work in this vital area.

Fourth, we need to create clear remediation processes should someone’s privacy be digitally violated. This is a place for the government to step in with clear remediation mandates similar to guidelines it mandated to companies in the case of data breaches.

Fifth, let’s accelerate development of new, Internet powered ad platforms that are consumer driven. A “pull” ad model solves many of the privacy problems that behavioral marketing programs fall prey to because it resolves the irreconcilable tension between marketers wanting to learn everything about prospects and consumers’ resistance to be so overtly “manipulated”. The Internet is incredibly well suited to this model. (A word to the IAB folks – this is a great initiative for you guys.)

Now a word of encouragement to those of us who have a fond, unabashed attachment to our privacy. First, it may be comforting to know that the fact that we ever had privacy as we know it (dare I say knew it), may have been a brief blip in history that we were lucky enough to experience. Second, I won’t tell you to get over it – but I will tell you to reverse your thinking about privacy. Shift your thinking from privacy concerns and onto how to manage what is public about you anyway.

Everything old is new again.

PS – I think the new Google Dashboard is a very positive step forward. See my YouTube video explaining why. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXEiOlD7Y0I

 

Judy Shapiro

http://twiitter.com/judyshapiro

What might Twitter and Facebook teach Google Wave about market success?

It’s not what you think but you’ll have to “pull” the answer out of me.

Recently, I have become fascinated with the new academic work around the paradigm shift to the “pull” form of corporate management from the more established “push” business models. This notion, which has been kicking around for a few years as far as I know, has recently become quite popular, probably helped along by recent work on the subject. One excellent white paper entitled; “From Push to Pull; emerging models for mobilizing resources” from Deloitte, authored by Hagel and Brown provides a solid conceptual basis for the clear differences in these two principles.

Here’s a brief excerpt (but I encourage a read of the whole 23 pages):

The signs are around us. We are on the cusp of a shift to a new … model that will re-shape many facets of our life, including how we identify ourselves, participate with others, connect with others, mobilize resources and learn.

Over the past century, we have been perfecting highly efficient approaches to mobilizing resources. These approaches … share a common foundation. They are all designed to “push” resources in advance to areas of highest anticipated need.

This new approach, {however} focuses on “pull” – creating platforms that help people to mobilize appropriate resources when the need arises

The white paper goes onto to describe how when resources are tight, corporate “push” models dominate because they can control and optimize precious resource consumption. But with abundant resources, comes a different model – a “pull” model where users drive the rate of consumption of resources. I’ll also point your attention to the fact that this model is grounded in our very human need for “connectivity” as I will return to this theme shortly.

Now this is heady stuff because a pull model is nothing less than a 180 degree turn on how we think about the way to run businesses today. But what’s that to do with Twitter, Facebook and Google Wave? And what in heaven’s name has that got to do with corporate management theory?

Ah – not so fast – I said you would have to pull it out of me. In fact, I may stretch your patience even further by suggesting we go on a treasure hunt and the treasure we seek is nothing less than understanding why certain technologies succeed while others fail.

Our treasure hunt begins as most do with orienting ourselves on our treasure map. In this case, our orientation lies in having a compass to help us understand that technology breakthroughs rarely happen to the company with the best idea or the smartest technology or even the most deserving goals. Nope. Most often it happens in one definable moment – when the technologically breakthrough is symbiotically coupled to fulfilling a fundamental dimension of our humanity. Technology by itself is sterile.

Ok, now that we have our bearings, let’s follow our map to uncover our buried treasure.

If we follow the Internet’s evolution in the past 10 years, no one doubts that the Internet has become a highly dependent technology for people and business world over. It enables powerful communications and connectivity capabilities, but in its current iteration, the Internet lacks the basic building blocks for meaningful connectivity — like the technological ability to establish trust. (Tangentially, the issues of trust on the Internet are complex and well articulated by  Kieron O’Hara and Wendy Hall in their September 2008 paper;  “Trust on the Web: Some Web Science Research Challenges”; (http://www.uoc.edu/uocpapers/7/dt/eng/ohara_hall.pdf.)

So users started to “pull” trust into their Internet experiences partly through the creation of trusted communities like forums, blogs, review sites and the like. That trusted community concept was quickly embraced by the public so that now almost all of us engage in some digital social community or other (see Pew Institute research on the subject). The initial pull, to create trust in online interactions, spawned the great social networking revolution we are experiencing right now. I bet some future historian will pinpoint this moment as perhaps the tipping point moment propelling other “pull” corporate models.

Returning to our treasure hunt, though, let’s see where our map has led us so far. The Internet grew so fast because it expanded personal connectivity, which then created the need for trust within this new level of connectedness which then resulted in all forms (and variations) of “trusted” communities that were only possible because the new “pull” tech platforms let people utilize technology when they need it.

Still with me?

Ok – good and now your patience will be rewarded because here is where “X” marks the spot. The treasure we have been seeking is revealed in appreciating  that when technology truly serves humanity by fulfilling some basic human need or desire (like wanting to connect), it can become a powerful force that can move fast within the ecosystem, helped along by the emerging “pull” mechanism discussed above.

This is what Twitter and Facebook can teach Google Wave. They understood how to use “technology” to satisfy our very human need to be connected within a “trusted” community. In the case of Twitter, they innovated so anyone can have a “feed” to “their” network (a.k.a. community) and in the case of Facebook, they created a way for people to create their own trusted community. In both cases, (and many others too), we see that when technology is intrinsically woven in with satisfying a fundamental human need, like the deep need to be part of a trusted community,  with an effective dispersion model like our “pull” model, you have the ingredients for success.

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. From anyone I talked to who has actually used the product, (I have not received an invitation yet, but I am a patient woman) there is an expectant hope for it – much like the expectation one might have at a party hyped to be cool but that just got started.

I hope Google Wave recognizes that people want to technology to power their trusted digital communities – and not so much their “communications and collaboration” (sounds pretty sterile doesn’t it?). I can see how this technology has the potential to truly expand our comprehension of what a trusted community can become.

The power of these converging trends – Internet, “pull’ models, trust and community – is the treasure any tech business can capture for themselves. I suspect that if anyone will know how to use this treasure it will be Google. I am rooting for them.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

Contemplative Silence

September is a time that evokes contemplation.

It is a time of new beginnings; kids start school, college or their first jobs. September is the beginning of the critical 4th qtr business cycle. And in September the Jewish New Year process (all 8 weeks of it starting with Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippor 10 days later to the final capstone of the New Year’s process with the 8-day holiday Sukkoth) occupies a fair amount of one’s waking time.

All this change and transition drives contemplation. Hence my silence for the last few weeks. But with contemplation comes inspiration and new potential to drive progress.

So what have I been thinking about?

I have been thinking about connections and how people connect in today’s super-hyped connected, digitized, info  Judy Consumersaturated world. I have been thinking about how Judy Consumer within a mere few years has had to absorb an astonishing amount “new” connection possibilities … from friends finding her (many of whom she would have rather not found her), to strangers claiming to be her friends to insta-info with Twitter and so on.

How does she think about all this connectivity? Who does she trust to start a connection with? Which connections are helpful or dangerous? When should Judy Consumer be visible to the open, social world and when should she guard her privacy?

It seems that communications innovation engine is coming at Judy Consumer at an accelerated rate – kinda like a mini version of Kurzweil’s “knee of the curve” principle outlined in the book, The Singularity is Near. In communications technology, we ain’t seen nothing yet. The new, mobile applications or the new expanding lifecasting capability from the social networking folks open a whole new horizon of connection capability for Judy Consumer.

New beginnings – you bet. But “fasten your seat belts – it’s going to be a bumpy ride”…

Judy Shapiro

www.twitter.com/judyshapiro

The centralized search model is over. Welcome to your personal search.

I was having dinner with a dear colleague one night after a long day. He was trying to explain how uTube will become the video search engine in the future and that fact was key to understanding a new way to optimize search in video. “Nothing will come close” he said.

Rather impolitely, I kept saying, actually insisting, “No – they won’t be”. He looked at me rather incredulously and not without good reason. He was well ensconced within bosom of the techno-glitteri and he moved in the high-glam world of high tech. He knew stuff about uTube that most people didn’t. I was not just challenging him; I was challenging most of the accepted wisdom of the techno Silicon Valley world; that in the internet game there will be a few search winners, Google and uTube. Game over. That belief was required for the rest of our conversation to continue.

Poor man. He could not get me to agree to that simple, well understood principle.  I could not buy into a monopolistic search belief system. I sense the centralized search model is ready to fall apart. I was not just being argumentative or combative, but I sensed a “new” trend that has been operative for 20 years was starting to asset itself and only few people seem to see it.

I call the trend, “the techno-edge effect” and the main principle is that new technologies migrate from the enterprise level to the consumer level, to the “edge”, at some point. Some simple examples to illustrate my point:

  • Corporate Audix systems (messaging systems) evolved to become consumer answering services and ultimately devices (1980s)
  • Desktop PCs became personal PCs (1990s)
  • VoIP for enterprise migrated to consumers via services like Vonage (2000s)
  • Centralized software development to crowd sourcing (2007)
  • Podcasting was a corporate activity, now anyone with a webcam can be a broadcaster (2008)
  • Centralized news service to citizen journalism (2008)
  • “Cloud” computing would have only been contemplated for business a mere few years ago – now the model of the new Netbooks is that your data is “in the clouds” (2010…)

(Enough yet? If not email me, I can send you about 2 dozen more J)

The point is that the march to the technology edge is unrelenting and undeniable. The only question is how fast a particular technology will move to the edge. One could argue that Twitter became so successful so fast because it encouraged a high level of customization and personalization – it moved out to the edge really really fast.

Very interesting, but what pray tell, does this have to do with the entrenched and well accepted belief that search will be dominated by a few centralized companies?

Everything! Because I believe technology has reached the point where we will be able to create a totally personal web not through some centralized company, but through the transformative ingredient of trust. Now that people are creating trust for themselves (via communities, blogs etc) the power is shifting relentlessly from centralized search providers, (like a Google or uTube) to distributed power of the Trusted Web.

The model of the Trusted Web and decentralized search

Instead of semantic search or intelligent search agents from big companies driving the web’s evolution, I contend that each person’s ability to drive trust into every web action will be the animating force that moves us from centralized search paradigms to a new, decentralized one. In the new model, we will be able to search better because our trusted communities are doing search for us. We can better trust sites, because people we know had good experiences and we will learn about new things on the internet with services like Twine or HopSurf that gives us ideas based on people who are similar to me.

In the future, we will rely on the power of our networks to inject trust into our search – we won’t go to Google first. If some specific event requires that I get search help from a diverse set of backgrounds, I can create a virtual, new trusted group from all my networks. We will still search internet, but we will start with our trusted network first moving out only as the need requires.

This new proactive model of creating trust is not some future, far off concept. It is happening here and now. We now use trust based content rating systems to determine what content is more trustworthy. Reputation systems allow us to better trust verified SMEs (subject matter experts) versus just any reviewer. The explosive growth of communities demonstrates how people are proactively creating trust through shared interests. Twitter, Comodo HopSurf and Twine are interesting in this decentralized model because they provide an individualized community-based “trusted information filter” to help sort through the deluge of relevant data. Forums are yet another mechanism for people to create individualized trust by letting users share experiences.

All this adds up to the inescapable trend that the techno-edge effect for the Internet is that trust will be dismantling the centralized search monolithic model we have today. We are now moving to this new trust decentralized model. A model I call the Trusted Web.

Watch this space.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

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

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