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

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

 

Multiple Digital Personality Syndrome (MDPS)

                                           

I can hear some techno-therapist reassuring his reclining client that Multiple Digital Personality Syndrome (MDPS), while serious if not properly managed, is a perfectly normal response to our unending ability to become anyone we want – whenever we want — in cyber space.

 

This new techno-malady started innocently enough about 5 years ago when we all needed to create zillion of different accounts with different emails and passwords for the sites we wanted to enter. To organize this potentially chaotic situation, we evolved different personas.

 

I, for one, have my generic email, my personal email, my work email, my linkedin and so forth. This seemingly innocent fracturing of our digital personality driven by a short term need has mutated into this new syndrome, MDPS, so that now, many of us have complex multiple personalities reflected in well designed profile pages on multiple social networking sites.

 

Now while many would look at this MDPS as a slightly amusing by-product of Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook, MySpace et al, I see danger lurking in these multiple profiles.

 

If I want good advice about a computer problem from someone I met online, it would be useful to know if this person has credentials to warrant my trust. If I enter a chat room to discuss a topic that I am passionate about, I want to chat with real people – not bots.

 

I wonder how will we learn to balance the need for accountability with the right we have to reveal only as much about ourselves as we choose. I see that this issue will play itself out over and over again in the next few years as social networks dominate how we search, how we shop, how we even meet other people.

 

Perhaps, we must create a new type of balance that starts with the human element. We must start by introducing mutual trust and authentication into the digital ID environment. Much as we have it in the real world where, dependent on the circumstance, different types of identification are used to gain different levels of access. We must translate that model into the digital world too.

 

The technologies are here … now. Web 3.0 needs to become The Trusted Web; otherwise the web will soon feel like what today many experience in inferior, bot filled chat rooms – a pseudo experience meant to emulate real interaction between real people.   

 

Let’s keep it real people. Let’s create the Trusted Web.

 

Judy Shapiro

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