Monday, March 23, 2009

Companies spy on Twitter

Although it's been around a while already, suddenly Microblogging service Twitter, is the talk of the town, overly hyped and going supernova with unsurpassed growth rates over 1300%. For those unaware of Twitter: It's nothing special. It lets you type 140 character messages to the world, or anyone who cares to read your digital farts.

Nonetheless, Twitter is getting more and more popular and getting a lot of mainstream attention as twitterers like @BreakingNewsOn often bring breaking news way ahead of traditional media. In its wake we've seen all sorts of people turning to twitter to get attention. When I say all sorts of groups, I really mean all sorts of groups. On the serious side we find (of course) Obama, the Governator, Dutch Royalty and Dutch politicians (find the list on kamertweets.nl) for instance, and on the other side of the spectrum we find a list of pornstars who'd like more than 100 character lines in movies. Over the past months I've also seen an invasion marketeers on Twitter.

Most of Twitter's richness though comes from add-on applications that allow you to search on certain topics and handle multiple streams.


Due to its nature of 140 characters max per textmessage, people are often too honest, to blunt in their statements about almost anything and the number of stories about people who got into professional trouble after their boss picked up a tweet is growing. Online Marketing and CRM company Salesforce now adds to this, in offering a new service which helps companies to spy on Twitter.

Your Customers Are Talking in the Cloud.Where do customers go for service today? More and more often, it's not the call center. What used to be everyone’s favorite way to access customer service has become a jumbled mess of touch-tone navigation and poorly trained outsourced agents. It's no wonder customers are looking elsewhere. Today, real wisdom lives in the cloud. Web communities. Twitter. Facebook. Forums. Blogs. Google. The cloud is where customers are turning for service.

Salecforce just recently launched their Service Cloud offering (January), and promised it will include Twitter in the very near future, which basically means that you pay them a bunch for doing queries on Twitter. Companies will have to pay fees in excess of $ 1.000,- per month. After two months of service, Salesforce already registers 6.800 customers for their Service Cloud offering. According to Alexandre Dayon in a Venturebeat article yesterday, there is a huge interest in listening in on Twitter:

Most people on popular microblogging site Twitter (which just turned three) have probably seen customer service-type queries from other users — questions about how to make a product work, or complaints that it’s broken. I have even posted some complaints of my own. That’s one of the reasons companies like Google have created their own Twitter accounts, and its why Salesforce.com is adding Twitter integration to its customer service product, which it calls the Service Cloud.

This, of course, is the positive, official view on the Service Cloud offering, the more realistic version is that companies want to know what is said about their products and service, not to help you, but to do damage control if a customer has been 'too honest'.

Of course, there are exceptions; official corporate representatives who are not on twitter to monitor comments on their company, but for the love of Twitter itself. These folks are usually very accessible and welcome comments about their companies.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stalking made Easy

As the social web continues to grow, and more and more people are filling in their personal details everywhere, it is no wonder specific social search engines start to pop up, which can actually turn up all kinds of embarrassing and potentially invasive information about you.

Besides making online stalking easy, specialized search engines are making it increasingly easier to combine socially shared information together into a highly detailed profile of our virtual lives. These specialized search engines go by a variety of terms such as "social search" utilities or "people search" utilities and many of them brag of their ability to search deeper than even Google. [InfoPackets]

We all see it happen, but sofar I have not seen any serious attempt at redesigning the identity management and privacy issues on the web. It will take years untill we will figure out how to tackle this problem as it will probably take a full redesign of the entire internet architecture at base level. For now, you have to take charge of your online identity. Tips and tricks on how to regain some control can be found at PC World, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Electronic Frontier Foundation.



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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Google: Put your money where your health is

Creditcrunch or no, Google keeps unleashing new products by the day it seems. Better said perhaps, keeps adding new threads to its web to pull you in. Just today I came across an article on one of the top 10 Dutch weblogs, Hyped, and noticed an article on Google Health.

Together with IBM they've worked on integrating Google Health with lots of medical appliances. Late last year I blogged about Google tracking the flu worldwide, but now they're monitoring your heartbeat as well.

In demonstrations, IBM and Google fitted Wi-Fi radios to gadgets like heart rate monitors, blood pressure cuffs, scales and blood-sugar measurement meters, allowing the devices to communicate with a PC and feed real-time medical information directly into Google’s online records. [Forbes]

When looking at the service in itself, it could definately be added value to patients and help reduce cost in healthcare. The problem I have with this service is Google. The Mountain View corp is a technology firm and a commercial one at that, regardless of all their free services and open source thingies. Google is about making money and this money making machine is getting into our lives in a pretty scary way. They know everything about you and are able to connect everything together with all their services.

I blogged about this before (In a World...), and that was even before Google Health, their flu tracking and the privacy law violating Google Latitude I haven't gotten round to blog yet. One thing is clear though; Health will be one of the money making machines on the internet in the coming decade.

In the past months there has been a huge discussion in the Netherlands about the Government and the Healthcare industry implementing the EPD, the Electronic Patient Dossier, a system in which patient files are linked together. Especially the privacy of patients has been the volatile issue in this experiment. With Google Health this conversations is outdated, as Google -oblivious of privacy rulings - makes it work.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Dutch Parliament wants age classification for online gaming

Gaming is fun, usually. Most of us gamers have our favorites we like to play, wheter it be racing, shootem ups, role playing or strategy. To me it's pretty obvious I play different games than my 4 year old daughter. She doesn't have the foggiest idea of how Civilisation V or Ceasar IV works, whereas I get bored with Dora the Explorer. But what if your child is 10, would you let it play World of Warcraft or Command and Conquer, or even bloodier games?

As with films (movies if you like), there is an age classification for games. This classification now has caused the largest political faction in the Dutch Parliament, the CDA, to inquire about age classification for internet games on several gaming portals. Member of Parliament Mirjam Sterk is convinced the government has a role to play in giving attention to this issue and has questioned minister André Rouvoet (Youth and Family) and minister Ronald Plasterk (Education, Culture and Science) according to Dutch newssite Emerce:

Parents must be able to see when a game is suited for children of various age groups. The member of parliament asks if there have been talks with the Dutch Institute for Classification of Audiovisual Media (Nicam) about the promotion of a European guide for internet games. The organisation My Child Online concluded earlier that gameportals should introduce an age classification for violent or harmful games. The foundation also concluded that gameportals often hold a lot of games which receive a Pan European Gam Information (PEGI) classification of 16+ without notifying the visitors.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

MySpace blocks sexoffenders

One of the largest social platforms, MySpace announced it has discovered and removed 90,000 sex offenders from its network. The number almost doubles the estimates MySpace made last year, according to the Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. They might be blocked, but where did they go?

MySpace is in the spotlight today because it revealed that 90,000 registered sex offenders have been kicked off its site in the past two years. But where did all of those sex offenders go? Some evidence suggests that a portion of them are now on Facebook.

The Techcrunch article cited above has a nice description of how MySpace detects sex offenders and what Facebook could learn. It also includes reactions from Facebook officials.

One of the possible avenues to explore, according to some, is that Social Networking sites block profiles of minors to older members. I'm not sure that solves the problem. We've seen reports of people lying about their age with several networking sites. It's easy to register with false information.

The problem is, we haven't got a certification authority on the web for websurfers. We've got certificates to prove the identity of websites, like those of VeriSign, but no one can vouch for the identity of surfers. This is, in my opinion, one of the priority issues to solve on the internet in the coming years.

One thing we need to be carefull about is what kind of information do we actually put up on the internet. We need to be more aware of our online Identity and our privacy. Especially youngsters should be carefull in using these sites and be taught and guided in using them. Parents need to get involved in what their kids are doing online. They have to show an interest in their kids online social life.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Crazy little thing called Privacy (1)

Privacy is such a crazy little thing. We love it, we ache for it at times, yet we throw it away like garbage every day on the internet.

To most people it has become clear that the internet isn't a sunny day at the beach without worries. In the past year we've all read the stories about identity theft, complete identities and credit cards to go with it for sale for a few bucks in Russia and what have you got.

Most of these stories we quickly forget and the ones that cling to us are the tales about children getting framed and abused through chatrooms. Mostly the discussion afterwards centers on how we need to teach our kids to be carefull on the internet, which is fine, but not good enough.

I posed the following thought on LinkedIn a few months back to ponder this idea:

"The failure of maintaining a shred of privacy is not the carelessness of the internet-generation. Primarily it is the ignorance of pre-internet generations failing to guide teenagers growing up with the net and secondly a flaw in the design of the internet"

It led to a number of interesting reactions

Interesting concept. The internet, like any consumable product, should come with a warning label "caveat emptor", but it doesn't. The pre-internet generation (the bulk of my end user community) don't generally comprehend the basics of internet use much less the imminent security concerns with using this public domain. They can't teach their children what they don't know but I do have to believe that any generation would chose to protect their offspring to the best of their ability. Going forward from here, the watchful eye of a parent certainly should be on minors using the internet and there are enough support and information tools out there to guide the less internet saavy.

Secondly, to comment on a flawed design of the internet - I have to revert back to the original intent of the internet being to provide a highly secure network for Government and use only. In designing that infrastructure it would be unreasonable to have thought that the internet would become so readily available. Clearly, the internet was never planned to grow as it has (as noted with the consumption of IP addresses leading to the IPv6 addressing plans). Perhaps flawed may not be the right word - outgrown may be better.

Liz Dowie Manager - Information Management Systems

In summary, the majority of organisations have been aware of the privacy issue for years but has taken the hard-nosed decision that it is not a priority. Even in states where there is a formal system of laws and regulations requiring adequate security, such regulations are routinely ignored and data security is compromised. I fear there is no likely change in this reality in the foreseeable future.

David Marshal Legal Consultant

The reduction in privacy in today's world (and not just on the internet) is happening because...

  • most people have no realistic idea of the degree to which it is happening and only the faintest grasp (if any!) of the technologies that make this possible.
  • in the past privacy of information was often the "default" state simply because it was too hard to do otherwise (compare and contrast the problem of opening, reading, re-sealing and forwarding millions of letters with the ease of storing and data mining hundreds of millions of e-mails)
  • too many people believe in the fallacious "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" argument

It's not a design flaw in the internet. Technologies exist to protect much about you when surfing (Tor Project, cookie management softwarecetc.) and strong encryption for e-mail has been around for ever - just that hardly anyone bothers to use it.

Teaching children to act prudently on the internet is simply an extension of decent parenting into the modern world. And, as another has observed, the "risks" they face because of the internet are often as nothing compared with other risks they face and, I believe, often grossly exaggerated.

David Dingley IT Consultant

If communication passes from one place to another, and some part of that communication is neither protected (e.g. via encryption) nor destroyed (e.g. stored in a log), the privacy of the communicators is dependent only on the ethical integrity of both ends. When one end is a company, privacy depends on the integrity of every current and former employee at that company who has/had access to the data.

Since the Internet was not designed to hide the source or recipient of a network packet (i.e. via TCP/IP), this information is very difficult to obscure without a long series of trusted network proxies.

Sadly, most products - Internet or otherwise - that involve some level of communication are not designed with the privacy of the communicators in mind. This is true of everything from messages sent between national leaders in the ancient world to the original telegraph to the modern Internet. After all, communication is pointless if you don't know who you're communicating with.

As for teenagers on the web, most modern "social" websites encourage listing of personal information. After all, I can't "friend" you on MySpace or Facebook unless I know your real name, or at least your email address. Teenagers are usually aware that there will be some loss of privacy upon signing up for these services, but either accept the risk or do not recognize it exists. To their credit, these services do a decent job protecting those who do not want to be found. Hiding somebody who wants to be found, while still allowing them to be found by those who legitimately should find them is a difficult problem.

The use of aliases, which ensures some level of privacy via Instant Messenger, represents a severe hindrance to any real social networking. This would be analogous to you and all of your adult friends going to a bar, wearing black hooded robes and voice manipulators, and then referring to yourself only by ever-changing code names.

Devin Rosenbauer Software Engineer

There is privacy on the Internet depending on the choices you make. In most cases an online transaction be that purchasing something online, joining a social network or sending emails has privacy as an element of that transaction. In order to buy those goods you surrender your privacy surrounding your personal details to recieve those goods, you also probably use a credit card which means that you transactions are noted by your credit card issuer and finally sites may keep track of your activity to suggest recommended goods on your next visit.

This is no different from the physical world where you purchase items by credit card and perhaps use a loyalty card in the store. Joining a social network, e.g. Linkedin, also has its privacy transaction costs. You want the benefits of a social network then you need to surrender your personal details to become part of that network. In real life you join social clubs, meet friends in public places where you also trade part of your privacy to take part in the group.

Some will argue that governments monitoring of Internet usage etc. is a breach of privacy, e.g. EU Data Retention Directive and that your ISP knows all your activity from their system logs, e.g. the recent Phorm controvery in the UK.

This is true but you can still take measure to protect your privacy online using various techniques such as anonymous proxies, never using your real name online, never purchasing items online and not joining any social networks or forums. You can control your privacy on the web, the question needs to be asked, at what cost?

Brian Honan CERT Team head

(All respondends agreed to be named in this article)

As I realize this piece is getting longer than anyone wants to read on the internet I'll go into these responses in follow up posts. I also would like to dig into the phenomenon of lifebloggers like iJustine who have a near 24/7 internet presence and what impact that has on privacy.

Meanwhile, I'd like to invite you to comment and add your thoughts on Privacy on the internet.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

How to crack online banking

It's time to check your bank if you are banking online. With a bit of bad luck, it isn't safe anymore. Last week I ran into an article on Dutch Tech Magazine Emerce on a security breach in SSL.

SSL Certificate Security Breach

To most people, SSL sounds like a privacy guarantee on the web. Sites like webshops and banks have a secure connection to the internet and have an SSL certificate issued by a CA (Certification Authority) like Verisign or DigiNotar. Hoewever, a team of researchers from the Dutch University of Eindhoven, the CWI (Center of Mathematics and Computer Science), EPEL in Switzerland and independent researchers from California have discovered how to crack the code. They discovered

...that one of the standard cryptographic algorithms, which is used to check digital certificates is subject to abuse. The algorithm in question is the MD5 algorithm. Malicious persons may create a file with a digital signature which is trusted by all major web browsers. The researchers made this use of advanced mathematics and a cluster of more than two hundred game computers.

and

The researchers discovered the security breach which, in combination with the known KAMINSKY vulnerability in the Domain Name System (DNS), can make it difficult to detect phishing attacks.

Crunching Fortis all the way.

In short, if your bank uses an MD5 based SSL certificate, your privacy may be compromised. A quick survey of the methods used by Dutch banks learns that most of them already use the SHA encryption. One of the few exceptions is the troubled Fortis Bank. Fortis is going to a lot of bad weather ever since the acquired (part of) the ABN Amro bank. They were the first Dutch bank to get in trouble due to the credit crunch and the Dutch and Belgian parts have been separated, the Dutch part being taken over by the Dutch Government. They also had to settle for nearly a billion dollar in the Dutch mortgage scandal and also lost about a billion in the Madoff fraud.

MD5 and SHA algorithms

To most of the digitally educated it has been clear for some time that the MD5 encryption in passwords for instance isn't the best practise on the web anymore and have moved over to the more secure SHA-2 and the upcoming SHA-3 encryption algorithms.

  • Read the original Emerce article in Dutch here.
  • Read the Google translation here.

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Privacy and Social Networks

It's been quiet on the MindBlizzard blog during the past two weeks. I've enjoyed the holiday season and spent some time with the family skating and stuff. That doesn't mean nothing interesting has happened during the past weeks though.

Let me start off with wishing you all the best for 2009. I hope you'll have fun on the web.

One of the things I just ran into was a video of the Office of the Privacy Commisioner of Canada which made an excellent video about Privacy and Social Networks and shows that harvesting of personal data keeps going on and on...

A couple of great thoughts about this video have been put up by Digital ID Coach Judi,

Coaching moment: There are two sides to this problem. On one side are the account holders of these social networking sites. They are busy disclosing their interests, connections, and lives. These account holders may not realize that they are being mapped and sold out to the extent that they are. Perhaps they think it’s ok.

On the other side are the businesses that run these sites. They have Terms of Service (TOS) contracts that account holders agree to, whether they read the terms or not. The businesses engage in harvesting and selling practices that benefit their bottom line. (Would you expect anything less? They are businesses, and this is one way that it’s done.) The problem is that the buying and selling of account holder data is not transparent to the account holders.

Read the full article here.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Experts on The Future of the Internet (1)

Timing is everything, but I see I get fed interesting news at wrong times all the time. Just as I was about to hit the sack early, @malburns put up another interesting link on twitter on a recently published report by the Pew Research Center.

A survey of internet leaders, activists and analysts shows they expect major technology advances as the phone becomes a primary device for online access, voice-recognition improves, artificial and virtual reality become more embedded in everyday life, and the architecture of the internet itself improves.They disagree about whether this will lead to more social tolerance, more forgiving human relations, or better home lives.

Here are the key findings in a new report based on the survey of experts by the Pew Internet & American Life Project that asked respondents to assess predictions about technology and its roles in the year 2020.

The overview and report is filled with captains of industry in the internet market, and I do believe they put up a likely scenario, but it's the wrong scenario. To be blunt, it's crap.

Why is it a likely scenario?

It is a likely scenario as most of the experts questioned are making a ton of money from the way the internet works right now. They have everything to gain in keeping the way things are. Just slight improvements, no big changes.

Why is it a wrong scenario?

Let's have a look at a few remarks from the report. I hope I'll find the time somewhere to get into these in detail later.

"You cannot stop a tide with a spoon. Cracking technology will always be several steps ahead of DRM and content will be redistributed on anonymous networks."

- Giulio Prisco, chief executive of Metafuturing Second Life, formerly of CERN

Cracking technology will always be several steps ahead of DRM as long as record labels sell content at rip off prices. Consumers, music lovers and fans will very likely to be willing to pay reasonable prices for works of art, directly to the artists. As long as record companies take in the motherload and throw a few pennies to the artists, no wonder we'll see piracy till the end of days. Music and other IP-protected material will likely to be distributed at fair prices through social networks in 2020.

"Viciousness will prevail over civility, fraternity, and tolerance as a general rule, despite the build-up of pockets or groups ruled by these virtues. Software will be unable to stop deeper and more hard-hitting intrusions into intimacy and privacy, and these will continue to happen."

- Alejandro Pisanty, ICANN and Internet Society leader and director of computer services at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

This is so true when you make money of the current internet architecture. ICANN stands for The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and is the organisation responsible for domain name registrations, a business worth 25 Billion dollars a year. Sure you won't give away your source of income if it would benefit the world and the safety of your children?

The group of experts is sure the internet will not be redesigned, they have a Laissez faire mentality to the architectural faults of the internet when it comes to privacy, protecting our children from evil as it is a multi billion dollar industry that gets into their own pockets. Alternatives are readily available, for instance the Handle architecture, orginally designed by Dr. Robert (Bob) Kahn who invented the TCP protocol and worked out the IP protocol along with Vint Cerf, hence, in creating the TCP/IP protocol laid the foundation for the current internet.

Almost every answer given in the Pew Research Report on the Future of the Internet III (and I must admit I skimmed the report due to the late hour) is the obvious answer. Obvious from the line of work the respondents are in, but failing to take a few things into consideration.

The most important oversight is that the outcome of the report is an extrapolation of current trends without paying attention to the equivalently growing deficits. Yes sure, it's easy to predict that the web will get more and more mobile, it is a trend that has already started. However, take into account that more and more we hear about Identity Theft and abuse of personal data. Take into consideration another trend that Governments and Social Networking platforms alike are tying together more and more databases and more of our real and digital identities will be up for grabs. Take into consideration the safety of your children from perverted souls and all screams for a redesign, a place which is focussed and built upon protection of your personal data. This is the plug in the ocean that needs to be pulled.

As said, it's getting late and I hope I'll find time to explore this report some more. Take care andtake heed ;)


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Monday, December 15, 2008

Sony fined 1M for collecting Child Data

Last week I blogged on an article in the Dutch Technology magazine Emerce on a plea to clean personal data from databases in the article "Personal Data Expiry", and today I came across an article with more or less the same implications.

The article reports Sony Music getting fined 1 million dollar for collecting and using personal data of minors without parental permission. As the automated Google translation as usual is kind of crappy, here's my translation of the highlights.

The music company was indicted by the U.S. regulator FTC on tuesday and agreed to a settlement of 1 million dollars on thursday. In this settlement. Sony Music admits that it has violated privacy rules against minors.

Sony Music has collected sensitive personal data without parental consent since 2004. Through 196 websites from artists like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera the company acquired names, addresses, mobile phone numbers and birth dates from 30.000 children aged under 13. This data was reused at other websites and sometimes even published.

The 1 million dollar fine breaks up into a $33 penalty per child, but it is unclear how much profit Sony makes of minors. The record company now is obliged to have its databases cleared of all unlawfully gained personal data.

In collecting this data Sony has violated the socalled Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a law which must protect children under 13 (ed. probably best known from the Coppa declaration you have to fill in with every forum you register with). All bodies that collect personal information and process it must comply to a fixed set of measures. They are, for example, obliged to do 'a reasonable'
attempt to do the age check.

Sticky thing here is, what do you consider to be a reasonable attempt to verify? We do not have a signing authority for surfers, like we have VeriSign for website owners. You don't have to be really really smart to surf around the web pretty anonymously and spoof whatever data is required. Age Verification, Geoblocking and other protective measures we've put on the web are usually nothing more than a farce, an extra feature to make you feel secure.
  • Read the original article in Dutch here
  • Read the Google translation here.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Plaxo looking for the People Layer

A few weeks ago I made a few remarks about the new fanpages on plaxo (currently in beta) on twitter, which got picked up by John McCrea, head of Marketing at Plaxo. About the same time I blogged Yahoo's oneConnect in which I wondered what the differences were with services like Plaxo.
In my book, Plaxo didn't have the best of starts, as it carried the smell of Napster. Way back in 2004 David Coursey wrote a (2nd) article on Plaxo, titled "Plaxo Reconsidered" at eWeek.com.

The big issue was that one of Plaxos co-founders, now departed, was also a co-founder of Napster. That company, of course, was basically about enabling people to steal other peoples intellectual property. My own opinion is that some Napster people should have ended up in jail. After the Napster meltdown, Plaxo was positioned as the "next big thing" for this ex-Napster exec. That publicity helped Plaxo raise $20 million in venture money and gave the new company more credibility than it would otherwise have had.

I don't want to get into the Napster story here, and just concentrate on Plaxo. I think the Napster background serves well in positioning the founders as being early experts in networking and understanding the power of virals. What I wonder though is, what were the initial thoughts on Plaxo? What was it that the founders envisioned. What was Plaxo supposed to do, or grow into? And what's still standing of that original conception?

Although I was not there at the time (as I joined in 2006), the original concept was to help people stay connected by leveraging the power of a networked address book. But not just another online address book, one that synced with the various tools you used, like Microsoft Outlook or the Mac address book. The vision is still pretty much the same, but the challenges of staying connected have expanded in a world of many different social apps. That’s what gave rise to Pulse, the first social web aggregator, which brings your address book to life, with feeds from your connections from all over the Web. What’s interesting to note is that the original “grand vision” observed that the Internet was missing a “people layer.” Now, as web itself is going social, and the Social Web is going open, that grand vision is looking smarter with each passing month, as we help a new “Open Stack” of OpenID, OAuth, XRDS-Simple, Portable Contacts, and OpenSocial come together to enable exactly that.

Another quote from the Coursey article:

Given that I consider Napster money and influence to be tainted, I was immediately concerned about Plaxo, especially when I couldnt imagine how they could turn the company into a huge moneymaker without doing something shady.

There were other things Plaxo did, such as keeping track of how many information requests Id received and using the number in e-mails to try to convince me to sign-up. That seemed a bit like stalking and, along with a few comments and rumors Id heard about the company, only intensified my concern.

His initial hesitation against Plaxo is one I share, but this wasn't untill sometime early 2007, when I started receiving tons of invites untill finally almost everyone in my company was using Plaxo, so I signed up also. I reckon many people have felt that initial hesitation. Did it affect the way you did business in any way, did it temper your expectations for the platform? When most invites at that time were generated by my professional network, I assumed Plaxo would take on the competition with LinkedIn for instance, being a profiling site plus extra features to lifelog. When looking at the current profiling options, it looks like it's somewhere in between LinkedIn and Facebook. Was Plaxo aimed at professionals to take on the competition with LinkedIn?

Plaxo has always had a broader vision than simply “business networking.” We are keenly focused on providing a better way to stay connected with the people you know and care about, rather than being a service that is for “networking” or connecting with people you don’t know.

The latest addition to Plaxo are the fanpages in which you can sign up as fan of a tv series. Right now this feature is only available to US residents. Are there any plans to go beyond GEO blocking and make this feature available worldwide?

The geographic restrictions are not Plaxo-specific, but rather come from the content sources. You’ll note that everyone in the space is dealing with the same issue.
[to work around geoblocking read this blogpost on hotspot shield]
Considering this latest addition, is Plaxo moving away from say LinkedIn and moving closer to Facebook, from business oriented to more social oriented?

We aren’t moving toward or away from either company. We are continuing to move further down the path that we started upon back in 2002.

From the Coursey article again:

Plaxos current mission is to reach 10 million users and $10 million in annual revenue as quickly as possible. Right now they are at more than 3 million users and essentially zero revenue. The Plaxo execs asked that I not pre-announce their forthcoming products, but they discussed them in enough detail that I have great confidence that Plaxo wont abuse its customers. A key part of their plan is finding other services that Plaxo customers would be willing to pay for. There is no plan to discontinue the free service, only to add revenue-producing products to the offering.

Well, I figure you've more than doubled the 10m users now, but where are we with revenues? This previous quote, as well as the first one about the 20m VC gets me thinking about the Business Case behind Plaxo. I've discussed this with colleagues of mine. Maybe it's because we're Dutch, but we just can't see where the money is to be made. Signing up is free, there are hardly any adds and datatraffic streaming all the lifestreams must be huge. Where's the return on investment for Plaxo?

The return on investment for the investors in Plaxo came earlier this year when the company was acquired by Comcast. Our current business model is a combination of Premium services and advertising.

What can you tell about new features for Plaxo? What are must haves for you?

As you may have noticed, Plaxo shows up in the majority of news announcements around opening up the Social Web. Plaxo is today one of the largest and most prominent OpenID Relying Parties (sites that accept OpenID). With Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, and MySpace really heating up the OpenID space working on a great end-to-end OpenID user experience is an area of critical focus. And that’s really all about getting not just the sign-on piece right, but leveraging the whole Open Stack to make onboarding to a new site as frictionless, secure, and useful as possible.

I'd like to think I've got a pretty big digital footprint and participate in dozens of social networks and platforms. Initially I thought that Plaxo had a number of advantages. One was that it gave you more flexibility in managing groups than LinkedIn and you that with the new Pulse you could plug into tons of services. However, when I look at my own usage of Plaxo, I just plug in and let it stream, and it's what I see happening with dozens of colleagues. We sign up, use it for contacts, but that's it. In a way, Plaxo is converging channels into one stream, just like most sociall apps right now. This is, I believe the design flaw in the current web 2.0 landscape.In the past year I've thought a great deal about web 2.0 and how we deal with it, how we use it. We spread our names all over the web, signing up everywhere and leaving parts of ourselves all over. The major issues we have to deal with -in my opinion - are privacy and identity management which need to be elevated from a classical corporate solution to be web 2.0 ready. At plaxo, you've got millions of users putting private information into your databases. How do you deal with this? Where do you see Privacy going in this changing information age?

As you can imagine, privacy, security, and trust are critical to the success of our service. We have one of the strongest privacy policy’s in the industry. And we are focused on giving users fine-grained control of what they share with whom. Hence, not every relationship is forced under the term “friend”. When you give people a choice of family, friend, business, it unlocks a lot of sharing that would not be possible otherwise.

As LinkedIn now is gearing up with adding more collaborative tools, it will be pretty interesting to see what the competition will bring us, users and if the world is big enough for multiple players in the market. To be honest, I have spent more time and energy on my LinkedIn profile than I did with my Plaxo account, and although lately I'm starting to favor Plaxo a bit more, I think it's just not good enough yet to relocate my digital self. Both Plaxo and LinkedIn, as well as Facebook and oneConnect still have too many design flaws in common where it comes to Identity Management for me. At this time, they're players in the same yard to me, with each addition the scales might be tilting slightly, but I don't predict a big landslide here in the near future.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Connect - Again?

It's been around for a while, but somehow it hasn't reached critical mass yet in Europe. It was not untill yesterday that I noticed Yahoo had a nice new app out on the web: oneConnect. It was launched as early as februar this year.

Yahoo has upped the ante in its campaign to rule the mobile Web.

On Tuesday, the company announced at the GSMA Mobile World Congress here OneConnect, a new tool that allows mobile phone users to aggregate their social-networking updates and messaging in one spot on their phones. The service integrates directly with a phone user's address book and allows people to share status updates and messages from a variety of messaging and social-networking platforms. This means it can provide status updates from Facebook or MySpace.com as well as provide access to e-mail and archived instant-messaging chats. [Read full article here at CNet]



Okay, here we go again. Time for yet another tribal migration, another MeToo social networking app where we can leave our personal data up for grabs. Right now every new web 2.0 app is about converging streams, plugging things into something else, creating more of the same data stream, to pretty much the same people. Why is this different than say Facebook, or Plaxo?

Let's have a look at some of the features.

There is a distinct difference. oneConnect does connect. It doesn't require building a new profile like Facebook, LinkedIn and Facebook. It simply leverages my existing social networks in their current states which saves me going through the hassle of importing contacts and extensive profiling once more.

oneConnect services the usual stuff, converging contacts and lifestreams from multiple sources, but also adds some new features into the mix.

This is what I consider oneConnect's biggest advantage over the existing competition, it allows you to post across different platforms. Better yet, it let's you select which platform you want to push your content to. And although we often use these platforms for specific purposes, often we'd like to update our status to all of our networks, or just to announce a new blogpost without starting up Pownce, Twitter and Jaiku.

Another new one (to my knowledge) in the social space is the integration with Instant Messaging applications making oneConnect one of the most versatile communication platforms out there at the moment.

Now does this all make oneConnect the next killer app for the web? Not yet. It isn't stable yet, it's buggy and has performance issues. It doesn't support enough feeds or services yet and you're pretty limited in the amount of contacts you can add.

Aside from the number of feeds and sources to leverage, there are a few other things that are still lacking to get the next revolution going. We still need some innovation to make the next level of social networking. Yes, oneConnect has some nice extra features over other lifestream aggregators and social portals but it isn't enough to herald a new massive tribal migration on the web just yet.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Enterprise mode? Why Bother?

After I heard 3Di is releasing an Enterprise version of Opensim, I read up on a couple of blogposts about getting the virtual workspace ready for business to prep my blogpost on 3Di (previous post). Most of these blogposts (including my own ramblings about making things fit for business) are very serious about this with all sorts of tea-circles and self-help-group-like things like the Interoperability Forum and groups like Professional Second Lifers, Virtual World Roadmap and Association of Virtual Worlds on LinkedIn and so on.

Don't get me wrong here. Virtual Worlds need serious pondering to make them fit for business. Companies do need privacy in certain areas. Think of what would happen if you could walk in, or eavesdrop on a session between a bank and a wealthy customer on how to invest his money, but every once in a while it would be good to take a step back, look at what you're doing and have a good laugh. Raph Koster did a very nice blogpost in which he wonders why we would have Enterprise VW's. Here's some quotes:

Enterprise VW's - do they suck ?

Second Life technology continues its slow move towards being an enterprise solution with the announcement that the SL-derived OpenSim project is getting commercialized by 3Di. Enterprise was a big buzzword this year at the Virtual Worlds conf in Hollywood. (Of course, in the midst of it, someone had to ask “what is enterprise anyway?” It means “selling VWs to businesses”). The penny has also dropped for some users that SL itself seems to be trending in this direction — as Tateru Nino writes on Massively,

When you look at the hiring of Tom Hale, the ongoing hiring of enterprise sales and marketing staff, and the licensing of the Immersive Workspaces product from Rivers Run Red, this all seems to signal a clear direction for where Linden Lab is taking Second Life. Clearer than anything else we’ve seen in a year, certainly.

Of course, we have also seen Forterra and their OLIVE platform (derived originally from the There.com codebase) continue to focus on this area over several years, with particular success in work for the military.

and

"So, no, the dream isn’t dead. Consumer virtual worlds are still coming on strong, despite the focus on enterprise lately. It may be that part of the reason why these slightly older worlds and platforms are having to shift is that they are simply the wrong design for the consumer space, and the future belongs to stuff that looks more like Lively, Whirled, SmallWorlds, Vivaty, and yes, Metaplace. I sure hope so, because the very different architecture choices made there can grow back to the big immersive experiences, but I am unsure that the big architectures can shrink down to the smaller needs of the ordinary person."

read the full article

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Virtual Banking (17): Banca MPS

Banca MPS

Amidst all the turmoil on the financial markets I decided to see if there has been any chance in the status of a couple of banks I spotted a while ago in Second Life. The sim is called Banca MPS, which stands for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SPA

"Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SPA (MPS) is the oldest surviving bank in the world. Founded in 1472 by the Magistrate of the city state of Siena, Italy, it has been operating ever since. Today it consists of approximately 1,800 branches, 28,000 employees and 4.5 million customers in Italy, as well as branches and businesses abroad. A subsidiary, MPS Finance, handles consumer finance.

Its headquarters in the Palazzo Salimbeni in Siena are host to a magnificent art collection and a large number of priceless historical documents spanning the centuries of its existence. However, this collection is not usually open to the public" [wikipedia]

On the sim you see a complex of buildings, in which nothing much happens. I've spotted this sim about a year ago and the evolution has been slow. Yet the the detail on the buildings is pretty good.

As I couldn't get in, I couldn't explore the buildings. However, I could peek through the opened doors allowing me to get a view of classical Italian paintings. I suspect this is the collection Wikipedia refers to. If the Real Life collection is not usually open to visitors, giving them a free entrance in Second Life would probably be a good thing. So why not open up folks?

In the Netherlands, Banca MPS is primarily known for acquiring Banca Antonveneta from Grupo Santander late 2007, which took over a part of the Dutch ABN Amro Bank, which in its turn had just aquired Antonveneta, making it the first non-italian takeover in the industry in Italy

(Okay, this is a soap... ABN AMRO was taken over by a trio of banks, aside from Santander, these were Barclays and Fortis. The latter of which is now being rescued by Belgian, Dutch and Luxemburgh governments and there are talks of selling the ABN Amro part again at a severe loss, most likely to the Dutch ING or French BNP Parisbas).

SLURL: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Banca%20MPS/128/128/0

Banca Transylvania

The second bank on my list is Banca Transylvania, but this one is also closed for public. It has no neighbouring sims so I couldn't get any snapshots of that one. Hopefully someone can give me a few pointers.

SLURL http://slurl.com/secondlife/Banca%20Transylvania/128/128/0

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

In a world...

"In a world where man fought machine... and machine won...".

Imagine this to be the opening line of a movie trailer, with the voice of Don Lafontaine, the king of voice-overs who just passed away, and you'll be sitting up straight, ready to watch a blockbuster movie, like Terminator - Judgement Day. Well, maybe you are. We're watching the Terminator-Google Mashup.

The Google Empire

Yesterday I blogged about the newly released Google Chrome browser ready to take on Internet Explorer and Firefox. I'm noticing I'm using Google products more and more often. It almost scares me how much I like Google products. It probably started because of my dislike of Microsoft, being too big and too dominant, but now Google itself is becoming such a monolith. Google gets into your life.

  • Google Search: They know what you do on the internet, know your interests (even your most private ones).
  • Google Mail: They get into your email, know your contacts and the contents of your mail.
  • Google Docs: Now they know even the things you don't mail and it won't be long untill the Google writer and spreadsheets move into the office space.
  • Google Android: Has the power to compete with the top producers of the mobile phone market. Now they can also follow your phone conversations and know where you are.
  • Google AdSense: They try to gigure out what you do, add sense to it and create desires in you to buy. It won't be long untill AdSense gets into your banking account to cross-advertise on every purchase you've made.
  • Google CheckOut: Now they're not only advertising you tyo buy products, they actually start making the transactions too.
  • Google Maps: Along with their mobile technology they know where you are, and where you wanna go. project this into...
  • Google Earth: and they'll have a 3D rendering of you and everything around you. It's Big Brother watching you.

It's SkyNet

Is Google turning out to be the Skynet of the present, moving towards domination? In Science Fiction and Cyberpunk novels (such as Neuromancer) we see that massive companies rule the world and have taken over command from national governments, often creating a dystopian society. The question is: "is it Science Fiction, or is it becoming reality?"

If you read Adjiedj Bakash, Hollands premier trendwatcher, it is becoming reality. he observes the birth of a new economic world order as one of the big megatrends of the next decade. I'm not sure if we're there yet, but it's starting to look very creepy with Google at the helm. Maybe it isn't Paradise lost yet, but it sure is Privacy Lost.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

True Web2.0 still to come


All around the world we’re talking about Web 2.0. Almost everything is 2.0 these days. In the blogosphere we all get excited about every new web 2.0 app. But really, what’s web 2.0?


2.0 means there was a 1.0, and old web. However, the web hasn’t been closed a single day to migrate it’s content to a new release. So technically we don’t have a new web. It’s usage has changed. The way we use the web and the content we use and put on it has changed. The web hasn’t. But it will. It has to. True web 2.0 still needs to come in my opinion. The contemporary social networks and usergenerated content change our way of working with the net and is raising new questions, asking for new standards.


A little while ago I wrote that web 2.0 is chaos. It’s going from site to site, registering hether and tether, inviting old friends over and over again to join and meeting new friends. It’s getting too complicated. Too much going on to keep track. In the process we get sloppy with our identity. Do some good searches on the net, add profile data from one site with info from the other site. Throw in a good whois lookup and it’s easy enough to put together a complete profile and history on someone. Perhaps even enough to start making educated guesses about passwords.


The web itself, it’s core isn’t ready for web 2.0. Web 2.0 needs to be more closed than the current web when it comes to privacy.


This is a first blog on why web 2.0 still has to come. More will follow soon

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Metaversed uncloackes

This week we saw a sudden change at Metaversed as its spiritual father 57 Miles and cowriter Onder Skall, from Second Life Games came out of the closet and revealed their true identities.

"Caleb and I have been talking about moving to our real names on the site for some time. It seems short sighted to use Second Life avatar names on a virtual worlds news site. Though there is a downside to diluting two fairly strong brands, I think it feels right. And that's good enough reason to do it.

You can see Caleb's profile here and my updated profile here if you're interested in our backgrounds, and find out more about Metaversed authors, including how to become one," according to Nick Wilson, f.k.a. 57 Miles.

Now how does this work out? 57 Miles is indeed a strong, known brand in Second Life after months of labor, spending too much time in Second Life and blogging like crazy.

For my part, I already knew 57's true identity, as it wasn't hard to get hold on. So nothing new to me personally. And I do like the real Nick. On the other hand it leaves you wonder on privacy on the web. I've mentioned Web 2.0 is getting hard to handle. This not only counts for keeping up with many sites, blogs, email accounts and IM's, but it sure is having an impact on managing your identity. Privacy in Web 2.0 or Web 3D is hard.

Managing your identity is hard, but keeping up appearances even harder. Just Google for VeeJay Burns and you're bound to stumble on my true identity sooner or later as well. I've wondered why Ian Hughes, IBM's metaverse guru was so open about his identities at the eightbar blog. The answer is obvious: If you know and use Google, it isn't hard to find out the truth anyway.

In short, if you're trying to protect your privacy, don't get into web 2.0 or web 3D at all ;)

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