Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Privacy ain’t dead yet

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Last couple of months I have found myself giving several talks on privacy. This isn’t exactly news as I have been banging on that drum for ages, but there does seem to be more interest in privacy and requests to talk about the topic.

This may be because people are realising how elusive privacy becomes as the web platforms are turning the screws on user data they have accumulated. I am looking at you, Facebook, though Facebook is not the only perp in town…

The first talk on the topic, which I enjoyed very much was the one I gave in June to the Oxford Libertarian Society. I tried to cover various notions of privacy and argued that privacy is to identity what freedom is to morality – the latter can’t exist without the former. Here’s the text in full.

Oxford Libertarian Society talk on privacy

My second recent talk on privacy was at LIFT France 2010, as part of the session called Privacy Revisited, Protect and Project with Daniel Kaplan, the founder of FING and Alma Whitten, Google’s Engineering Lead for Privacy. It is a sign of a good session where one learns much from the other speakers. After watching Alma’s interesting presentation, it occurred to me that in the world of web platforms and clouds, even ones that are trying to be benign, privacy boils down to something I should have opened my talk with…

Privacy is never having to delete things you don’t want anyone to see.

LIFT France Privacy

LIFT Privacy Talk

Aroxo – say what you’ll pay.. and get higher price offer

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A couple of weeks ago I signed up for Aroxo, which is a new site for matching buyers and sellers. One description says it’s like eBay but for both, the seller and the buyer. I liked the sound of that so I tested it by creating a request for a camera – an upgrade of my existing one – Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40.


I set the price at lower than best retail price as found at Google because I wanted to a) test the system and b) was prepared to settle for less than perfect packaging etc. A few days later I got an ‘offer’.


I was suprised to see that Aroxo thought £209 plus p&p was a match to my £170. Fair enough, as I can negotiate the offer, and so in preparation I googled the camera and found out that £209 plus p&p is nowhere near the lowest price around, let alone an offer I can’t refuse. What I didn’t expect to find is that the seller made an offer on Aroxo that was higher than the price offered on their site!


So I contacted the seller:

Date: 18/05/2009
Subject: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40

I guess, thank you for your response though puzzled about something. UK Digital’s price (which seems to be you judging from your email: price on their site is £205. So why is your ‘offer’ to me higher at £209?

Also, FYI Amazon sells it for £204.99 free delivery.

More importantly, I am interested in buying the camera for well below the quoted price. I am testing Aroxo’s ability to connect me with sellers who need to move stock at discounted price and/or have unboxed cameras (but still new). I am not interested in Aroxo as another ‘marketing’ channel for sellers who offer prices higher than on their sites.

Caveat emptor is still valid. And Google is still your (shopping) friend. :)

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this I received a reply from the seller:

Date: 18/05/2009
Subject: Re:Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40
Click to view Offer
Hi Adriana,

Yes we are UK Digital Cameras, (but the link you gave was to another company UK Digital). We are also at £204.99 plus delivery on our site:

The price on our website has dropped since we sent the offer – hence the difference. Feel free to send me a negotiation and see what happens!

Also – let me know if you want a quote from me about Aroxo on your blog post.



So I stand corrected and kudos for willingness to engage i.e. quote for my blog post. Will negotiate and update the post if anything interesting happens.

Enabling vs Providing

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Talking to Doc earlier this week, I tried to explain my unease with various interpretations of VRM that come thick and fast as the concepts gain traction by identifying the fundamental problem.*

It is the assumption that “the individual needs to be provided for” that I see everywhere other than on the social (or live) web where the demand side can, and often does, supply itself, where users can and often do become creators, where the audiences have become distributors, and intermediaries of all kinds are melting away from decentralised networks and direct connections. Alas, even on the web, it’s not all P2P roses – my online existence is scattered across many platforms, Google, WordPress, Flickr, Dopplr, Twitter, and many more.

Most VRM approaches or implementations I have seen involve a third party as a provider. I believe we first need to focus on changing the relationships between individuals and companies or institutions. First comes redressing the balance – manually, as it were – by helping individuals relate to companies in ways that change companies’ behaviour.

Most of all, I want to avoid using technology to address a non-technology problem, using automation or aggregation for the aspects of relationships which should be processed by a human mind. I want to avoid jumping straight into ‘industrial’ processing of data treasures found on the customer side. We need a more balanced relationships with vendors and institutions, with different tools and possibly rules of interaction. Then we can look at ways to rationalise the technology and processes that help us create and maintain those relationships.

The most common solutions for providing individuals with online services are based around centralised databases or platforms. They are suspect on security and privacy grounds even though they may be created by a trustworthy party. So, any framework or structure provided by a third party that is meant to provide a place for individuals to create, gather, manage and share data as well as allowing a degree of aggregation, connectivity, will have to have in-built checks and balances as it may ultimately expose individuals to potential data-mining (whether the more private among us like it or not!). The challenge is to separate the data storage provider and a services/application provider. If I let someone store or back up my data – reluctantly admitting it may still be necessary for now – I would want them to store my data only, and not push or even provide any other apps based on that data. I should then be able to choose and apply whatever application I want, to my data, at my convenience.

Jason Scott of ASCII has a juicy way of putting this:

This is about your data. This is about your work. This is about you using your time so that you make things and work on things and you trust a location to do “the rest” and guess what, here is what we have learned:

  • If you lose your shit, the technogeeks will not help you. They will giggle at you and make fun of your not understanding the fundamental principles and engineering of client-server models. This is kind of like firemen sitting around giggling at you because you weren’t aware of the inherent lightning-strike danger of improperly bonded CSST.
  • Since the dawn of time, companies have hired people whose entire job is to tell you everything is all right and you can completely trust them and the company is as stable as a rock, and to do so until they, themselves are fired because the company is out of business.
  • You are going to have to sit down and ask yourself some very tough questions because the time where you could get away without asking very tough questions with regard to your online presence and data are gone.

And his advice further into the wonderful rant is even juicier:

  • Insult, berate and make fun of any company that offers you something like a “sharing” site that makes you push stuff in that you can’t make copies out of or which you can’t export stuff out of. They will burble about technology issues. They are fucking lying. They might go off further about business models. They are fucking stupid. Make fun of these people, and their shitty little Cloud Cities running on low-grade cooking fat and dreams. They will die and they will take your stuff into the hole. Don’t let them.

…but is no less sound for it!

Please, let’s have more of enabling and less of mere providing.

* as described in the paper A VRM journey.

cross-posted from VRM Hub

Signing up with OpenID

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Now and then I give OpenID a go but I do find it cumbersome to say the least. In an experimentation fit I used it to sign in to Plaxo, and every time I log in, it’s a several step process. So much for saving the user time and effort.

MindMeister mindmapping software has an OpenID option for signing in. I thought – ooh, it would be convenient to just put in my OpenID and not worry about yet another username/password etc. Perhaps there is something to this. I even remembered my OpenID URL…

But no luck this time, this is what I got.


Additional Information: Because your OpenID provider didn’t send all the information we need in order to create your account please fill out the fields to the left.

Arrgh! Why put an OpenID sign-in option on a page, if the website doesn’t actually accept it?! The point of OpenID should be not only about the convenience of signing-in process but also about my ability to decide what information is provided throughout. FAIL.

cross-posted from VRM Hub.

Social web & tools

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Earlier this week I did two sessions (workshops only in the name as there was a stage and audience) at Online Marketing & Media08 show at Business Design Center in London. Here are a few slides that I used to introduce the workshop before I went into a more practical demonstration of the tools themselves.

My in Wordle

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Couldn’t get it any bigger, so if interested, click on the graphic.

And here is the Mine! paper in Wordle.

Where does the Twitter love come from?

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Nat Torkington asks on O’Reilly Radar:

…we want Twitter to succeed, so even when there’s armchair engineerly it’s largely good-natured. It feels like we’re on Twitter’s side, and that’s an amazing and rare thing for a company to have. Any other startup and the users would have bolted to any of the improbably-named Twitter-clone startups after Twitter’s first weekend with no tweets. Any thoughts about what they’ve done to earn this patience and affection?

My 2p to the twittering about this:

  • Twitter doesn’t get in the way. The inferface is very simple, to the point of oversimplicity. But it works. I customised mine to be as clean as possible and others did the opposite.
  • Twitter is clean. another design related feature is that there are no fancy popups, no hovering graphics, which makes it intuitive, far more so than, for example, plurk.
  • Twitter has always served a useful purpose to me before it suggested any benefit to those who built it.
  • Twitter is ours. In the early days twitter was so simple that some might have missed the point. I sort of did until the twitter tipping point at the SXSW in 2007. The functionality has evolved around usage, e.g. @USERNAME sprung up from people trying to communicate with each other, the proto-conversation that is now happening all the time. Ditto with DM.

In other words, Twitter is user-driven, sometimes to destruction.

Twitter down

I do not use Twitter much, I dip into it occasionally, when there is something to share or when I am travelling. Perhaps it makes me less connected than most but even the haphazard use of it makes me see how people get addicted to it. The sense of ownership of the tool and ability to use it at your convenience is what keeps people loyal, if annoyed, to Twitter.

There is a new ‘microblogging’ kid on the block, Plurk. I signed up, visited but haven’t settled in. Part of my problem was that the functionality wasn’t as intuitive and I haven’t really worked out how to do things I am used to do on Twitter. The interface is busy and messy and requires too much effort on my part. As Lloyd Davis puts it (hm, it appears I can’t link to this particular ‘plurk’ as I can do to a specific tweet. I rest my case, m’lud.):

Plurk requires too much continuous attention, not partial enough.

Jaiku and Pownce predate Plurk so I can’t see why Plurk should be able to lure Twitter users away. Unless they are seriously fed up with Twitter downtime and already made up their mind about the other two. Let’s see how it goes… and twitter.

People make shoes, not money…

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Peter Drucker’s insight expanded by JP:

People aren’t interested in medical records, they’re interested in getting well, and staying well. People aren’t interested in bills and receipts, they’re interested in knowing that they did what they said they will do, or that they received what they expected to receive. People aren’t interested in financial statements, they’re interested in what they can do as a result of the security that income and savings and insurance and pensions. People aren’t interested in TV or radio schedules, they’re interested in watching things and listening to things. People aren’t interested in share prices and market movements, they’re interested in the things they can do as a result of performing their jobs well. It’s not the information that matters, but what we can do as a result.

Worth remembering when designing any tool for people to help them do something useful.

Quote to remember

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We’re looking for the mouse. We’re going to look at every place that a reader or a listener or a viewer or a user has been locked out, has been served up passive or a fixed or a canned experience, and ask ourselves, “If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen?” And I’m betting the answer is yes.
- Clay Shirky, Gin, Television, and Social Surplus


Note: I know I linked to this yesterday in video and text, but this is close to my heart as that’s what I am trying to do myself.

I haz a Mine! Let me show you it…

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After many years of internet existence, scattering ‘digital detritus’ as I go, I am ready for tools that help me reclaim my online personae, help me piece together my fractured identity. And then allow me to drive it forward with all of the benefits that it can bring me and to those I interact and transact with.

In the last few months, I have been thinking about what would such tools do and look like. I knew that they have to be driven by me – adding value to me and allowing me to add value, flexible and modular.

The first hint was in the white paper was about the sharing mechanism, a feeds-based VRM. Using feeds to share and distribute data has always been predicated on the existence of something like the Mine! – a structural element that allows individuals to bring together data they would like to:

a) have in their ‘domain’
b) manipulate and learn from and
c) share with others as you see fit.

A haven for data, a playground and a spring board for further online existence. The foundation for individual being the platform and for creating an ‘asset’ to be used in further interactions, relationships and transactions.. Thinking through some of the details and implications has taken longer as the Mine! incorporates the feeds based sharing as described here.

The aim is to equip individuals with tools to take charge of their data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge), arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) them according to their needs and preferences and share them on their own terms whilst connected and networked on the web.

The Mine! as VRM infrastructure.

Also in pdf (although I recommend the linked version that will be edited and revised and edit as I go along).

Facebook Anthem

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Came late to this party, just found it on Johnnie’s blog. Rather apt I thought:

Reminder link.

Musings on social media, enterprise, wine-making and terroir

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Most of my recorded experience with social software revolves around the ‘hard’ issues like people and shifting their minds and corporate culture, so in my conversations with David Tebbutt and Angela Ashenden of Macehiter Ward-Dutton earlier this week I wanted to offer a useful perspective on social software in the enterprise that takes a broader view than just focusing on individual employees. I came up with an analogy based on the wine industry.

First a brief background on what has happened to the wine industry globally in the last 30 years. Before 1970s French wine used to be considered the pinnacle of all wines. It was the great French tradition, the noble grapes (despite Phylloxera wiping out most of the original vines in 19th century), but mainly it was the unrivalled terroirs of Bordeaux and Burgundy. (Loosely translated as “a sense of place” which is embodied in certain qualities, and the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the manufacture of the product).

In 1976, the (in)famous wine tasting of Californian wines next to top French wines in Paris has shifted that world view*. This is because the Californian wines beat the French ones in a blind tasting on their own territory and in their own game – by tasting the way it was believed impossible to achieve without the magic of the terroir. The fallout over the next few decades was profound – once wine-makers all over the world realised that it is possible to produce wine a la Bordeaux or Burgundy in other countries, the experimentation and eventually production of quality wines from other countries has exploded. Thanks to that we now have some superb Californian, Argentinian, Italian, Spanish, Australian, Chilean, South African and Lebanese wines capable of matching the French ones in quality. There are purists who’d disagree and for a long time I have been amongst them but I am not enough of a wine snob to persist in that view in the face of considerable (and very enjoyable) evidence.

Before 1976 tasting, there seemed no point in producing quality wine aimed at the same market that the French wine-makers so successfully monopolised for centuries. Even if you had the same grapes and same techniques, you couldn’t replace the terroir… or could you? A few mad wine aficionados, with burning love of wine, innovator’s zeal, insane persistence and a big dose of luck spend years experimenting with wine-making techniques that would bring their brews close to their beloved Grand Crus. They have changed the balance between the three elements that makes wine – soil, grape and wine-making – and demonstrated that it is possible to compensate for the lack of the terroir magic with carefully applied wine-making techniques. It was no longer imitation of the ingredients or methods but an entirely new mix of components still designed to produce the same highly desirable outcome.

And this is how it is with social media/social software. There is no point in planting the vines of social web in the enterprise and expecting them to produce the same as they do outside in the open web. The soil is not the same, the terroir wildly different. If you want to achieve an outcome of similar quality and impact – better communication, more transparency, faster information exchange, more skilled and engaged employees, more and rewarding involvement with the outside world – you will have to take the grapes (the social media tools and software) and make sure that your ‘wine-making’ balances out what your environment lacks.

The most important things missing from the enterprise terroir is the individual autonomy. It is a sad and indisputable fact that anyone can do a lot more online outside their work than in the office. If companies want to get close to the social web magic, they will need to include this crucial ingredient into their approach. Treat your employees with respect and trust. Give them space to play and experiment. They will reward you with creativity and innovation. And if you do it right, with more respect and trust in return.

Ultimately, as every company has its own mixture of systems, culture and employees drive and skills, here are some tips for companies:

  • the best wines tend to be made by people who grow the plant the vines, harvest the grapes and then make the wine with love and care – the best use of social media comes from within the company, your own people who can combine understanding of social media/social software with your business, customers and processes. they can also look for new grapes, new ways to improve your techniques.

  • vineyards and winemakers often get experts in but these are invariably very accomplished practitioners with reputation that proceeds them. If you need external expertise make sure those you bring in have a proven record as well as understanding and respect for your terroir and know how to adjust their approach to it.
  • wine-makers share their experience, results of experiments, collaborate, even help each other practically – reach out to your peers, to exchange and compare notes, don’t just copy case studies or methodologies, respect your own terroir.
  • enjoy your experiments, they might actually be palatable, if not right now, then in the future. :)

*Judgement of Paris is a wonderful book written for 30th anniversary of the 1976 wine tasting by the reporter present at the event. Highly recommended.

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