November 30, 2009

My Big Fat, Geek Thanksgiving; Web 3.0 Takes Over

Posted in Best practices, Facebook, Productivity, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Twitter, Web 3.0 tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:01 pm by bizlawblog

I sometimes live on the bleeding edge of technology. Some like to call this being an “early adapter.” Others think I should join a support program with a twelve-step program. My office has a room devoted to hardware and software I’ve bought, tried out, experimented upon, recommended, and sometimes even installed for my consulting company clients, including quite a few law firms.

When I built a new house a few years ago, I just had to investigate the new energy conservation devices, which could lower my utility bills, reduce my “carbon footprint,” and save the world. Likewise, I just had to experiment with design of home theatre and security system wiring, and the home computer network itself. I sometimes chatted about these with others in the neighborhood who were building houses, but didn’t mention one “enhancement” I had secretly worked on.

As the house was being built, I realized it would be more cost efficient to do all the wiring I would ever need, up front, rather than piece-mealing it later. I had been reading about the strides toward creation of working “smart houses” and other Web 3.0 applications, so I decided to make an investment in the future.

I worked with the various vendors installing my alarm system, home theater, cable, phone and other electronic systems, and got them to lay the groundwork for me. Then, being the bleeding edge geek I am, I began my own tinkering, gradually adding new components, as they entered beta stage. Fortunately, one of my clients is an appliance company, so I was able to make some relatively good purchases and get great deals on some important components.

When Thanksgiving came up on my calendar this year, I decided it was time to give the new system a trial run. I really wasn’t ready for a full-blown trial run, but one of my sons knows a lot more about this stuff than I do, so I figured if I got some of the system up and running, he would be in town at Thanksgiving to give me a hand debugging the parts.

This was also going to be the first year with multiple grandchildren, in addition to some of our friends who had become annual Thanksgiving dinner guests. That meant we had to get out the extra leaf for the dining room table, but it really meant the logistics were starting to add up to the point of being almost unmanageable. The question was whether or not I somehow pull off this Web 3.0 Thanksgiving plan in time to really help.

I got out my copy of Microsoft Project and went to work. This had to be a collaborative effort and, fortunately, seemed to be an interesting challenge for the partners in the project. Admittedly, I felt a little like Chevy Chase in one of my favorite movies of the season, Christmas Vacation, trying to pull off wiring the house to win the neighborhood Christmas lighting prize, but eventually, I finished and it was time to send out the invitations.

I decided to start with an old favorite, evite®, so I could at least try to track who would really be coming and send guest updates in a burst. It also helped get a few other issues out of the way early, such as special dietary concerns of some of the guests, coordinating menu items for those who always insist on bringing Aunt Tillie’s famous recipe, etc. I know there are lots of invitation applications out there, but since I’ve used evite® for many events and was familiar with the foibles and periodic “surprises” as it continues to develop, it was an easy choice for alerting guests to “save the date,” and then to harvest the data as we got closer to The Big Day.

Like many American families, we have established some traditions over the years. That meant timing of various parts of the event had to be precise. With folks arriving at various times, subject to last minute variables, this was always a challenge. I thought it would be interesting to see if a preview of a Web 3.0 world would be any better.

Once the first round of evite® responses started to come back and we had our first estimate of the number of guests and basic menu, I was able to get some online counsel for wine pairings with the various dishes, estimate the number of bottles needed, and place my order. One task completed.

About the time we were building our new house, I happened to read Christoper Allbritton’s story in Popular Mechanics, Control Your Appliances Over The Internet. I tried to remain mindful of Albritton’s reference to the “Terminator” sci-fi movies, and scenario where the  fictional military artificial intelligence defense system, Skynet, takes over for humans and then starts to eradicate them as a potential threat. Since my plans didn’t include any air-to-ground missiles, I decided that LG Electronics’ HomNet was a good place to start. After all, their home page says:

LG HomNet is the total home network solution providing a convenient secure, joyful and affluent lifestyle anywhere and anytime with the integration of various digital home appliances. LG HomNet makes the future lifestyle into reality. LG HomNet will usher into a future lifestyle that used to be possible only in the movies and the imagination, together with ultra-high speed Internet, artificial intelligence, and advanced robots.

LG HomNet, a home network system developed by state-of-the-art technologies from LG Electronics!

You will be provided with a new pleasant and convenient digital living culture of the 21st century through intelligent networking of all-digital appliances, agnostic to any wired and wireless communication technology.

We invite you to a new living culture which has been dreamed about by the whole human race.

Aside from the grammatical issues in LG’s statement, and hoping their use of the term “agnostic” was meant to be closer to the original Greek, as opposed to the more recent religious interpretation, who could resist something, which would provide a convenient, secure, joyful, and affluent lifestyle, anywhere and anytime? Not me.

After taking the HomNet Experience online, I started with the refrigerator/server, adding the ovens, microwaves, and some other appliances in the kitchen. This proved a handy way to coordinate keeping foods chilled, cooking the hot foods, timing the warming of those foods in the food queue, and even providing a shopping list tied into the menu archive, and the family calendar, which is always visible on the door of the refrigerator. This was also great to avoid the previously inevitable, last minute return trips to the grocery for an item that didn’t make it on the old paper grocery lists. Now we could take remote inventory from the store, to make sure we really had walnuts for the dressing or enough whipping cream for the pie.

Once the big day came, we could actually sit back for the first time, and just wait for last minute evite® updates on arrival times. Granted, as James Gunter points out in his law enforcement blog post, Twitter is Not the Holy Grail of Emergency Notification, using Twitter alone as an alarm system is dangerous, but if only the turkey is at state, this may be sufficient. With our Twitter early warning system tied into the day’s calendar on our refrigerator, we were notified, in order, that: our oldest son and girlfriend were on their way; younger son and new grandchildren would be slightly delayed, due to a diaper change; our daughter’s friends would have to make a stop to pick something up on the way; and my old law firm partner and family would be here “soon.”

“Soon” always had a special meaning for my old partner’s arrival, but having done an earlier blog post on the Twitter Geoloction API, I had convinced him to start “tweeting.” With a little advanced coordination, I was able to tell they had not left home yet, was alerted when they started to move in our direction, and a new ETA appeared next to their family avatar on our handy refrigerator/server/message center. Our voice recognition system and data-to speech-program even announced that guests were arriving, making those already inside our “smart house” feel like they were early guests at a presidential ball, where dignitaries are announced as they enter. This was particularly helpful in marshalling the troops to help get the new twins inside before the fresh air woke them up.

Really Cool, New Sixth-Sense Technology was the pride and joy of my new system, even if it was still a beta version. The cobbled aggregation consists of off-the-shelf, Web cam, portable battery-powered 3-D projection system, and other devices connected to the user’s cell phone. The system’s ability to project keypads and other tools onto any surface, to make it a device like those used by Tom Cruise in Minority Report, proved very helpful in the game room. The RFID tracking system allowed us to locate the kids who were tardy in departure from the media room, turning down the heat in that room during dinner, and returning them to the appropriate spot in the movie they were watching upon their return.

We were able to use all this technology to time when dinner started, so the parents of the little kids enjoyed the rare treat of being able to eat in relative peace, coordinating with nap and infant feeding schedules for that optimal state of “joyfulness” promised by the appliance company. It also allowed us to finish before the preselected football games appeared on the adult’s monitors, cartoons came up for the tikes, and video games for the rest of the younger kids.

The background music, which gradually came up as we sat down to eat was a nice touch, as was the list of conversation points, which appeared in the wireless 3D i-glasses some had elected to wear. The ability to look through the glasses at a guest, allow the facial recognition and identification system enough time to identify the guest, and then call up conversation topics suggested by their Facebook references, and other social media search results, including their blogs, proved interesting, if not a little too revealing for some.

The great meal now being history, we can review the video record of the whole event to work on ways to improve it for next year. Using the facial recognition and identification system, we can piece together the level of “joyfulness” for each family member and guest, item-by-item, and plug these back into project software to start planning next year’s event.

The transportation alert module paid off in the first year, letting my oldest son and girlfriend know the system was well on the way to rerouting them back to Chicago, due to a snow storm interrupting their original plans to fly back into O’Hare. The placemats, inspired by some iPhone apps,  allowed us to check just how much food each family member and guest had consumed, and for those who desired it, their iPhone apps would now “remind” them of the exercise plan the system had outlined to return them to normal size, including, of course, the appropriate level of play on their Wii Fit™ system at home.

Now, on to Cyber Monday Shopping.

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Apologies to Berners Lee, whose article, The Semantic Web, in a 2001 edition of Scientific American, gave rise to this story. Lucy, in the original story, instructed her Semantic Web agent through her handheld Web browser to conduct a search which started to define the term, Web 3.0.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you are really interested, I just started yet another free group on LinkedIn, Social Media Search and Forensics. Many of these articles and discussion about them are posted there. Please join us.

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November 17, 2009

Shapeshifting; Using Social Media to Maintain Online Reputation

Posted in Best practices, Criminal activity, Employee issues, Facebook, LinkedIn, Social Media Tools, Social networking policy, Twitter, Uncategorized, Web 2.0, Web 3.0 tagged at 1:42 am by bizlawblog

If you like science fiction movies, you may have seen alien entities, which can change their physical appearance, sometimes mimicking other creatures. If you’re more down to earth, perhaps you’ve heard the expression “Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you. In either case, you might need a vet.

In the case of maintenance of one’s online reputation, social media can be either the tool you use to achieve your goal, or the jaws of your destruction. Aliza Sherman’s article, Don’t Ruin Your Social Media Reputation, points out one of the problems of social media, in the context of vetting information:

One of the continuing perils on the Internet– that is even greater now that anyone has the ability to publish online– is not knowing what information is credible or not. Misinformation can spread like wildfire across Twitter, Facebook and the like, and the last thing you want to do is get the reputation of being a conduit for misinformation. Take care when repeating what you hear from others in social media circles.

Sherman also gives us five things to avoid. As she puts it:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way some people abuse the online tools that many of us are trying to use for good things. Whether you are using the Internet and social media for business or for personal use, there are good ways to use these tools, but there are also ways that can get you into trouble that you might not anticipate.

Sherman’s list includes five ways she frequently sees people damaging their online reputations:

  1. Social media spam, consisting of “irrelevant unsolicited sales pitches for strange and unneeded products,” spammy endorsements and other messages sent out automatically or unwittingly;
  2. Indiscriminate “friendliness,” by those whose sole goal seems to be collecting as many “friends” or “followers” as possible, but for the purpose of treating them as cattle to be used;
  3. Autopilot networking, with the help of increasingly efficient tools which end up giving the impression the interaction is canned rather than truly “social;”
  4. Missing the appointment with the Vet, by failing to check information before passing it on as a thoughtless repost or retweet; and
  5. Playing the undercover hired gun, where those with whom you interact online later feel betrayed or conned when they learn you’ve endorsed a product for pay, or otherwise played a deceitful role.

Lawyers like myself are known to love to say cute little Latin phrases like caveat emptor or “let the buyer beware.” A similar warning is perhaps in order for social media. A paradigm shift is occurring in our online communications. In the old ARPANET days, communications were between individuals and institutions where there was generally a high level of trust and respect. These days, using information obtained through social media channels may be closer to buying a watch from a street corner vendor.

Companies, which fail to recognize this shift in the reliability of information, are certainly at risk. A post on the Social Media Reputation blog makes the point as follows:

Having been a consultant regarding online media for over a decade, I am constantly growing very weary of informational white-paper companies that are charging top dollar for “analysis” of an industry that is forever changing. In my previous life working at a Fortune 50 company on interactive projects, I can tell you that far too many “big boy” companies are absolutely relying on the wrong informational sources to make huge decisions. This old-school system is leading more and more companies down the path of digital suicide.

Granted, many might be more likely to be cautious of a post on the Pissed Customer blog or Ripoff Report, than one found on Forbes or the Wall Street Journal, but how is one to really know? Typically, the longer a publication has existed without substantial challenge to the veracity of its reports, the more trusted it becomes. Recent U.S. political campaigns, however, have cast substantial doubt on the impartiality and credibility of many such long-standing main stream media reputations, and the economy continues to take its toll on others.

Queue Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels as the heirs apparent. As the paperless paper box becomes one of the next anachronistic surprises of our decade, we find data flowing at us from all directions at an increasing velocity. The volume of data confronting us is likewise increasing, leaving us with exactly the task Microsoft predicted in its book, Taming the Information Tsunami. Regardless of the techniques used to survive this digital perfect storm, the time in which we have the ability to vet the data barrage will continue to shrink.

The Web is full of hideous examples of damage to corporate reputations, whether deserved or not. We do, however, have the ability to take some steps to perform maintenance on our online reputations. A few simple tactics are outlined in an article by Lawrence Perry:

  1. Always publish meaningful content- when you publish meaningful content, you can expect people who follow you to truly believe what you have to say in the future.   If you send spam and post useless information in your accounts, people will not learn to trust you.
  2. Be transparent- you do not have to be too personal or reveal too much information in your Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts but it would really help if you remained as truthful as possible in your interactions with clients.
  3. Post your picture and your website in your profile- it would really help a lot if you use your own photo and if you link to your website and provide more information to your followers. These will help them establish a better connection with you because they really know who you are, what business you are promoting, etc.
  4. Try to communicate in a personal level- do not use bots or send standard pre-written messages through DM.  On Twitter, make sure you send personal direct messages.  This may take a lot of time but don’t think of that as wasted time but an investment on your target market.

I’ll talk more in a later post about methods to monitor and protect both personal and company reputations online. For now, however, I wonder if there is some new twist coming down the pike to fill the need I think we all have, to more easily increase the level of trust we have for data received online. Where there is a need, there usually is a solution vendor.

We all know there have been innumerable snake oil vendors in the software industry, but VeriSign and PayPal seem to have become standards, through trust, in being acceptable allies in managing our risk with online transactions. Now all we need is a “veracity meter” attached to all social media output.

Some companies are struggling with methods to “pre-prove” the expertise of those who engage in online community discussions, such as LinkedIn. As a member of a variety of networks, one can gain “expert” points by being the “winning” responder to an online inquiry from another member of the group. This is a quality argument in favor of the member giving the best answer, but there are also quantity point in some networks, where part of one’s rating as an expert is based upon the number of posts accomplished during a period of time. Surely, there must be a more efficient way to increase our trust of online data.

I’ve come across those who say they can detect the aura of others, and tell if a person is good or bad, honest or dishonest. While I may question exactly what it is they are seeing, wouldn’t it be nice if you had a method to easily detect and read the aura of online communications. Perhaps such communications will, in our Web 3.0 or 4.0 world, come with a thoroughly vetted avatar emitting an aura of credibility. Could it be that the devious spammer’s message will someday come with a universal avatar bearing some sort of aura which looks like horns, while those honest and well vetted posts by yours truly will be embraced by my avatar, wearing an easily detectable halo of honesty?

Stories, like Dick Pelletier’s, Avatars will help us navigate tomorrow’s electronic maze, make it seem like they’re right around the corner. Others say they might work their own paradigm shift.

That’s what I think. Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you are really interested, I just started yet another free group on LinkedIn, Social Media Search and Forensics. Many of these articles and discussion about them are posted there. Please join us.