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Q: What’s the number one thing people want their browser to do?

A: Block ads.

Sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves of the simple truths about online media and marketing.

Like the fact that, given the choice, a lot of people don’t want banner ads, pop-ups and other sundry promotional interruptions getting in the way of whatever they are dong.

I was reminded of this when Google kindly turned on the ability to add extensions for the Chrome browser on Macs today.

Number one on the list of things I could download to improve my browser was Ad-Block

And down there at the bottom you can see another version. Half a million unique users that don’t see a thing…

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My top ten pieces of advice for looking after your web shadow


A while ago I did a video for the Insititute of Chartered Accountants called “12 Golden Rules for Online Personal Reputation Management“.

I really enjoyed it, and played with the idea for a bit, then decided to write a book about the subject. It’s called Web Shadows and will be finished any day now * ahem *. The paper (yes, paper) version will be out in March 2010

It’s a book for my friends who aren’t totally obsessed with the web and social media, but do have a creeping awareness that what is said about them online matters and that they maybe need to look after their personal reputation a little.

Headlines like Office worker sacked for branding work boring on Facebook in the Telegraph and surveys that say 45% of employers vet job candidates on social networks make them think that even more.

If you take my iCrossing e-book Brands in Networks, I guess Web Shadows will be People in Networks. But that would spell PIN, and anyway I get told off for talking about networks too much, so Web Shadows it almost certainly is.

Anyway, here’s my top ten pieces of advice as they stand today. If you let me know what you think I’d be very grateful:

1 Don’t think of online as another world: The web’s more like a layer over the world we live in, not a “cyberspace” that only geeks live in. It’s part of our lives. The more we think of it as part of the world we live in, the better we will be at using it and looking after ourselves in relation to our online presence.

2 Check your Google shadow (and keep checking it): make sure you can see what others see when they look for you online, wether that’s Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or whatever. (Jeff Jarvis’s Google shadow phrase is what got me to “web shadows” as a title for the book.)

3 Be the world’s leading source of information about yourself: Ideally you want people to find your website, or cluster of social network profiles before they find anything else.

4 Understand networks (and which networks are important to you): Explore the online world around you. Which spaces matter to people that matter to you: employers, colleagues, friends, etc. It doesn’t hurt to start to understand network theory 101. Principles like “every node that joins the network doubles its value” help you to feel less like a supplicant and more like a network citizen. A part of it, not a passive. An owner among owners of a shared space, with rights – and responsibilities to the network.

5 Learn “crap detection” skills: One of Howard Rheingold’s four digital literacies, “crap detection” (the phrase comes from Hemingway) is about being a critical user of the web. Spotting the scams, attention tricks, the bahaviours that means that someone you have met online isn’t a person, or is one you need to stay away from. It’s part experience and part knowing how to use the network technically to understand – sometimes literally – where someone is coming from.

6 Be useful to your networks: You don’t need to turn into a pain-in-the-whatever professional networking douche to be successful in looking after your web shadow. Be yourself. Make the most of the things that you do – put your presentations and articles from the newsletter on SlideShare, bookmark interesting things you find on Delicious, maybe try out blogging even. once

7 Think about private and public: The web is a public place. You’re going to need to think about the dividing lines between your professional self online and your private self – where are they going to be? Get to know the privacy settings on Facebook for starters… And don’t forget to tell your family about them too.

8 Remember: you’re always on the (permanent) record online: “You’re never off the record,” we used to tell clients when I worked in PR. It’s true all the time when we’re online now. Don’t say anything you might regret later. If you are angry: calm down. Been drinking? Sober up or shut the web connection down. And the record may be permanent, like a digital tattoo.

9 Get a thicker skin: So you’re always on the record – so what? Everyone else is too. You’re going to make mistakes, get into arguments, look a bit foolish sometimes. The alternative is being a digital hermit, which… well… if you want to, I suppose.

10 Make it work for you: So we have had email addiction, SMS addiction and now, if you want to, you can become a social web addict. Or you can learn how the social web works and use it to enhance your life. Articles and posts like this one are good while you’re learning the tools’ basics – then you need to make your own mind up about how it should work for you.


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Ada Lovelace Day: Shona Brown

Image: Ada Lovelace
Image: Ada Lovelace

Suw Charman has asked people to join her today on Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of the first computer programmer, in writing about women in technology that they admire.

Now, I’m a cultural rather than a tehcnical geek, so the woman who leapt to mind that I admire most in the tech industry is Shona Brown, SVP of Business Operations at Google.

Shona Brown took on responsibilities for Google’s business operations in 2003, following almost a decade consulting with technology clients in Toronto and Los Angeles for McKinsey & Company.

Image: Shona Brown, Google's SVP of Business Operations
Image: Shona Brown, Google’s SVP of Business Operations (image source: Google)

I first heard about Shona Brown in this 2006 profile of her in Fortune called Chaos by Design. She took on one of the most interesting cultural and business challenges in the world when she stepped into  Sergey and Larry invited her to come and take all of this on after reading Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos:

Brown has made a career of arguing that anarchy isn’t such a bad thing — which is why Page, co-founder Sergey Brin, and CEO Eric Schmidt hired her in 2003. A business theoretician in a company dominated by engineers, she considers Google the “ultimate petri dish” for her research, though her job is anything but theoretical. In addition to overseeing human resources (called “people operations”), Brown runs a SWAT team of 25 strategic consultants who are loaned out internally on ten or so projects at a time — restructuring a regional sales force here, guesstimating a market size there.

This isn’t about just management. It’s about how you manage companies and people in the age of networks, when hierarchical approaches are inadequate and an embrace of chaos.

The company’s goal, says Brown, is to determine precisely the amount of management it needs — and then use a little bit less. It’s an almost laughably Goldilocksian approach that Brown also advocates in her book, co-written with a Stanford business professor. The way to succeed in “fast-paced, ambiguous situations,” she tells me, is to avoid creating too much structure, but not to add too little either. In other words, just make it not too hot and not too cold, and you’re done.

Early on in my iCrossing experience I had left a lot of the certainties and structure of the PR agency world and embraced a start up mentality, drawing heavily on Guy Kawasaki’s thoughts in Art of the Start. when I read her interview Fortune magazine, I felt reassured and inspired simultaneously when I read her quote: “If I ever come into the office and I feel comfortable, if I don’t feel a little nervous about some crazy stuff going on, then we’ve taken it too far.”

It still inspires and informs the way that I think about the way that organisations need to adapt to be successful in networks, in an age defined by the complexity and pace of the web revolution.

Via Euan Semple.

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Error message marketing

Image: The first screen-shot of Chrome for OS X
Image: The first screen-shot of Chrome for OS X

I love the fact that the first screen shot for the Mac version of Chrome, Google’s browser, is an error message. And the launch date? No word, just an ambition to “have a multi-process browser limping by the end of the quarter.”

Where others would promise launch dates and then wince as they slip, where others would affect an expectation of perfection, message themselves into new levels of over-promise, Google just gets on with it and lets everyone know where it’s at.

Is this word-of-mouth marketing with an error message? I suppose, in a sense it is…

Brilliant.

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Strategy and innovation: Head for the edge

Image: John Hagel & John Seely Brown's book, The Only Sustainable Edge
Image: John Hagel & John Seely Brown's book "The Only Sustainable Edge"

Business thinkers John Seely Brown and John Hagel are always worth listening to. Their perspectives on innovation and concepts like FAST Strategy have not only resonated as theories for me in recent years but have given practical, effective models for the work we’ve been doing at iCrossing, especially in “edge” areas like social media research, strategy, marketing and measurement.

Like Umair Haque, who also thinks and discusses the economics of the edge, their writing seems even more urgently relevant to businesses, activists and governments in the face of multiple economic, geo-political and environmental disruptions.

If you’re confused slightly by what “edge” means in the context of commerce, politics, society etc., there’s a nice illustration given in an article by Hagel & Brown in a BusinessWeek article about Google and the phone business:

Two decades ago, wireless telephone networks created a vibrant new edge to the wire-line telephony business. Many analysts at the time viewed mobile phones as a fringe event, something that would never take hold in the mainstream telephone business, except perhaps as a status symbol among the very wealthy.

Twenty years later mobile telephones are ubiquitous in the U.S. despite continuing challenges in service coverage, particularly in buildings. In many other parts of the world, these devices have replaced the old wire-line phone as the primary means of communication. What was on the edge has now become the core.

If you’re thinking and planning right now for the year or years ahead – and many people I know are – then the piece is reading, especially for the advice the duo give. The headlines are:

  • Don’t get distracted by your existing competitors (where are the start-ups who will compete with you tomorrow)
  • Look beyond product innovation (to really develop new models and markets changing how the world works may be required)
  • Mobilise others in support of your innovation initiatives (heroic entrepreneur myths oversimplify)
  • Don’t be deceived by theoretical concepts like “emergent” and “self-organising” (leadership required!)
  • Target the edges (find where there’s high value for your customers)
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Web shadows: Looking after ourselves online

 

What does your web shadow look like?
What does your web shadow look like?

 

I’ve been reading and therefore thinking a fair bit about privacy and personal online reputation.

It’s something I’ve touched on in the past and the posts Managing your online reputation will be a core life skill and Online overshare: the personal rep pitfalls have had a small but steady trickle of traffic ever since. 

I tend to be an optimist, and in accepting the considerable benefits of living in part online in social media, have learned more and more to be open, while also being clear with myself about where the boundaries of one’s public online life are set. 

For some time we’ve had the concept of Google Shadows – what people find out about you when they put your name into Google (Jeff Jarvis is who I heard using it first). 

I like the idea. A shadow is something that’s always with us, that follows us, that’s not separate. We increasingly need to be conscious of the shadows online cast by our actions in everyday life. 

It’s not just Google, though, these days, but our other online places, all the public and private databases and spaces in our working and personal lives and in our social graphs, of course. 

We need to not only be aware of what our web shadows are, but how we affect them through all of our everyday actions. Sometimes when people want to know more about you, the shadow is all they will see. 

Here’s some of the most interesting posts and articles that I’ve been chewing over: 

  • When a Governor in Arizona’s indiscretion was picked up by an open mic Lawrence Lessig takes CNN to task for broadcasting it, and muses on how it seems we have to “remember that there are a million privacy invading technologies surrounding us”. The discussion in the comments is very good indeed. 
  • Like Lessig, private investigator Steve Rambam, summons the spectre of of life in the Cold War communist bloc in this video of his presentation called Privacy is Dead: Get Over It. Rather than worrying about Big Brother though, the proliferation of digital photography and video, among other things, means it’s more “Little Cousin” – as in we never know when we’re being recorded by one another, even inadvertently.
  • Rambam, an individual with a colourful Google shadow, to say the least, was also quoted in an article in the Economist’s the Perils of Sharing, part of the newspaper’s The World in 2009 special edition. More on that later… 
  • Lastly, the brilliant David Spark’s 12 Great Tales of De-Frieinding reminds us how quickly we are having to evolve new social strategies to deal with relationship issues online.

Meantime, one last recommended read on privacy – the New York Times had a great piece called You’re Leaving a Digital Trail. What About Privacy?

In part, it follows an experiment at the MIT Media Lab where 100 students electronic trails (emails, calls, etc) are recorded and followed. It also recalls how the data about us can be mined to interesting effect: 

In 2006, Sense Networks, based in New York, proved that there was a wealth of useful information hidden in a digital archive of GPS data generated by tens of thousands of taxi rides in San Francisco. It could see, for example, that people who worked in the city’s financial district would tend to go to work early when the market was booming, but later when it was down.

One suspects that early morning cabs are pretty plentiful at the moment then…  Anyhow, Dr Pentland, who heads the project describes this sort of thing as “reality mining”.

 

A map expressing collaboration between students in an MIT Media Lab experiment
A map expressing collaboration between students in an MIT Media Lab experiment

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Google’s world supreme court of free speech

 

Can the web remain as free as speaker's corner (From Flickrstorm - credits at end)
Can the web remain as free as speaker's corner?

 

For the timebeing, Google acts as a supreme court in a world of “sovereign users” clashing with ever increasing frequency with nation states that would prefer to have the last word on free speech. 

Google acts like a benign dictator of the world’s data, which makes it important that we keep an eye on how it behaves and who is in charge of the decisions about what can and can’t be accessed via the company’s search engine and YouTube services. 

An article in the New York Times (free registration may be needed – can never work out the NYT’s crazy system) takes a close look at the Google legal team and some of the legal struggles they have been involved in around the world. These cases and how The Goog handles itself give us a sense of how it is operating within the various codes of behaviour, mainly informal, that have emerged. 

As the piece’s author, Jeffrey Rosen, a law profesor at George Washington University says: 

Voluntary self-regulation means that, for the foreseeable future, Wong and her colleagues will continue to exercise extraordinary power over global speech online. Which raises a perennial but increasingly urgent question: Can we trust a corporation to be good — even a corporation whose informal motto is “Don’t be evil”?

Governments of various repressive shades are testing Google all the time. While we’re all aware of the restrictions in China, and of the Thai and Turkish governements effectively ransom the company’s access to their citizens (and vice versa) in return for Google blocking access to certain materials, most often YouTube videos. And other attempts to clamp down on content and conversations are surprisingly common: 

Over the past couple of years, Google and its various applications have been blocked, to different degrees, by 24 countries. Blogger is blocked in Pakistan, for example, and Orkut in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, governments are increasingly pressuring telecom companies likeComcast and Verizon to block controversial speech at the network level. Europe and the U.S. recently agreed to require Internet service providers to identify and block child pornography, and in Europe there are growing demands for network-wide blocking of terrorist-incitement videos. As a result, Wong and her colleagues said they worried that Google’s ability to make case-by-case decisions about what links and videos are accessible through Google’s sites may be slowly circumvented, as countries are requiring the companies that give us access to the Internet to build top-down censorship into the network pipes.

A speaker's corner speaker
Defend his right to speak online (Image: Tom T)

 

Google operates a “decider model” for what plays and doesn’t on YouTube, for instance. Basically decisions get escalated depending on their complexity. A further concern for us all, Rosenberg points out, is that this system isn’t very scalable at a time in the development of the web where video and indeed all forms of content are, well, scaling pretty rapidly…  

I trust Google – for now. But it’s important that we keep watching. Last word to Rosen and Lawrence Lessig: 

“During the heyday of Microsoft, people feared that the owners of the operating systems could leverage their monopolies to protect their own products against competitors,” says the Internet scholar Lawrence Lessig of Stanford Law School. “That dynamic is tiny compared to what people fear about Google. They have enormous control over a platform of all the world’s data, and everything they do is designed to improve their control of the underlying data. If your whole game is to increase market share, it’s hard to do good, and to gather data in ways that don’t raise privacy concerns or that might help repressive governments to block controversial content.”

I note that Rosen is also the author of a book about the US supreme court. For the timebeing, Google acts as a supreme court in a world of “sovereign users” clashing with ever increasing frequency with nation states that would prefer to have the last word on free speech. 

Photo montage credit: Wallulah Junction, Snappy Bex, Wittekind, Quinnum, Tom T, C’est moi!.

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Google SearchWiki: brands need to watch & listen

 

 

SearchWiki results and comments for a search on "Google SearchWiki"SearchWiki results and comments for a search on

 

* Updated * 

There are two complementary evolutionary paths for SearchWiki: that taken by the Google engineers and the one cut by users. The comments / conversations may be poor quality at the moment, but who is to say how people will find ways to use the feature in interesting ways. 

Over the last week, there’s been a great deal interest and not a little froth on tech blogs about the Google SearchWiki, the feature in Google that lets you edit your own results and leave publicly viewable comments about them if you are signed in with a Google account.

It’s a highly interesting development, although some of the controversy has been a little overblown: people hunting out reasons to be irritated. 

The head of search at iCrossing UK, Jonathan Stewart has posted an analysis of the new service from both a search and social point of view, which incorporates some feedback I gave on the social media and PR front. 

We’ve been monitoring it since the beginning of November when we noticed Google bucket testing it, but it’s only been since last week, when it was officially launched, that it’s really been making waves. Anyone who doesn’t know what it is can read Dan’s explanation of Google’s SearchWiki here.

Google have stated that personal result manipulation won’t be used to determine the results for others – at least not in the short term – so the standard SEO rules will still apply for a while. What’s really causing problems is the amount of comment abuse that’s appearing – either in the form of spam, utterly inane conversations (a la Youtube), or blatently obscene and unmoderated abuse.

Essentially, Jonathan feels this is a “wait and see” issue. Google is likely to use the information from the way people use SearchWiki in the way it delivers its main results – but claims not to be yet. 

The most interesting thing from my point of view is the comments feature. Interesting because it represents a new social space, albeit one which users have to hunt out rather than it appearing front and centre on Google search results. 

There are two complementary evolutionary paths for SearchWiki: that taken by the Google engineers and the one cut by users. The comments / conversations may be poor quality at the moment, but who is to say how people will find ways to use the feature in interesting ways. 

: : If you can’t find the comments feature – and it’s not obvious to everyone – then Jonathan provides the following step-by-step:

  • Make sure you’re signed into a Google account
  • Type a query into Google, and then scroll to the bottom of the page
  • Click on the “See all notes for this SearchWiki link”
  • Immediately underneath the URL of each website in the search results, there is a link that tells you how many comments have been left. Click on that
  • Immediately underneath the URL of each website in the search results, there is a link that tells you how many comments have been left. Click on that
  • James Lappin on TFPL also has a great analysis of what the SearchWiki means. He sees it primarily as a social play by Google, very much with an eye to the usefulness of services like delicious.

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    I prefer iPhone to me laptop sometimes…

    iCrossing's New York office building, as seen in Google Maps

    The new iPhone software upgrade came out over the weekend. Love the fact that the phone I bought a few months ago keep getting better, instead of degrading like my last smartdumbphone did.

    The standout shiny new thing in the new set-up is Google Maps, the iPhone’s application which lets you quickly search for businesses, addresses, locate yourself on the map and plan routes. 

    Google Maps on the iPhone

    When I was in Atlanta last week I noticed that at close zoom the buildings’ outlines were shown on the map. Cool, I thought – that’s really useful when you’re navigating one of those anonymous grid layouts and are trying to find a landmark. The new software’s taken a big leap beyond that, however, as now you can click on a location and – where available – move down to streetview. 

    This is mainly only of use to me in the US, but I understand Google has been building a street-level index of the UK and other European countries over recent months.

    So, apart from the geek-thrill of a new piece of tech-wizadry, why is this interesting. Three things: 

    1. This is superb UI design. My four-year-old son sat on my lap while I showed him some of the parts of New York I’d recently visited. We panned and zoomed. Clicked on the arrows to move us along the street. Searched for a Fire Station for him to have a look at. Easy. He picked up the navigation in seconds, it was hard to stop prodding, squeezing, pushing the screen around to get the views he wanted.  

     

    Navigating past Union Square's Coffee Bar. You click on the white arrows to move along the street and can pan and zoom in any direction - pass the VR helmet!

     

    2. This is the best way to give directions / get directions quickly. I wished immediately I’d been able to use it a day earlier to shwo a colleague on his way to New York exactly where on Union Square the Coffee Bar was. again – when you’re looking at a city with a grid system, it’s hard sometimes (for a brain wired in England) to work out where things are on a map, or translate that map into real directions. 

    3. For some things, I prefer using my iPhone to a larger computer. Google Maps seems faster, more intuitive, personalised, connected into things like my contacts and email, and is just nicer to use.  Actually this iPhone bias in my computing usage is evident in a few other apps, like calendar and mail (for checking through large volumes). It speaks to the power of the iPhone but also to the latent productivity potential for multi-touch when it makes it to our larger machines and new formats too.

    : : Bonus geek-out… Also love the fact that my iPhone can now download podcasts direct without having to sync with my laptop… 

     

    The new iPhone podcast screen