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social software

Are you really anonymous?

There’s an article entitled,  Social Security, in the July/August edition of MIT Tech Review. (I’m behind in my reading so just catching up, I plan on starting to read the next one on the train ride home). First off, misleading title. The article has nothing to do with the federal retirement program that will be insolvent and have no funds to pay me when I am 65, 67, 70 or 75. Now to the meat of my thoughts on the article.

The article discusses the concept of Anonymous social software and goes on regarding research that has found that using data mining techniques on your social network, one can be personally identified. Pretty interesting. But not surprising. So let’s go back to the concept: Anonymous Social Software. I am not sure I really “follow” the concept. (pun intended).

People who blog anonymously. This I can understand. You can write all on your own, not disclose it is you to anyone and take active steps to not get identified. A great example is Fake Steve Jobs who had quite a run writing a blog without being personally identified. However, without fostering a commenting dialog, I can posit that blogging is not social software, it is simply a publishing platform. Once you begin an interaction (a conversation) do you really enter the realm of social software.

So, can people really be anonymous and use social software. People who want to remain anonymous take strides to not release any more information than they have to not give themselves away. In most cases, this is precisely the opposite of what one tries to accomplish with social software. The point is to interact, to follow. And of course every connection in of itself is additional information that narrows the focus on who you could be. Back on the Fake Steve Jobs, even Daniel Lyons couldn’t not remain anonymous. His writing style alone eventually gave him away.

Another subtle point is the article discussed security and anonymity as if they are one in the same thing. However, security and anonymity are not the same thing nor should they be. Whether identified or not, people want their system and data secure. I am not anonymous writing this article but I want the article to be secure. The same goes for my newsfeed on Facebook or my stream on Twitter. If you want security, use the web privately, private rooms, storage, feeds, etc. Yes, there is the raging “security of cloud computing” conversation going on but that is fully another topic and one which I believe will resolve itself.

The big question people should be asking themselves is why are they trying to remain anonymous? This issue has existed since the days of mainstream message boards and chat rooms. You are going on the web and posting information fully out in the public. A “handle” isn’t security. CEOs of publicly traded grocery store chains even know this.

My view is if you are venturing out and going to interact on the web, you have to have a comfort of living in public. Fred Wilson had a great commentary on this. It is something that everyone posting information should consider. It is much more about your own personal attitude and approach than whether the software/meme should be maintaining your anonymity. Sure many will disagree with me. I’m just not sold that you can have one without the other.

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Analogy of Status Updates

It’s been some time since I took the SATs but I always enjoyed the “analogy” section of the test.  Okay, as much as a standardized test can be enjoyable, it is up there with using a freshly-sharpened #2 pencil to fill in those little ovals.  If you don’t remember, here’s an example:


(A) oriole : bird

(B) horse : pony

(C) shark : great white

(D) ant : insect

(E) stock : savings

It seems with growing frequency, I’m pulled into conversations regarding Twitter with many who are just now learning about it.  Great Time article on Twitter by the way.  Yes, I get the often “I just don’t get Twitter.”  I used to think that too when I first heard about the service.  I quickly no longer thought that.  But, recently, I get “Why use Twitter when you can just update your status on Facebook?”  And this throws me right back into the 90’s:  “Do you use the internet?” “Oh yes, I use AOL all the time.”  So back to my SAT analogy:

web : AOL :: Twitter status : Facebook status

Remember the walled garden of AOL, how many users would think that was the web, never venturing out into the wild world of the wide web.  Times change but I see history repeating itself.  The struggle and growing awareness of open and closed systems.  There is a tremendous amount of value being generated off the openness of Twitter than is available within Facebook, where your status network can only be as big who you are willing to have in your personal friends’ list.  The same goes for status in LinkedIn and who you are willing to have in your professional connections’ list.  The situation is certainly more complex than AOL of the 90s but strikingly similar.

DataPortability – Please Succeed

If there is one effort taking place on the web that I wish much success in achieving it goals and desired results, it is the DataPortability group.  I’m sure there are others but this is one that is top of mind, and absolutely NEEDS to happen. My friend, Daniela Barbosa, is a major proponent of the initiative and leading much of the effort.

Below is a great video about why we have a major data portability problem on our hands and why data portability is needed. I find myself not wanting to investigate or join some of the last new ventures coming out simply because the thought of entering another userid/password, profile and clicking to follow another set of people (who are the same people) makes my blood boil. The latest example is BackType, great concept, aggregating all of your comments everywhere, even aggregating the aggregating blog comments systems out there like Disqus.  So I went halfway, I sign-up and claimed my profile.  But I am not going to go and follow Scoble, Fred Wilson and Brad Feld yet again.  Twitter, Tumblr, Dopplr, Facebook, Disqus or Intense Debate, etc, etc, etc…  No way.

There are ventures trying to clean this up like openID but it is not happening fast enough. Or I should say it isn’t happening anywhere near as fast as new services are hitting the web. I don’t have any doubt that we are collectively going to get there. The question is when. This can not be one of those topics like the FCC opening the wireless spectrum, the promise of mobility or the nirvana of the digital home that will and does go on for years. It has to happen fast. Without it, if I’m getting frustrated with it, then the services we all sing praises about are never going to cross the chasm into the mainstream.

DataPortability – Connect, Control, Share, Remix from Smashcut on Vimeo.

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Disqus must be Disgusted

Okay, I’m probably exaggerating but it sure makes a good headline.  At this point, most have heard the news that Automattic, parent company of WordPress (which powers this blog) acquired IntenseDebate for an undisclosed sum.  Offical news here, here and here.

IntenseDebate is one of the major blog commenting platforms out there.  The other is Disqus, the one I use on this blog and one I tend to favor based on overall reliability and feature set.  Both companies clearly get the value of commenting, user-generated content and the real power of conversation aggregation.  But if I were to put the two on a score card on execution, Disqus demonstrates real innovative thinking on how to put an overall platform together and paint their vision of what conversation aggregation can do and how to do it.  This was evidenced by their very early integration into WordPress and Daniel Ha’s continued work to integrate into FriendFeed once they emerged a critical aggregation player as well.

But, what is also clear is WordPress understands the value and importance of the comments on blogs (not that they didn’t before).  And as the major blog platform, WordPress has the value chain power to use this strategic acquisition to emerge as the leader in blogging as well as commenting.  And it is for this simple but important reason, that they acquisition is a huge coup for IntenseDebate in prepping for the future to potentially become the ultimate winner in this segment.  There is a sheer numbers game here and by WordPress rolling Intense’s toolkit out as part of their builds, it will instantaneously deploy Intense’s technology to blogs everywhere.  That removes one key obstacle for Intense that Disqus will continue to have to overcome in order to gain market share:  convincing blog owners to install.  Now, for IntenseDebate, it happens automatically.

Let’s hope that WordPress remains agnostic in their approach to continue to allow third party developers to build, promote and florish inside the WordPress platform.  I would like to continue to remain a Disqus user and expect to see fantastic things from them.  I will be keen to see how Disqus responds because we could be witnessing a business case of value chain integration that will be very tough to withstand.

Twitter, the layman’s explanation

Best layman explanation that I have seen regarding Twitter yet. Found it via Fred Wilson on Delicious.

Twitter in Plain English from leelefever on Vimeo.

Since demonstrating the value of Twitter to a number of colleagues a few weeks back, I have seen more and more people I know entering the world of Twitter. Some remain skeptical but are at least giving it a try. This is exactly where I was when I first questioned its value and application (and quickly learned how valuable Twitter could be).