Monthly Archive for May, 2009

Google Wave’s dirty little secret

google wave logoGoogle has announced a new technology that is arguably the boldest invention and most innovative idea to come out in recent years for the Internet (full announcement here).

It has the potential to replace email, instant messenging, and create a new technical category for collaboration and interactivity in the broadest sense. However hidden in the details, is a dirty little secret about the practicality of this project.

Google Wave is transformative, but it also is a technical challenge. If adopted, it will entrench cloud computing and ultimately Google’s fate as the most dominant company in the world.

The challenge in its development
For the last two years, the Google Sydney office has been working on a “secret project”. It got to the stage where the office – which runs the Google Maps product (another Sydney invention) – was competing for resources and had half the office dedicated to developing it. So secret was the project, that only the highest level of Google’s management team in Mountain View knew about it. Googler’s in other parts of the world either didn’t know about it, or people like me in the local tech scene, knew it was something big but didn’t know what exactly.

However although I didn’t know what exactly it was, I was aware of the challenge. And basically, it boils down to this: it’s a difficult engineering feat to pull off. The real time collaboration, which is at the core of what this technology provides, requires computationally a huge amount of resources for it to work.

It needs everyone to use it
Although we are all digging into the details, one thing I know for a fact, is that Google wants to make this as open as possible. It wants competitors like Microsoft, Yahoo and the entire development community to not just use it – but be a big driver in its adoption. For collaboration to work, you need people – and it makes little sense to restrict it to only a segment of the Internet population (much the same like email). Google’s openness isn’t being driven out of charity, but pure economic sense: it needs broad-based market adoption for this to work.

federation_diagram_fixed2

Only few can do it
However, with lots of people using it comes another fact: only those with massive cloud computing capabilities will be able to do this. Google practically invented and popularised the most important trend in computing right now. A trend where the industrial age’s economies of scale has come to play – reminding us that there are aspects of the Information Economy that are not entirely different from the past. What Google’s Wave technology does, is give a practical application that relies on cloud computing for its execution. And if the Wave protocol becomes as ubiquitous as email and Instant Messaging – and goes further to become core to global communications – then we will see the final innings to who now runs this world.

Wave is an amazing technology, and I am excited to see it evolve. But mark my words: this open technology requires a very expensive setup behind the scenes. And those that will meet this setup, will be our masters of tomorrow. Google has come to own us due to its innovation in information management – now watch Act II as it does the same for communications.

Why we should support movie piracy

Across the entire developed world, you will see piracy warnings from the entertainment industry. They usually make some emotive video about piracy costing jobs (because of six billion dollars in lost revenue) and that you as a consumer should join the fight. But is this really the case? I think laziness is what is costing jobs. Executives are clinging onto an old way of doing things in a new world, and instead of exploring alternative mechanisms, they fight for the past. I think if the industry lets go a bit, they might actually improve the status quo.

Let’s have a look at the movie industry and see the difference.

Piracy: it's a crime
Currently
Hollywood studio invests in the production of “The man with a Blog”. They have an all star cast, filled with James Bond action scenes and circus freaks.

Movie theatres around the world premier the movie, after months of publicity. Box office sales smash the predictions in that weekend – millions of dollars are spent by people buying movie tickets. Several months later, a DVD version is distributed, giving a second hit at having consumers spend their cash on experiencing this masterpiece. Television networks several years after that will license the movie and play it on TV.

Money continues to stream in – it’s a model that’s worked for decades.

Pause: two important things to note
Unlike reading a blog, for example – where your attention can wander and not be fully engaged – a movie has the full engagement of the consumer. They’re absorbing every sound and image being presented to them. So engaged are the consumers that people will rewind the movie to rehear a line they missed. They will pause the movie if they need to go to the bathroom, for fear of missing out on a scene.

Another thing to note is that the consumer is having an experience. Even if they “own” a copy of the movie, all they are truly buying is a license to replay the movie in the convenience of their homes. When a consumer buys tickets or a DVD to a movie, what they are really buying is access to an experience that can provoke them intellectually and stimulate them emotionally. Beyond stimulating an individual, it also serves as a cultural tool in our society, allowing people to have shared experiences that can then allow them to relate to each other – like how two strangers laughing over a movie will create a bond.

Replay
So why can’t movies be free? And if they were, who are they hurting? Let’s now replay the blockbuster described above and see the difference.

Hollywood studio invests in the production of “The man with a Blog”. They have an all star cast, filled with James Bond action scenes and circus freaks.

Movie theatres around the world premier the movie, after months of publicity. Box office sales smash the predictions in that weekend – millions of dollars are spent by people buying movie tickets who are paying for the experience of being in a room of people laughing with premium surround sound, a premium screen, and an excuse to snuggle up with their first date. Several months later, a DVD version is distributed, giving a second hit at having consumers spend their cash on experiencing this masterpiece – consumers will pay for the DVD because they like to store their movies on a shelf for reuse. Downloading the movie over the computer eats their bandwidth and storage space, and while some will do it, the value proposition of a physical storage item still exists. Because although they can download a medium-quality movie over their connection – they might want to one night experience a high quality version on their big plasma TV. So they will willingly pay for that DVD, which in bandwidth terms, is a hell of a lot cheaper.

Movie theatre

Television networks several years after that will license the movie and play it on TV. Because at the end of the day, if other people are going to generate revenue on your assets, they should continue to seek licenses to do so. Sharing a movie to other consumers should not be a crime, but showing it to mass audiences where you take the full sales, is.

Money continues to stream in – it’s a tweaked model that honestly don’t affect the world that much. Or jobs in the industry, other than the lawyers.

Fast forward
The movie industry is under-exploiting two essential characteristics I mentioned above: the undivided attention of the consumer and the fact they generate an experience for consumers. In the old world, that’s what advertising agencies were paid for to achieve!

I’ve previously argued that online advertising is a bubble economy, but that’s not to say advertising is dead. If fact, brand advertising is something I expect to thrive, and something like a movie is the best opportunity to take advantage of it.

Movies are replaying our lives, in a real or fantasy way. They are a replication of life, with consumer products filling the screen just like they do in our lives. When I watch my favourite actor talking in a scene, I am taking in the visual experience – and allowing product exposure to my attention. If I see a funky piece of furniture in that room, I should be able to interact with that – like clicking on it for more information and perhaps even create a direct order to buy. Television networks have spent decades monetising movies by showing advertisements in between regularly scheduled breaks (which disrupt the experience). Why not make advertising an embedded experience during the movie? It’s non intrusive and it’s relevant – a much better way of doing it.

Every time someone clicks on a table in a movie, the movie studio gets a cut out of the sale. Indeed, the supply of the table in the movie could also come as a form of premium sponsorship, as the studio is promising the supplier guaranteed exposure to an audience. The exact reason why people advertise: exposure to an audience.

Taking it a step further, we haven’t even got to explaining brand advertising opportunities. Imagine if your favourite actor is wearing a new style of jeans – isn’t that going to influence your thinking? Even if we consciously don’t think much of the jeans, the experience of being in a happy state watching our favourite actor, generates an emotional bond with that consumer product. It’s doing what advertisers have spent decades trying to master: building an emotional connection and a need with a new product.

The scenes that have been cut out
What I’ve just done here, is made you realise that movies can still be sold despite being free – but people will happily pay for it as they are really buying a unique experience. The actual movie itself should be free for consumers and there is untapped opportunity to innovate in this sphere.

There is an Israeli startup that allows you to embed advertising in a movie. What’s the big deal about that? Well every time someone downloads the movie, they will get an updated ad. So the original publisher can actually control the content for an entire lifetime: once an ad has been inserted, it can simply be replaced with the newest advertiser to sign up.

Imagine if movie studios distributed free versions of their movies, with commercial breaks like TV – and an option to pay to remove those ads for those willing to do so. And imagine, if with a bit more research, technology could be evolved so that scenes within a movie showcasing consumer products, could be updated with a new product. The painting on a wall can now be replaced with another painting. It’s already being done for computer games – why not movies, that themselves now rely on computer generated graphics?

When thinking of the opportunity in that way, restricting access to that movie is no longer in the studio’s incentive. With an audience, you monetise more by having a bigger audience. And so making something free, actually could make more money because demand will not be affected by price elasticity.

Illegal movies

La Fine
Once you think about things in this light, you realise the enormous opportunity available. And hopefully, you too also realise that what’s holding us back from this innovative, less-obtrusive, higher-value-generating future – is outdated thinking. Because as long as we cling onto the past, we are preventing bold strides into new models that potentially will make more money, if done right.

It’s a bold statement to say that you should support movie piracy, but it’s actually forcing the industry to adapt to this new world. Piracy has made us reevaluate the value of movies when the distribution line can no longer be fully controlled, and continuing to do it forces our legislators to reconsider public policy on intellectual property that was made for another age.

Using pirated material isn’t costing jobs in the entertainment industry – it’s doing something much better. It’s getting some media company executives in trouble, as they haven’t got the guts to innovate.

Why Twitter will make advertising an endagered species

twitter-logo-small Twitter has transformed the way we communicate in the world. That’s a big deal, because as human beings, the ability to communicate is how we broke free from the rest of the animal kingdom. Our entire society is based on this fact, and so it should come as no surprise that so are some of our biggest industries. Advertising, the billion-dollar industry that funds the web and media, is literally about communicating to the public.

More fundamentally, that’s how the market economy operates. There are three elements to a market: conversations, relationships, and transactions. In the industrial age, we forgot about this and came to associate markets as purely transactional: we see a price attached to a mass produced item, and that is meant to convey everything we need to know. But as Doc Searls shares the story with his African friend, the conversation at the market is how selling used to be done, underpinned by a relationship.

My firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is one of the biggest firms in the world. In Australia, we are almost twice the size of our nearest competitor and manage to charge more than our competitors as well without consequence. I’ve often wondered how this could be, but it was only until I broke down the fundamental components of the market that I realised. Price matters – but only when you don’t know anything else. When someone gets to know someone at the firm, they have conversations – and build a relationship. Those relationships are what makes PwC the behemoth it is. It’s not that price is irrelevant, but now with additional information to inform an economic buyer, it’s no longer the sole determinant.

Demand and Supply, sitting in a tree
Twitter co-founder Isaac “Biz” Stone recently defended the company’s stance on advertising as a revenue model. He rightly says the banner ad model is dead – no kidding. But his brilliance comes through when he says that they are exploring ways in “facilitating connections between businesses and individuals in meaningful and relevant ways”. Those words so simply explain more than just Twitter’s opportunity, but the entire future of advertising.

My half-cousin Alex Lambousis has created his own fashion label. Primarily a Jeans business, he controls the entire design process as he owns an industrial laundry, and so can compete on the global scale with high-end jean product. Like any startup, he’s trying to crack new markets.

Think about Alex’s issue. He’s a wholesaler, who relies on retail outlets to sell his product – not exactly the best of customers. He’s reliant on celebrities wearing his clothes, and negotiating special rack space in high end fashion outlets, to get exposure of his world-class product. But it’s a hard market to crack – he’s had success, but is not where he wants to be. What’s a man to do?

Have a look at this search query I just did on Twitter’s community. Twitter allows you – in real time – to search for what people are talking about right now. My first attempt, without trying to be creative with the search string, yielded the following results:
new jeans - Twitter Search

A new customer just appeared on the market half a minute ago. A few of the others can be identified as market opportunities. Imagine if Alex simply responded to them, giving them a discount on his range or just pointing them to a blog post where he can show case his in-depth knowledge. Before the Internet, for a wholesaler like Alex to make money, he relied on advertising in fashion magazines. Now he can interact directly with his customers, and even if he can’t make a sale – he can at least invest in a relationship for future sales.

He’s having a conversation and building relationships. Price is no longer the only source of information for the customer. Those curves on the demand and supply curve have now been personified. That’s better than some poster stuck on a billboard – that’s a return to how our world used to work before factory’s pumped our standard-issue Model T’s.

I might not have solved Twitter’s revenue challenge in this post, but I sure as hell am excited about the future opportunities afforded by tools like Twitter for the economy.

Google should acquire Friendfeed, the leader in the real time web

May is real time month: everyone is now saying the latest trend for innovation is the real time web. Today, we hear that Larry Page, co-founder of Google, confirming to Loic Le Meur that real time search was overlooked by Google and is now a focus for their future innovation.

With all this talk of Google acquiring Twitter, I’m now wondering why isn’t Friendfeed seen as the best candidate to ramp up Google’s real time potential.

Friendfeed does real time better than anyone else. Facebook rules when it comes to the activity stream of a person ‚Äì meaning, tracking an individuals life and to some extent media sharing. Twitter rules for sentiment, as it’s like one massive chat room, and to some extent link sharing. But Friendfeed, quite frankly, craps all over Facebook and Twitter in real time search.

Why? Three reasons:

1) It‚Äôs an aggregator. The fundamental premise of the service is in aggregating people‚Äôs lives and their streams. People don‚Äôt even have to ever visit Friendfeed other than an initial sign up. Once someone confirms their data sources, Friendeed has a crawler constantly checking an individuals life stream AND that’s been validated as their own. It doesn‚Äôt rely on a person Tweeting a link, or sharing a video ‚Äì it‚Äôs done automatically through RSS.

2) It’s better suited for discovery. The communities for Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed are as radically different as America, Europe, and Asia are in cultures. People that use Friendfeed literally sit there discovering new content, ranking it with their “likes” and expanding it with their comments to items. It’s a social media powerhouse.

3) It’s better technology. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook has an amazing team. But they don’t have the same focus. With less people and less money – but with a stricter focus – Friendfeed actually has a superior product specifically when it comes to real time search. Their entire service is built around maximizing it.

Up until now, I‚Äôve been wondering about Friendfeed’s future. It has a brilliant team rolling out features I didn‚Äôt even realise I needed or could have. But I couldn’t see the value proposition ‚Äì or rather, I don‚Äôt have the time to get the value out of Friendfeed because I have a job that distracts me from monitoring that stream!

But now it‚Äôs clear to me that Friendfeed is a leader in the pack – a pack that’s now shaping into a key trend of innovation. And given the fact the creator of Gmail and Adsense is one of the co-founders, I couldn‚Äôt imagine a better fit for Google.

The future is webiqitous

In the half century since the Internet was created – and the 20 years that the web was invented – a lot has changed. More recently, we’ve seen the Dot Com bubble and the web2.0 craze drive new innovations forward. But as I’ve postulated before, those eras are now over. So what’s next?

Well, ubiquity of course.

.com

Huh?
Let’s work backwards with some questions to help you understand.

Why do we now need ubiquity, and what exactly that means, requires us to think of another two questions. The changes brought by the Internet are not one big hit, but a gradual evolution. For example, “Open” has existed since the first days of the Internet in culture: it wasn’t a web2.0 invention. But “openess” was recognised by the masses only in web2.0 as a new way of doing things. This “open” culture had profound consequences: it led to the mass socialisation around content, and recognition of the power that is social media.

As the Internet’s permeation in our society continues, it will generate externalities that affect us (and that are not predictable). But the core trend can be identifiable, which is what I hope to explain in this post. And by understanding this core trend, we can comfortably understand where things are heading.

So let’s look at these two questions:
1) What is the longer term trend, that things like “open” are a part of?
2) What are aspects of this trend yet to be fully developed?

The longer term trend
The explanation can be found into why the Internet and the web were created in the first place. The short answer: interoperability and connectivity. The long answer – keep reading.

Without going deep into the history, the reason why the Internet was created was so that it could connect computers. Computers were machines that enabled better computation (hence the name). As they had better storage and querying capacities than humans, they became the way the US government (and large corporations) would store information. Clusters of these computers would be created (called networks) – and the ARPANET was built as a way of building connections between these computers and networks by the US government. More specifically, in the event of a nuclear war and if one of these computing networks were eliminated – the decentralised design of the Internet would allow the US defense network to rebound easily (an important design decision to remember).

The web has a related but slightly different reason for its creation. Hypertext was conceptualised in the 1960s by a philosopher and scientist, as a way of harnessing computers to better connect human knowledge. These men were partly inspired by an essay written in the the 1940s called “As We May Think“, where the chief scientist of the United States stated his vision whereby all knowledge could be stored on neatly categorised microfirm (the information storage technology at the time), and in moments, any knowledge could be retrieved. Several decades of experimentation in hypertext occurred, and finally a renegade scientist created the World Wide Web. He broke some of the conventions of what the ideal hypertext system would look like, and created a functional system that solved his problem. That being, connecting all these distributed scientists around the world and their knowledge.

So as it is clearly evident, computers have been used as a way of storing and manipulating information. The Internet was invented to connect computing systems around the world; and the Web did the same thing for the people who used this network. Two parallel innovative technologies (Internet and hypertext) used a common modern marvel (the computer) to connect the communication and information sharing abilities of machines and humans alike. With machines and the information they process, it’s called interoperability. With humans, it’s called being connected.

Cables

But before we move on, it’s worth noting that the inventor of the Web has now spent a decade advocating for his complete vision: a semantic web. What’s that? Well if we consider the Web as the sum of human knowledge accessible by humans, the Semantic Web is about allowing computers to be able to understand what the humans are reading. Not quite a Terminator scenario, but so computers can become even more useful for humans (as currently, computers are completely dependent on humans for interpretation).

What aspects of the trend haven’t happened yet?
Borders have been broken down that previously restrained us. The Internet and Hyptertext are enabling connectivity with humans and interoperability for computer systems that store information. Computers in turn, are enabling humans to process tasks that could not be done before. If the longer term trend is connecting and bridging systems, then the demon to be demolished are the borders that create division.

So with that in mind, we can now ask another question: “what borders exist that need to be broken down?” What it all comes down to is “access”. Or more specifically, access to data, access to connectivity, and access to computing. Which brings us back to the word ubiquity: we now need to strive to bridge the gap in those three domains and make them omnipresent. Information accessible from anywhere, by anyone.

Let’s now look at this in a bit more detail
Ubiquitous data: We need a world where data can travel without borders. We need to unlock all the data in our world, and have it accessible by all where possible. Connecting data is how we create information: the more data at our hands, the more information we can generate. Data needs to break free – detached from the published form and atomised for reuse.

Ubiquitous connectivity: If the Internet is a global network that connects the world, we need to ensure we can connect to that network irregardless of where we are. The value of our interconnected world can only achieve its optimum if we can connect wherever with whatever. At home on your laptop, at work on your desktop, on the streets with your mobile phone. No matter where you are, you should be able to connect to the Internet.

Ubiquitous computing: Computers need to become a direct tool available for our mind to use. They need to become an extension of ourselves, as a “sixth sense”. The border that prevents this, is the non-assimilation of computing into our lives (and bodies!). Information processing needs to become thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and activities.

Examples of when we have ubiquity
My good friend Andrew Aho over the weekend showed me something that he bought at the local office supplies shop. It was a special pen that, well, did everything.
– He wrote something on paper, and then through his USB, could transfer an exact replica to his computer in his original handwriting.
– He could perform a search on his computer to find a word in his digitised handwritten notes
– He was able to pass the pen over a pre-written bit of text, and it would replay the sounds in the room when he wrote that word (as in the position on the paper, not the time sequence)
– Passing the pen over the word also allowed it to be translated into several other languages
– He could punch out a query with the drawn out calculator, to compute a function
– and a lot more. The company has now created an open API on top of its platform – meaning anyone can now create additional features that build on this technology. It has the equivalent opportunity to when the Web was created as a platform, and anyone was allowed to build on top of it.

The pen wasn’t all that bulky, and it did this simply by having a camera attached, a microphone and special dotted paper that allowed the pen to recognise its position. Imagine if this pen could connect to the Internet, with access to any data, and the cloud computing resources for more advanced queries?

Now watch this TED video to the end, which shows the power when we allow computers to be our sixth sense. Let your imagination run wild as you watch it – and while it does, just think about ubiquitous data, connectivity, and computation which are the pillars for such a future.

Trends right now enabling ubiquity
So from the 10,000 feet view that I’ve just shown you, let’s now zoom down and look at trends occurring right now. Trends that are heading towards this ever growing force towards ubiquity.

From the data standpoint, and where I believe this next wave of innovation will centre on, we need to see two things: Syntactic Interoperability and Semantic Interoperability. Syntactic interoperability is when two or more systems can communicate with each other – so for example, having Facebook being able to communicate with MySpace (say, with people sending messages to each other). Semantic interoperability is the ability to automatically interpret the information exchanged meaningingfully – so when I Google Paris Hilton, the search engine understands that I want a hotel in a city in Europe, not a celebrity.

The Semantic Web and Linked Data is one key trend that is enabling this. It’s interlinking all the information out there, in a way that makes it accessible for humans and machines alike to reuse. Data portability is similarly another trend (of which I try to focus my efforts), where the industry is fast moving to enable us to move our identities, media and other meta data wherever we want to.

As Chris Messina recently said:

…the whole point of working on open building blocks for the social web is much bigger than just creating more social networks: our challenge is to build technologies that enhance the network and serve people so that they in turn can go and contribute to building better and richer societies…I can think of few other endeavors that might result in more lasting and widespread benefits than making the raw materials of human connection and knowledge sharing a basic and fundamental property of the web.

The DiSo Project that Chris leads is an umbrella effort that is spearheading a series of technologies, that will lay the infrastructure for when social networking will become “like air“, as Charlene Li has been saying for the last two years.

One of the most popular open source pieces of software (Drupal) has now for a while been innovating on the data side rather than on other features. More recently, we’ve seen Google announce it will cater better for websites that markup in more structured formats, giving an economic incentive for people to participate in the Semantic Web. API‘s (ways for external entities to access a website’s data and technology) are now flourishing, and are providing a new basis for companies to innovate and allow mashups (like newspapers).

As for computing and connectivity, these are more hardware issues, which will see innovation at a different pace and scale to the data domain. Cloud computing has long been understood as a long term shift, and which aligns with the move to ubiquitous computing. Theoretically, all you will need is an Internet connection, and with the cloud, be able to have computing resources at your disposal.

CERN

On the connectivity side, we are seeing governments around the world make broadband access a top priority (like the Australian governments recent proposal to create a national broadband network unlike anything else in the world). The more evident trend in this area however, will be the mobile phone – which since the iPhone, has completely transformed our perception of what we can done with this portable computing device. The mobile phone, when connected to the cloud carrying all that data, unleashes the power that is ubiquity.

And then?
Along this journey, we are going to see some unintended impacts, like how we are currently seeing social media replacing the need for a mass media. Spin-off trends will occur which any reasonable person will not be able to predict, and externalities (both positive and negative) will emerge as we drive towards this longer term trend of everything and everyone being connected. (The latest, for example, being the real time web and the social distribution network powering it).

Computing is life

It’s going to challenge conventions in our society and the way we go about our lives – and that’s something that we can’t predict but just expect. For now, however, the trend is pointing to how do we get ubiquity. Once we reach that, then we can ask the question of what happens after it – that being: what happens when everything is connected. But until then, we’ve got to work out on how do we get everything connected in the first place.

New web trend – real time spam

Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote a brilliant post the other day about the coming real time web, following comments by Paul Buchheit (inventor of Gmail). Twitter and the Summize acquisition; Friendfeed; and Facebook are the engine room of innovation right now and real time activity streams are now coming to light as the next big thing. (And I know it’s only going to get bigger as the activity strea.ms workgroup are nearing the finalisation of their spec – meaning all websites can offer it in a standardised way.)

Whilst innovation is always a good thing to see, let’s not forget some of the more innovative people in our world actually are the bad guys. Ladies and gentlemen – introducing real time spam.

The screening of the popular new release movie Star Trek was one of the biggest topics being discussed in the Twitter community (a community where the real time web is at its biggest right now). And the spammers have bombarded it.

#startrek - Twitter Search

The Real Time Web has massive opportunity for our society – especially when everyone is connected. But it also makes us vulnerable – as real time means a captured attention from the audience. And like a police car chase constantly trying to out the bad guys, trying to regulate the Real Time Web could be a challenge.

The artist formally known as liako

Yesterday I switched over my blog to a new domain name: previously Liako.Biz, it now resides as a sub-directory off a domain with my real name (http://eliasbizannes.com/blog). Further more, I renamed myself on the primary micro-blogging tool I use (Twitter) from @liako to @eliasbiz. For most, you wouldn’t see why that matters so much – but for those knee deep in social media, you’ll understand how much of a big deal it can be. In the course of my decision, I realised a few things, so I thought I’d share it here.

Your brand – it matters
I created Liako.Biz in 2005 to document my travels. Although I was partly doing it to explore blogging as a concept, I never realised that my future would be in technology. A year after my trip, I relaunched my blog with a focus on issues I came across in the information and technology sector. The name “Liako” – which is a nickname for “Elias” in Greece and used by my brother and an ex-girlfriend – extended across the web as my online identity. With all these sites I would sign up to, I didn’t think much of it. Turns out those sites now matter.

Due to my work in the DataPortability Project, the concept of online identity has always been on my mind, so perhaps I am a bit more involved in such thinking than most people and hence why I think it’s a bigger deal. More recently however, I noticed Chris Messina have to go through this thought process as he renamed his Twitter profile. Rebranding yourself is a big deal, that I can understand why Messina hasn’t got around to rebranding his blog. It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it – changing your name on a service is a big deal. The question I suppose is why is it so?

All these technology tools are enabling us to stay connected with other people. Twitter as a case in point: I was pulled into that two years ago after Marty Wells and Mick Liubinskas told me it was critical if you are involved in tech.

We are seeing now beyond the tech community but in our everyday life, our reputations grow and develop based on our online activities. As relationships form and develop through these online tools, an emotional connection is attached with the persona of the person they interact with. As soon as I announced a name change on Twitter, I immediately got a reaction from friends – it wasn’t just me, they literally felt like something had changed – validating the emotional connection people build with a brand.

Twitter _ @EliasBiz

Anyone that has a blog understands how hard it is to build up its credibility. You require hundreds of people to link to you, for your blog to even reach a credible level. So to create a new domain name, you effectively are throwing out all that brand value and starting again. It’s like throwing money away for no reason.

Why it matters
Chris Saad and Ben Metcalfe convinced me I needed to drop my liako brand and go with my real name. It’s just common sense to do that – as your profile in the industry grows, people need to know you by your real brand (your actual name), not some alias which in the flood of other aliases makes it even harder for people to remember and distinguish you.

Twitter as a case in point (again), to get value from the service, you should follow people you don’t already know -which is how I know the people pictured below. These people created their own brand which is fine, but it’s lost opportunity – as far as I am concerned, they are two separate people and unless I know them well I may not join the dots.

Twitter _ Home

Our online identities are no longer a play thing: they’re now an intrinsic dimension to our overall identity. Identity is a crucial thing that we need to protect: it can affect our emotional health due to the standing we have in a community – and it can also affect our financial security due to people compromising it. It permeates our life in more ways than one.

Working in the Internet industry, I’m more acutely aware of the importance of my online identity as it directly relates to my career. But our lives are slowly being transformed by the Internet, and even if you don’t have a career touching technology, your online identity is increasingly going to become an important part of you.

Privacy
From a personal branding point of view, it’s obvious why you consolidate your names. You don’t need to necessarily pick your real name, but you need to stick with one name that makes you unique. If you don’t have a unique name, it makes more sense to pick a nickname. However, our actual names are the only brands that matter. We are not companies selling products; we are people selling ourselves.

But something that is worth considering are the privacy implications of using your real name on everything. A Google search for me will now bring up my real time thoughts on Twitter, which sometimes are about other people – not something I want happening in real time. Using multiple names actually can be a good thing, as I don’t want some girl I meet in a nightclub to be able to instantly track me down online (which has already happened – jut because I meet someone doesn’t mean I want to be permanently connected with them!). Separately, I’ve recently had some people harass me (non-stop communicating via multiple channels that I wasn’t responding to) and stalk me (turning up somewhere uninvited), and it’s frustrating to not be able to control the communication from them as you are everywhere and cannot really hide from them.

So why did I do it
Although I’ve developed some goodwill on the Liako brand over the years, I am aware my real break into the industry hasn’t happened yet. So better to start fresh now – and do it right. My future is in the industry, and as painful as it has been to change over – getting it right now will pay off later. I’ve grown accustomed to Liako (my real world friends call me that now!), but using a nickname is exactly that. It disappoints the creative inside of me, but when we are talking about our identity – unless you’re an entertainer seeking attention – it’s worth being boring about that.

Postscript:

      people that subscribe to my blog via feed readers shouldn’t be affected;
      all my posts have been fully ported here so nothing has been lost;
      legacy links will get automatically redirected to the equivalent new URL

Commercialising innovation

Today I attended Vibewire‘s e-festival of ideas, which was done in conjunction with the Australian Innovation Festival. Gavin Heaton had asked me to speak about one of the Cs of innovation, which was commercialisation (the others being creativity, collaboration, connections, and conversation).

I had some great discussions with people there and it’s great to see so many passionate people share ideas about building a better future. The video was streamed online – hit play on the video embedded below and enjoy. (I come in at the 17 minute mark.)