Tag Archive for 'Privacy'

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Can you answer my question?

We at the DataPortability project have kick started a research phase, because we’ve realised we need to spend more time consulting with the community working out issues which don’t quite have one answer.

As Chris Saad and myself are also experimenting with a new type of social organisation as we incubate the DataPortability project, which I call wikiocracy (Chris calls it participant democracy), I thought I might post these issues on my blog to keep in line with the decentralised ethos we are encouraging with DataPortability. This is something the entire world should be questioning,

So below are some thoughts I have had. They’ve changed a lot since I first thought about what a users data rights are, and no doubt, they will change again. But hopefully my thoughts can act as a catalyst for what people think data rights really are, and a focus on the issue at stake which I conclude as my question. I think the bill of rights for users on the social web is not quite adequate, and we need a more careful analysis of the issues.

It’s the data, stupid
Data is essentially an object. Standalone it’s useless – take for example the name “Elias”. In the absence of anything else, that piece of datum means nothing. However when you associate that name with my identity (ie, appending my surname Bizannes or linking it to my facebook profile), that suddenly becomes “information”. Data is an object and information is generated when you create linkages between different types of data – the ‘relationships’.

Take this data definition from DMReview which defines data (and information):

Items representing facts, text, graphics, bit-mapped images, sound, analog or digital live-video segments. Data is the raw material of a system supplied by data producers and is used by information consumers to create information.

Data is an object and information is a relationship between data – I’ve studied database theory at university to be authoritative on that! But since I didn’t do philosophy, then what is knowledge?

Knowledge can be considered as the distillation of information that has been collected, classified, organized, integrated, abstracted and value added
(source)

Relationships, facts, assumptions, heuristics and models derived through the formal and informal analysis or interpretation of data
(source)

So in other words, knowledge is the application of information to a scenario. Whilst I apologise if this appears that I am splitting hairs, I think clarifying what these terms are is fundamental to the implementation of DataPortability. Why this is relevant will be seen below, but now we need to move onto what does the second concept mean.

Portability
On first interpretation, portability means the ability to move something – exporting and importing. I think we shouldn’t take the ability to move data around as the sole definition of portability but it should also mean being able to port the context that data is used. After all, information and knowledge is based on the manipulation of data, and you don’t need to move data per se but merely change the context to do that. A vendor can add value to a consumer by building unique relationships between data and giving unique application to other scenarios – where the original data is stored is irrelevant as long as its accessible.

Portability to me means a person needs to have the ability to determine where their data is used. But to do that, they need control over that data – which means determining how it is used. Yet there is little point being able to determine how your data is used, if you can’t determine who can access your data. Therefore, the concept of portability invokes an understanding of what exactly control and accessibility means.

So to discuss portability, requires us to also understand what does data control and data accessibility really mean. You can’t “port” something unless you control it; and you can’t “control” something, if you can’t determine who can “access” it. As I state, as long as the data is accessible, the location of it can be on the moon for all I care: for the concept of portability by context to exist, we must ensure as a condition that the data is open to access.

Ownership
Now here is where it gets complicated: who owns what? Maybe the conversation should come to who owns the information and knowledge generated from that data. Data on its own, potentially doesn’t belong to anyone. My name “Elias” is shared by millions of other people in the world. Whilst I may own my identity, which my name is a representation of that, is it fair to say I own the name “Elias”? On the flip side, if a picture I took is considered data – I think it’s fair to say I “own” that piece of data.

Information on the other hand, requires a bit of work to create. Therefore, the generator of that information should get ownership. However when we start applying this concept to something like a social relationship, it gets a bit tricky. If I add a friend on Facebook, and they accept me, who “owns” that relationship? Effectively both of us – so we become join partners in ownership of that piece of information. If I was to add someone as a friend on MySpace, they don’t necessarily have to reciprocate – therefore it’s a one way relationship. Does that mean, I own that information?

This is when the concept of privacy comes in. If I am generating information about someone, am I entitled to it? If someone owns the underlying data I used to generate that information – then it would be fair to say, I am “licensing” usage of that data to generate information which de-facto is owned by them. But privacy as a concept and in the legislation of many countries doesn’t work like that. Privacy is even a right along side other basic rights like freedom of expression and religion in the constitution of Iraq (Article 17). So what’s privacy in the context of information that relates to someones identity?

Perhaps we should define privacy as the right to control information that represents an entity’s identity (being a person or legal body). Such as definition ties with defamation law for example, and the principle of privacy: you have control over what’s been said about you, as a fundamental human right. But yet again, I’ve just opened up a can of worms: what is “identity”? Maybe the Identity commons people can answer that? Would it be fair to say, that in the context of an “identity”, an entity like a person ‘owns’ that? So when it comes to information relating to someones identity, do we override it with this human right to privacy as to who owns that information, regardless of who generated that information?

This posting is a question, rather than an answer. When we say we want “data portability”, we need to be clear what exactly this means. Companies I believe are slightly afraid of DataPortability, because they think they will lose something, which is not true. Companies commercial interests are something I am very mindful when we have these discussions, and I will ensure with my involvement that DataPortability pioneers not some unrealistic ideal but a genuine move forward in business thinking. It needs to be clear what constitutes ownership and of what so we can design a blueprint that accounts for users’ data rights, without ruining the business models of companies that rely on our data.

Which brings me to my question – “who owns what”?

My presentation at Kickstart forum

I’m currently at Kickstart forum (along with the Mickster), and I just gave a presentation on DataPortability to a bunch of Aussie journalists. I didn’t write a speech, but I did jot down some points on paper before I spoke, so I thought I might share them here given I had a good response.

My presentation had three aspects: background, explanation, and implications of DataPortability. Below is a summary of what I said

Background

  • Started by a bunch of Australians and a few other people overseas in November 2007 out of a chatroom. We formed a workgroup to explore the concept of social network data portability
  • In January 2008, Robert Scoble had an incident, which directed a lot of attention to us. As a consequence, we’ve seen major companies such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Six Apart, LinkedIn, Digg, and a host of others pledge support for the project.
  • We now have over 1000 people contributing, and have the support of a lot of influential people in the industry who want us to succeed.

Explanation

  • The goal is to not invent anything new. Rather, it’s to synthesise existing standards and technologies, into one blueprint – and then we push it out to the world under the DataPortability brand
  • When consumers see the DataPortability brand, they will know it represents certain things – similar to how users recognise the Centrino brand represents Intel, mobility, wireless internet, and a long battary life. The brand is to communicate some fundamental things about a web service, that will allow a user to recognise a supporting site respects it’s users data rights and certain functionality.
  • Analogy of zero-networking: before the zeroconf initiative it was difficult to connect to the internet (wirelessly). Due to the standardisation of policies, we can now connect on the internet wirelessly at the click of a button. The consequence of this is not just a better consumer experience, but the enablement of future opportunities such as what we are seeing with the mobile phone. Likewise, with DataPortability we will be able to connect to new applications and things will just “work” – and it will see new opportunity for us
  • Analogy of the bank: I stated how the attention economy is something we give our attention to ie, we put up with advertising, and in return we get content. And that the currency of the attention economy is data. With DataPortability, we can store our data in a bank, and via “electronic transfer”, we can interact with various services controlling the use of that data in a centralised manner. We update our data at the bank, and it automatically synchronises with the services we use ie, automatically updating your Facebook and MySpace profiles

Implications

  1. Interoperability: When diverse systems and organisations work together. A DataPortability world will allow you to use your data generated from other sites ie, if you buy books on Amazon about penguins, you can get movie recommendations on your pay TV movie catalog for penguins. Things like the ability to log in across the web with one sign-on, creates a self-supporting ecosystem where everyone benefits.
  2. Semantic web: I gave an explanation of the semantic web (which generated a lot of interest afterwards in chats), and then I proceeded to explain that the problem for the semantic web is there hasn’t been this uptake of standards and technologies. I said that when a company adopts the DataPortability blueprint, they will effectively be supporting the semantic web – and hence enabling the next phase of computing history
  3. Data rights: I claimed the DataPortability project is putting data rights in the spotlight, and it’s an issue that has generated interest from other industries like the health and legal sectors, and not just the Internet sector. Things like what is privacy, and what exactly does my “data” mean. DataPortability is creating a discussion on what this actually means
  4. Wikiocracy: I briefly explained how we are doing a social experiment, with a new type of of governance model, which can be regarded as an evolution of the open source model. “Decentralised” and “non-hierarchical”, which with time it will be more evident with what we are trying to do

Something that amused me was in the sessions I had afterwards when the journalists had a one-on-one session with me, one woman asked: “So why are you doing all of this?”. I said it was an amazing opportunity to meet people and build my profile in the tech industry, to which she concluded: “you’re doing this to make history, aren’t you?”. I smiled 🙂

Facebook’s privacy is smart on technology but stupid in thought

I’ve had to neglect this blog because I have been insanely busy with work and my studies, and will continue to do so for the rest of the year. But I thought I’d post a quick observation I made today, that I found interesting. Even more interesting, because I rarely notice details!

Whenever Facebook notifies you of an e-mail – like for example when a friend messages you – it will actually show you their e-mail. An example is in the screen shot below, which would enable me to click ‘reply’ to their e-mail and it would go directly to their personal e-mail. (I’ve noticed however, that this will only occur if you have already added the person as a friend.)

direct e-mail

This raises some interesting issues regarding privacy. The first being, why the heck is Facebook allowing this? Am I going to reply to my friends asking them what did they say in the message?! Privacy is my right to determine when people can see information about me when I want to – and I don’t want my friends seeing my e-mail. I can think of an example when a friend collected my e-mail from my profile, and adding me to a forward list of chain e-mails. Unlike the postal system for snail mail, where people pay for sending me a message with a stamp, e-mail forces the user to pay when they receive a message through their time. Before I didn’t have a choice, but now with new ways of communicating, I can control what gets sent to me.

This actually is a bit deeper. I’ve seen fake profiles friend request me – I always deny people I don’t know, but I know that lots of my friends usually add people blindly (I remember asking a friend who a friend requester was when I noticed she was a mutual friend with him, to which he replied: “No idea, but she’s hot!”). This now just became a very easy way to obtain someones e-mail – certainly, not as easy as harvesting e-mails from a public facing website, but still another means. The concerns however is not spam but identity threats.

A crucial thing to understand about privacy, is the concept of identifiable data. Corporations can collect data about me until their heart is content and I wouldn’t mind- but only on the basis they can’t specifically identify me. An e-mail address is what I regard as identifiable information: the e-mail I use on various web services that hold different data about me, can be easily linked purely through my e-mail address.

I’ve previously said how social networking sites are a new type of communications, that are far better than e-mail. E-mail is one of the worlds most powerful technologies but also one of the most dangerous. Whilst most would think it is because of e-mail overload and spam, what I really mean is how a single e-mail address can do so much damage if used by someone trying to investigate you and your life.

As our digital world becomes more sophisticated (and scary), lets be clear of some things. People no longer need e-mail to contact you; they can instead contact your ‘identity’ which is far superior (I discussed this in the posting I linked to just above). However with this advancement, also comes the opportunity to regard what your e-mail address really is: a key piece of identifiable data that can link your multiple identity’s across the digital world into one mega profile.

How Google reader can finally start making money

Today, you would have heard that Newsgator, Bloglines, Me.dium, Peepel, Talis and Ma.gnolia have joined the APML workgroup and are in discussions with workgroup members on how they can implement APML into their product lines. Bloglines created some news the other week on their intention to adopt it, and the announcement today about Newsgator means APML is now fast becoming an industry standard.

Google however, is still sitting on the side lines. I really like using Google reader, but if they don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t announce support for APML soon, I will have to switch back to my old favourite Bloglines which is doing some serious innovating. Seeing as Google reader came out of beta recently, I thought I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d help them out to finally add a new feature (APML) that will see it generate some real revenue.

What a Google reader APML file would look like
Read my previous post on what exactly APML is. If the Google reader team was to support APML, what they could add to my APML file is a ranking of blogs, authors, and key-words. First an explanation, and then I will explain the consequences.

In terms of blogs I read, the percentage frequency of posting I read from a particular blog will determine the relevancy score in my APML file. So if I was to read 89% of Techcrunch posts ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which is information already provided to users ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú it would convert this into a relevancy score for Techcrunch of 89% or 0.89.

ranking

APML: pulling rank

In terms of authors I read, it can extract who posted the entry from the individual blog postings I read, and like the blog ranking above, perform a similar procedure. I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t imagine it would too hard to do this, however given it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a small team running the product, I would put this on a lower priority to support.

In terms of key-words, Google could employ its contextual analysis technology from each of the postings I read and extract key words. By performing this on each post I read, the frequency of extracted key words determines the relevance score for those concepts.

So that would be the how. The APML file generated from Google Reader would simply rank these blogs, authors, and key-words – and the relevance scores would update over time. Over time, the data is indexed and re-calculated from scratch so as concepts stop being viewed, they start to diminish in value until they drop off.

What Google reader can do with that APML file
1. Ranking of content
One of the biggest issues facing consumers of RSS is the amount of information overload. I am quite confident to think that people would pay a premium, for any attempt to help rank the what can be the hundreds of items per day, that need to be read by a user. By having an APML file, over time Google Reader can match postings to what a users ranked interests are. So rather than presenting the content by reverse chronology (most recent to oldest); it can instead organise content by relevancy (items of most interest to least).

This won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t reduce the amount of RSS consumption by a user, but it will enable them to know how to allocate their attention to content. There are a lot of innovative ways you can rank the content, down to the way you extract key works and rank concepts, so there is scope for competing vendors to have their own methods. However the point is, a feature to ?¢‚ǨÀúSort by Personal Relevance?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ would be highly sort after, and I am sure quite a few people will be willing to pay the price for this God send.

I know Google seems to think contextual ads are everything, but maybe the Google Reader team can break from the mould and generate a different revenue stream through a value add feature like that. Google should apply its contextual advertising technology to determine key words for filtering, not advertising. It can use this pre-existing technology to generate a different revenue stream.

2. Enhancing its AdSense programme

blatant ads

Targeted advertising is still bloody annoying

One of the great benefits of APML is that it creates an open database about a user. Contextual advertising, in my opinion is actually a pretty sucky technology and its success to date is only because all the other types of targeted advertising models are flawed. As I explain above, the technology instead should be done to better analyse what content a user consumes, through keyword analysis. Over time, a ranking of these concepts can occur ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú as well as being shared from other web services that are doing the same thing.

An APML file that ranks concepts is exactly what Google needs to enhance its adwords technology. Don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t use it to analyse a post to show ads; use it to analyse a post to rank concepts. Then, in aggregate, the contextual advertising will work because it can be based off this APML file with great precision. And even better, a user can tweak it ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú which will be the equivalent to tweaking what advertising a user wants to get. The transparency of a user being able to see what ‘concept ranking’ you generate for them, is powerful, because a user is likely to monitor it to be accurate.

APML is contextual advertising biggest friend, because it profiles a user in a sensible way, that can be shared across applications and monitored by the user. Allowing a user to tweak their APML file for the motivation of more targeted content, aligns their self-interest to ensure the targeted ads thrown at them based on those ranked concepts, are in fact, relevant.

3. Privacy credibility
Privacy is the inflation of the attention economy. You can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t proceed to innovate with targeted advertising technology, whilst ignoring privacy. Google has clearly realised this the hard way by being labeled one of the worst privacy offenders in the world. By adopting APML, Google will go a long way to gain credibility in privacy rights. It will be creating open transparency with the information it collects to profile users, and it will allow a user to control that profiling of themselves.

APML is a very clever approach to dealing with privacy. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not the only approach, but it a one of the most promising. Even if Google never uses an APML file as I describe above, the pure brand-enhancing value of giving some control to its users over their rightful attention data, is something alone that would benefit the Google Reader product (and Google?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s reputation itself) if they were to adopt it.

privacy

Privacy. Stop looking.

Conclusion
Hey Google – can you hear me? Let’s hope so, because you might be the market leader now, but so was Bloglines once upon a time.

Explaining APML: what it is & why you want it

Lately there has been a lot of chatter about APML. As a member of the workgroup advocating this standard, I thought I might help answer some of the questions on people’s minds. Primarily – “what is an APML file”, and “why do I want one”. I suggest you read the excellent article by Marjolein Hoekstra on attention profiling that she recently wrote, if you haven’t already done so, as an introduction to attention profiling. This article will focus on explaining what the technical side of an APML file is and what can be done with it. Hopefully by understanding what APML actually is, you’ll understand how it can benefit you as a user.

APML – the specification
APML stands for Attention Profile Markup Language. It’s an attention economy concept, based on the XML technical standard. I am going to assume you don’t know what attention means, nor what XML is, so here is a quick explanation to get you on board.

Attention
There is this concept floating around on the web about the attention economy. It means as a consumer, you consume web services – e-mail, rss readers, social networking sites – and you generate value through your attention. For example, if I am on a Myspace band page for Sneaky Sound System, I am giving attention to that band. Newscorp (the company that owns MySpace) is capturing that implicit data about me (ie, it knows I like Electro/Pop/House music). By giving my attention, Newscorp has collected information about me. Implicit data are things you give away about yourself without saying it, like how people can determine what type of person you are purely off the clothes you wear. It’s like explicit data – information you give up about yourself (like your gender when you signed up to MySpace).

Attention camera

I know what you did last Summer

XML
XML is one of the core standards on the web. The web pages you access, are probably using a form of XML to provide the content to you (xHTML). If you use an RSS reader, it pulls a version of XML to deliver that content to you. I am not going to get into a discussion about XML because there are plenty of other places that can do that. However I just want to make sure you understand, that XML is a very flexible way of structuring data. Think of it like a street directory. It’s useless if you have a map with no street names if you are trying to find a house. But by having a map with the street names, it suddenly becomes a lot more useful because you can make sense of the houses (the content). It’s a way of describing a piece of content.

APML – the specification
So all APML is, is a way of converting your attention into a structured format. The way APML does this, is that it stores your implicit and explicit data – and scores it. Lost? Keep reading.

Continuing with my example about Sneaky Sound System. If MySpace supported APML, they would identify that I like pop music. But just because someone gives attention to something, that doesn’t mean they really like it; the thing about implicit data is that companies are guessing because you haven’t actually said it. So MySpace might say I like pop music but with a score of 0.2 or 20% positive – meaning they’re not too confident. Now lets say directly after that, I go onto the Britney Spears music space. Okay, there’s no doubting now: I definitely do like pop music. So my score against “pop” is now 0.5 (50%). And if I visited the Christina Aguilera page: forget about it – my APML rank just blew to 1.0! (Note that the scoring system is a percentage, with a range from -1.0 to +1.0 or -100% to +100%).

APML ranks things, but the concepts are not just things: it will also rank authors. In the case of Marjolein Hoekstra, who wrote that post I mention in my intro, because I read other things from her it means I have a high regard for her writing. Therefore, my APML file gives her a high score. On the other hand, I have an allergic reaction whenever I read something from Valleywag because they have cooties. So Marjolein’s rank would be 1.0 but Valleywag’s -1.0.

Aside from the ranking of concepts (which is the core of what APML is), there are other things in an APML file that might confuse you when reviewing the spec. “From” means ‘from the place you gave your attention’. So with the Sneaky Sound System concept, it would be ‘from: MySpace’. It’s simply describing the name of the application that added the implicit node. Another thing you may notice in an APML file is that you can create “profiles”. For example, the concepts about me in my “work” profile is not something I want to mix with my “personal” profile. This allows you to segment the ranked concepts in your APML into different groups, allowing applications access to only a particilar profile.

Another thing to take note of is ‘implicit’ and ‘explicit’ which I touched on above – implicit being things you give attention to (ie, the clothes you wear – people guess because of what you wear, you are a certain personality type); explicit being things you gave away (the words you said – when you say “I’m a moron” it’s quite obvious, you are). APML categorises concepts based on whether you explicitly said it, or it was implicitly determined by an application.

Okay, big whoop – why can an APML do for me?
In my eyes, there are five main benefits of APML: filtering, accountability, privacy, shared data, and you being boss.

1) Filtering
If a company supports APML, they are using a smart standard that other companies use to profile you. By ranking concepts and authors for example, they can use your APML file in the future to filter things that might interest you. As I have such a high ranking for Marjolein, when Bloglines implements APML, they will be able to use this information to start prioritising content in my RSS reader. Meaning, of the 1000 items in my bloglines reader, all the blog postings from her will have more emphasis for me to read whilst all the ones about Valleywag will sit at the bottom (with last nights trash).

2) Accountability
If a company is collecting implicit data about me and trying to profile me, I would like to see that infomation thank you very much. It’s a bit like me wearing a pink shirt at a party. You meet me at a party, and think “Pink – the dude must be gay”. Now I am actually as straight as a doornail, and wearing that pink shirt is me trying to be trendy. However what you have done is that by observation, you have profiled me. Now imagine if that was a web application, where this happens all the time. By letting them access your data – your APML file – you can change that. I’ve actually done this with Particls before, which supports APML. It had ranked a concept as high based on things I had read, which was wrong. So what I did, was changed the score to -1.0 for one of them, because that way, Particls would never show me content on things it thought I would like.

3) Privacy
I joined the APML workgroup for this reason: it was to me a smart away to deal with the growing privacy issue on the web. It fits my requirements about being privacy compliant:

  • who can see information about you
  • when can people see information about you:
  • what information they can see about you

The way APML does that is by allowing me to create ‘profiles’ within my APML file; allowing me to export my APML file from a company; and by allowing me to access my APML file so I can see what profile I have.

drivers

Here is my APML, now let me in. Biatch.

4) Shared data
An APML file can, with your permission, share information between your web-services. My concepts ranking books on Amazon.com, can sit alongside my RSS feed rankings. What’s powerful about that, is the unintended consequences of sharing that data. For example, if Amazon ranked what my favourite genres were about books – this could be useful information to help me filter my RSS feeds about blog topics. The data generated in Amazon’s ecosystem, can benefit me and enjoy a product in another ecosystem, in a mutually beneficial way.

5) You’re the boss!
By being able to generate APML for the things you give attention to, you are recognising the value your attention has – something companies already place a lot of value on. Your browsing habits can reveal useful information about your personality, and the ability to control your profile is a very powerful concept. It’s like controlling the image people have of you: you don’t want the wrong things being said about you. 🙂

Want to know more?
Check the APML FAQ. Othersise, post a comment if you still have no idea what APML is. Myself or one of the other APML workgroup members would be more than happy to answer your queries.

Bloglines to support APML

Tucked away in a post by one of the leading RSS readers in the world, Bloglines had announced that they will be investigating on how they can implement APML into their service. The thing about standards is that as fantastic as they are, if no one uses them, they are not a standard. Over the last year, dozens of companies have implemented APML support and this latest annoucement by a revitalised Bloglines team that is set to take back what Google took from them, means we are going to be seeing a lot more innovation in an area that has largely gone unanswered.

The annoucement has been covered by Read/WriteWeb, APML founders Faraday Media,?Ç? and a thoughtful analysis has been done by Ross Dawson. Ben Melcalfe had also written a thought-provoking analysis, of the merits of APML.

What this means?

APML is about taking control of data that companies collect about you. For example, if you are reading lots of articles about dogs, RSS readers can make a good guess you like dogs – and will tick the “likes dogs” box on the profile they build of you which they use to determine advertising.?Ç? Your attention data is anything you give attention to – when you click on a link within facebook, that’s attention data that reveals things about you implicitly.

The big thing about APML is that is solves a massive problem when it comes to privacy. If you look at my definition of what constitutes privacy, the abillity to control what data is collected with APML, completely fits the bill. I was so impressed when I first heard about it, because its a problem I have been thinking about for years, that I immediately joined the APML workgroup.

Privacy is the inflation of the attention economy, and companies like Google are painfully learning about the natural tension between privacy and targetted advertising. (Targetted advertising being the thing that Google is counting on to fund its revenue.) The web has seen a lot of technological innovation, which has disrupted a lot of our culture and society. It’s time that the companies that are disrupting the world’s economies, started innovating to answer the concerns of the humans that are using their services. Understanding how to deal with privacy is a key competitive advantage for any company in the Internet sector. It’s good to see some finally realising that.

Facebook is doing what Google did: enabling

The hype surrounding the Facebook platform has created a frenzy of hype – on it being a closed wall, on privacy and the right to users having control of their data, and of course the monetisation opportunities of the applications themselves (which on the whole, appear futile but that will change).

We’ve heard of applications becoming targeted, with one (rumoured) for $3 million – and it has proved applications are an excellent way to acquire users and generate leads to your off-Facebook website & products. We’ve also seen applications desperately trying to monetise their products, by putting Google Ads on the homepage of the application, which are probably just as effective as giving a steak to a vegetarian. The other day however was the first instance where I have seen a monetisation strategy by an application that genuinely looked possible.

It’s this application called Compare Friends, where you essentially compare two friends on a question (who’s nicer, who has better hair, who would you rather sleep with…). The aggregate of responses from your friends who have compared you, can indicate how a person sits in a social network. For example, I am most dateable in my network, and one of the people with prettiest eyes (oh shucks guys!).

The other day, I was given an option to access the premium service – which essentially analyses your friends’ responses.

compare sub

It occurred to me that monetisation strategies for the Facebook platform are possible beyond whacking Google Adsense on the application homepage. Valuable data can be collected by an application, such as what your friends think of you, and that can be turned into a useful service. Like above, they offer to tell you who is most likely to give you a good reference – that could be a useful thing. In the applications current iteration, I have no plans to pay 10 bucks for that data – but it does make you wonder that with time, more sophisticated services can be offered.

Facebook as the bastion of consumer insight

On a similar theme, I did an experiment a few months ago whereby I purchased a facebook poll, asking a certain demographic a serious question. The poll itself revealed some valuable data, as it gave me some more insight into the type of users of Facebook (following up from my original posting). However what it also revealed was the power of tapping into the crowd for a response so quickly.
clustered yes
Seeing the data come in by the minute as up to 200 people took the poll, as a marketer you could quickly gauge how people think about something in a statistically valid sample, in literally hours. You should read this posting discussing what I learned from the poll if you are interested.

It’s difficult to predict the trends I am seeing, and what will become of Facebook because a lot could happen. However one thing is certain, is that right now, it is a highly effective vehicle for individuals to gain insight about themselves – and generating this information is something I think people will pay for if it proves useful. Furthermore, it is an excellent way for organisations to organise quick and effective market research to test a hypothesis.

The power of Facebook, for external entities, is that it gives access to controlled populations whereby valuable data can be gained. As the WSJ notes, the platform has now started to see some clever applications that realise this. Expect a lot more to come.

Facebook is doing what Google did for the industry

When Google listed, a commentator said this could launch a new golden age that would bring optimism not seen since the bubble days to this badly shaken industry. I reflected on that point he made to see if his prophesy would come true one day. In case you hadn’t noticed, he was spot on!

When Google came, it did two big things for the industry

1) AdSense. Companies now had a revenue model – put some Google ads on your website in minutes. It was a cheap, effective advertising network that created an ecosystem. As of 30 June 2007, Google makes about 36% of their revenue from members in the Google network – meaning, non-Google websites. That’s about $2.7 billion. Although we can’t quantify how much their partners received – which could be anything from 20% to 70% (the $2.7 billion of course is Google’s share) – it would be safe to say Google helped the web ecosystem generate an extra $1 billion. That’s a lot of money!

2) Acquisitions. Google’s cash meant that buyouts where an option, rather than IPO, as is what most start-ups aimed for in the bubble days. In fact, I would argue the whole web2.0 strategy for startups is to get acquired by Google. This has encouraged innovation, as all parties from entrepreneurs to VC’s can make money from simply building features rather than actual businesses that have a positive cashflow. This innovation has a cumulative effect, as somewhere along the line, someone discovers an easy way to make money in ways others hadn’t thought possible.

Google’s starting to get stale now – but here comes Facebook to further add to the ecosystem. Their acquisition of a ‘web-operating system‘ built by a guy considered to be the next Bill Gates shows that Facebook’s growth is beyond a one hit wonder. The potential for the company to shake the industry is huge – for example, in advertising alone, they could roll out an advertising network that takes it a step further than contextual advertising as they actually have a full profile of 40 million people. This would make it the most efficient advertising system in the world. They could become the default login and identity system for people – no longer will you need to create an account for that pesky new site asking you to create an account. And as we are seeing currently, they enable a platform the helps other businesses generate business.

I’ve often heard people say that history will repeat itself – usually pointing to how 12 months ago Myspace was all the rage: Facebook is a fad, they will be replaced one day. I don’t think so – Facebook is evolving, and more importantly is that it is improving the entire web ecosystem. Facebook, like Google, is a company that strengthens the web economy. I am probably going to hate them one day, just like how my once loved Google is starting to annoy me now. But thank God it exists – because it’s enabling another generation of commerce that sees the sophistication of the web.

Study finds people would not pay for privacy options

A 2007 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of California at Berkeley found that most subjects were unwilling to spend even a quarter [25 cents] to keep someone from selling sensitive information about them — such as their weight or number of sex partners. “People prefer money over data, always,” says Alessandro Acquisti, assistant professor of information technology and public policy at CMU. Source: Wired

Is privacy really that big a deal? In short – yes – but paying for paid privacy options is not something I am sure of. Rather, I would expect the forces to swell up like a hurricane that will require political action to enforce privacy as a legal right. As a business, you shouldn’t think of privacy as a revenue stream, but rather, a branding tool to build trust. It’s users ignorance of the truth, not acceptance of the consequences, that has people giving away their data. Don’t abuse that trust if given the opportunity.

Privacy – just like inflation

Privacy is a massive business issue. I’ve commented on the lack of interest in privacy from entrepreneurs in the web space; I’ve tried to define privacy; and I joined the APML workgroup for this reason

Need to know why I think it matters? Well here are three facts:

1) Targeted advertising is the future of advertising. Why? Because it’s most effective type of advertising.

2) Web services, and arguably the entire attention economy, rely on advertising as a revenue model.

3) There is a natural friction between targeted advertising and privacy. You can’t target without knowing who you are targeting – which implies some type of implicit collection of data.

Google, on the strength of its brand, has been able to manage the privacy issue. But no longer. Privacy International has ranked Google at the worst privacy offended on the internet. As 99% of Google’s revenue relies on advertising, with open acknowledgment that they are trying to find ways of better targeting advertising, we can expect to hear more and more how Google’s evil is in the data they collect and the way they control it.

Economic growth is one of the key concepts to how our world works – it’s what companies and countries for example, constantly aim for. But as we have seen repeatedly, if an economy grows too quickly, problems can appear – inflation, infrastructure issues, and fatigue. Greed has a price. In the context of an economy, inflation is the speed-hump – the faster you drive over it, the bigger the hit.

So would it be too far to extend the metaphor, to say that privacy is the advertising equivalent to inflation? If you are relying on advertising as a revenue model, remember that privacy will matter more and more with an interconnected world.

Faraday Media – Particls

This series of blog posts – wizards of oz – is to highlight the innovation we have down under. So I begin with Faraday media, a Brisbane based start-up that launched their keynote product today,

Particls is an engine that learns what you are interested in, and alerts you when content on the internet becomes available – through a desktop ‘ticker’ or pop-up alerts.

Value
1) It’s targeted. Particls is an attention engine – it learns what you want to read, and then goes and finds relevant information. That’s a powerful tool, for those of us drowning in information overload, and who don’t have time to read.

2) It catches your attention. Particls is based on the concept of ‘alerts’ – information trickles across your screen seemlesly as you do your work, like a news ticker. For the things that matter, an alert will pop-up. The way you deal with information overload is not by shutting yourself out – it’s by adjusting the volume on things that you value more than other things.

3) The founders understand privacy. They started the APML standard – a workgroup I joined because it’s the best attempt I have seen yet that tackles the issue of privacy on the internet. For example, I can see what the Particls attention engine uses to determine my preferences – lists of people and subjects with “relevance scores”. And better yet – it’s stored on my hard-disk.

4) It’s simple. RSS is a huge innovation on the web, that only a minority of users on the internet understand. The problem with RSS (Real Simple Syndication), is that it’s not simple. Particles makes it dead simple to add RSS and track that content.

Conclusion

Why the hell doesn’t Fairfax acquire the start-up, rather than wasting time creating yet another publication (incidently in the same city) that we don’t have time to read. In my usage of the product, I have been introduced to content that I am interested in, that I never would have realised had existed on the web. In my trials, I have mainly used it to keep track of my research interests, and despite my skepticism about how ‘good’ the the attention engine is, it has absolutely blown me away.

And it’s not just in the consumer space – a colleague (who happens to hold a lot of influence in enterprise architecture of our 140,000 person firm) was blasting RSS one day on an internal blog – saying how we don’t yet have the technology to ‘filter’ information. I told him about Particls – he’s now in love. If a guy like him, who shapes IT strategy for a $20 billion consulting firm, can get that excited – that’s got to tell you something.