Tag Archives: social software

Poster at WSTC 2008

I haven’t had a chance to write up many of my thoughts from the WebSphere conference I’m attending in Las Vegas yet – the agenda is, as usual, absolutely jam-packed with content so I’ve not had much time to form notes into blog entries. A bunch of people are twittering from the conference.

If you took one of my cards at the poster session last night, you may be interested to find out more about me and links to the tools we were discussing via my internal blog.

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Youngsters, social media, and online privacy

While I was driving to work this morning I listened to a piece on Radio 4 about an Ofcom study published today (also reported on the BBC News website). The report and interview on the Today programme was essentially suggesting that children in the UK are routinely sharing too much personal information on social networking sites. One mother interviewed said that she didn’t really understand the privacy settings on the social networks her son used, that she trusted him, and then admitted that she had “abdicated responsibility” for his use of the sites.

It was another of those segments that made me gnash my teeth and make comments at the radio. While I very strongly believe that children (and their parents) do need to be well-informed about the ways to make effective use of social networks and how to protect themselves online, I wanted to share an interesting experience that may indicate that the problem may not be as bad as the media makes out.

During the Blue Fusion event we ran at IBM Hursley recently, I spent a day running an activity that was all about identity theft and online privacy. The idea of the game was that the students were given a single piece of information – someone’s name – and then had to see how much they could find out about them through social engineering: web searches, finding paper information, or passing themselves off as various official organisations in roleplays. It was entirely contrived, of course… the designers of the activity had deliberately setup a social network profile for the person with “just enough” data to put the youngsters on the right track, and then laid a bunch of other clues based on the individual being quite hapless (not shredding documents, giving out personal data entirely too freely, etc). It was a lot of fun to run, and also brilliantly put together.

At the end of the activity I made a point of bringing the teams together and talking to them about how careless use of social networks could theoretically provide openings to identity theft. We had a short Q&A session that revolved around what networks they used (interestingly, most of them were on Bebo or MySpace, and not Facebook), and what kinds of information they shared. Home addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth were not generally on the list, which was a bit of a relief! The overriding impression I got from the exercise was that these students had a high degree of common sense… not that I’m saying that the sample group should be taken as indicative of every UK student, but their degree of online literacy was highly impressive.

On top of today’s Ofcom study, whilst I was at Male’ airport on the way back from vacation I caught a snippet on Sky News covering last week’s publication of the Byron Review. There’s a lovely statement in the Executive Summary of the review:

Children and young people need to be empowered to keep themselves safe – this isn’t just about a top-down approach. Children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks. At a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim.

Again, from what I’ve read I think I broadly agree with some of the findings, but the point at which the teeth-gnashing comes in is where the report (and the media) start to talk about regulation, which just seems to me to indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Internet. Educate, don’t always seek to regulate.

The question is: just who needs educating here? The adults, the children, or the media? I think it’s obvious that today’s youngsters are streets ahead of most of their parents in terms of online literacy. I hope their parents can be persuaded to keep up, and not to attempt to crack down. And I hope the need for a weekly scare story about social networks can actually subside at some point this year – seriously, it’s getting old.

Apparently the Home Office is due to publish a set of recommendations later this week. I await their thoughts with a mixture of interest and dread.

Social bridgebuilding is about real world connections

It’s all about the groundwork

It was James Governor who coined the term “social bridgebuilder”, in response to my musings about what it is I do with all this social media. Here’s a good example of what I like to do: I enjoy connecting people.

One of the things about blogging is that good bloggers take the time to engage in conversations, explore the blogosphere, and make new connections. Read widely, read outside of your “subject area”, comment and establish new acquaintances. Sometimes, just click through to that linked article for the sake of broadening your interest. If it does strike a chord, comment and let the author know you liked it.

Probably about 18 months ago I randomly connected with Heidi Hansen… I’m fairly sure it was via Plazes, now I think about it, but I can’t really remember the reason… I started reading her blog, commenting on posts that I found interesting, and we’ve subsequently become friends through a multitude of different connections in social networks. We’re in very different spheres, both professionally and geographically, but it is one of those connections that I’m glad I’ve been able to make.

The scenario

A couple of weeks ago, Heidi contacted me to ask whether I had any ideas about areas of possible research into social networking and social software. As it happens, I have been involved in a number of research studies over the past couple of years, both inside and outside of IBM, so we got to talking about things that might be worth exploring. I was also able to recommend a number of good folks that I thought it would be worth her following, such as my colleagues Jasmin Tragas and Sacha Chua (sidenote: if I ever get around to updating my blogroll, I’m sure Heidi would find a bunch of others!).

At the same time, I realised that Sacha and Heidi would probably have a whole lot in common. I know Sacha through blogs, both internally and externally at IBM… Sacha is one of those people who is impossible to ignore, and a lot of IBMers will have encountered her infectious enthusiasm, particularly inside our firewall 🙂 I also knew she had recently finished studying herself, so it seemed like a natural connection to make. I pinged Sacha on Sametime and dropped her an email to follow-up.

Without realising it, I’d pointed Heidi at Sacha only days before she was due to travel to Toronto, where Sacha is based.

Result? I was able to connect two friends I’ve never met, for a real-world meeting in Toronto last week… and it sounds like it was a successful encounter. With a couple of emails, Twitters and IMs, a new connection was made.

Why is social software valuable?

This isn’t about the “dollar value of a transaction”. A lot of folks seem to want to know what financial benefit they can gain from engaging in these new social media.

Forget that.

I’ve no idea whether Heidi will buy IBM software in the future as a result of knowing me (actually, I’m pretty certain she won’t, but who knows where the world will take her!). The point is that I’m enriching my own network by knowing her, and by knowing Sacha, and tapping into their skills and expertise; and of course my own network and knowledge is completely open to either of them. I don’t know what dollar value to place on that; but I know that to me, the personal connections and friendships I build using these social tools are invaluable.

Social networking with schoolfriends in Poland

One of the sites making waves in Poland at the moment is Nasza Klasa, or Our Class. When we were there at Christmas, the whole family was getting very excited about it – reconnecting with old friends and giggling at old pictures. A lot of fun.

It’s interesting that this social network is even needed. Lots of local / native language sites and networks do exist, not only in Poland, particularly in the Far East for instance… this is one area where sites like Facebook sometimes fail. Poland in particular has its own instant messaging network (Gadu-Gadu, on which I have an account but never seem to be able to login using Adium) and other reinventions of the otherwise English-speaking wheel. Although some of my family are on Facebook, they are also enjoying using the Polish alternatives.

Nasza Klasa is suffering growing pains having gained several million users in a very short space of time… it’s particularly evident in the performance of the service, unfortunately. The site reminds me a lot of Friends Reunited, which I suppose was one of the earlier social networks. The idea is the same – reconnecting schoolfriends – and even the colours and layout are not dissimilar to the original Friends Reunited design. Looking at Friends Reunited now (part of the ITV empire, for some reason), it does look horribly dated. We complain about Facebook’s walled garden, but FR has absolutely no APIs or feeds, you have to visit the site to do anything, and you have to pay to be able to contact your friends. Thank goodness the web moved on.

Google gobbling

Google’s acquisition of Jaiku came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Robert Scoble says it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, and that combined with Google’s other properties, this will all translate into some super Facebook-killing announcement next month.

The thing is, I’ve been a bit amazed by some of Google’s acquisitions. I can’t say that I see all of them as totally successful. Blogger in particular hasn’t seen much love, apart from a spruce-up earlier in the year when they finally started to catch up to WordPress (and WP has continued to jump forward since then). Picasa? Sorry, but IMO Flickr still wipes the floor with that… Yahoo! has been pretty clever about not pasting logos all over the site and has quietly and neatly integrated Flickr, Upcoming, del.icio.us and other properties. Continuing the Google theme: Jotspot, YouTube… not sure they are examples of sites or tools that have been well-integrated into the Google “family”.

As Mark Cathcart pointed out, this doesn’t mean that all of Google’s acquisitions have been unsuccessful. For instance, Google Earth (Keyhole) is superb, and has great integration with Maps, Panoramio, SketchUp etc.. Google Docs is great too, although I don’t personally use it.

So will the mighty new Googaiku kill Twitter? Personally, unless they do something startling as Scoble suggests, I don’t see why it should. My network is all on Twitter, and despite trying both Jaiku and Pownce, I’ve not been tempted away despite various the outages and wobbles Twitter has gone through. It is simple, multipurpose, and remarkably useful… I don’t know what the business model is, but I know that I like the tool.

The social software space remains extremely interesting. Times change. I wonder what’s next?

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