It's hard to say these days

Honesty and Snooping

clock June 10, 2009 14:11 by author tom

Reuters has an article today about IT staff members who use their administrative privileges to snoop on the personal data of their companies.  Apparently the trend is growing.

I won’t put up a quote because the concept is pretty self explanatory.  But I do want to make two points in regards to the problem itself.

1.  On Integrity: This article spotlights behavior that is eventually going to be disastrous for society.  For some reason a large part of the IT community has developed this attitude of “I get to do what I think is right damn the consequences” and it’s becoming a huge issue because of the wide spread support among IT professionals. 

Remember the IT manager in San Francisco who wouldn’t hand over the administrator passwords because he disapproved of the city’s position on cyber security?  He was cheered on by many in the blogosphere.  How about music pirates who just take the songs they want instead of paying for them?  Again, loved by the blogosphere.  Not to mention everyone who wants to shut down any and all Facebook groups they don’t approve of. 

This attitude of “we have the power so we therefore have the right to use it as we please” has to stop or normal people will just stop trusting IT all together.  When that time comes these IT mavericks will have done us all a disservice.

2.  On Snooping: I’ve had IT people work under me on several occasions and every time I give them the same snooping speech.  It basically goes like this…

Snooping is stupid.  You’re risking not only your job but your career if you get caught because no one is going to hire an IT person who has a history of sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. 

More importantly snooping doesn’t work.  Communications between people are a tapestry.  They e-mail, IM, talk in person and so on.  That makes the data you’re snooping for irrelevant.  Let me give you an example.

Say I give you a project that requires working with an outside firm and that project completely falls apart because of the outside firm.  Then the CFO orders me, via e-mail, to fire you for screwing up the project.  Upon getting that message I go to the CFO and talk to him in person (because of the importance of the discussion).  I explain it wasn’t your fault and that all the problems were caused by the outside vendor.  The CFO agrees and we both forget about the whole thing.

If you are snooping on our e-mails all you’re going to see is the “fire him” message.  You’ll spend the next few weeks walking on eggshells over something that we’ve completely forgotten because you snooped. 

So in the end not only are you risking your career to snoop but it isn’t even an accurate way of getting information.

Meaning What You Say

clock June 9, 2009 22:11 by author Tom has pointed to a couple recent interviews where the CEOs of Google and Yahoo both felt the need to attack Microsoft's new Search Engine Bing.  Today was from Google CEO Eric Schmidt...

—“It’s not the first entry for Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT). They do this about once a year.”

—“We think search is about comprehensiveness, freshness, scale and size for what we do. It’s difficult for them to copy that.”

—“You earn (share). You don’t buy it with ads, you earn it and you earn it customer by customer, search by search, answer by answer.”

This echoes yesterday's quote from Yahoo's recently appointed CEO Carol Bartz...

During the interview, Bartz also said she was not concerned that Microsoft’s new search engine—Bing—may have surpassed Yahoo in market share for one day last week, according to a report by StatCounter. “One day is one day,” she said. “They didn’t beat us by much. It was one day. I think it’s gosh maybe it was in Omaha some place; It was some small area.” (For the record, the StatCounter statistics were global).

(On a side note: Way to tell people in Middle America you couldn't care less about them Ms. Bartz, that's a brilliant customer acquisition strategy)

The irony of these quotes is they have the exact opposite effect.  To me, the highest ranking executives of Google and Yahoo feeling the need to disparage Bing makes it look all the more viable.  I mean, yes, they were responding to a question that was asked.    But we've all seen the response when someone's just being polite. 

The "we think competition in the industry is good" response that translates to "we think so little of this product that we'll be patronizing and praise the piece of junk"

That's how people respond when they don't see a threat.  Going on the offensive means you think there's some risk which in turn means you think highly of the product.  By attacking a competitors product you are inadvertently giving it an endorsement. 

I'll admit I don't know how many people this reaction will fool.  For myself I don't think I've ever thought of it this way but I have found myself instinctively drawn to products when I see a competitor bash them.  So I have to assume there's always been a subconscious acknowledgement of this trend  and that it's human nature to think that way. 

Maybe I'll head over to Bing to do some more research on the topic ;)

Palm Pre’s Come From Behind Moment?

clock June 5, 2009 23:24 by author tom

I had to post twice today because I loved this headline so much.  In a post entitled “If Everyone Likes The Palm Pre, Why So Much Hedging?”  Derek Kerton of Insight Community said…

I wrote about the Pre on Techdirt after being very impressed with the phone at CES and MWC Barcelona. I wrote, "I'm not sure when the bandwagon is going to hit the trail for this device, but I'm saddling up right now." And in the intervening months, I've noted that more and more reviewers were, like me, heaping praise on the device. But there was something else: many reviewers couched the endorsement of the Pre with caveats.

I like to think one of the themes of this blog is the idea that common sense still makes sense, even in the new world tech is creating.  One popular product of common sense is the phrase “you need to spend money to make money” and it’s still true.

Palm Pre may be a fantastic product, it may be better than the iPhone for many people, and that’s all fine and good.  But in the end Apple has a ton of resources to throw at it should the Pre become a threat. 

What does Palm and Sprint have to counter that?

Combined Palm and Sprint have a market cap of 16.08 Billion (as of my writing this).  Compare that to Apple (129.06B), Microsoft (197.04B), RIM (52.39B) and Google (140.38B).   If you’re a developer trying to decide which horse to bet on amongst these choices which would you choose? 

People can come from behind.  It’s possible.  We’ve all seen movies about it.  But the reason you know the stories in those movies is because they’re so rare.  Mostly those who are behind stay behind. 

Moreover when people do come from behind it’s usually because those in the lead let their guard down.  Apple is at the top of it’s game right now and both RIM and Google are looking to meet or beat their performance (Microsoft is too if you believe Steve Ballmer but he has precious little to show for it)

Palm Pre is, by all accounts, a great product.  But is it so much better than the others that it can come from behind?  Sadly I doubt it.

Twitter’s REAL problem

clock June 5, 2009 21:17 by author tom

First let me say this will be my last Twitter post of the summer.  I don’t care if a bunch of doctors somehow tweet their way to a  cure for cancer I will be taking the summer off.  There has been too much Twitter for Tom as of late. 

That said, I read this article from CNet’s Caroline McCarthy and it crystallized, for me, why Twitter has a bigger problem than being overhyped.   A quote…

But there's something nobody's really saying about Twitter throughout all this: Not everyone is going to use this service. Far from it, in fact. Its mainstream impact could very well have nothing to do with TweetDeck, hashtags, or even the name "Twitter" itself.

The Business Insider did a nice by-the-numbers of exactly what Twitter's explosion amounts to: 60 percent of users quit after a month, ten percent account for 90 percent of all "tweets," et cetera. All these numbers point to one fact: Twitter is high-maintenance. Even if you're only using it to read the latest updates from a few publications and some of your favorite bands, you're still reading about them in short bites that flow in a relatively inefficient manner. Parsing the noise takes effort; participating in it takes even more.

Compare that to Facebook: you can create a static profile, check in every few days, get an e-mail alert when a former high school classmate has added you as a friend, and you're all set.

Now I don’t have any problem with Twitter.  I understand why some people like it and I’m happy that they’re happy.  I simply think the theories of world domination are overblown. 

In that vein I think Twitter will always have a passionate user base of about 10 to 15 million people (when all is said and done).  It is the perfect tool for any niche where those belonging to the niche are obsessive (Celebrity Gossip, Tech Circles, et al)

But this is where I think Twitter has a huge revenue problem.

There’s no way for Twitter to make a large amount of money PER USER.  Pay services on the clients don’t work and pay services to businesses (which seems to be Twitter’s plan) simply won’t account for all that many accounts.

At the same time, Twitter is difficult to run (see here , here and here) and as anyone who has been around a networked PC environment knows “difficult” almost always equals “expensive”.  Especially when that network environment is getting regularly bombarded with traffic.  Again the service appeals to those who are obsessive in their use of it.

Basically it’s a service for people who hog resources like crazy which makes it expensive to run.

But wait, there’s one more problem.  On top of all those resource hogs Twitter has to have an infrastructure that’s prepared for massive influxes from outsiders.  99% of people aren’t interested in a celebrity’s twitter page.  But if that same celebrity finds themselves embroiled in a sex scandal you’re going to have everyone and their brother rushing to check out their Twitter page. 

So the service is prone to reader influxes and needs an infrastructure which supports that.

All that leaves you with a service that’s expensive to run and will never grow to the point where it’s able to support itself by skimming a little off the top of a huge user base.  That’s Twitter’s real problem.

Once the VC money dries up they’ll have to find a way to support themselves on a limited amount of regular users.  This is an angle almost no one is covering in the pundit class because they’re so drawn in by Twitter being “destined to conquer the world.”  For Twitter’s sake I hope those pundits are right.  Because if Twitter doesn’t manage the conquer the world they are royally screwed.

Reach Vs. Sentiment

clock June 1, 2009 04:27 by author Tom

Mark Cuban writes a piece on his blog about friends of his who are increasingly upset by negative reactions they get on the web.  Specifically those that come from Blogs, Tweets and other social media.  Mr. Cuban's conclusion is that most things written on the web don't get read by a lot of people so they can safely be ignored.  He says...

I tried to explain to them that the “amateur outties” really had no impact on 99.99pct of the population.  That because its on the net, even if a newspaper puts it on their site, doesn’t mean more than 100 people had seen it or cared about what they read.  I had to repeat to them over and over, that even if something is tweeted and retweeted. If its published on 200 blogs. If its on some newspaper sites, it probably has no impact.

How could that be ?  The first step was to click through from tweets to the home pages of the tweeters and show them that most had under 20 followers and then show them that it looked like some of the followers linked back to accounts that looked like they were set up by the same person. In otherwords they were following and retweeting themselves to make it look like they were important. The same held true with blogs.  I would use some different webstats sites to show they werent in the top several hundred thousand websites and to notice that there were zero comments on the blog and no original sites linked to the blog. Then there were the newspaper sites. I couldnt show them the specific amount of traffic for a given article, but I could show the lack of a single comment . That for any articles for which there was probably more than a couple hundred readers , there would be at least a single comment.  If the  ”amateur outties”  didnt know or care about your issue, then the innies/the rest of the world, didnt either.

He then concludes with...

The moral of the story is that on the internet, volume is not engagement .  Traffic is not reach.  When you see things written about a person, place or thing you care about,  whether its positive or negative, take a very deep breath before thinking that the story means anything to anyone but you.

I think he's right about the reach of most writing on the Internet.  In fact,  I'd go a step further.  I find that even people who have thousands of followers often don't get much of their material read.  If you've been around blogs for any period of time you'll often see comments where the person writing the comment clearly hasn't read past the post's first paragraph.  So even when your work gets a lot of comments it isn't a guarantee that those people are actually reading what you wrote.

But that doesn't tell the whole story.

What Mr. Cuban misses is this: People who do write comments/blog posts/tweets/etc... represent a certain segment of  the population.  So even if their work isn't read the conclusion they came to is based on a thought process that many people share.  Which means even if that person doesn't convince anyone with their writing there could still be thousands who agree with their sentiment.

But here's the important part.  All this chatter is a hugely positive thing.

Celebrities and businesses might have been more comfortable before the advent of Social Media but they were living in a fool's paradise.   Because all the complaints they read on the web now have always existed.  There was just no way for the public to share them in a way that could be heard by those they were upset with.  Now that those people can hear the public it allows them to take steps to correct the problem.  That's huge.

So I would give the exact opposite advice to people upset by what is being said about them on the web.  I'd say they should take it to heart and either fix what's making people unhappy or try to explain why it is that they can't fix it.  Because while there will always be unreasonable people out there I find that most of the general public will forgive something that they are displeased with if they know there's a good reason for that something to exist. 

Addendum: Tom Foremski of addresses the Cuban post and how it relates to the so-called "Real Time Web."  He says...

I made a point that there might not be much value in the monitoring of real-time online conversations about brands because if those conversations take place in real-time, they are done and dusted by the time a corporation decides to become involved. I asked how many people review their real-time streams of content on Facebook or Twitter? Which means if something nasty was said the likelihood is that very few people saw it -- only those that happened to be looking at their streams at that particular time would have seen it.

I disagree with him here but it's an important part of the overall discussion and I'm glad he brought it up.  My problem with his take on the issue is that real time conversations aren't "done and dusted" when they are finished.  In the land of Google these conversations linger out there forever and (to bring this back to my post's point) just wait for like minded consumers to find them.  That's why addressing issues brought up in Social Media is important to companies.  When people are angry they seek out like minded individuals so if companies address the original angry person all the angry people who follow will stumble upon the companies explanation while looking for others who complained.  That's exactly what companies should want.

About Me

Not really relevant right now. This blog is on hiatus. I really haven't decided if it is an indefinite hiatus yet

For the record if you've tried to e-mail me over the last 4 to 6 months I didn't mean to ignore you. The e-mail forwarding isn't working and I didn't realize that until months worth of e-mails had been deleted on forward. The address still won't forward to the postmaster account and I don't know why because it's provided by the webhost. But if you're one of my old blog pen pals I would always welcome an e-mail from you at the address


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