CISPA Roundup

Heads up everyone: the government is at it again. Remember SOPA and PIPA? Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) has proposed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA) and if it, coupled with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’s SECURE IT Act, pass a vote later this month, there will be “almost no restrictions on what information can be spied upon and how it can be used”, according to the EFF. That link will take you to a succinct description of exactly what the problem is with CISPA. Techdirt has a more expanded explanation, and includes this awesome nugget:

…in an attempt to address some of the key concerns, the bill’s authors, representatives Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger, hosted a conference call specifically geared at digital reporters. The invitation was for “Cyber Media and Cyber Bloggers” (seriously) and took place at 7am Silicon Valley time—thus demonstrating that they are totally in touch with the tech community.

There is also coverage at boingboing and TNW, which includes probably the most important observation of this bill and those that came before it:

Much like SOPA, it’s not the things that are spelled out directly in the act that scare people, it’s the doors that something like this could open, taking advantage of the broadness of the proposal.

Through a comment from Michael Vagnetti on the TNW article, I found popvox, a tool constituents to learn about and weigh in on bills on the floor of Congress, and to learn how their representatives view the bills. You can also check the bill out on OpenCongress, which is a project of the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation (one of my favorite organizations).

This is a law our government is interested in passing that will dramatically, and negatively, affect our daily lives and the way we conduct business over the internet. This isn’t even about privacy, really; it’s about making sure your Constitutional rights are protected even online. Tell your Representatives (and Senators) what you think.


I Want Cable to Die

I want it so bad that I, like many in the high-tech space, get way too excited about the latest gadget or service that claims to be the cable killer. Ultimately, this is what happens. And cable lives on.

That is because cable isn’t really a bad product. It’s the same as it was 40 years ago, largely, because the model works. What is easier than sitting on your sofa and getting spoon fed entertainment? You barely even have to think about what you want, you can just press one button with one finger until you find something in the hundreds of channels available. It doesn’t even have to be your favorite thing, because to find it required so little work. 

As it does with everything, the internet is disrupting cable. But with such a low threshold to compete with, it’s going to take time. 

I’m an eternal optimist. So is this guy. Eventually, cable will die. One can only fight against new technology and changing culture with lawsuits for so long. Mobile devices like tablets and smart phones that get ever smarter and more useful (seriously, how dull useless are TV remotes?) are going to change how people consume entertainment and more. But I digress.

In the meantime,  the pay TV business is growing and people don’t actually want “smart” TVs. But keeping fighting the good fight. We’ll get there someday.

Two Marketing Emails that Worked on Me

Everyone gets dozens of marketing emails every day from stores that may or may not like, discount websites they may or may not use, and organizations calling with calls to action that may or may not inspire them. Here are two examples of marketing emails I received yesterday that not only got me to open the email, but actually do what the sender wanted me to do. The gold stars go to TripAdvisor and LinkedIn.

How to send an effective marketing email.

Exhibit A: TripAdvisor

In this example, the company deployed the participate-t0-earn-meaningless badges tactic with the subject line “Share your thoughts on your winter trips to earn your first badge”. First, it’s timely, referring to winter trips which made me think of where I’d gone in the last few months. That was nice to think about. Second, I didn’t even know I could earn badges on TripAdvisor, and my curiosity was peaked. I love immediate rewards for mind-numbingly easy actions!

So I clicked through, and the email asked me: “Go anywhere good this winter?” Yes, TripAdvisor, I have! And I only am two reviews away from earning a badge? Hooray! I can post two reviews in five minutes! I’d love to make you richer and your site more robust but advising strangers on their travel plans and earning badges for it!

Genius, all around.

Exhibit B: LinkedIn

Everyone’s favorite social network to shit on amped up the social aspect by telling me 17 of my connections had changed their title in 2011. The email even displayed thumbnail pictures of these connections and, by clicking on each one, I could check up on them. I could even send a little note to congratulate them and ask how things are going, thus 1) feeling like I’ve connected personally and professionally with people I know, thus feeling popular and like a successful networker in one easy blow and 2) adding more traffic to LinkedIn, giving them more success.

Everybody wins.

Social Media is Not THAT Cool, So Everybody Cool Out

I found this article on Bad Pitch this morning and saved it all day because I feel strongly about its message: social media is awesome, but it’s not THAT awesome, so everyone should just tone things down a notch.

The article is about why people should cool their jets about Google+, especially marketers, because it hasn’t proven itself yet; if anything, it’s only proven that it has nowhere near the addictive quality that Facebook has – just think about how your mom can’t live without it, even though she did for 50 years. But Bad Pitch argues that even Facebook isn’t completely delivering on its promise of engagement and loyalty:

…Pages aren’t as beneficial as many expect them to be.

According to a recent study by Constant Contact and researchers Chadwick Martin Bailey, only 17 percent of respondents interact with brands on Facebook. … Turns out that Facebook brand pages are about brand awareness rather than engagement. Almost three-quarters surveyed said their interactions with brands on FaceBook came through reading statuses or updates from the brand.

The author’s bottom line is that social media tools like these are still so new, their use is still evolving and most people aren’t using them in the way social media gurus have promised. Engaging with brands is work – people are more interested in engaging with friends and family instead.

So what does a marketer do with articles like Duct Tape Marketing’s How and Why to Use Pinterest for Business, which says “It’s time for businesses to take note and start paying attention to Pinterest.”?

Ignore it.

Unless your customers are ALREADY USING Pinterest, maybe even starting to ask why you aren’t using it, don’t bother. Just because there is a cool social tool out there that someone has figured out can be used for a business like yours, doesn’t mean it would be at all useful for you.

The promise of social media is to bring customers and companies closer together in a positive way, not for companies to have a new channel for harassing customers or new marketing schemes to sink money and time into.

So who benefits the most from social media? The same people I’ve said before do: local companies looking to reach their neighbors and customers quickly and easily. But also companies who take advantage of behaviors people are already doing socially online instead of asking them to debate which of their products they like best or “engage” in some other way. HBR covered this here. Of their predictions, I’d choose Social Sharing and Social Television as the biggest trends to come because they are easy, in the first example, and fun, in the second example (if you are also a fan of The Walking Dead on AMC or Bones on Fox, @message me on Twitter at Sunday and Thursday nights respectively!)

Penn State and Silence

It’s been three months since my last post because on August 29th, my husband and I welcomed our first child home! He’s sleeping on me as I write this; he won’t sleep in his own bed during the day, and I’m told I should enjoy the experience while it lasts, since he won’t want to cuddle for long. At least these days, he’s content to sleep in a carrier and not strictly my arms so I can finally write.

Having a kid has made me think about everything a little bit differently; trite as that is, it’s much truer than I thought it would be. I’ve already written about my evolving opinions on privacy in light of having a kid. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the last three months reading about homeschooling, especially from Penelope Trunk and Kate Fridkis, and the future of education in this country. But the explosive controversy at Penn State has been rocking my mom-brain recently, which I’m sure is true for every parent out there.

It’s horrifying to think that an adult working at an organization you trust, that you think will help your kid overcome challenges, could hurt your kid in any way, much less in as terrible a way as rape and sexual abuse. I remember the horror I felt when the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal broke and the situations are exceptionally similar: authority figures subtly encouraged, if not flat-out demanded, silence about and the covering up of these terrible abuses.

What gives me hope is my unwavering belief in the power of social media and the web to continue to break down the ability of authority figures to perpetuate crimes in silence.

The success of protestors in Egypt this spring made me proud and happy to bring a child into this world. And the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement to bring attention to serious problems in this country without resorting to violent, destructive riots (for the most part) made me even more proud.

It’s not that I think terrible crimes like those allegedly committed by Sandusky will stop happening in the future as social media and the web become ever more accessible and ubiquitous. Or that knowing the whole world is watching will prevent people from doing terrible things in Pennsylvania, Oakland, or Syria.

It’s just that it will be much harder for those who want it to enforce silence. It will be much easier for everyone’s story to be heard.

The Economics of Rioting

This week, I discovered the Freaknomics podcast. I read the book in one of two economics classes I took in college and, though I disliked the teacher who assigned the book quite a bit, I absolutely fell in love with economics in general and the book itself as well. The cold, strictly fact-based analysis of the world through the lens of economic principles appeals to me, even as I’ve become somewhat of a bleeding heart liberal in the last few years.

This is also why I got so excited to read this analysis of the London Riots from The Globe and Mail. I think like everyone else, I was blown away but what happened in the UK and unable to make sense of it. But this cynical approach seems right on to me:

Too many riots were bad for business, they allowed, but so were too few – a sign that government had become soft and inefficient. Prudent government squeezed until the mob rebelled, then increased spending just enough to prevent extensive property damage. Optimal social policy was a matter of dialing in the appropriate frequency of riots.


The Riot Index permits no adjustment for ideology or morality. It seeks no causes and is indifferent to explanations. What it does do, however, is to accept without question that liberal social policies quell social unrest.

According to its logic, the fact that Britons are now struggling to make sense of good old-fashioned mob violence only proves that liberalism has gone too far – that the mob has been a stranger too long. The conclusion may be distasteful, but the underlying premise – that austerity causes riots and spending forestalls them – is well supported by historical evidence.

I love that idea of British society not recognizing a mob when it sees one because it’s simply been too long. And I also love that the author points to the vehemence of British politicians denying their austerity programs caused the violence “makes it more obvious”.

Economic principles dictate that humans are, by and large, rational. Rational used to mean strictly logical, but now also applies to an internal logic; humans make choices that are rational to them, based on the data they are reviewing, even if those choices don’t seem rational to others. The rioters aren’t animals or sub-human without any thought behind their actions; these kids of riots, in fact, required organization. Once in a while you get truly irrational people who just like to watch things burn, but not thousands acting in concert.

I also read on this quiet, muggy Sunday morning a column from the Washington Post explaining why, though the same anger present around the world exists in the US, people are not rioting:

although movements carry anger, anger doesn’t make a movement — organizers do. Anger helps, of course; it’s a resource that organizers can stoke, channel and exploit.

The key word in that sentence is channel; the author argues,

James Madison, the genius behind the Constitution, envisioned a system of government that would embrace dissent and offer malcontents the hope, however distant, that they can get what they want by working through it. Protesters who start in the streets envision themselves, or at least their causes, entering the halls of power.

I’ll admit: I’m a sucker for early American history, and this rings true for me. Above all the anger, Americans have this deep seated belief that, ultimately, change is made, if not best made, within the system.

I suppose that means the problem today, according to many and maybe myself, is that the system has been corrupted so that belief isn’t well-founded. If that’s the case, only when more Americans understand exactly what kind of laws and policies are in place that prevent the system from truly working for them, will they riot. But more likely, I think, they’ll simply work to eliminate those broken pieces of the system.

Social Media and Emergency Management

I’m married to an EMT who would prefer to live off the land in Maine somewhere, so survival and emergency planning are frequent topics of conversation in my house. And whenever an emergency situation of any sort comes up around the world, like the riots in London, we talk about it, the response of the authority (or lack thereof) to it, and how we think we would respond to it.

Part of that discussion, for me, always involves social media. Twitter especially but almost every web application you can think of has impacted how emergencies of all kinds around the world play out. For example, the Metropolitan Police in London are using Flickr to crowdsource the identification of suspects involved in the rioting. In May, representatives from FEMA attended a Senate hearing on the use of social media in emergency situations – which is pretty forward thinking for the Senate in my opinion.

That’s not to say social media has replaced traditional methods of emergency communications – I’m terrified that people could think to tweet instead of call 911 for example – but, as it has in so many ways, social media is augmenting what we already do and opening up channels of communication. Which is a good and important thing: the more people who receive information from the CDC, and the more people who provide information about the situation on the ground back to the CDC, for example, the better.

Thinking about social media in this light creates an interesting juxtaposition between the life-saving usefulness during an emergency situation of the same intrusive technologies we worry about. Take, for example, the use of Google Earth as an emergency response viewer, instead of as a creepy way for Google to catalog images of your neighborhood.

The social web is new territory and our expectations and definitions of privacy are changing as we explore it. Does posting a suspect’s face on Flickr presume guilt instead of innocence, for example?