Something About Privacy

The issue of maintaining privacy online is a tricky one for me. In the first place, I’m part of Gen Y and we love the Internet and being engaged online. That mandates giving up a certain degree of privacy. On top of that, I lean toward over-sharing – I believe, in most cases, everyone is better served by honest conversation about everything; keeping topics taboo serves no one’s best interest. So I’m ok with having a pretty public life.

And I like what Penelope Trunk has had to say about privacy vs. celebrity: privacy, as she paraphrased Ashton Kutcher, is the new celebrity in this web 2.0 world where anyone can be a 5-minute sensation. I, like most people, fall into the category of people who can benefit from having less privacy. I want to benefit by being known online as a good writer and thinker of interesting thoughts.

But having a baby on the way has made me think differently.

At our baby shower last weekend, cousins from out of state said “Put pictures on Facebook as soon as you can! We can’t wait to see the little guy!”

But when I do that, I’m giving control of these images of my newborn son to Facebook and Mark Zuckerburg, who seems to truly not care about privacy. Maybe because he adheres to the same philosophy as Trunk, in which case what am I worried about? Who knows what kind of digital wonders my son will see in his lifetime. Everyone puts baby photos on Facebook these days; he’ll be in good company if shit ever does hit the fan.

At the same time, I do think there are other ways to share photos online without handing over almost limitless information to advertisers. And I’m not the only one with an icky feeling: Germany is protesting the use of facial recognition software on Facebook.

Maybe I’m foolish, but I trust Google a helluva lot more than Facebook. At least they provide a rich preferences page where you can see what they know about you, and thus what in turn advertisers know about you.

I do recognize the benefits of targeted advertising in theory – I only hear about products and services that might actually be useful to me – and maybe the icky feeling I have about how intrusive that is just means I’m part of Gen Y and can, however vaguely, remember a world without the internet.

Which is something Baby Williams will never be able to say.

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Drunk on the Internet

For real you guys: I’ve ingested an insane amount of information today. Now I know what Baby Boomers talk about with “information overload”, except it’s not overwhelming in a negative way; it’s more like my head is full os so many thoughts and ideas and images that I’ve got this fantastic high going on right now.

Often, my husband and I fantasize about running away from it all to our own little farm in Maine somewhere or, my preference, a gorgeous mostly deserted island. I tell him romantically that I could survive anywhere as long as I had him…and an internet connection.

They say you have an addiction when your behavior negatively impacts other areas of your life. I don’t think I’m addicted (but of course an addict would say that) but if I was, Google Reader was my gateway drug. I love Google Reader more than any other web app I use. Except maybe Twitter. Between the two of them, I’m almost never out of something to read or see. When there is a lag – usually on Friday nights when most of the world is out and about and my nine-month pregnant self is at home glued to my Blackberry –  I whine about it to my husband, who helpfully suggests I read one of the books I’ve piled around the house.

But books are so OLD and SLOW.

Anyway, I’ve got just over an hour before a social engagement where I’ll have to talk to people face to face so I intend to ride this high out a little longer.

The hangover is going to be a bitch in the morning I bet.


I Don’t Mind Paying More for Netflix

This post from the Harvard Business Review today sums up exactly how I felt when Netflix emailed me to say they’d be raising the price of my current package by 60%. Eddie Yoon provided just the language I was looking for:

But as a consumer, I have no problem being generous to companies that have a track record of being exponentially more generous to me.

He explains that generous companies are those that provide great value consistently and lists all the ways Netflix has become increasingly awesome since it’s inception. And though Yoon, like me and everyone, doesn’t necessarily like parting with his hard-earned dollars, he says he is certainly willing to pay for goods or services that are worth it. He says this:

Netflix’s history of generosity proves to me that they will take my money and invest it in an ever-improving product.

And this:

Sure, I would like my favorite products and services to be cheaper, but I would really like them to be improved to make my life better.

And I wholeheartedly agree with both sentiments. That’s what I mean when I say he provided the language I was looking for.

My family lives on a very tight budget, especially now that I’ve lost my my full-time job and that we’re expecting our first child. We’ve cut ruthlessly into our monthly expenses, but continue to pay $12 per month for The Economist and set aside as much money as possible for food, not only so we can afford to get sustainable, high-quality products, but also so we can afford to go out once a week at least because that’s something we love to do. In those instances, we’re paying for our priorities.

So we’ll pay almost whatever Netflix asks because the enjoyment we get out of our membership are worth it to us. Besides, like Yoon said, we hope eventually we can replace our irritatingly expensive cable subscription with just Netflix and, even if we can’t, we trust that Netflix is going to at the very least continue to provide a great service.

It’s this concept of value that gets lost on the web these days. Even in the wild west environment of the web, there are things worth paying for. It’s great that you can get almost any album or movie for free online somewhere, but I don’t mind paying at least $10 for the latest record from a favorite artist, because that artist provides me with something worthwhile. The least I can do is pay him or her for the trouble.


The Heart of Online Innovation

Anyone who follows my Twitter feed knows how much of a The Next Web (TNW) junkie I am. It’s absolutely my favorite place for online industry news for many reasons, not the least of which is it’s coverage of international and political online industry news as well. I am a political news junkie too, you see, which is why I follow a few pet news stories, like how the Chinese government is negotiating the fine line between economy-stimulating online innovation and communist top-down control. One of my pet new storylines is the explosion of online innovation in Africa. The the middle class is growing rapidly and that is creating a huge new population of consumers that love their mobile phones.

So clearly, this story from TNW this morning about the launch of Kenya’s first mobile apps development lab caught me eye. The new m-lab is designed as the next level for web innovators who incubated their ideas at Nairobi’s iHub.

It’s incredible how developing nations can skip the steps that today’s developed world took to reach its current level of economic development and the way populations of those developing nations grapple with the implications of such leap-frogging, and navigate uncharted territory, is fascinating. But aside from being and interesting news item, this is crucial information for every smart online professional.

There are still huge opportunities online for anyone in the US alone, in addition to developed Europe and Asia. There was a hullabaloo in early June about the Pew Internet and American Life Project report that said 13% of Americans use Twitter, up from 8% one year previously.  That’s a fantastic increase, but folks—that’s still a tiny number of Americans. So when I tell you that smart online professionals are thinking about how to take advantage of opportunities in Nairobi, don’t think I don’t realize just how much untapped potential exists closer to home.

But the fact remains: the long-term future of the internet and web-based business lies in tapping the growth of developing nations like Kenya. Smart online professionals are thinking about that, and that’s why you’re here.


50-year-old Secrets of Social Media Revealed!

One of my favorite blogs to read every day is the Harvard Business Review for the variety of topics it posts about and the its interesting angles on the news of the day. And one of the my favorite stories of theirs in a while was this one, which talks about how physiological research done 50+ years ago is not only relevant, but basically predicated how social media would impact our world today.

The reason I loved this article from HBR so much is it affirmed for me, again, that there is very little we can’t know about the world around us if we study history. There is so little truly new, groundbreaking, or revolutionary out there; the same stories repeat themselves over time and everything that astounds us today has a context that makes it less sparkly and new, perhaps, but more relevant. The ipad is a truly wonderful thing that finally launched the tablet computing sector and will change how we use technology, but its just one iteration in a long line of new gadgets that humans have adopted. And though it’s impossible to predict how the latest social media start up will change things, it is possible to guess based on how that start up fits into its own historical context.

And the great thing about the internet is that the history of everything can be organized in such a way that its easier to find and apply to modern life. The internet is about connections; between people, yes, but also between ideas and things. The web makes it easier for humans to spot those connections and make inferences from them. And the more effectively people can apply the knowledge of the past to what’s going on around them today, the better off everyone will be.

If you’re that optimistic about human nature, of course.


Politics and Social Media: the Weiner Story

I’m so sick of talking and hearing about former Congressman Anthony Weiner that I put off writing this post for a while, but the lessons from his story are important from a social media standpoint. And, since I’m a political news junkie, I was really just putting off the inevitable.

Lesson number 1: ANYONE can see what you put online and the things you put online STAY THERE. This is the message we’re trying to drill into high schoolers heads through those PSAs. The fact is, it’s not just teenagers who need to know this, just like its not just, or even mostly, teenagers who are putting us all in dangers by texting while they drive. For everyone dabbling with social media: jsut because you’re typing from your phone, doesn’t mean your sending a private message to another individual phone. There is one PSA I couldn’t find that stuck with me for years: a girl posts a racy photo on a bulletin board at school to show a friend, but everyone in the hallway can see it starts laughing. She tries to take the racy photo down to hide it, but another magically appears in its place, and reappears everytime she tears it off the wall. This is the internet, folks, its a big deal – the whole world is online.

Lesson number 2: don’t lie. Another oldie but a goodie. I firmly believe that if Weiner had just owned up from the start, he’d still be a Congreeman today and maybe even get a boost from the experience instead of sacrificing his career. Krystal Ball, who ran for a Virginian Congressional seat last year, wrote as much in The Atlantic, citing her own experience running for office with racy photos from her past available online.

Maybe Weiner could have said “I’m terribly sorry for my oversight – what I thought would stay a private message between close acquaintances turned out to be a very public embarrassment for me and my family. I made a mistake underestimating the internet that I won’t make again.” Or something like that; I whipped that up off the top of my head and I’m not a political strategist, but something like that would have cut this story short by about 6 days and we call could have gone on with our lives apprecaiting that Weiner is human, makes mistakes, but at least owns up to them and therefore is worthy of our trust. Now, we know he’s as lazy and cowardly as a child, who’s first instinct is to lie, and blame someone else, to protect himself. It’s very easy to say what someone should have done, of course, when, if I were in that position, maybe I’d have done the same thing.

But I doubt it.

Lesson number 3: Twitter is a very powerful tool. For anyone who doubted it before, doubt no longer. Twitter has shown time and again how it’s changing the game, slowly but surely. And it’s changing things in more ways than anyone can predict, or even keep track of as more people adopt it. Consider this post about Twitter journalism from one of my favorite blogs, The Next Great Generation, or this point of view from PRWatch, which says the only winner in this story was Twitter. I agree.

Twitter is going to be a significant factor of how people consume and share news for a long time. We all need to pay attention to how we use it to avoid mistakes like Weiners (albeit not as public mistakes for most of us) and businesses need to pay attention to how they are using Twitter to communicate to customers and manage their brand. It’s not a fad and its not trivial.


Web Surfers Without Borders

Remember when we “surfed” the world wide web?

This popped up on TNW this morning: China argues that the 8 New Yorkers suing it for censorship have no right, since web regulations are a sovereign issue. (Of course it was a bunch of New Yorkers.) The fact is that web regulations ARE going to become an huge international issue. They were an issue in 2001. And web regulations continue to plague companies like Amazon even between states in the US. That’s what the Internet does – challenge conventional ways of everything, including doing business, and require creative compromises.

Every business that operates online and is or plans to operate internationally needs to pay attention to this stuff in the news. This is why: an article from HBR about how Apple or Amazon could cause a war with China. China and the rest of the BRIC countries, not the mention Africa, with its rising middle class and avid mobile internet users, have costs associated with opportunities for growth and those costs are unstable governments with unpredictable attitudes toward web regulations. I don’t personally think war is looming, but international relations will certainly only be increasingly strained as countries navigate the murky waters of a global internet. They say the “wild west” phase of the web is coming to an end, but there is so much chaos yet to be unleashed.