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February 25 2011

Smaller search engines tap social platforms

BuzzFeed.pngAs the major search engines work to integrate social components into their search algorithms, it's interesting to also see niche engines tapping those same social networks for targeted results.

BuzzFeed, for example, recently launched its Pop Culture Search Engine to search pop-culture memes. It searches in a viral sort of way — the more "buzz" a story gets on social media platforms, the more likely it is to appear in the results. They also use this traffic indicator as a basis for isolating quality content.

Foodily is another targeted engine. It aggregates recipes from around the web and integrates the information with your friends' comments, recommendations, tips and recipes from Facebook. This approach creates more of a community environment for foodies, setting it apart from straight-up recipe search engines such as those on, Epicurious, or Food & Wine. Foodily can also search for recipes that don't contain certain ingredients. If you're allergic to garlic or out of milk, this feature might come in handy. (Note: Google's new Recipe View also allows you to select ingredients.)

February 16 2011

Mind-blowing, world-changing technology by the numbers

This is a golden age of technology. Almost anyone with modest technology, such as an Internet connection or a mobile phone, can have an impact on the world. The following video illustrates just a small slice of the staggering numbers and impact of technology that we witness today.

(Note: This is an Ignite presentation I performed with 20 slides and only 15 seconds permitted per slide.)

February 15 2011

January 20 2011

Pages before ads and other Facebook marketing tips

Dan Zarrella (@danzarrella) and Alison Zarrella (@alison), co-authors of "The Facebook Marketing Book," discuss what Facebook can and cannot do for businesses in the following interview. Most importantly, they explain why Facebook pages — not the ads — should be the focus of Facebook campaigns.

What sets Facebook apart from Google, Twitter and other online marketing tools?

Just a disgusting advertising & marketing
 PR article for fb

really a necessity for poor O'Reilly?

absolutely not worth in my tumblelog!

--  CENSORSHIP ---------------

by oanth - censorship dep for PR & Ads



January 11 2011

Backtype: Using big data to make sense of social media

Strata Conference 2011 To prepare for O'Reilly's upcoming Strata Conference, we're talking with some of the leading innovators working with big data and analytics. Today, we talk with Backtype's lead engineer, Nathan Marz.

Backtype is an "intelligence platform," a suite of tools and insights that help companies quantify and understand the impact of their social media efforts. Marz works on the back end, figuring out ways to store and process terabytes of data from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and millions of blogs.

The platform runs on Hadoop, and makes use of Cascading, a Java API for creating complex workflows for processing data. Marz likes working with the Java-based tool for abstracting details of Hadoop because, "I find that when you're using a custom language you end up having a lot of complexity in your program that you don't anticipate, especially when you try to do things that are more dynamic."

Big data tools and applications will be examined at the Strata Conference (Feb. 1-3, 2011). Save 30% on registration with the code STR11RAD.

Marz has written an abstraction on top of Cascading called Cascalog, a Clojure-based query language for Hadoop inspired by Datalog. "The cool thing about Clojure is that it fully integrates with the Java programming language," Marz said. "I think one of the problems with Lisps in the past has been a lack of library support. But by being on top of the JVM, that problem is solved with Clojure." He's generally optimistic about what the functional and declarative paradigms can offer in the big data space, saying his programs are more concise and written closer to how he thinks.

Marz says he's happy with the development activity around Cascalog since he released it in April 2010 and is working on a few enhancements, including making it more expressive by adding optimized joins as well as making the query planner more intelligent by being more aggressive with, for example, push-down filtering.

You'll find the full interview in the following video:

December 21 2010

The 2010 technology of the year is ...

While Facebook and the iPad garnered considerable attention this year -- and rightly so -- it is the free micro-blogging service Twitter that gets my 2010 accolade for the most important technology product of the year.

Now with more than 175 million subscribers, an estimated dollar value that is double that of the New York Times, and 25 billion tweets this year alone, Twitter is becoming a formidable disrupter in multiple domains, including media and the enterprise.

In June of this year, responding to several of my friends and colleagues who were simply confounded by the merit of Twitter, I posted my first blog on the topic. Looking back now, six months later, I see that even I significantly underestimated the value of the service.


Why Twitter?

Twitter finally meets the two essential criteria for business success:

1. Is there a viable revenue model?

To that I say a resounding yes! This year, Twitter began the rollout of their suite of promotion features. A form of advertising, Twitter promotions call out sponsored hashtags and help to serve up associated tweets. As Evan Williams (Twitter co-founder) pointed out at the Web 2.0 Summit in November, a considerable challenge right now is managing the excessive demand by brands to have their products and services promoted. He also pointed out that there are many more ways to monetize Twitter that are in the works.

2. Does the service have sustainable utility for its users?

Once again, Twitter has proven this to be the case over and over again. I'll spend the remainder of this post exploring this point.

Twitter as a communications tool

There are few websites or TV commercials now that don't adorn themselves with the Facebook and Twitter logos. These services are quickly becoming the new destinations or originating points for people interested in learning more about products and services. Twitter, with its small footprint and timeliness advantage, has the ability to uniquely reach and drive sales to a global audience. For a broader set of marketers such as politicians, governments, entertainers, charities, media outlets, and non-governmental agencies, the service provides a new and valuable channel to spread a message.

I personally use Twitter to communicate my ideas and to highlight items of interest to my followers. I also enjoy reading tweets from those I follow that are both informative and entertaining (side note: like many of you, I've completely dropped the use of RSS for pushed content as a result of Twitter). It's also a knowledge discovery tool for me (more on that later below).

The usage of Twitter during the Iranian presidential protests in 2009 hints at the promise of a frictionless channel that rides above the limits of traditional communication tools.

Twitter as a disrupter of existing media

If you've had the chance to play with Flipboard for the iPad, it's clear to see that pulling in a Twitter stream illuminates the real-time zeitgeist in ways never possible before. It presents person-specific interests and provides options for content, such as video that you can be explored further if desired.

Too often we take an existing media and simply present the same content in a different digital context. Great innovation uses digitization for reinvention. For example, we shouldn't simply bring TV to the Internet; it should be different and use the unique capabilities of digitization to make it even more compelling. In Twitter, for example, the ability to serve up news in small chunks from a plethora of pundits results in the reinvention of news distribution. That's neat.

Twitter as a competitor to Facebook and Google

The September facelift of Twitter on the web, which included inline video and photographs, was suggestive of what may lie ahead. Rather than being limited to basic micro-blogging capability, the revised Twitter is a compelling place to share media and send and receive direct messages. Improved mobile accessibility and usability extend these capabilities beyond the desktop, too.

Twitter has become a destination to discover and find things. Some of that is by push (e.g. you follow a link someone shared), but increasingly it offers benefits in pull (e.g. you do a search for something). While the demise of Google search is not imminent, Twitter is a search paradigm disrupter that can't be ignored.

Twitter is natively a social network. It easily connects people and interests. Once again, while not a Facebook killer yet, a few additional features would align it against the core value-propositions of Facebook, but in a decidedly -- and potentially -- more compelling manner.

One can easily deduce why both Google and Facebook have been vying to acquire Twitter.

Of course it's not all perfect. Twitter has a lot of work to do. They continue to have service outage issues when utilization spikes. A symptom of success no doubt, but an excuse that is long past its free-pass status. In the same interview cited earlier, Evan Williams spoke about the need -- which they are working on -- to have more meaningful or relevant tweets somehow rise above other less valuable content. One survey found that 40 percent of tweets are "pointless babble." That's a lot of noise if you're trying to get real value from the service.

Fundamentally Twitter is important because it takes traditional concepts such as marketing and messaging and forces us to rethink them. Its API enables powerful data analysis of trends and discovery of patterns. It has spawned an ecosystem of more than 300,000 integrated apps that extend its capabilities. It's even sparked a healthy amount of copycats, both in the consumer space (e.g. and Plurk), and in the enterprise (e.g. Yammer and Socialcast).

I recognize Twitter as my 2010 technology product of the year for many of the reasons above, but specifically it is because of its potential. If the company makes a few smart decisions over the next few months and beyond, Twitter has the power to be profoundly important in many areas of our lives.


November 12 2010

A perfect dystopian storm: Interview with "Flashmob Gone Wrong" speaker

At Ignite London 2, Tom Scott told the story of a Flash Mob Gone Wrong. We edited it for the Ignite Show talk from last week, and it's struck a nerve and is gathering a lot of momentum over on Reddit, MetaFilter and Twitter. Enjoy the video and then read the short interview with Tom Scott below.

What was your inspiration for the talk? Was there a real world event?

Tom Scott: I first had the idea a couple of years ago, and tried to write it as a short story - which was dire! It needed to be much more visual and fast-paced, and the rigid format of the talks at Ignite -- 20 slides, 15 seconds per slide -- seemed like a much more interesting way to tell the story.

One of the inspirations -- other than the actual flashmobs and Internet stalking taking place around the world -- was Larry Niven's 1973 novella "Flash Crowd." That did involve a network of instant teleportation booths rather than the Internet and cell phones, though!

Why did you feel it was important to tell this story?

TS: The alternative was not telling it! I was trying to entertain more than anything else.

Why did you choose to create a fictional event vs. a real world
event that was almost sensational?

TS: "Mob" is deliberately a worst-case scenario, a perfect storm. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, in exactly the way needed to further the plot! The real world doesn't generally work that way, and there hasn't been one massive event like this yet.

Why did you choose Ignite as your medium?

TS: Because it was there! It's also handy to have a framework to fit into. I had to pare the story down to only what was necessary, and that made it a much better tale.

What did you use to make the talk? Did you follow the "Ignite format"?

TS: Quite a few people have asked that! The "slides" are actually a pre-rendered video made in After Effects; if I flubbed a line or missed a cue, there was no way to recover! And yes, it follows the Ignite format -- there is one cheat where I have two blank slides in a row, but even then there's technically a topic change when the timer bar resets ...

I've read some criticism that this talk is fear mongering because it is a fictional story. Personally I think that the talk is brilliant (and not just because of the delivery and fluidity of the presentation). The point of the talk is that these events could happen in a perfect storm and that we wouldn't be surprised by it. It's a modern-day parable.

The talk is a work of near-future science fiction and is no less valid because it is done as a performance than if it were written in a book. Tom is not trying to warn us away from technology, but prepare us for its implications.

November 10 2010

Twitter: A standard-issue tool for government leaders

The first chief technology officer of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is doing more than just working to make community health data as useful as weather data. HHS CTO Todd_Park (@todd_park) is using Twitter to accomplish the core goals of his role at HHS: innovate, communicate, and iterate.

"I just think that it is a fantastic way to get interesting messages out there, to get the word out about key things, to get feedback -- all in an incredibly open, real-time way," he said in an interview at the mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C. "I'm so enamored with it, actually, as a vehicle for interacting with the public and folks who are interested in improving healthcare that I actually think it should be a standard issue part of being a 21st Century government leader. I think every government leader should have a Twitter account and really be using it to talk to folks and get insight about what to do."

Does it take a lot of time to tweet? "It's not something I do separately from anything else," said Park. "Communicating and getting feedback is part of what I'm supposed to do. It's another vehicle in the suite of tools that help me do a core part of my job, which is communicate what we're doing and get feedback on what we're doing and try to make it better."

For example, Park tweeted about a new goal for text4baby yesterday, which has now grown to be the biggest mobile health platform in the United States:

Next Text4baby goal announced today: 1 million moms enrolled by 2012 www.text4baby.orgless than a minute ago via web

Park's adoption is by no means ground breaking, of course. Politicians, tech executives, academics and the media have been joining the ebb and flow of more than 175 million Twitter users. The State Department's Alec J. Ross is known for his use of the medium for digital diplomacy, leveraging the web to share information about technology for Internet freedom and foreign policy. What's significant about Park's use is not simply the existence of his account: it's that he just sees it as part of his job, and a useful tool at that. It's not revolutionary, it's evolutionary.

That perspective is symbolic of a larger shift toward social software that's making its way into government. In a widely read post from last week, MIT research scientist Andrew McAfee wondered if a sea change had already washed over technology executives:

As I listened, I realized that a fundamental shift had taken place: these executives were no longer talking mainly about their concerns, hesitations, or reasons for caution around Enterprise 2.0. Instead, they were talking about their frustrations that their companies weren't moving faster toward it.

There's still a ways to go before microblogging, wikis, and ideation platforms are the norm in every workplace. As McAfee has himself observed, Gov 2.0 is up against the beast of bureaucracy. When high profile public servants like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (@Schwarzenegger) or Newark Mayor Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) show the nation what can be done in real-time, however, others will follow. One of these days, perhaps President Obama (@barackobama) will even join the conversation himself.

August 11 2010

Hearing those digital cries for help

Gov 2.0 Summit, 2010New research from the Red Cross shows that online, people increasingly rely on social media to seek help in a disaster. As ReadWriteWeb reported, the Red Cross survey found that 74 percent of social media users expect help within an hour.

Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., the Red Cross will convene an Emergency Social Data Summit, bringing together representatives from the White House, technologists, first responders, non-governmental communities, and citizens to "address how to reply to these digital cries for help more effectively."

What's at the heart of this phenomenon? Simply put, the Internet is helping disaster response evolve -- and quickly. In the video below, NPR's senior social strategist, Andy Carvin talks about how people all over the world are collaborating to help in crisis.

After the jump, learn more about the summit, the power of platforms for collective action, and the rising adhocracy that empowers citizens to help one another online.

Convening the Emergency Social Data Summit

The agenda includes Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, @WhiteHouse's Macon Phillips, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate>, uberblogger Robert Scoble, podcamper Christopher Penn, CrisisCommons' Heather Blanchard and Noel Dickover, Ushahidi's Patrick Meier and dozens of others who have been involved in disaster response using social media, including myself. Beth Kanter, a noted authority on "networked nonprofits" and social media, wrote about the emergency social dataevent on her blog.

In January, after the Haiti earthquake struck, if you were participating on social networks, you couldn't help but notice the many, many Tweets and Facebook status messages about the Haiti earthquake.   The messages included pleas for support or retweeting the news, but beyond that the stream included pleas from people on the ground in Haiti asking for emergency assistance or letting loved ones and friends know they're okay.

Social media has radically changed how people communicate, including their calls for help. As we have seen in natural disasters from Hurricane Katrina to the Chile earthquake, people are using social media to reach out for help. And they expect a response from emergency and disaster response organizations. To meet this growing challenge, the American Red Cross is launching an initiative to address how to reply to these digital cries for help more effectively.

Kanter's company Zoetica, and co-founders Geoff Livingston and Kami Huyse , have been working with the Red Cross on the summit for months. As Kanter pointed out, this initiative includes more than hosting the Emergency Social Data Summit itself, with an accompanying backchannel on Twitter on the #crisisdata hashtag.

As has been the case for the disaster communications, "the Summit will use both established and more experimental social media tools and platforms to involve people who are not in the room in the discussion," wrote Kanter. Along with Twitter, those tools include:

Kanter described it as "a geo location crowdsourced storytelling application. Conference attendees will have the opportunity to join an "Emergency Data Society," on the service, which Kanter said "will facilitate a self-organized, community scrapbook of the event from attendees."

The power of crisis response platforms

The Red Cross has posted the first three chapters of a white paper based on the Summit's themes at the emergency social data blog, including the case for integrating crisis response with social media, how social media has changed news gathering during disaster response, and the crisis collaboration movement, which documents the growth of Crisis Commons from camps in 2009 to a globally distributed platform. All three of these posts are thorough investigations of a shift from a citizenry limited by a broadcast model and disaster fatigue to an empowered, participatory public.

I'm humbled to have contributed to documenting the first Crisis Camp Haiti and subsequent efforts this spring and summer, and to have attended the first international Crisis Congress. As aspirations translated to code, a movement of "geeks without borders spread around the globe. More recently, responding to the Gulf oil spill, Crisis Commons delivered Oil Reporter, an open data initiative that provided a "suite of tools and resources that encourages response organizations to capture and share data with the public."

The energy, passion and innovation that collectively drive Crisis Commons are possible because we're in a unique historical moment. Hundreds of millions of people online can see disasters like the Haiti earthquake unfold on the real-time Web. Unlike the natural disasters or man-made crises of the past, however, citizens, government, media and developers can now do more to help those affected, whether by mobile donations, crisis mapping, timely tweets or random hacks of kindness.

Given the scope of the crises that humanity faces, the power of social software to empower citizens is of critical interest to many constituencies. After tomorrow's summit concludes, I'll be looking forward to hearing about making states work better from Clare Lockhart, Steve Killelea and Ory Okolloh at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington.

The challenges, successes, and opportunities presented by new platforms for civic engagement and empowerment call into question recent reports of crowdsourcing losing steam. The increasing use of online platforms for civic engagement as platforms for civic empowerment hints at what might be possible in the future, as more sophisticated tools are developed for an increasingly connected humanity. After Haiti, collaborative action between government, developers, citizens, and NGOs is no longer an academic theory: it's a proud art of our history. The "adhocracy" that Alvin Toffler presciently described in 1970 has come to be through the power of networks. To put the power of that possibility in perspective, here's Tim O'Reilly speaking at OSCON:

And here's Andy Carvin's talk and slides on The New Volunteers: Social Media, Disaster Response And You:

I hope you'll tune in to the Emergency Social Data Summit tomorrow.


July 19 2010

Social Security in the Gov 2.0 age

Last week, I visited Social Security Administration headquarters outside of Baltimore to speak about social media and government at its Employee Open Government Awareness Day. Before my presentation, I sat down with Frank Baitman, the agency's chief information officer, to talk about Gov 2.0, open government and technology. A video of my interview with the Social Security CIO is embedded below.

What does open government mean, in the context of the agency?

"Social Security touches virtually every American," said Baitman. "I think over 97 percent pay into retirement now. A large number of Americans come into contact with the agency for other reasons as well. Social media and open government offer ways to communicate with them. In a democracy, it's core to government that people understand what government is doing with their tax dollars."

Where does open data and factor in to that discussion? "We had 16 data sets at the beginning," said Baitman. "We have many more now. I see that as just the beginning. Putting data out there from an agency that's data-centric is really what we're about here. There are cool things happening out there in the not-for-profit and open government community."

There's much more from our extended discussion on social media, teleworking, cloud computing and accessibility after the jump. Look for a followup article on Social Security and open government later this week.

Steps toward socializing Social Security

How does social media relate to open government? "When new social media tools come along to communicate tools with the American public, the opportunity becomes far more meaningful, and far more difficult," said Baitman. "We're a representative democracy. We choose people to represent us in Congress but not to vote as we would, necessarily. Social media serves a vital role in mediating that conversation. One of the tools that the government used in the launch of the Open Government Initiative was Ideascale. It is an incredibly effective tool but, like anything, it can be gamed. We need to be aware of that potential."

The issue of data leaks through new communication channels is not a negligible concern within the Office of the CIO, particularly as open government efforts move forward. Asked about that issue, Baitman said: "Open government is about communicating with the public, not sharing sensitive data. To the extent that we do share data, we extensively scrub it. Open government has nothing to do with personally identifiable information (PII). That has to do with what government is doing for and behalf of its citizens."

Privacy is a serious issue for using social media at Social Security, given the information the agency routinely exchanges internally. "I think Facebook is very savvy but their privacy policy is unnecessarily complex," said Baitman. "They're trying to give people customization tools. At some point, they will have to simplify them more."

So how could Social Security be using Twitter and Facebook? "Right now, the principal reason is to communicate with the public, and to get messages out there" said Baitman. "We need to make better use of these tools. The Department of Defense has been out there on the cutting edge in making use of these tools for their business purposes. I think it's wonderful that DoD is out there setting the standard for the rest of the government, not only in their policy but in how they use social media in many different fora, including out in the field. We want to do the same."

What business purposes might the Social Security Administration find for social media? "We're understanding that social media is becoming another means to communicate with a wide range of citizens," said Baitman. "Since Social Security touches virtually every American at some point of their lives, social tools are critical to communication."

On that count, Baitman pointed out that accessibility of government websites and social media tools is crucial. "The folks at IdeaScale worked very hard to address these issues. It came a long way and became a much better tool. That's one of the benefits to working with government." Baitman noted that there's going to be a White House ceremony today celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, including a showcase focused on accessible technology. "The CIO council has also set up a committee on accessibility, which I'm co-chairing," he said. "It says something about this administration that Social Security is out there in front this time."

For the most part, however, access to social media tools are blocked on the Social Security Administration network, with exceptions for certain employees on a case by case basis. The use of social software on the public intranet or on the internal intranet is at an embryonic stage. Baitman said they're hopeful that they'll find a long-term solution that allows them to deal with security concerns that are principal there.

Within the agency, the use of social software also is similarly new. "I've begun a CIO blog internally, using Drupal," said Baitman. "We're putting a big toe in the water and seeing how these things play out. I haven't seen any other blogs internally. We're a customer service agency, with the vast majority of our employees are in public-facing roles during their eight hours. We need to be creative in figuring out how to engage our own employees in a way to share information."

Could staff be learning or sharing knowledge with more home access? Network access is only available per the VPN, said Baitman. "You can do it if you have a Social Security laptop. We're actually buying a bunch of them. Thousands. There will be more people who can access internal networks."

What's the IT environment like at Social Security, in terms of the use of Macs, smartphones and laptops on the network? Baitman said that he uses Macs at home. Currently, only Windows machines can connect to the local area network at the agency. Will that change? "It's in government's interest to have diversity," he said. "Darwin taught us that. It's more cost effective, competitive and enhances security. Technological diversity is good."

Closing the IT Gap: Teleworking, mobile access and cloud computing

Recently, federal CIO Vivek Kundra and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Peter Orzag have focused on the IT gap between the public and private sector. How is Social Security approaching that challenge? "Ultimately, government is held accountable for the quality of services delivered and their cost," said Baitman.

"There's no question that government can be more efficient. It's nowhere near as effective as the private sector in delivering services over the past decade. We're hearing that from Orzag and Kundra and I firmly believe it. Since we haven't accomplished that, we now have a huge opportunity to make a difference in a short amount of time. There are, however, differences between public and private sector. We hold very serious data from American public that's both personal and private. I'm not going to take any chances with it."

The House passed a teleworking bill this month that could allow federal employees to work remotely up to 20 percent of their time. Where does the agency stand with teleworkers? "Very few people at Social Security telework," said Baitman. "They exist in small pockets. Historically, the agency served the public face-to-face in field offices. In that model, telework isn't possible. You can't do that from home. Technology has changed a lot. The American public has as well. Today, 37 percent of retirement applications are taken online. Think about that, more than 1 out of 3 are choosing to do that online. That's a trend we hope will continue to grow."

So are there laptops at Social Security? "Laptops exist," said Baitman. "We're buying more. An important part of our future is increasing the number of laptops."

What about the risks of enabling increased mobility for a federal workforce, given the history of data breaches, like those at the Veteran Administration? "I'd challenge the premise of increased risk," he said. "When you have proper procedures in place for securing PII, you're probably much better off using tech than not. When you take a look at data breaches, you're much more likely to see one on paper because it's much harder to encrypt paper. People who take paper home stand a greater chance of losing it, having it stolen from a car or throwing it out without being shredded. When people lose BlackBerrys, we brick them. The same goes for laptops. We have full disk encryption on every one."

What about the potential use of cloud computing for the Social Security Administration? "It depends," said Baitman. "Given what we have to protect and the way we interface with the public, well, some stuff is incredibly sensitive. I doubt we'll ever see it go into a public cloud -- and it shouldn't. There's a false dichotomy in there. Can you assume that a government-owned computer in a government-owned data center is more secure than a rented computer in a private cloud? That doesn't make sense. Actual possession of a computer doesn't increase security of data."

Baitman sees potential for use of the cloud, depending on the usage scenario. "One of the things I'm quite optimistic about is thin clients. That play very well to cloud computing. They allow you to secure data because it doesn't reside anywhere than your cloud."

What about the future? "As computing becomes more network-centric, you could imagine a variety of devices, some smart, some dumb," Baitman said. "Thin client will play a role, just like iPhones and BlackBerrys do. For the foreseeable future, however, our programmers will be doing programming on fat clients."

April 27 2010

The military goes social

For most of the 20th century, a soldier in the field could only communicate with his/her family and friends via letters that might take weeks or months to make their way to the recipient. But as the battlefield goes high tech, so has the ways soldiers can talk to the outside world.

Managing how social media interacts with the military is the job of Price Floyd, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. Floyd, a speaker at O'Reilly's upcoming Gov 2.0 Expo, discusses how the public face of the military is changing in the following interview.

The role of the Public Affairs office:

Price FloydPrice Floyd: We're responsible not just for external, but also internal communication. There's about, depending on how you count it, 2.5 million members of the Defense Department at large, all of the civilian employees, contractors, the men and women in service. And if you count those who retired and their families, it comes to about 10 million. Then there's the external audiences that could be U.S. and foreign-based.

How social media is being used by the Defense Department:

PF: At the Defense Department, what we have done is embraced social media, and the technology behind it, to engage with all our audiences. That's everything from veteran's groups to foreign publics to people who follow me on Twitter. And it's a two-way engagement. The idea that social media is a better way to reach a broader audience with our message, that kind of one-way communication idea, is not what we want to do. We want to engage with our audience, all of them, on the whole host of issues and policies that we deal with.

Does social media mean losing control of the message?

PF: I think that we need to become much more comfortable with taking risk, much more comfortable with having multiple spokesmen out there, thousands of spokesmen in essence. But, for me, there's nothing more credible than the men and women who are out there on the front lines fighting the wars that we're in to send messages back to their family and friends. As you know, you send a tweet or a make a post on Facebook, it doesn't necessarily stay there. That could be forwarded around. Other people that you never thought could see it will see it, even the media. And I'm okay with that. I'm okay with us no longer controlling exactly what people say to the media and then trying to work with the media to make sure they get their story exactly the way we may want it.

The trade-off between open communications and operational security:

Gov 2.0 Expo 2010PF: This is not a new problem. What's new about it may be the number of people who may see information they're not supposed to see because of the ability to communicate to a bigger group of people than you could in the past with a letter. Now it's Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or MySpace, whatever social media outlet they're on.

But Operational Security, OPSEC as we call it here, concerns are still around. We still need to worry about them. We still need to focus on them. We still need to educate to them. We have a campaign here called Net Smart. A lot of that is how to use social media responsibly. With this technology, there are benefits, but there are responsibilities, obligations by the users. You need to remember OPSEC. You need to know that people are watching, reading, and listening all the time. And don't say or do anything on these social media platforms or sites that you wouldn't say or do in front of your boss or your grandmother. It seems like common sense stuff, but it's stuff that we need to educate to the force and we're working to do that.

How the Department of Defense uses social media as a communications tool:

Price Floyd: We have it, but who wants to follow the Defense Department Facebook page? I'm not sure that's the best way to do it. I think what's better than that is to follow a person. Like Chairman Mullen on Twitter or your unit commander's Facebook page. It's personal. You know who it is.

I think people who follow certain bloggers follow them because of that blogger's insight, the way they frame issues. It's not an institution. It's a person doing it. So they build up a relationship. I have about 2,700 followers of my Twitter site. That's not that big compared to some. The Chairman's is much bigger. But I engage with them back-and-forth everyday.

The thing about this, it's not an institution doing this. It's about thousands of people in the institution doing it for us. Since we're so big, thousands of Facebook and Twitter accounts, thousands of MySpace accounts.

What social media will bring to the military in the future:

PF: What actually excites me is the possibility of the unknown. In other words, people being able to do things they've never done before. Just in the last year or so, as we were looking at this policy review on social media and whether to have a policy of open or closed or something in between, I heard stories from the men and women on the front lines, and I learned things I didn't know were going on. Mothers and fathers on the front lines doing homework with their children back home in real-time. It's just amazing, all of the ramifications that may come from that. Transitions could become easier because they weren't completely gone; the kids still saw dad or mom once or twice a week through Skype.

The technology today has changed the way the men and women overseas are able to communicate back home with their family and friends. I don't know what's going to come next, but if past is prologue, there will be both risks and benefits to it. And we need to accept that and try to responsibly deal with it.


February 09 2010

Google Buzz re-invents Gmail

When I first heard about Google Buzz, I was worried that I might be seeing the birth of another "me too" product. After all, everyone wants a piece of the Twitter halo. But with the release of Buzz today, you can see how Google has taken the social media lessons of Twitter and applied them to their own core products.

I'm especially fond of Gmail Buzz, which adds the power of asymmetric following to email.

AWESOME idea. There are many of us for whom email is still our core information console, and our most powerful and reliable vehicle for sharing ideas, links, pictures, and conversations with the people who constitute our real social network. But up till now, we could only share with explicitly specified individuals or groups. Now, we can post messages to be read by anyone. Sergey Brin said that Buzz gives the ability "to post a message without a 'to' line." That's exactly right - something that in retrospect is so brilliantly obvious that it will soon no doubt be emulated by every other cloud-based email system.

Buzz items can be shared directly in Gmail, but are also pulled in from other social sharing sites, including Twitter, Picasa, YouTube, and Flickr.

What's particularly cool is that the people you "follow" are auto-generated for you out of your email-based social network. If you communicate with them, they are the seed for your buzz cloud. Over time, as you like or dislike buzz entries from that network, the buzz cloud adapts.

Google has also done a neat hack on the Twitter @name syntax, allowing you to prefix @ to an email address to have a message show up for sure in that user's Gmail Inbox. Saying (or will put a message into foo's Buzz cloud in the same way as saying @foo does on Twitter, but it will also show up in their Gmail Inbox, to make sure they see it. You can also make messages private to only named recipients or groups. (I love this - right now, I have two Twitter accounts, one for public sharing, and another for private sharing.)

I've always found it perplexing that vendors who manage pieces of our communications network for us - our email, IM, and phone - have failed to build social networking features into their products. Google is clearly now tackling that job, increasingly making its communication products into a powerful social media platform. Gmail already includes IM and some automatic social learning in the address book; adding Buzz makes it that much more powerful. And the fact that whatever you buzz is added to your Google profile (and immediately picked up in Google search) will turn those seemingly vestigial Google profiles into something that might just become the next generation personal home page.

You can begin to see where all this is going: the integration of Gmail, Buzz, Reader, Voice, Geo, Blogger, YouTube, Calendar, Contacts... Buzz is a game-changing first step, but when you think about where Google will take this over the next year it gets exciting...

There's a real lesson here for anyone who wants to enter a crowded market: play to your strengths. Think through what job that hot new startup does for its users. Don't copy what they look like. Apply what they've taught you to your own business.

There are real benefits to using email as a social media platform. Just about everyone knows how to use it. (Despite claims that young millenials look down on email, it's just too useful to go away anytime soon.) It's incredibly flexible - you can share anything you want, and comment on it at any length, from 140 characters to as many as it takes to get your point across. It has a global address space that allows you to find almost anyone, an address space that links people to content. It's multi-platform, and accessible from anywhere.

In some ways, Gmail Buzz brings many of the benefits of Google Wave to Gmail. Every Buzz item can be turned into a conversation (much as in Wave or Friendfeed.) People can comment on your Buzz, comment on your comments, or @ reply you. Sure, it lacks the hyper-cool wiki-style shared editing features (though those perhaps could be added in a future release), but it also lacks the critical flaw that made Wave into more of a "concept car" than a real product: I don't have to adopt a new tool or build a new social network. It just adds rich new capabilities into the tool and network that I already use.

Google has also done a terrific job of giving inline preview to links you share. This is especially awesome for photos and videos. The inline slideshows are terrific - actually better than you get in most native photo or video sharing apps. And I love that you can share a Flickr link as easily as you can share one from Picasa (bucking the trend of vendors to try to lock you in to their own services.) Google says it's committed to Buzz being "the poster child for what it means to build an open, standards-compliant social product that serves the interests of users..." I'm looking forward to seeing more signs of this commitment as Buzz (and other Google products) evolve.

You can read more about the functionality behind Buzz at O'Reilly Answers: "Google Buzz: 5 Things You Need to Know."

P.S. There's also a great, related Buzz announcement for Mobile, which shows off Google's platform thinking. On the mobile phone, Buzz is automatically "snapped" to your location, also using metrics like time of day to figure out the most relevant location (e.g. during the day you might be at Google, but if it's nighttime, it may be more likely that you're at the Shoreline Amphitheater across the street.) Buzz related to a location will show up on the relevant Google Placepage, and in a new geotagged Buzz layer on Google Maps. What we're seeing is the application of algorithmic relevance to buzz - and the power of what I've long been calling "the internet operating system."

P.P.S. Buzz will be rolled out starting at 11 pm today. Apparently, it will take 2-3 days to show up in every Gmail account; if you don't have it right away, be patient.

February 02 2010

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