No Place to Hide

This week, our town (Boonton, NJ) experienced a very unusual tragedy – a fatal shooting. Specifically, and man and wife were out with a young one in a stroller when they were fired on by someone(s) with an assault rifle a gun of some sort. The woman was killed, the man injured, the child unhurt.

This happened several blocks away from us in this quiet residential town, our first hint being a hovering police helicopter overhead very early in the morning.

The husband’s tale of what happened quickly unraveled, and he and a woman whom he knew were charged with murder. The man and his wife were not getting along and this was his plot to get rid of her – a staged shooting.

Senseless, brutal – and now, two young children have to live with the aftermath (as well as the entire extended family and community).

The smoking gun, in this case, wasn’t necessarily the assault rifle. It was text messages, between the man and the shooter during the hours leading up to the shooting. Shoe-leather detective work figuring this crime scene out was vastly aided by damning bits and bytes found strewn all over the place.

Digital footprints. No need for photos, witnesses, fingerprints. The whole scheme was sketched out as a before-the-act confession.

There will always be people who get away with shady stuff, in business and in life. But the hiding places are getting scarcer. Cell phone records, texts, digital cameras, electronic toll tags, traffic cameras, digital documents, copier memories – as digital nodes proliferate, they shine light on previously-darkened hiding places.

I’d be a fool to think that people will stop doing evil things. And sometimes, I have deep concerns about the encroachment of digital everything on privacy. But as a citizen of a peaceful town, when something like this happens where we all walk our dogs and wave to our neighbors, I feel a certain sense of gratitude that there are fewer places to hide.

The helicopter didn’t find the perpetrators. They phoned themselves in. Criminals, crooked business people, and politicians – take note.

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Purpose-built Networks

The initial social media gold rush is about over.

Remember the exuberant early days of the e-commerce and portal bubble, and the huge paydays attained by some first movers? Then it all shook out, and we settled down to business.

Now, with social media, we have these big, broad, public networks (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.) sprawled all over the web, enabling people to make connections and share stuff – which is great. I’m all in, and have been for five years. However…

…as with any shiny new toy, the first-movers have made their big bucks. The new platform-creators, the evangelists, the top bloggers, the book authors – those in the vanguard have broken the fresh ground and social media is now moving into mainstream adoption. As it should.

These big, unfocused networks have some major limitations for serious business use, however. So, I’m thinking that the next high-impact evolution will be purpose-built, purpose-driven networks. Especially for business.

While we love the idea of the public social web, a whole lot of business communication goes on in smaller rooms. Controlled environments. And large swaths of business networking/communications have to be regulated (particularly in pharma, where I do a lot of my work). In fact, while I do a lot of public networking in the pharma space through my company Impactiviti, most of the significant business happens through private communications in a purpose-built trust network. That’s not really going to change for me, or for many other businesses. The wide-open social web is not a panacea – because often, the real business need is for targeted communications that have some business rules around them.

Social-media-style digital networked communications is great for individuals, and has huge potential for some kinds of more retail business. But it’s not optimal for everything. Much of the potential of social technologies will reside behind firewalls and in digital networks that are purposefully designed with business purposes in mind. Think about it – was Facebook, or Twitter, specifically designed for business? Um – no. We’re just trying to adapt them. And, truth be told, it’s often a bit of a mismatch.

The company that’s in the best position to deliver on this is Google. They have all the tools, many of which are growing up into enterprise level. Google Plus gives us a glimpse of private, multi-media selective communications with Circles and Hangouts. What we need is a platform that allows companies to naturally build their (multiple) networks with (multiple) different purposes according to the business rules and goals that apply to those groups. A platform that truly integrates voice, text, video, search, filtered layers of intimacy, real-time and asynchronous comms – and Google has all the pieces. With the cloud-based infrastructure to back it.

Apple will give them a run for their money. Because they have started with the user experience and nice integration, and thus built a lot of momentum. But they need to make the leap into business-focused networking. Microsoft – sigh. All the infrastructure, but so much legacy baggage – I don’t know.

These Lego blocks that we’re playing with now are cool. They are great for the individual experience, and for public exposure. But whoever cracks the purpose-built networking nut will find the real gold. Who do you think will win this race?

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Publishing Perma-links: Steal This Idea

Lately, I’m reading more books that use hyperlinks as references.

It’s ugly.

(from Guy Kawasaki‘s new book, Enchantment)

But I can understand why authors choose to do this, instead of using URL-shortening services like bit.ly and tinyurl. These services may be transitory and unreliable, while books are meant to be more permanent archives of knowledge.

Here’s the problem: links are transitory, too.

So, is there a business opportunity to solve this problem? I think so. Please feel free to steal this idea if you agree:

Someone should launch a combined URL-shortening service and cloud-based archiving mechanism (similar to the wayback machine) that will take and store a snapshot of the referenced page in an archive, as well as have a pointer to the URL in its current state (which may be either the same, or with altered content, or a 404 Page Not Found).

This way, we can have nicer and more compact perma-link URL pointers in print materials (it would work for on-line content too, actually) which will have a permanent record. Tie it also to a generated QR code (used creatively in The Now Revolution by Jay Baer & Amber Naslund) for the archived link and you’ve got a real winner.

Call the service book.it or something like that.

I could easy see a 2-tier free (personal) and paid (professional) version of this, so it could be used by individual researchers, students, and the like. Every publishing house would be on the professional version, and each book released would have links formatted something like this:

http://www.book.it/nowrev/1-1 (The Now Revolution, chapter 1, first link)

I don’t have time or expertise to create this. So do us all a favor – steal this idea. Just put a perma-link back to this post when you’re done, for the first test case!

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Roddenberry was Right

Gene Roddenberry, the genius behind the early years of the Star Trek series, had an amazingly prescient view of the future.

In the original Star Trek TV series, crew members used devices called communicators which bore a remarkable resemblance to cell phones.

Then, in Star Trek The Next Generation episodes, items that seemed for all the world to be touch-screen computers, iPads, and iPhones were constantly in use. Digital everything. Ubiquitous screens.

Roddenberry got it.

And now, as we daily put to use that which he foresaw decades ago, we reach a point where old labels are shedding their meaning. We still use the term “phone” in various ways, but the idea of an analog device dedicated only to audio voice communication seems rather – quaint. But, we still cling to terms like cell phone, iPhone, Smartphone – heck, the phone is the least-used aspect of my iPhone!

In 10 years, we’ll look back and wonder at the old legacy labels that described separate “things” like phones or cameras or computers.

I’d like to suggest that ultimately, Gene Roddenberry had it right again. You know what these increasingly portable devices are, in their various configurations and form factors?

That’s right. Communicators. Personal Communicators. With which we send and receive messages, info, voice, video – it’s really a far more accurate description than phone, computer, tablet, or what have you.

Kinda brings a whole new meaning to the acronym PC, if you think about it…

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Purpose or Tech?

Looking back over the past five years or so, it seems to me that a lot of our social networking has been driven by technology.

LinkedIn is launched, and we jump in and adjust to its structure. Ning. Twitter. Facebook. YouTube. Bits and pieces of technology solutions, with people gathered around and meeting each other – well, mostly because of the tech first.

Maybe it’s time to think more seriously about purpose-built networks. Where technology is incidental, and the tie that binds is shared purpose, shared mission, shared direction. This has been happening, of course, to some extent, but it often seems that the technology precedes, even shapes, the purpose.

I don’t merely want to build a Flickr community, a Twitter network, a Facebook gathering. I have personal and business dreams to pursue, and goals to accomplish.

A nice stadium in which to gather and cheer is not the same as a single-minded, purposeful team driving downfield to score 6 points.

At least for me, it’s time to put purpose first. How about you?

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First Look: Skype Video on iPhone

This morning, I just finished a post on when things don’t “just work”.

Then I downloaded the new version of Skype for the iPhone, which includes the ability to do video calls with other Skype users. Jim Long (@newmediajim on Twitter) wanted to test it out also, so we had our first real-time conversation via iPhone-to-iPhone Skype video. Jim on a 3G network, and me from my home Wi-Fi.

In a word: Awesome!

It. Just. Worked. As with Skype on the computer, this was a totally intuitive process, and we connected right up and started chatting without a flaw or hiccup. Call me impressed. This may very well catalyze a changeover for me from casual (but happy) Skype user to a paid, heavy-use account.

If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl. The future keeps arriving in the palm of our hands.

Photo credit: Jim Long

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When it Doesn’t Just Work

We came back home after a few days away to a rather amusing note from the gal who house-sat out home (and dog) while we visited family over the holidays.

She noted a few “issues” with our digitally-controlled stuff, summarized thusly:

  1. The radio in the kitchen does not work like a radio,
  2. The TV in the family room does not work like a TV,
  3. The TV in the master bedroom does not work like a TV,
  4. The atomic-interfaced alarm clock is now into 2017.

Anyone who, like us, has more modern digital video/sound systems knows the problem with the proliferation of remote controls and the occasional complexity of doing simple tasks, like, say, turning the thing on and changing channels. What if the prior input was for the Tivo, and now I want to watch a broadcast channel, or a DVD, or skate on over to Netflix-on-demand? Eventually, you get used to which buttons to press and in what order, but when someone else comes into the house, you now have…utter confusion.

Back in the day, when you walked into someone else’s house, every TV pretty much worked the same. And radios had on-off buttons and simple station selectors. It wasn’t HD, but it was simple. It worked.

We’ve come a long way in making great technology. I was reflecting with Joe Cascio over coffee a few days back how we old-timers were trained, by Microsoft primarily, to expect disaster and hardship and trouble with every new version, every peripheral, every update (the “Microsoft Flinch”). I still get angst-y whenever I install something or bring up a new device – except now, stuff mostly just works (OK, so I am now mostly working with Apple products, but the PC stuff is WAY better as well!)

But we’re not there yet. When a house-sitter can’t even get a TV to work, we have a user-interface problem. When I STILL need my kids to occasionally remind me that I have to press button Q on remote #3 in order to actually reach the proper menu to do X, this is not good design. We’ve crossed the threshold of easy on a lot of products and systems, but we still have a ways to go to make everything just work. I guess that’ll keep some of our talented people permanently employed!

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