Aug 23, 2009

To the Data User: Caveat Emptor

Last week a few reports were released that can help shed some light on teen Twitter behavior.

[begin rant] You likely heard about the Morgan Stanley [rubbish] "report" written by a precocious fifteen-year-old intern from their London office. It's been stuck in my craw since it's post-release media flurry. No disrespect to the young man who solidly reported the experiences of he and his mates, but the ah-ha frenzy of corporate boardrooms and media belies that every observant parent of teens already knew what their kids do. [end rant]

Anyway, among the "findings" in the report--and one I have been arguing about--is that teens don't use Twitter because they are limited by limited cell phone use and texting.

Last week, Pew released a study on teens and cellphone use.
  • 71% of the people between 12-17 have cell phones. The percentage jumps to 85% for 16 and 17 year-olds.
  • Use is up from 63% in 2006 and almost catches teens up to the 77% of adults with cell phones.
  • Almost 40% send text messages DAILY.
  • Three-quarters of the 18-29 year olds text daily. (Pew Wireless Internet Use)
So, looking at the data, it doesn't seem that there is a huge lack of access to cell phones or text messaging that would limit the use of Twitter for teens.

THEN, there is the idea that it's important to tweet from your cell phone.

Read Write Web reported, also last week, that Twitter users are most likely to use the Web, not a cell phone, to share their tweets.
[U]pdating your status online via is still the dominant way that most people use Twitter, with 65% of tweets attributed to this method....Besides the web, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of Twitter updates, the second most popular way to update is via text message. However, with 6% of tweets sent, this method only accounts for 1/10th as many tweets.--Read more on Read Write Web.
Data shows that text messaging from phones is not preferred by Twitter users, period. Since more than 90% of all 12-17 year olds are online, more than any other age group, teens have at least the same access to the Twitter web interface as any other Twitter users.

So, the data does not support that dismal teen tweeting is "caused" by the lack of access to technology. It's more likely that they simply are not interested in Twitter

"So," you ask, "why did you go here? Taking us on this trail for a little tidbit of clarification on a fairly small topic?"

Two reasons. First, it's critical that folks working on innovation and technology make decisions based on data, not just fashion. And, second, it's imperative to take a hard look at the data sources. We need to carefully look at the data and assumptions and get past the hype, whenever we can. And not pass on the hype.

[Okay, and thirdly, because I was right and now there's nothing stuck in my U-Mich SRC craw. The benefits of being the blog owner.]

Aug 18, 2009

Research on Privacy Perceptions

The White House is reviewing the federal government's cookie policy. Abridged version, it's been a 9-year rejection of the use of what many see as a benign tool and others see as government invading citizen privacy.

Part of this discussion has included what privacy means to people using online tools in 2009. Some think that people don't care about privacy, some that folks have no (or should have no) expectations of privacy, and others think that people care very much about their online privacy.

Fortunately, to help us learn more about just what privacy means, Patricia Abril and Avner Levin published a paper in the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law on privacy perceptions in online social networks. The team surveyed 2,500 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 about the personal information they post online, what they do to protect their information, and any concerns regarding their personal information.

They reported that sharing information on social networks, and allowing other to share information about you, creates vulnerabilities, and that people know that they are potentially vulnerable.
  • 72% have adjusted privacy settings to restrict some groups of people from accessing their profiles.
  • More than 60% believe that they have taken sufficient steps to protect themselves.
  • 42% said they have read social networking sites' privacy policies.
  • Only 22% were not concerned that information about them (photos, videos, comments by others about them) could be created and posted by others.
  • 67% said that they were were most concerned about potential harm to their image or reputation.
  • 54.3% agreed with the statement, “Work life is completely separate from personal life, and what you do in one should not affect the other.”
  • 82% said that it would be inappropriate for employers to require them to "friend" a manager.
This young cohort appears to be both careful and realistic about their privacy. They are most worried about privacy lapses that could affect their reputations. And they want to keep some sort of firewall between their social selves and their work selves.

Based on their research, Abril and Levin created a concept of "network privacy."
We call this notion network privacy. According to network privacy, information is considered by online socializers to be private as long as it is not disclosed outside of the network to which they initially disclosed it, if it originates with them, or as long as it does not affect their established online personae, if it originates with others. [online social network]s, as businesses profiting from socializing online, are best positioned to offer online socializers, often the young and vulnerable, effective protection in accordance with their notion of network privacy above and beyond regular measures of personal information control, and they should be required to do so.--Read "Two Notions of Privacy Online."
Moving forward toward a meaningful, twenty-first century privacy policy, we will need to recognize the conflict between the desire and need to share information within networks and the difficulty in regulating networks with loose barriers.

Translating this to the cookies' debate, it seems that people may be less concerned with the mechanics of being "tracked" except when any "tracking" would reflect poorly on them.

Aug 16, 2009

Too Much To Keep Up With? Don't Try

Picture of Ballou and Keith at the beach. Not related to the post, but we had a nice vaycay."We must have a Twitter. And a Facebook. And a YouTube. And a private social network. And an island on Second Live. Oh, and a blog or two."

But, Alexandra Samuel writes:
You could spend half your life trying every technology that comes down the pike, and still be hopelessly at sea...So I'm here to let you off the hook. If a geek like me — a woman whose idea of a fantastically fun evening is to try out a dozen project management sites — can't keep up, what hope is there for folks who occasionally want to close their computers and pick up a book? There is no hope. You can't keep up.
Best of all, this is good news! Alexandra continues,
Keeping up is about following someone else's agenda: the bloggers and tweeters who trot out invitations to the latest beta. The marketers, publicists and journalists who blanket us with coverage about the latest hot tech phenomenon. And yes, the tech consultants who charge tens or hundreds of thousands to add new musts to your already long to-do list. The minute you stop trying to keep up, you open a far more exciting possibility: getting ahead with what matters to you, your team and your business.--Read more at the Harvard Business Blogs.
What to do instead?

1. Go back to what you are trying to accomplish mission-wise, and quit chasing the newest short skirt.

2. Ask the right questions. Not, how do I use XYZ technology, but how do I reach my audience? Where are they? Not, what kind of design do I need for my new website, but how do I help my audience accomplish their tasks?

3. Line up your quality content. Launching the blog is the easiest part, keeping it smart, topical and fresh is the daily drudge--and the holy grail. Spend more time on your current channels and less time launching new avenues.

4. Keep your fingers on the pulse. Subscribe to newsfeeds and keep up with blogs and articles about emerging technologies and how they're being used. You just don't have to use them all. At least not yet.

[I know the picture is not related to the post. But we were at the beach. And it was nice.]

Aug 7, 2009

Rapunzel Was a Baby-Mama

Very cool wordle of the Rapunzel story, from Kindlerama CreativeCommons License This past week had a few stories from the Department of Defense and the defense against the dark arts of social media.

Last week, DOD launched the DoD Web 2.0 Guidance Forum, a new dialogue initiative. They said
We are using this blog as an approach to engage the public in Department of Defense (DoD) considerations of web 2.0 capabilities, and are excited to participate in this new facet to the President’s openness and transparency efforts.-Read more on the Forum.
In what seemed like only a few hours later, Wired reported that DOD was considering banning social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook because they cause security "headaches."
[T]his fresh ban stems from fears that Facebook and the like make it far too easy for hackers and cybercrooks to gain access to the military’s networks.

Last week, U.S. Strategic Command issued a “warning order” to the rest of the military, asking for feedback on a social media ban on the NIPRNet, the Defense’s Department’s unclassified network. (Naturally, access is already denied on the secret and top secret nets.)

“The mechanisms for social networking were never designed for security and filtering. They make it way too easy for people with bad intentions to push malicious code to unsuspecting users. It’s just a fact of life,” says a source at Stratcom, which is responsible for securing the military’s “global information grid.”--
Read the rest in Wired's DangerRoom.
Seemed like a pretty quick assessment of the public sentiment. [Seriously, the dialogue is open through the end of August, so please participate.]

The U.S. Marine Corps on Monday issued a directive banning access to Internet social networking sites on the Marine Corps Enterprise Network because such sites represent a security risk.
Marine administrative message 458/09 says that social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter "are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user generated content and targeting by adversaries."
Social networking sites create vulnerabilities that can be exploited and may expose unnecessary information to adversaries, putting military personnel at increased risk of compromise, the directive says.--Read more on InformationWeek.
"What's going on?," you may ask. Hasn't DOD been at the forefront of social media engagement?

The questions being asked by some worried brass and the edicts and bans being handed down are a reflection of the reality that there is a conflict between legitimate security issues and the reality of this very open, very participatory new world.

But, I would like to offer a Grimm Fairy Tale.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair." And with that quick phrase, the prince was inside the fortress and "married" the fair maiden.

Bottom line, while you can set up multiple, extraordinary, and high-hurdle defenses, the desires and needs to extend beyond the "impregnable" fortresses may make them insufficient.

Better said by Talking Salmons.
Social media is how I communicate...It is the evolution of communication. Faster, fitter, more productive, free, easy and beneficial. Policy makers who ban social media because of the threat of viruses make no sense to me. Are we still in the era of burning towns to stop the plague? Do we ban cars when a teenager drives drunk? Do we ban computers when someone writes a computer virus?--Read the entire excellent post on Talking Salmons.
I am sounding a bit redundant, but, once again, this is stuff that we are figuring out. So, I would like to leave this post in the able tweet of Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs.

Tweet by Adm Mullen of Joint Chiefs, Obviously we need to find right balance between security and transparency. We are working on that. But am I still going to tweet? You bet.

Aug 2, 2009

If You Build It, NOT: 4 Pointers for Search Optimization

The field of dreams baseball players appearing out of the magic corn field walking on to the magic baseball fieldIt's a MYTH! A MYTH! A MYTH I TELL YOU!

Just because you build it, nobody will come. Sure, you announce to your friends and stakeholders, but then what? There will be no miles long trail of cars snaking through cornfields to experience your vision. It's a movie. And a myth.

Yes, viral is important, but you can't manufacture true viral. It just happens.

I have been calling out this myth for 12 years. And, in this time of fractured media and spliced attentions, it is critical to be level-headed and recognize that there is effort involved in driving traffic. Launching your website or application is not the end. You need to help folks find it.
Eighty percent of all online sessions begin with search. Google alone has a 63.7 percent share of all searches. Some quick math tells me that this means that just over half of the time someone starts an online session, they open to Google and begin to search. Bottom line: Most of the time people go online, they start with a search -- and don't type in your URL.

Instead of typing in your URL and ending up on your site, people are using search engines to find what they are looking for. The question is: Will they find you? You might not like the answer.

It turns out that the top three listings on a search engine results page account for approximately 63 percent of all clicks. That is, about two-thirds of the time, people look no further than the first three listings before clicking. So, clearly that's the place to be. --See
more from Jonathan Richman at I Media Connection
There are many books, blogs, websites and experts on helping people find you (also known as search engine optimization). My purpose today is to start you thinking about making your content more accessible to search engines. Here are four starting pointers.

1. Don't be cute. Search engines look for clues on your pages to let them know what the page is about. They usually think that titles and headings provide pointers to what is important. So, every time you create a cute name for your page and use teaser language for your headers instead of clearly telling and leading readers (and search engines) about your purpose, you are turning them away.

2. Use normal words. Speaking of not knowing, search engines can't translate your arcane, governmentese into something findable. Especially when you are using your own special language. You may love your acronyms, but the uninitiated will not have a clue. No clue means they can't find you.

3. Seek out resources. You can learn about words people use to describe your services. Your site search should report the words that people are searching on. If they are looking for "green card" and you only use the official name "LPR," you are turning them away. And away means to another source. Also, visit the Google Keyword Tool to learn related words and phrases. Incorporate these words into your pages.

4. Select some pages and make changes. Identify a few terms and their pages you want to drive people to. Update the page title, headers and copy with the normal words. Check your progress by searching on these terms on Google, Bing, YAHOO, Ask. The results are easy to see. Also see for quick keyword verification across multiple search engines.

Now go do some more research, you might want to start with Search Engine Watch. And feel free to share your own resources and tips in the comments below.