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In Praise of Grunt Work

broken-glass

Photo credit: Vieux Bandit

An experience I had that comes back to me from time to time is work I used to do way back in the early 1990s. I was an Assistant Buyer for Hecht’s Department Store in Washington D.C. My department? Stationery and Frames.

The picture frames could get handled roughly, both by customers and in transit. Which meant broken glass. A lot of it.

The store department managers would box up these frames of broken glass, and ship ‘em back to the Hecht’s warehouse in Maryland. Boxes of these frames would show up each week, stored in the specially designated Frames area. I’m guessing the warehouse crew thought that was sort of amusing.

So you’ve got a bunch of frames, but no glass. What do you do? Ship ‘em back to the different manufacturers?

No, you send the Assistant Buyer to the warehouse to replace the glass.

We’d order a bunch of different pieces of glass, and I’d rebuild these poor little specimens on the Island of Misfit Frames. It sucked. I mean, I wore gloves but would inevitably get cuts on my hands. It was hot in that warehouse. Sitting there for hours doing this work was b o r i n g. I was a college grad, dammit!

But something happened over the hours, days and weeks I did this work. I learned those picture frames. I knew all the Burnes styles cold. It happened in spite of my dislike of the glass replacement work in the warehouse.

How did it help?

  • Sales numbers on a report were matched to a style I knew, making the data much more informative
  • Ad layouts – I knew the colors and styles to put into each ad
  • Store merchandising – I could go into any store and quickly size up the shelves for presentation and inventory
  • Product selection – I could compare new styles to what we already carried

All from the hours of grunt work in the warehouse. This is a lesson I like to remember from time to time.

*****

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The Serendipity of Attention

In the recent post Forget Dunbar’s Number, Our Future Is in Scoble’s Number, commenter Adam Metz wrote:

H-Dog,

Maybe I’m missing something, but where’s your definition of Attention? Can you add it in to the second or third paragraph? Good idea, but a little rough around the edges.

Calling me “H-Dog” is one way to get my attention. ;-) But back to the definition of attention. Putting it simply:

Attention = time + interest

Time being a real-world constraint. There are only but so many hours in a day, so attention is bound by that dimension. If I’m tied up with work or playing with the kids, I’m not going to give anything my attention. The second aspect is interest. Say, I do have some time. If I’m viewing something on the foraging habits of the scaup bird, my interest is quite low and I’m likely not to pay attention even though I have the time. I’ll find something else.

I will observe though, that while time is a concrete and unyielding dimension, interest is fluid and dynamic. Our moods, activities, friends and life events  affect what is interesting at any given point in time. It’s not like it’s totally random – there is a baseline of things that consistently interest us. While time is rigid, interest is a flexible dimension of attention.

Next question is how we find things that are of interest to us when we do have the time.

The Reducing Bands of Attention

I think I can make this statement with certainty:

You will miss the vast majority of information which would fit both your interests and time available to read

Anyone disagree? That’s probably a frustrating aspect of our information age. Am I finding the things I should know? How do I improve that? How can I be both more efficient and systematic in finding what interests me?

Technology is making it easier to be more efficient and systematic, but we’re nowhere near perfecting that. And we can’t get too perfect, because as I mentioned before, our “interests” are fluid and I don’t think we could possibly catalog all of what interests us.

Honestly, we have to accept a certain serendipity of attention. And realize we’ve got a much better system of discovery than we did just ten years ago. I’ve thought about my own experience. What’s my personal system for attention?  It’s a mix of ways, as the graphic below shows:

bands-of-managing-reduced-attention

Let me describe the bands.

Dunbar’s Number: This is the theoretical limit on the number of individuals whom you can follow closely. The number is pegged at 150, a number of people which even Robert Scoble uses for his core basis of attention. My Dunbar’s number includes the 70 or so people I’m following each day on my Enterprise 2.0 List on FriendFeed. It then includes some other folks who fall outside Enterprise 2.0 but interest me in other ways.

With people in your Dunbar’s Number, you read what they create, share and talk about. My guess is that this is the core use case of Facebook members. Note that you expand the number of people you track via this group when they share content or talk with someone outside your core 150. The expansion is temporary though – based on what someone you follow has engaged with.

@replies: I use the Twitter @replies function as shorthand for the ways in which people reach out directly to you. This includes the @replies, the DMs, the Facebook messages, email itself,  etc. Now I’m not inundated with these, so they still get my attention. As you rise in the social media pecking order, apparently you get bombarded with these directed messages. Then they probably move to an outer band of attention for you.

Keyword tracking: This is how people, information and conversations outside my Dunbar’s Number most often get my attention. I track content that includes keywords in which I’m interested. This is the most systematic way I have for improving the efficiency and coverage of things that interest me. As I often write here, I use the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed for this. Another good option is Filtrbox. I’m sure there are others.

Other groups: OK, you’ve got the core group of people you follow in your Dunbar’s Number. But there are others you like to keep up with as well. This is where the group functions come in to play. You can group people based on some characteristic, and check on those groups as attention allows. On FriendFeed, these are Lists. TweetDeck lets you group people.

Groups are great for when you’ve already seen your Dunbar’s List and @replies. And sometimes you just need a break from the usual topics and people on which you’ve put focus.

Random views: I do this as well. For some, it may be dipping into the public timeline of Twitter. Or FriendFeed’s everyone tab. Once you’re following a large number of people, checking out the tweets or FriendFeed entries of everyone you follow becomes a form of random views. Because you can’t possibly take in the full river of content all the time. You’d get nothing else done. But it is worth it to dip in occasionally.

Scoble’s Number Requires a System

In the graphic, I categorize all the bands outside Dunbar’s Number as the province of Scoble’s Number. To track people well outside your core 150, you need a way that aids the goals of better efficiency and more systematic coverage, while preserving the serendipity that accompanies the fluidity of our interests.

That’s where I am these days when it comes to attention. How about you?

*****

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Data Privacy, Data Ownership and Who You Trust

facebook-google-safeway-chase

In the recent imbroglio over what exactly Facebook was saying in its (now-reversed) updated Terms of Service (TOS), I found myself on the opposite side of a lot of smart people in terms of what it meant. There was a lot of concern that Facebook was essentially claiming the right to commercialize any content its members uploaded to the social network. As I said in a couple posts, it didn’t strike me that way.

In other words, I didn’t think the terms or the intent matched the hyperbole I was seeing.

So I ask why was I so sanguine while others were so worried? Jeremiah Owyang asked readers whether they had deleted their Facebook accounts. The most common response seems to be that they removed their photos, although I don’t expect that reaction to be the norm. Personally, I’ll keep uploading photos without concern.

Why? It’s not about the terms. It’s about trust. I trust Facebook.

We All Trust Companies of Some Type

In order to live in society, we have to trust companies. If you didn’t, you’d never buy anything, or you’d spend a lot of time carefully inspecting everything you purchase. We don’t do that of course.

Quickly, here’s why I trust Facebook, no matter the interpretation of their TOS:

  • Established company with an imperfect, but acceptable rack record
  • Companies that want to be profitable and go public don’t trash their relationship with 175 million members
  • In the event Facebook ever started unilaterally using and selling its members’ content, the backlash would be 1,000,000 times greater than the Motrin Moms episode

I have no reason to distrust Facebook. Others apparently do. I sort of understand that, although no one who expressed their suspicions of Facebook could give an actual example of how the social network has done them harm. I think for a lot of people, this Facebook TOS story was a vehicle to vent their general concerns about social networks and the tension of making our personal info public. People like to participate in social media, but there’s always this dark side of concern in the back of their minds of what people will do with that info. Or it’s front of mind for a vocal minority.

In a previous job at biometric company Pay By Touch, I remember these concerns well. There was an understandable concern about some private company holding your biometric, personal and financial information. And yet plenty of people did participate.

Clearly, Facebook does have some work to continue building out people’s trust in the site. But as people watch Facebook, I thought it’d be instructive to look at the the terms of service for some other popular products and services that people use.

The idea here is to ask whether you are skeptical of Facebook but using other services that seem to have as much potential for violating data privacy and data ownership. If you’re not questioning these other services, why not?

Google’s TOS

Let me start with this comparison of Google’s TOS and Facebook’s TOS (initial updated version from The Consumerist):

google-facebook-tos-comparison

Notice the similarities in those clauses. Facebook’s TOS looks like it used Google’s TOS  as a starter. The Facebook TOS story started on the news that the site had dropped two lines saying they no longer had such a license when you quit Facebook. By dropping those lines, it appeared they were claiming a license to your IP forever.

Yet the controversy I saw was less on that issue, and more on concerns that Facebook intended to grab all users’ content and start commercializing it. Let me put it another way. It wasn’t like bloggers said, “As long as you’re a member of Facebook, you’re fine letting them commercialize your content without your permission. Only consider that an issue when you quit Facebook.” No, it became an intellectual property issue, regardless of whether you are a current member or have quit.

Google has similar terms. Yet Google doesn’t face the same issue for having essentially the same terms as Facebook. Why?

Safeway Club Card

You may have a loyalty card with your local grocer. I do – the Safeway Club Card. If you don’t use a Club Card, you pay a higher shelf price for many products. Gotta get that discount!

So Safeway is collecting name, address info and purchase history for its shoppers – via the Club Card and online. Let’s see what Safeway’s privacy terms look like:

safeway-terms-of-svc

Really, not too bad, eh? Sure, your private information may end up in the hands of third parties, but it doesn’t appear to be to commercialize it. But check out that second-to-last paragraph. Safeway will hang on to your private information for as long as it deems necessary. Sort of like Facebook.

Safeway also reserves the right to update its privacy policy at any time, without informing you. Which is one of those fears people have about Facebook.

If you wanted to stir it up with Safeway, you’d blog something like: “What’s to stop Safeway from sharing your purchase history with insurance companies? Buy too many fatty snack foods? We’re raising your insurance rates!”

Yet we continue to shop at Safeway, and no one raises its TOS as an issue. Why?

Chase Credit Card

I love my Chase credit card. I get 5% back on groceries and gas. Great program. And most people have at least one credit card.

You ever look at the terms of service there? Here is Chase’s privacy policy:

chase-credit-card-privacy-policy

Chase will share information about you with outside companies. In other words, you do not have complete control over your own transaction information. Even if you indicate a preference for your information not to be shared, it still will be made available to others. Kudos to Chase for its notification policy though, if they “broaden their information sharing practices.”

Still, aren’t you worried about this? All those purchases you’ve made that maybe you don’t want to the world to know about? They could end up sold to the highest bidder! Well, no, that won’t happen.

But certainly Chase’s policy contains elements that should scare people the way Facebook’s TOS did. Yet we continue to use our credit cards. Why?

Who Are You Trusting Right Now?

I had an energetic discussion about this with several people in a FriendFeed thread. After that, I’ve come to this conclusion:

If you trust a company, it doesn’t matter what their terms of service are.

If you don’t trust a company, it doesn’t matter what their terms of service are.

So why the ongoing distrust of Facebook. That’s a topic worthy of exploration. I’ve seen two plausible explanations out there.

Alexander Van Elsas says that the lack of clarity about Facebook’s ultimate revenue model injects uncertainty into its relationship with its members. In other words, it’s hard to be certain the company won’t lurch into some egregious territory with members’ content. I think there’s some truth in that, particularly for those tracking the industry closely.

In her interview with Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Sarah Lacy asks whether Facebook is bumping into issues caused by its being at the leading edge of social networking. I think there’s truth here too. Grocery loyalty cards that track your spending are not without some controversy. Credit cards are not immune either. I imagine when these programs were first introduced, there was a lot of concern about privacy and data ownership.

How about you? Who are you trusting today with your personal information?

*****

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 022009

From the home office in Hollywood, CA…

#1: RT @THE_REAL_SHAQ To all twitterers , if u c me n public come say hi, we r not the same we r from twitteronia, we connect

#2: It’s not teams that get things done inside companies, it’s networks. #uvasna

#3: @jowyang writes about the bankruptcy of “social media” PR firms and vendors who fail to practice what they preach http://bit.ly/IcIG7

#4: Gonna tweet this one more time: Oasys raises $10M for low cost water desalination technology http://bit.ly/siwMG Much needed!

#5: Holy smoke! Just installed Power Twitter Firefox add-on http://bit.ly/yiy4W . Search on the home page, tab for Facebook updates, more. Whoa.

#6: Ma.gnolia throws in the towel, says it cannot recover its members’ bookmarks http://bit.ly/Qwcba

#7: Reading case studies about enterprise social networks and their impact by University of Virginia professor Rob Cross: http://bit.ly/sL4HL

#8: For the record, according to Typealizer, my blog screams a Myer-Briggs personality of INTJ. That’s about right, actually. Nicely done.

#9: My post about integrating social media into product marketing is up on Social Computing Magazine: http://bit.ly/sNMBl

#10: Watching Sally Field on TV in Brothers & Sisters. Is she seriously 62? Looks a lot younger. Must be that Boniva.

LinkedIn Matches Twitter, Facebook by Elevating Status Updates

Checking in with LinkedIn, I noticed this new look on my home page:

linkedin-status-update

“What are you working on?” By putting it so prominently on the home page, you can’t help but be reminded to update it. LinkedIn is upping the importance of these real-time updates on what has historically been a fairly static social network.

I like this, because it’s a chance to put some work-oriented updates out to your network. So LinkedIn now joins Twitter and Facebook in the status update arms race.

*****

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Did Facebook Just Forgo a Big Revenue Stream?

dr-evil

In case you’re not actively reading Techmeme, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reversed course on the changes in the service’s Terms of Service. Recently, Facebook had altered its terms in such a way as to have a perpetual claim on the content uploaded by its members.

Overnight, Zuckerberg wrote about the change in terms:

A couple of weeks ago, we revised our terms of use hoping to clarify some parts for our users. Over the past couple of days, we received a lot of questions and comments about the changes and what they mean for people and their information. Based on this feedback, we have decided to return to our previous terms of use while we resolve the issues that people have raised.

The move is a smart one for Facebook. It was getting a lot of grief for the earlier change.

That is, unless it just scotched it revenue model…

Facebook’s Nefarious Revenue Plans

From what I’ve seen, people really were worried Facebook had plans to take all this user content and commercialize it. See Mona’s post (BTW – she’s great, subscribe to her for a fun view of technology and life in general). Alexander Van Elsas wrote a similarly dark view of Facebook’s intentions. And the discussion on this thread in FriendFeed shows that as well.

Strapped for a way to make money, Facebook had latched on to this idea that it could take its members’ content and commercialize it.

* Cue the dramatic music *

Assuming this is true, how much of a valuation hit did Facebook just take? Investors must be pissed!

Read the TOS a Little More Closely

One small issue. Did anyone check out the actual language in the earlier revision of the TOS? As the Consumerist reports, it included this language:

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.

The bolded and underlined words are my emphasis. But they are a critical piece.

Assume you’ve got some cute baby picture that your friends think is great. It gets so popular, one of your friends reaches out to Gerber to let them know about it. Gerber wants the picture. Do they:

  1. Ask Facebook for permission to run the baby picture in an ad?
  2. Ask you for permission to run the baby picture in an ad?

Lets assume, as the worst fears illustrate, that Gerber goes to Facebook. Facebook says, sure, have that baby picture, and pay us $$$.

Great! So where will Gerber run your baby’s picture? Only on Facebook among your social network. Why? Because that’s all your privacy settings will allow!

Yeah, that’s a real scalable model for Gerber and other advertisers. How much time and effort would be needed to search Facebook for these gems of content?

Not to mention that public relations nightmare facing Gerber if they actually operated this way.

Glad to see Facebook reverted to the old TOS to avoid inserting fears in the market. Hope they have a plan C for their revenue model too!

*****

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Three Reasons Facebook’s TOS Data Policy Doesn’t Worry Me

what-me-worry

Facebook apparently updated their Terms of Service to assert perpetual rights any content you’ve ever shared on its site. This has understandably raised the ire of a lot of people, including Perez Hilton.

On Twitter, I posted this:

Trying to figure out if I care whether Facebook can do whatever it wants with my content or not. Leaning towards not caring.

Three reasons:

  1. I don’t post things that will come back to haunt me
  2. Not convinced there’s any commercial value to my content
  3. The first time Facebook crosses the ethical line will be its last

Let’s do a quick breakdown of each of those reasons.

Not Posting Things that Will Haunt Me

My lifestream on Facebook is…how to put this nicely….sorta boring? I’m a married professional with two young children. I don’t have crazy pictures on there. Well, check that. A high school classmate did post an old picture of me wearing the dress of one of our homecoming princesses. With a tiara and parasol.

But hey, what guy didn’t wear girl’s clothes in high school?

Anyway, as I’ve engaged more with this online world, I’ve grown comfortable with the idea that one day my kids may find old things about me. It’s not that I live my life by the principle of “would if my kids found this?” But I am aware of that.

I also can’t remove things from Google’s cache. So this idea that you can retract something once published is a fallacy anyway. Facebook is just another place where things will live on.

No Commercial Value

Presumably, the only reason Facebook would use the stuff I’ve shared is for commercial purposes. Well GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!

Seriously, what will they do with my little notes about and pictures of my kids? My tweet stream which I pipe in as my Status Updates? My Google Reader shares? No one else has monetized that yet.

Perhaps they will include such information in aggregate for data mining purposes. Fine, because that’s not using my content specifically.

If they do figure out a way, I’ll write about their ingenuity most likely.

First Mistake by Facebook Will Be Its Last

Facebook is not some Twitter spam application site, stealing your login and password for nefarious purposes. It’s a commercial entity with designs on being THE social graph platform for the world. I’m sure Facebook is thinking IPO somewhere in the next few years.

I believe this alone will curb excesses by the site. We don’t need to overregulate the hell out of everything. Thus far, Facebook has experimented, but stayed on the right side of the ethical line. I don’t see a lot of changes in that.

But let’s say Facebook does cross the line, abusing the trust of its members in retaining and re-purposing their content? The very first time that happens, there will be an uproar in the blogosphere and Twittersphere. The mainstream press will pick up on it. At that point, state governments and the Federal government will investigate and hold hearings.

This is NOT what a public or wants-to-be-public company wants. If Facebook was some small start-up without its blue chip status, I’d worry more.

What, Me Worry?

That’s why this particular Facebook TOS clause doesn’t worry me.

How about you? Answer the quick poll below:

*****

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