Overzealous surveillance puts innovation at risk

0 Comments 12.01.15

The FBI has been demanding web browsing, cell location and other data from technology providers, without a warrant, for over a decade, it was demonstrated this week with a court ruling that ungagged a National Security Letter delivered to an internet service provider.  Techmeme coverage roundup here.

You know why this bothers me?  For lots of reasons, but here’s one: it puts this gorgeous platform of the web at risk. This is going to be a big struggle for the next few years: the tension between our desire to better know ourselves and build on top of the data created by our online activity on one hand and the government’s desire to keep us safe on the other hand.

Overzealous surveillance puts at risk the public support that’s essential for innovation platforms that present opportunities to move the human experience forward in really important ways.  This global communication network is really important, let’s not screw up its future.

One example: If you’re a user of the Foursquare mobile location platform, you’ve probably noticed how they’ve begun tracking your location persistently and sending you a push notification making it really easy to check in when you stop moving at a particular public place.  It’s something I’ve hoped they’d do for years.  Why?  Because 3 years ago today I was visiting a friend in a beautiful place, I took pictures, I checked in to the coffee shop and restaurants we went to, and now I can see all of that and more rolled-up together in my daily time capsule from Timehop.   That’s the story of my life. That data provides a structure that I wrap a narrative understanding of my life around.  I want that data capture to be easier so I capture more of it.  But I want the data for myself!

Understanding my life means two things: optimization and meaning. (That’s just begging for two more blog posts.) Think of the inverse: less meaning and less opportunity for optimization.  I do not want that – I want software developers to be able to build technology on top of my data that help me better understand and improve my life.

Software developers can only do that if there are a bunch of people excited about using data platforms.  For example, Foursquare and Timehop wouldn’t exist (free for users!) if there weren’t millions of people excited about using them.

It’s one thing for commercial interests to use that data for improved ad targeting – everybody’s got to pay the bills.  I think society has already accepted that.  Europeans have cookie warnings. Fine, we’re good.

But if law enforcement keeps slurping up all our data and looking over our shoulders, without due process like warrants and in cases where we’re supposed to still be presumed innocent, that just seems like a recipe for public backlash, withdrawal from the web and collapse of the beautiful opportunity that is data.  Call it data, call it quantified self, I think of it in terms of optimization and meaning.  Better understanding ourselves, each other, and the world equals a big step in human evolution.  That’s what I want. When society’s need for safety and control puts that at risk, I think it’s a big deal.  Not just because of what it means for the present – but what it means for the future.

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

The Social Path Beyond the Clockwork Universe

1 Comment 11.24.15

“It is now very clear to me, that the world of L&D [Learning and Development] is splitting in two.

“There are those who think that the old ways of training are still valid and sufficient for today’s workforce, and there are those who realise that the world has moved on and a new approach to supporting workplace learning is essential.”

— L&D global leader Jane Heart, The L&D world is splitting in two

How many fields could that be said about these days?

Today in banking, Brett King, one of the very most influential people in the world on bank technology, retweeted a blog post by consultant Duena Blomstrom titled Why Blockchain Doesn’t Matter.

In fact, Blockchain doesn’t matter. Neither does Hadoop, Watson, AI or robot advisory or any other of the buzz words depicting technology that investors swoon over these days. They all have the *potential* to be transformative (if Blockchain more than others as it represents a shift in understanding of the model of repository and opens up minds).

Technology in itself does not matter. We need cultural transformation for any of the bank’s problems to start to dissipate, to shake their famed inertia…

Don’t get me wrong. I knew in my heart of heart it’s cultural. Who doesn’t? We all do. Startups. Vendors. Pundits and bankers alike. We all know that a handful of banks have real heroes, most banks have pockets of amazing individuals and all banks have old, inert, paralyzed and often ignorant boards desperate to keep their jobs in the name of preserving banking as it was.

What is the cultural change?  Heart says it’s in large part about social content, platforms and learning. Blomstrom says it’s about recognizing your role as a relationship enabler between people.  Otherwise you become a dumb pipe, a low-value commoditized provider of infrastructure in the most boring sense.

“Coming from an environment where we thought of nothing but of hard metrics and the ROI of a very core piece of a bank’s digital strategy and seeing even that even with those numbers in hand it’s an uphill road [makes it all feel Quixotic],” writes Blomstrom.

But this is the way things appear to be moving.  Technology and people are coming together and make new things possible for one another that were never possible before.  From Facebook M’s human assisted Artificial Intelligence to the role of humans in training and judging output in the super-hot field of Deep Learning: Tyler Cowan says that the future will belong to humble humans who work well with intelligent machines.

John Stepper says it’s about Working Out Loud.

“Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”

Stepper and others emphasize how good this is for humans, but it’s good for machines too.  When you work out loud, you help train the machines that are learning from our published work.  Hopefully, so that they can assist us more effectively in the future.

In Naomi Klein’s new book about climate change (which I must confess I just read on the shelf and haven’t bought yet), she quotes an indigenous woman who says that systems can be either extractive or generative of more life.

I think it’s about creating and participating full-heartedly in generative systems that affirm humanity and create abundance for people.  And using technology sure can help.

Harold Jarche talks about personal knowledge mastery.

All of this is touched by the social web.  For many of us, it has a deeply democratizing, generative, affirming, abundance-creating capacity in the connections it facilitates.  Each of us are at the center of our own section of it, too.  The “selfie” can be a grinning cell phone self-portrait – but maybe it can be a blog post about how you see the world too.

And all of that is very different from the Newtonian view of the Clockwork Universe, the tidy, planned, and predictable world that the Industrial era was probably the pinnacle of.  Of course there were costly externalities, both environmentally and for the experience of being human.

Now we’re moving to a networked, social world. (Would it be irresponsible to say a more Quantum understanding of the world?) The solution to every problem contains the seeds of the next problem, of course, and the next problems are likely information overload, shallow thinking and maybe surveillance.

But the world is changing and many parts of it are splitting in two.  I know which side I want to be on.  If you’re still reading this, I bet you’ve got an opinion on that question, too.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

What the world will be like in 2020 (extrapolation)

4 Comments 10.08.15

In 5 years (2020), we’ll each be sharing 32 times as much data as we are today (“Zuckerberg’s Law” Sharing doubles per person each year), and each computer will be 8 times more powerful than it is today (Moore’s Law: computing power doubles every 18 months).  Those computers will be processing that data in networked clouds of thousands of computers, full of apps made of algorithms and intelligence designed to make predictive recommendations and take automated action based on the insights derived from your data. 

Some of those actions will be taken online and some of them, thanks to robotics, drones and other connected devices, will be taken in the physical world. It’s a combination of multiple, mutually amplifying, new developments, each individually capable of driving exponential change.

So what do you think your business will be like in 5 years? I’m going to start asking people that in conversations.


Image by Frank Diana

I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Foresight today is systematic, participatory, and focused on intelligence to impact the future 

0 Comments 10.04.15

As I work through business decisions I’m experimenting with foresight inspired models to try to think through all the things.

I came across a great summary of the state of foresight research since the turn of the 21st century and an expansion of the field beyond a primary focus on quantitative models and prediction.  I summarized it below and thought I’d share.

State of the art foresight practice:

  • Is systematic
  • Is participatory 
  • Combines considerations from science, technology, economy & society
  • Gathers intelligence about the future to inform short and medium term decisions and questions
  • Isn’t just about predicting the future but managing and influencing it

I really like that. It’s from a paper titled Future of the Polish Textile Industrial Sector. An Overall Analysis of the Empirical Research Performed with the Delphi Method within the Project Foresight ‘Modern Technologies for the Textile Industry. A Chance for Poland

I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Two challenges in facing the future: past & deserved success

0 Comments 10.02.15

Reading Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive over my morning coffee, I took note of the following and thought I’d share.


Two of the biggest cost centers are things that used to work but no longer do & things we think deserve to work but for some reason don’t. Instead of presuming all initiatives should last forever, it would be better to assume that every initiative is temporary unless it proves it’s worth continuing after a short period of time.

Dealing with the fallout from the past is always the biggest part of the day, but redirecting energy toward the future is key. Cutting out efforts that no longer deliver is key. The successes of the past  always linger beyond their productive life. (End paraphrase.)

I really like that and am adding it to my set of things to think about when I think about facing the future.

I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Klout kills Perks, influencer engagement 1.0

1 Comment 10.01.15

TechCrunch reports that Klout has killed its Perks program and will replace it with a more sophisticated platform called Klout perquisites. Just kidding about the perquisites part.

There was a time when influencer marketing was presumed to start and finish with nothing more than finding popular people, giving them free stuff and hoping they’ll say your brand’s name to a lot of people on the Internet.

Above: Two Days in Seattle seemed like the coolest Klout perk, I almost participated but decided against it.

Klout blazed a trail but now there’s a fork in the road. One path leads to paid endorsements and the other path leads to a world of other approaches to influencer marketing, like:

  1. Developing authentic relationships with relevant thought leaders and earning their public endorsement by keeping in touch and doing good work.
  2. Observing independent influencers for early detection of trends and opportunities. Then making strategic or editorial decisions based on what you learn from them.
  3. Analyzing communities of influencers, including how they are segmented, and advertising to them and their audiences in a way that combines relevance and scale.

Personally, I find all of those to be a lot more interesting.  All of those are things our customers are doing.

What’s most exciting to me is working to build a future where the social web is taken so seriously by businesses that they seek competitive advantage in finding and efficiently engaging with the very best minds in their market online.

Sometimes sending people stuff, but a lot of times not.

Rest in Peace Klout Perks, you were an important first step in making influencer data actionable.

I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Yes, getting retweeted does drive revenue growth.

0 Comments 09.21.15

“Getting your 100,000th ‘Like’ on Facebook, or having your latest pearl of wisdom retweeted 200 times is all well and good, but are these activities driving revenue? ” so asks McKesson marketing leader Rohit Prabhakar in a post on his otherwise excellent looking blog.

Common question. The answer is YES.

Getting retweeted does drive revenue, if people want to buy what you’re selling on the website associated with your social profile.  More people see your work with your name attached to it, they click on your name, then they visit the website you’re affiliated with and then they buy your stuff.  You’ve got to be good at it and do it a lot or it won’t work.

Here’s a comment I posted that I wanted to turn into a blog post. Feel free to refer to this answer the next 100 times someone within earshot of you asks the same question.

I’d argue that having your pearl of wisdom retweeted hundreds of times is going to increase your visibility and credibility online, will drive visits to your website by qualified parties interested in learning more and thus will grow leads that it’s your job to close as sales. That’s how it works at our business. So yes, tweeting can drive revenue! 😉


Follow up: Mr.Prabhakar replied to my comment on his blog with this comment. “I agree with you as in your case you are backing this activity with lead generation and sales closing as you mentioned. These questions strongly apply to an organization that is doing lot of effort on web and social but not following it up with lead generation and closing with sales team.”

That seems like a real missed opportunity, for companies to relate to social that way.

I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.