This is why I support Wikipedia

A powerful thank you letter from Wikipedia for small donation. This is why I support open web non-profits like this. If you share the same values and have some spare cash, I would encourage anyone to do the same.

Thank you for your invaluable gift of bringing knowledge to every human around the world.

My name is Lila Tretikov, and I’m the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. Over the past year, gifts like yours powered our efforts to expand the encyclopedia in 287 languages and to make it more accessible all over the world. We strive most to impact those who would not have access to education otherwise. We bring knowledge to people like Akshaya Iyengar from Solapur, India. Growing up in this small textile manufacturing town, she used Wikipedia as her primary learning source. For students in these areas, where books are scarce but mobile Internet access exists, Wikipedia is instrumental. Akshaya went on to graduate from college in India and now works as a software engineer in the United States. She credits Wikipedia with powering half of her knowledge.

This story is not unique. Our mission is lofty and presents great challenges. Most people who use Wikipedia are surprised to hear it is run by a non-profit organization and funded by your donations. Each year, just enough people donate to keep the sum of all human knowledge available for everyone. Thank you for making this mission possible.
On behalf of half a billion people who read Wikipedia, thousands of volunteer editors, and staff at the Foundation, I thank you for keeping Wikipedia online and ad-free this year.
 Click here to donate

Ello – A social network designed for people not advertisers

I recently heard about a social network called Ello. It is designed to empower and to connect without the being fear of being tracked by advertisers. Ello’s manifesto is:

“Your social network is owned by advertisers.

Every post you share, every friend you make and every link you follow is tracked, recorded and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.

We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.

We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate — but a place to connect, create and celebrate life.

You are not a product.”

Finally, a digital place to feel comfortable. To express yourself without feeling inhibited. To socialise without unwanted distractions. And to have confidence that your personal information remains personal because you are not the product. It also looks fantastic! Ello is currently in beta and I have requested an invitation. I’m hoping I receive one soon!

Why is it… the more I use the internet, the more inconvenient it becomes?

Like many people, I’m deeply reliant on the internet. Having grown up with it over the years, I’ve transferred more and more of my offline life, online. This shift has largely been driven by convenience and I absolutely believe I can get more done online, especially with my smartphone, than I could offline. However, as this has been a gradual migration, I have not, until now, noticed the inherent inefficiencies of doing ‘stuff’ online. Using the internet should be far more convenient and manageable than it currently is. It’s only when I stepped back and evaluated my own online behaviours that this became evident. Here are my biggest gripes with using the internet today:

  • My top frustration with using the internet is the overwhelming number of online accounts I have (115 in total) and as a result the volume of passwords I have to remember. This has been widely recognised as a problem for a long time but there’s still no easy way of managing this. The biggest surprise here was how many online accounts I had and how many I had forgotten about. I re-discovered many forgotten services by filing through the depths of my email account and checking my web browser’s saved passwords setting.
  • Social networks offer a solution to this with federated log-ins, but I try to avoid them. I simply don’t trust how my personal data is being shared between the services and third parties.
  • The volume of social networks I have to belong to in order to stay in touch with my various social groups. I really value the nuanced differences between the network providers, but I don’t understand why they don’t speak to each other like the wide variety of webmail services do.
  • Managing basic services like contacts and calendars is really difficult if you have more than one service that requires these features – which I do. I cannot find an easy solution to keep all my calendars and contacts in one place so they are accessible on any device and any service that I use. Managing this manually takes up a lot of time.
  • Moving house is a real pain in the real world; I don’t know anyone who relishes the prospect of going through the process. Once the stress of moving is over, many of my 115 digital accounts require my new address, a daunting prospect. It takes a good few hours to figure out who needs this information and provide them with an update. This task is elongated with difficulties remembering my password. For services like my energy supplier or mobile phone provider, I have little need to interact with them in between contract renewals so why would I remember my password?
  • The difficulty in closing many online accounts. The 115 accounts I have is what I was left with once I had closed 37 dormant or unwanted accounts. Closing many of these accounts was very difficult and required numerous emails or worse phone calls.
  • Furthermore, I closed some accounts where I had received excellent service and would definitely use again, but the product was so niche I can’t imagine I would purchase something similar again in the future. It’s a shame I cannot file these vendors in a system for future reference (where they don’t retain any of my sensitive information) and where I can recommend them to friends looking for their services. This would be a big boost to small businesses!
  • In a few cases I felt completely strong-armed by the vendor as they had written into their T&Cs unreasonable policies. These extreme examples were uncommon but the two that angered me most and negatively impacted my perception of the vendor and willingness to deal with them again, were: Direct Line, charged me £15 pounds to change my address! And Starbucks, who refused to close my account I no longer use!
  • Finally, the internet is so noisy! I’m fairly sure that if there were less adverts and fewer people vying for my attention, I would be less distracted and get things done much quicker. (Nicholas Carr, has written an excellent book called “The Shallows” about the impact of the Internet, as a medium, on our minds)

This is not meant to be a rant, just a personal reflection on the inefficiencies of using the internet. I learnt a lot about the pain points of using the internet and managing the vast amount of relationships (social and business related) I have online. There’s still much work to do to make the individual experience a much simpler and convenient one. There are lots of people and organisations working on these very problems. Indeed, I have worked with some of them trying to solve them.

One thing is for sure, having gone through this experience, I am even more convinced that the shift to a more customer centric, personal information economy is ever more likely.


Further Reading:

Doc Searls, Intention Economy. He talks, much more eloquently than I, about the benefits of liberated, free customers on the web. There’s also loads of information at Project VRM

The Respect Network, GSMA and OIX are all thinking about ways to resolve the problem of digital identity and give control back the individual.

Thanks to:

Blackphone could provoke consumers to question their trust in technology brands

In June this year, a new smartphone called Blackphone, will go on sale to the public. The emergence of a ‘privacy first’ smartphone could cause consumers to question how established mobile providers protect their personal data. Products and services developed with privacy at its core are likely to foster a deeper sense of trust with internet users. That’s what Phil Zimmermann, one of the founders of Blackphone hopes. In MIT’s Technology Review, he differentiates Blackphone from other smartphone companies:

“We are not a phone company adding a privacy feature, we are a privacy company selling a phone.”

Is Blackphone likely to disrupt the current smartphone market? Probably not in terms of sales volumes but they could alter the mindset of the consumer, especially in countries like the Ukraine. In more politically stable countries like the UK, cut through is likely to be much harder.  Even in a post-Snowden world, consumers still place greater importance on convenience and status than they do protecting their privacy. This is what Blackphone are looking to challenge. One of the hurdles they face is that consumers don’t make the connection between state and corporate surveillance. The average person is not bothered about state surveillance because most people are not criminals or affected by oppressive political regimes. This means that even if the government is snooping, there is nothing to worry about. This is why the Snowden revelations have not had a mainstream affect on consumer behaviour. But yet, everyone is a consumer and is thus, affected by corporate surveillance. So what is it about corporate surveillance that will be the tipping for consumers?

One of the main drivers will be education. Consumers do not understand the sophistication of data collection methods and as a result, cannot weigh-up the risks. David Talbot (the Technology Review journalist) describes how personal data is passively collected and aggregated between smartphones and other internet touchpoints:

“It was the eve of Blackphone’s launch at the largest mobile trade show, Mobile World Congress. Early versions of the phone were in their pockets. As I joined the group and learned more about the phone, I became aware of my digital nakedness. I glanced at my new iPhone 5S. Opening my Wi-Fi settings, I saw available networks called Barcelona Wi-Fi, Cbarc 1, Spyder, and several others. All were of unknown trustworthiness, but I didn’t think it mattered; after all, I wasn’t connecting with any of them. But it turns out that my phone’s automatic process of seeking such signals meant it was notifying those routers of my phone’s ID number. This is already being exploited by retailers, who use Wi-Fi probes to track customers’ habits. And because information from apps is merged with data from Web browsers, shopping sites, and other sources, dozens of companies can use that ID number to keep tabs on me.”

If more consumers begin to understand the depth of information collected, there could be a more significant change in behaviour. Blackphone’s messaging to the consumer market will undoubtedly aim to educate. If an increase in security awareness becomes mainstream, then so will the market opportunity for products like Blackphone. Even if sales of the Blackphone are weak, it signals to the market that there is an alternative solution to protecting privacy. Therefore the true threat of Blackphone is not necessarily on sales but in it’s message to the consumer market. Mobile providers should take a pro-active approach to privacy or risk losing consumer trust. It is always better to lead the market than be led by it. And when brand trust is at risk, the issue becomes serious as it takes years to accumulate but days to lose.

Image credit: DAVID MELCHOR DIAZ with a Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

How our environment impacts our productivity

With a pile of work, no Internet connection at home and a bustling agile office environment, I found myself at a serene and surprisingly productive pay-as-you-go work space: Ziferblat. I’d heard about this place after reading this Guardian article late last year and had wanted to visit ever since. Today, I finally made it (just! it’s difficult to find), and found the atmosphere extremely conducive to a productive day’s work.

The analogue and retro fittings, which are so common in Shoreditch, felt like they had a real purpose here; they represent a time when life wasn’t so fast. The old clocks presented to their ‘guests’ upon arrival symbolise this perfectly. Being surrounded by board games and record players feels a million miles away from the relentless stream of email and the ocean of information constantly demanding your attention. It does have wi-fi and power supplies, and yes I quickly got connected, but I felt much more relaxed and ready to work than I normally do at the office.

Clock_Ziferblat

The atmosphere created by it’s owners is a nice antidote to the sterile, noisy and relatively unproductive modern office environment. Ziferblat is small and so it’s easy to create an intimate vibe. The music was, unsurprisingly, very cool. The tea, coffee and toast was free, nothing elaborate but homely. They promote a sense of belonging and community by encouraging a sharing/gift economy for snacks; people bring their favourite jam or biscuits for everyone to sample. I quickly felt comfortable at Ziferblat, their were no boundaries or restrictions and the host was very friendly and helpful. The key ingredient is that they monetise the business by charging for the time you spend there; 5p a minute to be precise. In a standard coffee shop it’s easy to feel pressured to leave after finishing your coffee. At Ziferblat the coffee or snack is not the product. By paying for the time spent in this space, the uncomfortable pressure is removed. Ziferblat is not a coffee shop, but it is also not the typical shared work space either; it sits somewhere in the middle and that’s a refreshing change.

Ziferblat_London

At Ziferblat, where time is the product, there are two ways of using that time. On the one hand, you can read a book, watch a film (with headphones) or write a report and feel no pressure to leave. On the other hand, as your paying for your time there it’s in your interest get your work done quickly to reduce your bill and beat the rush hour home. I found myself so productive I finished my work quickly, but instead of leaving, I stayed longer and caught up on some reading.

My experience at Ziferblat began by feeling reluctant to pay for the time and space to work, think and read. The intangible is always a more difficult sell than the tangible. But for me life is fast and time, specifically productive time, is hard to come by either at home or at the office. But, by the time I had clocked out, it felt perfectly natural even if I cannot afford to visit everyday.

More info here http://london.ziferblat.net/

The evolution of hardware, proliferation of personal data and importance of trust

A friend and colleague of mine, wrote a thought provoking piece about the re-invention of hardware when wearable technology and sensors begin to permeate modern life. An excerpt from his article [1]:

For brands looking at opportunities in this space, there are a number of factors to consider. Most notably, as devices become smaller they also become more personal, driving a different type of consumer engagement. Partly because they’re always on, and partly because of the different contexts within which we use them, we interact with smartphones in a fundamentally more emotional way than with desktop computers. Wearables will push this further still, by integrating into the very fabric of our lives; brands will need to be alert to the threats as well as to the opportunities this creates for their customer relationships.

The amount of personal data generated by wearable tech and sensors will be vast and deeply sensitive to the individual. We are currently in the early stages of adoption but as this technology becomes more pervasive, there will be a growing consumer need for greater security and control over their personal data.

There are clear personalisation opportunities for brands wanting to engage with their future data rich customers. However, trust will play a huge role in future relationships between brands and customers. Trust is currently an important aspect of brand preference but it is formed through different factors and rarely (unless the business is data focused) includes the careful handling of such rich and sensitive personal data. As a result, I strongly believe that brand trust will become as important as brand recommendation has as a key performance indicator.

The key questions are; how do we define trust in the information age and how do brands build trust with their customers. Questions for another post.

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[1] GfK Tech Trends 2014 – http://ryangarner.net/tech-trends-2014/

The emergence of networked commerce and a new wave of business models

This was originally written for GfK Tech Trends 2014 publication

The networked world we live in is still in its infancy. The mass adoption of digital networked technology is transformative, but we are still only scratching the surface of what is possible. The behaviours that the network enables – like sharing, communicating, collaborating and learning – come naturally to people. The organization which operates closed, scarcity-based business models has found, or will find, the open and abundant nature of the network disruptive.

The past: mass industrialization

When Henry Ford put automobiles into mass production, he had not only re-imagined a new method of transport that was far superior to the horse and carriage, he had also pioneered a disruptive new way to operate a business on a large scale and with huge revenue and profit. This method has changed and evolved over time but it is the model that most businesses follow. Taking a very simplistic view, there are two important elements to this shift into the era of mass industrialization.

Firstly, the products are based on finite materials which have a unit cost. Operating on a large scale creates cost efficiencies which allow for healthy price competition. The manufacturing process has been optimized over the years and, in most cases, the production and material costs have continually declined. The final product – however cost efficient – is finite and thus straightforward to monetize.

Secondly, the organization has developed structures and hierarchies that employ and provide an income to the large majority of the population. This has fuelled the capitalist system over the past century, facilitating the flow of capital that has created growth, innovation, and progress around the world.

The present: the emerging networked economy

Over the past 20 years as the web has developed, networked technologies have challenged the economics of the business born out of the mass industrialization era. (more…)

Why the personal data economy is an important trend for businesses & customers

This was originally written for GfK Tech Trends 2014 publication

Back in 2011, the World Economic Forum (WEF) compared personal data to oil [1], as an asset class of extraordinary economic value. Oil was central to the development of the industrial revolution. Without it, much of the infrastructure we take for granted today (transport, energy, etc.) would not have been realized. Presently, personal data is the lifeblood of the information age and central to everyone’s day-to-day connected digital experience. As we move further into 2014, the debate around how we implement the fair use of personal data will gather momentum.

Past

The exchange of knowledge and the sharing of ideas have been central to our progress throughout history. Over the course of time, we have moved from verbal communication, to the printing press, to a networked world of information and data. Much has been written about the parallels between the Gutenberg printing press and the internet [2]. Both have radically changed the way we communicate and distribute knowledge and both have had a substantial impact on the cost of circulation and accessibility.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the early pioneers of the internet were driven by the desire to link and share data. The introduction of the web in the early 1990s harnessed the power of the internet and opened it up to everyone – not just to academics and government agencies. If you measure the growth of the web by the number of available websites, it has grown from one website in 1990, to around 6.5 million in 1999, to close to 600 million in 2012 [3]. All of these websites collect data and, over the past decade, much of our lives from shopping to socializing are carried out on the web. We have therefore moved from having no data in the 15th century (pre-Gutenberg), to having some data up to the late 20th century (pre-Web) to having too much data in the early 21st century.

Present

Since the WEF defined digital personal data as an asset class on its own in 2011, the interest in Big Data has grown substantially. Personal data, those data items relating to an individual, make up a huge part of the Big Data ecosystem. Of course, companies whose business models are built on the internet – such as Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter – led the way in Big Data, much earlier than 2011. Indeed, most businesses born online are typically monetizing their users’ data through advertising, helping advertisers to refine the targeting of their marketing campaigns through the utilization of personal data.

In recent years there has been a growing concern about who owns personal data and what privacy rights users should expect from the vendors who collect it. (more…)

Intelligent software and preserving individual eccentricities

One of the most striking ideas raised by my colleague, Olly Robinson, in his technology trend: The Evolution of Software – Intelligent and Social User Experiences [1]…

“As a layer between technology and the user, software has become progressively more transparent. In comparing modern software on a touchscreen device, and the graphic and command line interfaces that predate it, the more recent software can seem qualitatively more organic. The more that software borrows from our world through its gestures and metaphors, the more it seems part of it, fully integrated rather than intruding.”

The blurring of the virtual and physical worlds has been talked about for a while. I think this is now increasingly becoming a reality. Whilst the great strides in intelligent software and real-time sensors throws up many conveniences to modern life, we need to be much more aware of the decisions being made for us. As software starts to pervade more of our lives, the conveniences it offers need to be matched with individual choice and empowerment. We need to avoid a situation where decisions are being made for us, otherwise, we will begin to lose the eclectic array of personalities and eccentricities of the human mind.
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[1] GfK Tech Trends 2014

Tech Trends 2014

I recently co-authored, with my colleague Olly Robinson, a set of four Tech Trends that will begin to impact the changing nature of business in the information age. The introduction:

“A number of factors will influence the development of the technological environment in 2014. Emerging new markets and heightened consumer expectations will continue to drive developments in software intelligence and hardware, with growing interest in wearable computing. Can big data and privacy co-exist? Big data remains a valuable resource to brands but bruised consumer trust in fair use of personal data will create new challenges. As the bond between technology and the user becomes more transparent, how is our relationship with technology evolving? And how can business leaders capitalize on this? Here we present four trends for 2014 outlining technological changes ahead that will require businesses and innovators to think in new ways to maintain market position.”

The four trends are:

  1. The Evolution of Software: Intelligent and Social User Experiences
  2. The Data Agenda: Can Big Data And Privacy Co-Exist?
  3. The Era of the Network: Evolving Relationships in the Digital Age
  4. The Reinvention of Hardware: Transitioning to a Networked World

In future posts, I will publish my thoughts and extracts on some of these issues. The full document can be downloaded here – GfK Tech Trends 2014