Friday, March 29, 2013

WPaaS - So the Department of Homeland Security is not Yahoo? Not so fast.

Keith Trippie of the Department of Homeland Security recently said the following:

We strongly recommend that federal agencies look at mobility as a recruitment tool. It is a powerful way to bring in new and innovative talent into the federal government....Most of us are either piloting or have operation capabilities. At the department, we are launching something called ‘workplace as a service’ that will provide virtual desktop and mobile device management capabilities.”

Yay! Another new acronym - WPaaS for Workplace as a Service. The DHS has been talking about this since October 2011, and it promises to "modernize how DHS employees work around the country and allow them better remote access." And it's not unique to DHS - there's a LinkedIn group devoted to the topic.

So why does DHS appear, on the surface, to be doing the opposite of what Yahoo is doing? Because the issue isn't the technology that's being used - it's the culture. At Yahoo, the culture dictated that the employees be physically present. At the DHS, the culture dictated that they needed to bring in talented employees, which is a challenge:

Federal News Radio's Jason Miller reported that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) "found in November 2011 that nearly every agency experienced difficulty in defining and hiring cyber workers."

It's kind of hard to secure the homeland when you can't get the experts to do it. WPaaS is not therefore the solution, but a technology that can be used to obtain the solution of more cyber workers. Similarly, Yahoo's move to bring everyone in house is not a solution, but an avenue that leads to the solution of a better corporate culture.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A bank foreclosure - yes, a homeowner foreclosed on a bank

Credit MegaZone for bringing this 2011 story to my attention. It can also be found on Crooks and Liars.

If anyone has been paying attention to the news over the last few years, it's no surprise that bank records on home mortgages have sometimes been inaccurate. This was the case in Collier County, Florida in early 2011, when Bank of America filed foreclosure papers on the home of the Nyerger family. One slight problem:

The couple said they paid cash for the house.

The couple and the bank went to court, it was proven that the couple had never even had a mortgage in the first place, and the court ordered Bank of America to pay the couple's legal fees.

Five months went by, and the bank still hadn't paid.

So guess what the couple's lawyer did?

Sheriff's deputies, movers, and the Nyergers' attorney went to the bank and foreclosed on it. The attorney gave instructions to to remove desks, computers, copiers, filing cabinets and any cash in the teller's drawers.

After about an hour of being locked out of the bank, the bank manager handed the attorney a check for the legal fees.

"As a foreclosure defense attorney this is sweet justice" says [attorney Todd] Allen.

Should your employees be your ambassadors - or not?

Most people work for someone else. Perhaps they work for small companies (many people do), or perhaps they work for larger companies. Either way, these people are employees of these companies, and have particular roles in the company (receptionist, Vice President of Engineering, or whatever).

But Mark Amtower believes that all employees, regardless of position, should have a second role.

Sales, marketing and BD departments are being downsized while companies try to figure out how to do much more with fewer key people in place.

First, management must take an active role in promoting the idea that each employee now wears more than one hat.

Amtower has two suggestions, one of which is to encourage employees to use social media to promote their firms:

Anyone who reads my column or sees me speak knows that I am a proponent of LinkedIn. I consider LinkedIn to be the place to be for business social networking, second to none.

That being said, there is Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and many other social networking platforms. Dropping an occasional thought on these other platforms about your business (a contract win, sharing some news item, etc) can lead to an inquiry about what your company does.

The idea is that the employee will talk about the company, the other person will ask the employee about the company, and the employee will pass the lead on to the professional sales staff. For more of Amtower's thoughts, go here.

At this point, certain people in certain companies are keeling over in shock, hoping that Amtower's thoughts are not seen by their employees. Why? Because in certain companies - especially publicly traded companies - various statements by employees can lead to all sorts of trouble.

Let me give you an example. Amtower suggests that employees share information about contract wins. As a proposal manager, I become aware of my firm's contract wins. Yet you rarely see me sharing them online - except for long after the fact. Why? Because in most of the RFPs that I see, there is specific language regarding sharing of contract wins, stating that the customer must authorize any such sharing. Now once an approved press release comes out, that can be shared all over the place (usually). But when a salesperson tells me that "We just won XXX" - or even if I attend a city or county meeting in which a contract is approved - I still have to be very careful about sharing it.

And, of course, there are the much more obvious examples. If you come into possession of a non-public profit and loss statement, sharing of that statement could be a crime, and could get you and your company in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

To guard against these problems, some companies place limitations on what employees can do on social media. For example, here is an excerpt from SonicWALL's Code of Conduct:

Dealing with the media is best handled by those experienced in the area. SonicWALL has designated only certain individuals as authorized to speak on behalf of the Company to the press. If you are approached by a member of the media, refer the person to our Corporate Communications department.

Social media is an evolving technology, which has exciting possibilities but also carries many dangers. The Company urges employees to exercise care in connection with the use of all online public forums, including blogs, wikis, chat rooms, social networks (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, Twitter), user-generated audio and video (e.g., YouTube), or other social media. Because social media tends to blur the line between public and private, even personal online behavior may be subject to this Code. All provisions of this Code and the Company’s other policies (including those related to non-harassment, conflict of interest, and computer usage) apply equally to online conduct.

Only employees specifically authorized by the Company may post content as a representative of SonicWALL, and such employees must always identify their affiliation with SonicWALL. All posts and comments should be honest, truthful and respectful. Employees who post for other purposes should make clear that any such postings are made in their personal capacity, not as a representative of SonicWALL, and that any opinions expressed are their own personal opinions.

Employees must not post confidential or proprietary information unless specifically authorized to do so. Similarly, the use of SonicWALL’s logos, trademarks, copyrighted information and other intellectual property is prohibited without specific authorization.

Employees should in all cases refrain from any postings or conduct that would reflect poorly on SonicWALL.

Now Mark Amtower's thoughts and SonicWALL's Code of Conduct are NOT necessarily mutually exclusive. In most cases - perhaps there are companies that specifically prohibit ANY online discussion of a company by unauthorized employees.

For most normal companies, however, these two examples illustrate that a balancing act must be navigated between the competing threats. You don't want all of your employees posting private financial data all over Facebook. But at the same time, you don't want employees that are too afraid to even admit that they work for your company; that could be just as damaging to your firm in the long run.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The font, the flyer, and the exposed filesystem - Adobe goofs

I'm on Adobe's mailing list, and the company recently sent me an email touting an online game called "The Font, The Flyer, and the Freak-Out."

Your boss's future depends on the success of one document. Can you save the day?

The "See How" button included a link to a long URL at I clicked the button, and ended up at a long URL at

Because of the chance that said link included identifying information that linked to that particular email, I figured that I'd see if I could play the game without providing that identifying information. So I decided to lop off the ending part of the URL, and go directly go

This is what I saw.

Yep, going directly to that link - at least when I tried it - exposed a computer's filesystem. I didn't really try exploring it a lot, other than to click on the "js" directory.

It's bad enough that a product's URL exposes the plumbing behind the web pages.

It's even worse when said product has already had to deal with security issues.

While the security of a website does not directly affect the security of a compiled program, it doesn't exactly give you the warm fuzzy.

Is a Drummonds, Tennessee online business real?

In a previous post, I looked at some virtual businesses, including one in Tucson, Arizona and one in Ontario, California. I was looking at these businesses that did not have a true physical location. While such businesses may provide their services to a particular location, you cannot walk up to the business and obtain those services.

I thought I'd look at another example - a virtual business that is associated with a physical location.

Virtual Accounting Services, with an address of PO Box 29, Drummonds, Tennessee, is listed with the Better Business Bureau. At the time that I am writing this post, Virtual Accounting Services has an A rating with the Better Business Bureau - and the only reason that it doesn't have an A+ rating is because it has only been in business since 2009.

Because the BBB website is designed to assign businesses to a particular location, Virtual Accounting Services is listed under the "West Tennessee, North Mississippi & East Arkansas BBB."

But when you start reading the testimonials, it becomes clear that there are people far away from Drummonds who are using Virtual Accounting Services. Tracy Corley is (was?) the head of Tsuluwerks in the state of Washington - which, last I checked, is a long way from Tennessee. However, Corley has written a testimonial for this Drummonds-based company:

“I don’t know if I want to recommend Jenny too highly, as I don’t want her to get overworked by other clients! After an exhaustive search for bookkeeping help in my region, I finally launched my search nationally and found Jenny and Virtual Accounting Services. She is helping me get my books updated and is keeping me on track to ensure that the cash flow is always positive. I appreciate that she is proactive and lets me know of ways that I can reconfigure systems to ensure I’m getting the best ROI. I can trust Jenny to get the job done, and highly recommend her and Virtual Accounting Services.”

The "Jenny" referenced by Corley is Jenny Furst, a Certified QuickBooks® Advanced ProAdvisor. Because Furst provides bookkeeping services - and not, as far as I know, tax services - her general bookkeeping knowledge can be applied equally throughout the United States. People contact Furst via telephone or via a web form; these contact methods can be easily used from anywhere in the United States.

But we as human beings still have an old-fashioned expectation to know WHERE a business is located. Part of this is legal; Furst's company is licensed to do business in a particular state (Tennessee), and if someone ever wanted to sue Furst, they'd need to know where to file the papers. But part of the issue is that we expect a business to be located someplace - and we think that a business a business.

Obviously this issue is not unique to Jenny Furst. A number of businesses have people who do not work at the corporate headquarters, or in any type of an official "business" area. For example, there are many people employed by Yahoo who work from home - for now. Of course, in those cases, the company itself has a brick-and-mortar presence with a physical address, and it's just the employees who don't have a cubicle or access to the company coffee machine or photocopier. And there are businesses, such as the ADT branch that I discussed in my previous post, that have regional offices that are the size of a mailbox.

But are we as humans prepared for situations in which an entire company exists only in the cloud? Will we think less of a company because it cannot be listed on Google Maps? Let me return to something that I said previously:

Is an online business real?

If you are in the business of shifting paradigms around, then the answer is clearly yes. Online businesses are the future, you say. 21st century capabilities enable people to conduct business without being trapped by the hoary old limitations of locations. Online business is the wave of the future, and we should encourage it.

But there are other people (wearable devices firmly on their foreheads) who are forced to disagree. Location is key, they say. 21st century capabilities enable advertisers - I mean people - to obtain valuable metadata based upon your location. Location-based business is the wave of the future, and we should encourage it.

In short, is the future Second Life, or is the future Foursquare?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Is an online business real?

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Monday, March 25, 2013

More on Google Reader's death - are RSS feed users a bunch of thieves?

In the process of researching the FeedWordPress plugin used by Eddie Awad, I ran across this post. Because the writer is sensitive to "fair use," I will be limited in my quotes from the original post.

RSS feeds are pub­lished for indi­vid­ual, pri­vate con­sump­tion; they are not a blan­ket license to, or waiver of, reprint rights. Taking and repub­lsh­ing content–no mat­ter how much or how little–without the orig­i­nal author’s per­mis­sion is a vio­la­tion of U.S. and inter­na­tional Copyright laws. There are excep­tions, of course, detailed in the Fair Use doc­trine, but such excep­tions are very spe­cific and do not apply to the vast major­ity of sites using FeedWordPress, Autoblog, and the like. In fact, Charles Johnson, the cre­ator of FeedWordPress is in con­stant and fre­quent vio­la­tion of copy­right law because the appar­ent major­ity of his blog’s con­tent is stolen with­out the orig­i­nal authors’ permission.

The author, Pariah Burke, was apparently quoting from an earlier (no longer available) post from a person named JohnTP. JohnTP's blog content was apparently ripped off in toto by people using FeedWordPress to access his content.

Now ripping off content is bad, but that does not make FeedWordPress itself bad. A tool is a tool. Contrast this to the example that I previously discussed, in which Oracle writers are literally BEGGING Eddie Awad to aggregate their feeds. In fact, when Awad switched from Google Reader to FeedWordPress, he did some spring cleaning and inadvertently removed a blog from the feed that shouldn't have been removed.

Now I'll grant that Pariah Burke wrote that post on the evils of FeedWordPress way back in 2007. However, it's possible that Burke's views have changed in the intervening years, based upon a Google+ post of his. Again, in the interests of fair use, I'll confine myself to quoting only three words from Burke's Google+ post:

Save Google Reader!

Google Reader's death doesn't just affect individuals - OraNA's problem and solution

When discussing the impending death of Google Reader, we have focused upon the individuals that are currently using the service. Now some of those individuals may be influential and noisy individuals, but they're still individuals.

But what if you built a service that depends upon Google Reader - a service that is relied upon by a number of professionals?

Yes, I know. People who build their service on a third party service can't cry when the third party service disappears. (See every third party Twitter developer out there.) But if you don't want to reinvent the wheel every time, then there's some benefit in adopting a service offered by a major tech vendor.

And that's what the Oracle News Aggregator did. Until recently (as Eddie Awad notes):

With GR going away soon, I have been working over the past several days to detach it from OraNA.

I’m glad to report to you that the migration off of GR is done. OraNA now aggregates all of its syndicated feeds via its own feed aggregation engine.

Well, sort of:

FeedWordPress is an Atom/RSS aggregator for WordPress. It syndicates content from feeds that you choose into your WordPress weblog; the content it syndicates appears as a series of special posts in your WordPress posts database. If you syndicate several feeds then you can use WordPress's posts database and templating engine as the back-end of an aggregation ("planet") website.

This plugin was created by an individual (Charles Johnson a/k/a Rad Geek) and is available via the WordPress website. While there is the obvious danger that WordPress could go away someday - forcing Awad to find yet another solution - the fact that WordPress has a higher interest in this market than Google means that solutions based upon this aggregator may be a little more safe than the Google Reader solution.

Of course, this assumes that the whole idea of aggregating feeds is a good thing. But it is, isn't it? Read on...

That's entertainment - the Muppets, Star Wars...and Disney?

We have to be careful about reading too much into this, but it's still interesting.

In 1980, there was a popular TV show called "The Muppet Show," and there was a very popular movie called "Star Wars." Actually, two very popular movies - "The Empire Strikes Back" was released in 1980. This explains why Mark Hamill and several other Star Wars characters would make an appearance on The Muppet Show.

In true Muppets fashion, the Star Wars characters poked fun at the original film (without violating any of George Lucas' copyrights), and then transformed themselves into...a song and dance routine.

The song? An old movie tune called "When You Wish Upon a Star."

The ending of the song and dance number? The appearance of a castle behind the characters.

Remind you of anything?

In 1980, if you were to mention Star Wars, the Muppets, and the Walt Disney Company in the same breath, it would be very clear that one of those things was not like the others. Star Wars was the hottest movie franchise around, with two films released and a third film on the way. The Muppets had moved from educational television to having their own variety show, and had even released their own film, "The Muppet Movie," in 1979. Both brands were hot brands.

In 1980, Disney could not be characterized as "hot." The theme parks were doing well, and the studio was releasing movies such as "Freaky Friday." But Disney's science fiction entry, "The Black Hole," didn't give George Lucas any sleepless nights.

What a difference a few years makes. By the end of the 1980s, the company that was referenced at the end of the Muppets' song and dance number came very close to purchasing the Muppets themselves. And last year, as you may have heard, the Star Wars brand was sold to Disney.

Why? Because of Disney's longevity.

Walt Disney, Jim Henson, and George Lucas were all highly intelligent individuals who started amazing companies. But Walt's company had enough talented people (Roy Disney, Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, Bob Iger, etc.) to allow his company to thrive as he got older, and even after he had passed away. The company has certainly had its fallow years, but has remained enough of an institution to ensure that it would continue to exist for a long time to come.

Perhaps the Hensons and the George Lucas team could have chosen to institutionalize their companies so that they could continue for decades to come. And, for what it's worth, the Jim Henson Company is still a going concern. However, "[i]n May 2003, The Jim Henson Company transferred the rights and ownership of 'The Muppets' and 'Bear in the Big Blue House' characters to The Walt Disney Company."

So maybe all of the parties can re-create that old 1980 song and dance number.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

It's all in the timing

In the mid-1970s, two writers - one of whom was very famous in England and becoming famous in America, and a second whom would become very famous throughout, galaxy - were offered an opportunity.

The Robert Stigwood Organisation, which had had huge hits with Grease and Saturday Night Fever, commissioned a film treatment from [Graham] Chapman and [Douglas] Adams.


"It was another film idea based on science fiction. But they eventually stopped that project because, as they said, 'We don't think there's a market for science fiction films.'"

But it was all in the timing, as Adams noted:

"As it turned out, that was about 12 months before Star Wars.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Survey says - wait a minute, what did that survey just say?

Last week, I was talking with someone about a questionnaire that the person was required to fill out. That questionnaire asked some very personal questions - some of which may not even be legal to ask.

While I won't talk about the specific issues with this questionnaire - it is, after all, private - I will say that this was not an employment application. In the case of employment applications, there is a good idea about what you can ask a potential employee, and what you can't ask a potential employee.

Or is there?

What you can't ask: Are you a U.S. citizen?

Although this seems like the simplest and most direct way to find out if an interviewee is legally able to work for your company, it's hands-off.

In this case, as well as in many of the other cases outlined in this Compare Business Products post, you have to take care to address the specific issue that must be determined, rather than ask a more generic question.

Rather than inquiring about citizenship, question whether or not the candidate is authorized for work.

What to ask instead: Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?

Another potential landmine is privacy of health information with an employer. To be clear, HIPAA does not apply to this relationship - HIPAA is intended to ensure that medical providers, not employers, keep information private.

The Privacy Rule does not prevent your supervisor, human resources worker or others from asking you for a doctor’s note or other information about your health if your employer needs the information to administer sick leave, workers’ compensation, wellness programs, or health insurance.

Some of these tips, although written from the perspective of mental health in Canada, also apply to physical health issues:

In some cases you may be required to disclose the fact that you have an illness; if, for example:

•Your employee benefit plan requires you to submit claims through your employer rather than directly to the company.

•Your employer has an absenteeism policy that requires you to provide a medical certificate if you miss more than a specified number of days of work.

•You are requesting accommodation. You do not necessarily have to disclose the nature of your illness, but you will have to provide enough information to the employer about your disability so that appropriate accommodation can be provided.

And there's an important question to be considered:

Does your employer have a privacy policy? If you tell your manager or supervisor about your illness, will they keep it confidential?

Another biggie is a person's religious views (or lack thereof). In the United States, the law is clear on this matter:

The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment....

The law requires an employer or other covered entity to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer's business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.

Examples of some common religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies or practices.

So before you design a questionnaire that asks a person's citizenship, complete medical history, and willingness to participate in a hot dog eating contest during Ramadan, ask yourself - is all of this really necessary for a customer who wants to purchase a television set?

And don't even get me started on Social Security/Social Insurance Numbers...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Deadlines matter, the Denver Broncos edition

Sometimes when I get all uppity, I imagine that proposal managers are the only people who truly have to meet deadlines.

If an engineer has to deliver a product to a customer and it's not ready, the engineer can negotiate with the customer and provide it a little bit later.

When the Federal Government is faced with automatic budget cuts that will ruin the economic world as we know it, the President and the legislators negotiate an extension.

But when I have a proposal due on Friday at 4:30 pm, I had better make sure that that proposal doesn't arrive at 4:31.

Well, despite my inflated view of my profession, it turns out that other professions have deadlines.

Such as the National Football League.

A defensive end with 63 ½ career sacks has just been cut because of paperwork.

The upstairs floor at Dove Valley was thrown into chaos Friday afternoon when the signature page from Elvis Dumervil and his agent Marty Magid that signed off on a new contract arragement arrived on the Broncos' fax machine at 2:06 p.m. — 6 minutes and one second past the deadline to file contracts to the NFL office.

When the Broncos did not have the paperwork in hand, they released Dumervil in lieu of guaranteeing his $12 million salary for the 2013 season.

It turns out that this may be a lose-lose situation.

The team could still re-sign Dumervil, but there are salary cap implications. Dumervil's release gives the Broncos a dead money hit and limits their ability to bring him back with a new deal.

More here. I heard about this via Gary Davenport.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Peter Bregman was attuned to Dan's problem. That's why Peter failed.

Peter Bregman recently wrote a post about a sale gone bad. Bregman described how he got a very good lead to a potential client, referred to as "Dan" in the story. Bregman devoted himself to understanding the problem that Dan was facing.

Sounds like a good thing to do. The oft-recommended strategy is to work at understanding a customer's problems and needs, and then showing how the customer's issues can be solved by you.

In at least this one instance, that was the wrong strategy. Bregman lists six things that happened before and during the meeting which seemed correct at the time, but which in retrospect were the wrong things to do.

What's wrong with taking the time to understand Dan's needs, and then being prepared to offer a solution? Bregman explains:

I was operating from my perspective. But Dan wasn't. He was operating from his perspective. And from his perspective, the fact that I was operating from my perspective was a deal-breaker.

The problem? I wasn't attuned.

But of course Bregman was attuned, wasn't he? Sort of.

I might have been attuned to the challenges Dan was facing — but everything I did and said indicated that I wasn't attuned to Dan.

Bregman emphasizes the point:

What Dan was really looking to figure out — what most people are looking to figure out — is what it would feel like to work together. And what I showed him in our brief conversation is that it would feel like some expert coming in and telling him what he should do.

If I were Dan, I wouldn't hire me either.

In Bregman's article, he makes reference to the ideas of Daniel Pink. Pink talks about attunement:

JUSTIN FOX: Another key attribute for being effective in sales, and persuasion in generally, that you talk about is being attuned to whoever you're talking to. And one of the things that really struck me was how big an impact it can have if you just mimic what the other person is doing.

DANIEL PINK: It's unbelievable. This research is frightening. And I've sort of been wrestling with it, turning it over my head. One of the things about mimicry, the word mimicry, is that it sounds duplicitous on its face. And the more I've kind of reflected about this, is it's what human beings do.

Pink provides an example.

[L]et's say that you are my server at a restaurant. And I make an order. So what do you want? Or, can I take your order-- probably not, what do you want. Can I take your order? I say, I would like a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich, mustard on the side, and salad, not fries. Now if you say to me, OK, so you want a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich, mustard on the side, and salad, not fries, repeat back, exactly, you're mimicking....

Tips are 70% higher than if you said, OK, got it, great, got it. And as we puzzle through that, we think, OK, why is that the case? Well, you're heard. First of all, you have some assurance they're going to get it right. They took your perspective. They understood what you were saying. They heard what you were going to say. And all these things are very effective.

And it's also, the other thing is, there's an impact on the mimicker, not only the mimickee. It's not only that the mimickee likes to see him or herself reflected back. It's that, remember, the whole point of attunement is to take someone's perspective, to understand their position.

Does this mean that expertise doesn't count? Not necessarily - it means that the customer's expertise is more important than the provider's expertise...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The web is dead - Yahoo outlaws search-from-home, requires users to come to Yahoo offices

Earlier today, I received a confidential memo that purports to be addressed to Yahoo! users. I immediately checked other sources to see if they were also sharing the memo, but I was unable to find any other mention of it. I guess that because of the fallout from the recent memo leaked to Yahoo! employees, Yahoo! is taking greater pains to make sure that THIS memo doesn't leak.

So I guess this means that I have an exclusive - a memo that you will not find at any reputable news source. (Hint, hint.)

If you are a Yahoo! user, I have two questions for you. First, did you receive this memo? And second, how will you react to the end of Yahoo's "search-from-home" policy?

Without further ado, here's the memo.


Yahoo! users,

Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great tools to make our properties more productive, efficient and fun. With the introduction of the recent changes to the Yahoo! home page, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.

To become the absolute best place to get information, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be getting information side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in Yahoo offices. Some of the best knowledge comes from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we search from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all Yahoo! users with search-from-home arrangements to search in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your Yahoo! representative has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to search from home to find the phone number for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo! user isn’t just about your day-to-day searches, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.


I hope AOL doesn't do this. New York Citty is a lot farther away than Sunnyvale.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When will Twitter be sold?

Craig Kanalley has written a post about Google's latest initiative, Google Sign-In, and mentions some ways in which Google Sign-In exceeds the current capabilities of Facebook Connect. One example:

Google has its own mobile operating system. It's making use of that by allowing instant-app install to Android devices when one connects with Google+. For example, if an Android user signs in with Google on a partner's website, like The Guardian, he or she will have the chance to instantly install that app to their mobile device, even if visiting from a desktop computer. This is among the ways Google can make experiences seamless on mobile with its own OS.

Kanalley notes that Facebook still has one clear advantage over Google:

Facebook does own one thing Google doesn't, and it's big: the Social Graph and all the data we've inputted into Facebook. As Josh Constine wrote for TechCrunch, "Most people do not have richly filled-out Google+ profile with data to personalize apps they sign in to."

But when you read this article and other articles, it becomes clear that the social integration race is, at present, a two-horse race.

In another tech post - you know, the posts about things that don't matter - I listed a number of other companies who would certainly be interested in integration of big data: specifically, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle, IBM, and Lenovo, for starters.

Twitter didn't come to mind when I assembled that list. While Twitter certainly offers sign-in capabilities that are similar to those offered by Google and Facebook, Twitter itself is (by design) an extremely limited platform that is better at offering links to content rather than content itself.

Ideally, it would be great if Twitter could partner with some larger company, probably via an acquisition by that company. A union of Company X and Twitter could then become a powerhouse that could take on Google and Facebook.

Since this is such a good idea, I knew that it wasn't original to me, and because of my non-trendiness, I'm sure that people have been discussing the ideal Twitter acquirer for months.

I was right.

This is what Jeff Macke said in November:

Microsoft needs to stop screwing around. If they want a foothold into what's on their customers' minds and what's working now, Microsoft needs to buy Twitter then leave it alone. No pop-up ads, no selling your information, no intrusion. No Facebook-ing. Just a bunch of people and their networks exchanging information on an open platform.

The information is worth billions to someone; not through conventional ads but as a platform for a bigger concept. Microsoft will be able to gather the users Facebook (FB) is losing in its quest to monetize. Microsoft has plenty of money. What they don't have is a pulse. They also don't have Twitter for the new Surface. They've got no real draw to bring users into the Microsoft tent.

Twitter is it. If Microsoft tries to "integrate" Twitter they'll screw it up immediately. But if they buy Twitter and largely leave it alone, just tweaking it enough to make it part of people's lives without all of the noise of being freestanding, it's impossible for Microsoft to overpay.

This is what Patrick Gibson said in November:

Apple and Twitter have talked before and much speculation has already been made. Most, if not all, of this speculation centered around how Apple needed to buy a social network, because Apple needed “Social” – whatever that means.

But Gibson continues:

So that’s not that argument I want to make.

I would posit that the cause Apple’s lackluster web skills stems from their inability to recruit or keep talented web engineers. Historically, if you’re into databases, servers, or web application frameworks, then Apple was probably pretty low on the list of places you aspired to work at. Apple has always positioned itself as a consumer products company, and even killed off its server hardware over the years. Mac OS X Server remains, but who knows for how long.

Where Apple falls short, Twitter flies. Not only does Twitter use some of the most advanced web technology, they invented it. They own scale. They know how to send hundreds of thousands of tweets a minute. Further, Twitter is social network with values that (used to) reflect Apple: focus and simplicity.

Apple should buy Twitter not for its social network, but for its talent and technology. That talent and technology could undoubtably help bring Apple and iCloud into the 21st century. The social network is basically an added bonus.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Google, I told you so - an Ingress player was harassed by the police this evening

Back on December 10, 2012, I wrote a post in this blog entitled For police agencies - did Google educate you on its new Ingress game? Why not? The post noted that in the current post-9/11 environment, the Los Angeles Police Department - perhaps you've heard about them on the news recently - has adopted new guidelines that allow officers to write reports on people doing things such as photographing power plants.

I wrote a follow-up post in my tymshft blog entitled Public safety employees – those people running around your city “hacking” with their smartphones may be playing a Google game (Ingress). The post was designed as an explanation of the game; the explanation would hopefully be beneficial to police officers or firefighters who may be wondering why people would hold mobile devices and utter phrases like "Shall we fire the XMP bursters?" while staring at a fire station or other public building.

At the time I wrote these posts, I received some comments in a Google+ thread:

I strongly believe this is more hype and propaganda to advertise Ingress because its not as popular as they expected (because they have not made it open to everyone yet).

Yet again the #lamestreammedia is blowing stuff out of proportion. Granted, LEOs in different areas have different approaches. Still, the problem is NOT that bad.

Well, tonight I'm interrupting my QR code testing because I just found a local police department that apparently didn't get the memo.

Before telling the story, I should emphasize that this is anecdotal evidence. Just because the police caused problems for one Ingress player doesn't mean that this is anywhere near a universal problem.

Earlier this evening, I read the following comment on Google+:

Just got a visit at home from the police. Apparently traveling on public streets in my small town is not illegal, but they don't like it when it is done to play a game like #Ingress because it spooks the locals.

I asked for more details from the person, and this was the response:

The details are that parking in front of the Fire Department means parking in front of someone's house. They freaked & thought I was a private investigator. He even came up to my car, and I showed him the game. I thought it was fine, but after I got home, I got a visit from the local police. Town is less that 5000 people & is a bedroom community for a small metro area of less than 100,000 people.

I even suggested that I would request the Fire Department be removed (sharing space with the police department) but he didn't even want it at the library or post office on Main St with no homes around.

He couldn't do anything because I didn't break any laws, but you can bet they will be looking for any potential broken laws if I don't stop playing.

At this point, a second person chimed into the conversation with this:

Couple days ago firewired got an $88.00 ticket for making an illegal left hand turn playing ingress in the dells.

Now that is understandable. As I stated in my prior posts, breaking the law is breaking the law - and an illegal left hand turn is, by definition, illegal.

But the first case isn't understandable. Certainly there's some gray area for cases in which someone may be "disturbing the peace" or whatever. But after the Ingress player explained to the resident AND to the police that the Ingress player was NOT a private investigator, that should have been the end of it.

However, the Ingress player's comment that the police officer "didn't even want it at the library or post office on Main St with no homes around" indicates that this is far from a closed issue.

And, incidentally, this is the reason why I have not mentioned the name of the Ingress player, or of the player's city of residence, in this post.

But it's a pretty safe bet that the city in question won't be getting any Google high speed broadband any time soon.

Despite the fact that the town's own library - you know, the one that the cops don't want as an Ingress location - actually has a page on Hot chocolate, coffee, and tea are available for $1 a cup, according to the site.

Even to Ingress players.


Just a little more QR code testing

Following the suggestions that I found at

First, here's the Empoprises e-mail address.


I wanted to try a more rigorous telephone number. This is for the Walmart in Chino, California.


And here's an SMS code. This happens to be the one for 4INFO (44636).


Finally, here's the web page that provided me with some background information. I just have to make sure I encoded things correctly.


Just a little QR code testing

I went to to generate the following QR codes.

Here's one for this blog.


Here's one for a famous telephone number.


Here's one for a textual phrase that I often use in this blog.


Here is a contact QR code. The Kaywa reader can read it; I'll have to see if Google Goggles (my QR code reader) can read it.


This QR code links to a Google+ page where Alex Scoble talked about this QR code generator.


Why tech doesn't matter, March 2013 edition

Those of us who are involved in tech in some way live in a bubble surrounded by mirrors. We often think that our concerns are extremely important. But in a world in which over six billion people don't have a (snort) Facebook account, it turns out that our concerns are meaningless to the rest of society.

Recently I've written about topics such as Google Glass, ad-funded tech services, and Groupon's true customers.

News flash - most people don't care about Google Glass, ad-funded tech services, or Groupon's true customers. (Or, for that matter, Groupon.)

Don't believe me? A recent news article discussed "the highest-profile American to meet Kim [Jong Un] since Kim inherited power from father Kim Jong Il in 2011."

No, the article wasn't talking about Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, whose recent trip to North Korea resulted in massive conversation in the tech bubble.

It turns out that "the highest-profile American to meet Kim" was actually former basketball player Dennis Rodman.

You see, for all of the admiration that we techies lavish on Schmidt, he didn't actually meet Kim.

Rodman did.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why Google Glass-like recording technologies will NOT lead to Big Brother (my response to Mark Hurst's post)

Google Glass has certainly attracted, eye of a number of people who are thinking about the ramifications of this technology.

Jim Tipping recently shared an item written by Mark Hurst at Creative Good entitled The Google Glass feature no one is talking about. As I began reading Hurst's piece, I ran across this line:

The Google Glass feature that (almost) no one is talking about is the experience – not of the user, but of everyone other than the user.

My first inclination was to yawn. The reaction of others to Google Glass has been discussed ad nauseum. Loren Feldman has talked about the device's effect on interpersonal relationships. A bunch of people, including me, have talked about the Shotwell's Bar incident.

But it turns out that Mark Hurst was talking about something far deeper.

What makes Glass so unique is that it’s a Google project. And Google has the capacity to combine Glass with other technologies it owns.

First, take the video feeds from every Google Glass headset, worn by users worldwide. Regardless of whether video is only recorded temporarily, as in the first version of Glass, or always-on, as is certainly possible in future versions, the video all streams into Google’s own cloud of servers. Now add in facial recognition and the identity database that Google is building within Google Plus (with an emphasis on people’s accurate, real-world names): Google’s servers can process video files, at their leisure, to attempt identification on every person appearing in every video.

It's appropriate to disclose at this point that I work in the biometrics industry. While facial recognition has not advanced to the point where you can get a grainy picture of anyone from a distance and identify the person in milliseconds, it is certainly conceivable that the technology could move in that direction eventually. At a minimum, if you have a select list of people (for example, known terrorists) and you point a camera at a place where those people congregate, you may be able to identify when a person on the list enters that place. From there, it's merely a computational and algorithmic challenge to expand that list to a list of all Google+ users, or all Facebook users.

Oh, but Hurst isn't done yet. He makes several other points (I encourage you to read his entire piece), including this one:

Let me paint a picture. Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you’ve ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google’s cloud – whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between – will instantly bring up documentation of every word you’ve ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.

Now consider that Google's competitors are not going to let Google have this market all to itself. Perhaps Apple is already working on iRecord. A slew of other companies - Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle, IBM, Lenovo - might have their own reasons for pursuing this technology, either from the hardware perspective (the recording device), the software perspective (the integration of the device's data with other data), or both.

Certainly, in the worst case, a chilling scenario of the denial of civil liberties in the Untied States, China, and throughout the world.

But that's the worst case - which probably won't happen.

For one, it is highly unlikely that Google's data will be shared with Facebook's data or the CIA's data or whatever. Organizations have a natural tendency to keep their power to themselves, and since data is power, that means that Google has precious little incentive to let Facebook run through Google's data.

However, it's conceivable that any one particular silo - the CIA's silo, Google's silo, the DMV's silo, whatever - could, in and of itself, yield a treasure trove of data for those who are willing to find it.

Let me repeat that - for those who are willing to find it.

Even if you're willing to pay the cost to store all these petabytes or yottabytes or sortabytes of data, there is also a cost of searching through all this data. And you're only going to pay the search costs if you can realize a positive return on investment.

Even if you perform a targeted search - say, a search of all of Google's data showing Julian Assange's activities in the United Kingdom since his arrival - you're going to have to plow through a slew of unrelated data. Video of Assange sitting on the toilet. (Hey, the UK has a lot of cameras.) Video of Assange sleeping. Video of Stoke on Trent football club Assange FC.

Maybe the powers that be will pay that search costs for a Julian Assange search. But will they pay those costs for anyone else? Will the powers that be search through all of Google's archives for a few dozen people who showed up at a protest rally? Will the powers that be search the people who were watching the protest rally?

Just because you have a bunch of data lying around doesn't mean that people are going to spend the money to turn that data into information...much less knowledge or wisdom.

Friday, March 1, 2013

What if you CAN'T use an ad-funded service?

Yeah, third post today after a week-plus silence. I was working on a major project, and am now recovering - and making up for lost time, I guess.

I visited my Google Reader feeds for the first time in a long while, and caught up on this post from Jake Kuramoto that he wrote back on February 15. The post explains why Jake has turned off Disqus comments on The Appslab blog.

In December, Disqus began adding links via their plugin, a feature called Promoted Discovery. These links were appearing above the comments in a section called Recommended Content....

I’m happy with Disqus and understand the reasons why they are pushing new features. It’s a business. However, I can’t have any ads here, lest somehow they be construed as endorsement by me or my employer.

In Jake's case, this distinction must clearly be made, since the blog is clearly tied to Jake's day job. (In my personal case, this is less of an issue.)

However, this is clearly something that we'll have to confront more and more. Business X will be looking for some tools, and since Business X (like all businesses) wants to minimize costs, there will be a strong incentive for Business X to choose free tools.

However, nothing is free, and the businesses that provide these tools have to earn money somehow. Often, that money is earned by advertisements, controlled by the tool-providing company.

You can see how this could cause problems for Business X. The easiest example would be a case in which the tool displays an ad for Business X's competitor, Business Y. In fact, it's highly likely that such an ad would display, since any blog from Business X is going to contain content that would appeal to the same people who are targets for Business Y's ads.

Is there a solution? Well, Jake addresses that in his post also:

Mostly though, I’ve turned off the plugin because I’m a control freak by nature. I’ve learned from the demise and neutering of other services that it’s often better to own my own data, or at least pay someone to manage it.

More on selective discount strategies

I just wrote a post about Groupon that quoted from Martin W. Smith. Here's part of what Smith said, including some material that I didn't quote in the initial post:

Most small businesses, those who have been in business for any amount of time, know that price is tricky.

Value perceived is value created.

What happens to those hard-won “value propositions” when you are at a party and someone tells you they just ate at your favorite restaurant on a Wednesday night, ordered your favorite dish and got the same meal you buy on Saturday 50% off?

Word-of-mouth advertising, normally the best recommendation engine always, just worked AGAINST the restaurant foolish enough to believe customers gained with such steep discounts can ever be profitable. They won’t and can’t.

While Smith is specifically talking about steep discounts - the kind practiced by Groupon - after I wrote the previous post, I began musing about selective discounts in general.

In some cases selective discounts to one group of customers are strictly prohibited. When you deal with governments, you often find that a governmental entity inserts a contractual provision stating that the price you quote to the entity must be as low - or lower - than the price that you quote to any other governmental entity. Thus, your price to one customer could affect your price to all of your customers. "If I provide a discount to the city of Enumclaw, Washington, then how does that affect my business with the Department of Defense?"

But when are discounts to one set of customers (and not to another set of customers) a good thing? Maria Malidaki has looked at this, in the second of five items about discounting.

To avoid this from happening, don’t apply a general discount, especially not to new customers; 10% off for the first project and a standard discount on the second or third project could spoil them from the start.

I'd be willing to bet that Malidaki is not a Groupon fan. First, the Groupon discounts go to new customers, not to loyal customers. Second, when Malidaki considers a 10% discount excessive, it's safe to say that she's not a fan of a 50% discount. As other sources have noted, these types of customers are not good for your business in the long term.

At the same time, Malidaki is not a fan of general discounts for everyone; if you discount, give the discount to a few select customers.

[C]onsider giving discounts only to a few select customers who comply with mutually set standards. These standards could include:

payment punctuality
quality of collaboration (good communication, timely submission of materials, openness to ideas, professionalism, etc.),
the number of projects you have completed for them
the number of good clients they have referred to you

Now some of these don't necessarily apply to all businesses - for example, I do not "collaborate" with My Delight Cupcakery. But loyalty applies to nearly all businesses, even funeral homes - which is why so many businesses have loyalty programs.

Be sure to read all five of Malidaki's tips about discounting.

Oh, and as long as I'm bandying about anecdotal stories, I'll throw in one of my own.

Workplaces often have coupons from local businesses, primarily restaurants, with incentives to try the business out. One such restaurant posted an incentive at my workplace, so I went there for breakfast one morning. However, the restaurant's regular prices were relatively high for me, so I haven't been back since. Which is a good thing for the restaurant - there were a huge pile of coupons at work, with no limitations on use; if I wanted to, I could have gone back to that restaurant every morning with a new coupon, then quit when the coupons ran out or the company chased me away. Obviously, this is not the type of customer that the restaurant would want.

Does Groupon know who its customers are?

Some people are surprised to learn who Google's customers actually are. Most people think that Google's customers are the people who enter search terms in web browsers, watch videos, and use other Google services. Nothing could be further from the truth. Google, Facebook, and the like don't have users as customers. These companies' actual customers are the advertisers who pay them money to put ads on the services. Therefore the companies tailor things for the benefit of their customers.

Knowing who your customers are seems like such a basic thing. But some companies just don't get it.

Groupon just fired its CEO, Andrew Mason. It turns out that Groupon under Mason had a whole slew of problems. But I'm not sure if Mason's ouster will take care of Groupon's basic problem - namely, that Groupon pays more attention to its users than to its customers.

Groupon's users, of course, are the people who sign up to get deep discounts for products and services.

Groupon's customers are the companies who provide those products and services at deep discounts. The customers want to see business growth through their association with Groupon.

Perhaps, as Martin W. Smith notes, the entire model is flawed.

Groupon’s 50% price cuts were and are the very definition of a bad marketing idea....

Value perceived is value created.

What happens ... when you are at a party and someone tells you they just ate at your favorite restaurant on a Wednesday night, ordered your favorite dish and got the same meal you buy on Saturday 50% off?

Word-of-mouth advertising, normally the best recommendation engine always, just worked AGAINST the restaurant foolish enough to believe customers gained with such steep discounts can ever be profitable. They won’t and can’t.

While some companies have had success with Groupon deals, bad news travels quickly, such as the story of Back Alley Waffles from last July.

A Washington, D.C., restaurant named Back Alley Waffles claims it is going out of business because it had to wait too long before Groupon sent it the cash it raised from one of the daily deal site's email offers.

How long? According to Back Alley Waffles, MONTHS.

Does Groupon then electronically deposit the money that the customer paid them for the coupon into the business' bank account overnight like credit card companies do? No. After taking a big chunk of the money as its share, Groupon holds on to the business' share, using it while the business waits. And waits. And waits. And waits.

After about a month, Groupon issues the first of three payments to the business. By check. Then it has to "process" the check, which can take up to ten days. Then it snail mails the check. A month later, the process is repeated for your next installment. Then, a month later, the process is repeated again for your final installment.

So how did Groupon respond to Back Alley Waffles - Groupon's customer?

Mr. Nelsen initially approached Groupon and our merchant advisors structured a deal to best encourage overspend and help his business grow. We also required Back Alley to cap the number of Groupons sold to ensure the feature was in the best interest of both consumers and the merchant. We scheduled his feature on his terms, on a date he selected, under a contract he reviewed and signed. According to our records, only 132 Groupons, or 18% sold, have been redeemed since Back Alley ran two months ago, and Mr. Nelsen has received 2/3 of his share of the revenue to date. We always hate to hear that a local business has decided to close, but the math does not point to Groupon as the cause.

So the Groupon salesperson was just a helpful person who presented a reasonable campaign to Back Alley Waffles. Well, an anonymous former Groupon employee reported to TechCrunch that some salespeople look our for Groupon customers, but some don't.

One very common phrase is in regards to the merchant “freaking out,” and this happens every single day. What this is almost always in reference to is a merchant who can’t handle the traffic that they end up getting, forcing a live cap of a deal (almost always because it benefits the sales people not to cap it, obviously, and they advise merchants to sell more Groupons than the business is able to handle, mostly by low-balling the estimate of how many will sell)....

[O]wners care about their businesses, and sales people care about their bottom line.

It's always true that a salesperson and a customer are motivated by different things, but ideally they find themselves in a win-win situation where the salesperson gets commission and the customer gets whatever the customer wanted to buy - widgets, increased business, whatever.

But when the salesperson has to do things such as "low-balling the estimate of how many will sell," then you have to ask if the business is truly serving its customer.