Twitter puffs as Barack Obama quits!

Barack has put up the barricade and quit smoking! Back in June 2009, Obama had admitted to the occasional puff. But now, according to wife Michelle, he’s been clean for about year. Congratulations Mr. President! But what does this have to do with a blog that talks about what’s happening in the digital world?

Michelle Obama broke the news of the anniversary of the last puff to reporters at the Whitehouse yesterday. The BBC and the Guardian reported it in the UK along with many other papers. Google grabbed it and put it on Google News. But I got to know through Twitter… as literally thousands of people found this event to be of great value to their own cause of quitting smoking. I just searched ‘Obama smoking’ in Twitter and a few minutes ago somebody said “Yayyy Obama quit smoking. If the president can do it, anyone can. :)” And I guess that Melissa’s 860+ followers  will be pleased to share that point of view. So, thank you Michelle for bringing such good example from your household to the world at large. Twitter did the job of bringing it to the masses – even those who don’t care about this type of news. Power of the internet.

Twitter now has over 190 million users (source: Quantcast as quoted in Wikipedia). It’s users are said to generate about 65 million tweets – short, 140 character messages which can be broadcast or directed specifically to other users. I looked up the more successful tweeters of all times and Lady Gaga has over 8 million followers with just over 600 tweets in the last three years. Lady Gaga’s followers increased by over 10 thousand a day ever since the 21st January! So how does this compare to Barack Obama? He follows less people (145,000 when compared to Gaga’s 700,000) and gets less followers (6.6 million). He also tweets more. Yet that’s comparing an American President to one of the top performing pop performers who has sold over 55 million records!

Priority Inbox in Google’s gmail

I write about user experience all the time.. and so Google’s gmail deserves applause. The internet experience has just become better with the personalisation offered by Priority Inbox. It sifts through the emails that come in and brings forward the ones which are truly important. It learns with you and you can help it learn.

Check it out…

People always need to know more… is Facebook always going to be enough?

People in general need to know just about enough about anything that surrounds them. Some of this is called is gossip, some known as current affairs and some as networking. It makes knowledgeable people interesting. It makes it easy for this lot of interesting people to have a thousand friends on Facebook – connecting with everybody, sharing photos, making events popular by attending them and YouTube videos a success because they post them on their walls.

Facebook Creator ZUCKERBERG (Photo by Andrew Feinberg - Everystockphoto.com)
Facebook Creator ZUCKERBERG (Photo by Andrew Feinberg - Everystockphoto.com)

A decade ago, the Internet was nicknamed the Information Superhighway. The world talked about building an Information Society. Companies talked about how many Knowledge Workers they employed. In the world we live in, you don’t ask somebody who comes in for an interview if they have Internet at home. You don’t ask if they use email, if they’re familiar with how to write a document on a computer, or if they are on Facebook. People don’t send in typewritten CVs through the mail. They apply online, or send a PDF through email.

At the same rate that people have become more connected to the Internet, computing resources have also become ever so more accessible. Using computing power to extract intelligence has become infintely more possible. We now need not think how much such power we need: we can hook to a grid that gives us much as we need, when we need it. Virtualised computing resources, available on demand, are sometimes referred to as cloud computing. The information superhighway has become a reality not because you can Google up just about anything, but because all this data is now connected. There is also so much computing resource that we can crunch it into the useful information we need, when we need it.

So, begs the question: When will this infinite computing resource be used to connect data and people intelligently? When will this be done so that it matters not where the data is stored, what email account you used to upload it, whether you tagged that person as a friend on Facebook or whether it’s on the Googlemail contacts?

Today: You meet somebody at a party. A month or so later, you need a graphic designer and you remember that the person you met at the party was a freelance designer with her experience at one of the big publishing houses in Milan. You remember just the first name: Inga. So you go to Facebook, look up the friend who organised the party. You look up his friends, and in it you find Inga. Then you add her as a friend. When she accepts the friendship request, you can send her a message asking to meet and discuss the project.

Tomorrow: You meet Inga at the party. A month later you need a graphic designer – quick – and you think she might be interested. So you start composing a new email… “Hi Inga, we met at Mike’s housewarming party…”. Email will match which Mike in all your contacts had an event called “housewarming” to which both you and an ‘Inga’ were invited. Privacy settings permitting, email will immediately connect you with Inga and offer to add her to your contacts. Inga has shared some photos of the party which are intelligently matched with your profile picture: you are prompted to validate them and if you confirm that it’s you in the photo they will also be published to your wall.

In February’s post about Usability I wrote about digital natives who need product usability to evolve and adapt to their expectations. Facebook has stopped being innovative and, at this rate, even if it now prides 500,000-plus users, it will be replaced by any future social engine that will make it possible for information to be truly ubiquitous. The next big thing will be the Facebook that is also a Google of what I call common intelligence.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Juan Pablo for the inspiration.

Vaseline Facebook App Lightens Skin

Over 17% of the world’s population live in India: no wonder Vaseline’s skin lightening Facebook app hit the news when it was launched through Bolywood actor Shahid Kapoor. Another company’s attempt at social media usage.

Vaseline Men Be Prepared launched by Shahid Kapoor

The 29-year old Shahid wears the well-groomed look of the superstar of Bolywood and I wonder if that’s Vaseline’s doing. But Vaseline promises Indian men that just 1 minute a day wearing the new Vaseline Men will result in a fairer spotless face. Not only just spotless, but also lighter skinned. And if ma and baba can’t afford that cream for you there’s a Facebook app to help show how you’d look if they did! The app from Vaseline promises to do this to remove the spots and the lighten the skin on your Facebook photos!

The wall of the app has the oldest post dating to 1st April and, if that’s ehn it was launched, it’s hardly a good day to launch a promise like that!

In 2009, Shaadi.com – the online matrimonial service – ran a poll for 12,000 people revealing that skin colour was the most important criteria when choosing husband or wife in 3 of the northern Indian states. You wouldn’t blame Vaseline to think that it was a good idea to help boost the Rahuls, Amits and Farouks hopes of finding a wife to take home to mama. But the Indian men didn’t share Vaseline’s view… not on Facebook’s wall at least. 7/35 reviewers think it’s amazing, but most of the others think it’s  “racist”. This hasn’t stopped the Facebook app getting close to eight thousand monthly active users.

Ode to Privacy and the Anonymous Internet

The Internet is largely anonymous, and this reality is at the root of its success. When social media first opened a gashing wound in people’s privacy, the world was fast to react and ask Facebook to tighten its privacy settings. And along comes Philipp Lenssen with his doomsday scenario for 2025, and proposes RealIdentity. I would have expected Mark to give Lenssen a bashing when he blogged about Lenssen’s post, but he didn’t, and so I will.

I remain of the opinion that the Internet should remain anonymous for as long as possible. Undoubtedly, people who really understand the Internet, will agree that removing anonymity will put brakes on the growth of the consumption of content on the Internet.

For those who argue in favour of an identity-driven Internet, claiming that the latter has become a dangerous place, I say that the Internet is a reflection of the society we live in. Porn, ill-advice and scams have been around long before the Internet. Anybody in the US who ever wanted a fake ID to buy alcohol before they were of age, didn’t have to work to hard to get hold of one! If you don’t believe me, click here to see how many services for “fake id” come up in a simple Google-search.

So Mr. Lenssen, why bother introducing RealIdentity to access Adult Content? This will not stop anybody from getting fake credentials. In fact, there will be such a market for fake credentials that they will become as much a commodity item as those fake IDs for buying alcohol when under age.

I don’t get asked to show my ID card to buy anything with my credit card at the mall. I don’t get biometric scanned to go to the cinema. Why should I look forward to a future that infringes my privacy by asking me to sign in with my biometric ID to buy a book on Amazon or rent a movie on iTunes?

Authentication, identification and authorisation should indeed be taken seriously and all the efforts to make it possible to do this across political borders is indeed a noble project. But stopping online anonymity is foolish.

Socialising with your clients!

Socialising with your clients is not as we know it any more. Instead of bar rooms we use chat rooms, instead of meeting up we use social media. Do you want proof? Flip through your digital equivalent of your address book and see just how many of your contacts you have never met in the flesh.

Mark, the copywriter and usability “scholar” at the office, pointed me to i-Tech’s latest piece about the applicability of social networking to businesses. Gege Gatt is one of the founders of ICON, one of the web solutions companies in Malta, and i-Tech’s interview with the man gives plenty of good advice to anybody who is thinking to put his business online. The article in i-Tech should in fact have spelt this clearer – do not go online just by having a website.

Social Networking is now essential to any business, not just those whose business channel is the Internet – like Ryanair, but also Ford and Coca-Cola. It’s also as valid for the very small companies. And, that’s why it makes sense for Malta-based companies to take the plunge. Plenty of Web-marketeers on the islands and, if you are reading this and you haven’t started looking, then you should. I just thought of telling you to go to yellow pages and type “Internet Marketing” but sadly, there is no such section (what??!!). So try Google.

I must refer you to a relatively old online post which talks about the full cycle of engagement in social networking. And, that is one written by Valeria Maltoni. It is based on the work that Gary Hayes and Laurel Papworth did in 2008 and I find it very useful as it tells you where to start and follows the path all the way to measuring how good you’re fairing. The steps are Involve, Create, Discuss, Promote, Measure and you should read more about them here and here.

Good luck :)

Revisiting the Citizen Initiative

Back in November, I blogged about the Citizen Initiative — a concept entrenched in the Lisbon Treaty. I am interested in this because of its direct relevance to the world of open governance. Open governments are transparent, and invite collaboration and participation. I believe that the initiative is about making all of that possible in the EU — by creating a direct link between citizens and the institutions where it is so needed that 1 million such citizens demand it!

Beautiful.. but how will it work? And will it? Simon Busuttil, one of Malta’s MEPs wrote in The Times of Malta today and gave some insight to answer the first question. I still would like to see more people comment on how this initiaitive will exist in a world that always gives more space to the social media. Will the EU lag behind the US? Will we continue to ignore social media?

A review of the usability of some US eGovernment websites

A few days ago, I came across the website of  NIC Inc. They call themselves “the people behind eGovernment” and so I had a look at some of the websites in their portfolio. I actually only looked at those that NIC claim have won some awards. I assumed (rightly or wrongly) that the rest would not be as good.

Below, I am listing particular features which I liked in some of the sites and I am making some notes about why. I would love to hear your thoughts.

  • Common to all the ones I liked
    I like the fact that service clusters are listed at the top part of the screen, that they stay there all the time and that the layout changes little or not at all. I like the fact that as a basic accessibility feature they all have an option for font sizes. They also all have a prominent Search-box. Finally links to the social-media are always there and prominently displayed — Oklahoma went as far as producing widgets (see below).
  • Utah http://www.utah.gov/
    I particularly like the clean look, especially the stylish icons and how they spring up on-mouse-over (even if I am not sure about the scroll thing). Same applies to the effect that the top menu bar produces on-mouse-over, opening up myriad of links related to the particular option (e.g. business). I like the layout, the design and the way you get a complete look at all that Utah offers in the 2 min it takes you to scan the homepage. I also like the search box, and how in less than ten words under the control itself, it prompts the user about how to use search — making no assumptions about how versed with search s/he is. I don’t like the fact that they used graphics for the headings but I like the way the headings are well placed for catching attention during a quick scroll.
  • South Carolina http://www.sc.gov/
    I like the fact that the most important services are immediatley available. I like the fact that there is also a link called “All online services” which takes you to a long list.
  • Oklahoma http://www.ok.gov/
    I like the scrolling overview at the very top and the fact that the top part serves as both a one-word title for the “slide” as well as a clickable-menu. It could have been better aesthetically designed but the idea is very good for a quick tour and fills the space with more useful information than a plain photo of a smiling woman or the Statue of Liberty. I particularly like their widgets. Imagine if governments could make their data available in their open gov initiatives and, also give incentives to other (non-gov) data-owners to open up theirs. Then open APIs could be used to allow people to harness data, crunch it and splash it intelligently in a widget… look at the UK government’s Apps list.

I look forward to your comments!

About facebook and open government

When back in November, I blogged about the Lisbon Treaty possibly instigating a paradigm shift in public consultation, I was wondering if the European Commission would ever be forced (as in: would not have any other option!) to consider Facebook. I could see how difficult it would be if there was no means of authenticating Facebook users as being EU citizens, or if one could not prevent one citizen creating a hundred profiles!

Nothing has changed to bring a Facebook-login closer to personal authentication. But, just days ago Facebook and AOL agreed that Facebook  users could now chat with their friends right through AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). This is an achievement from Facebook’s perspective under many counts. Not least, is the one that was pointed out by Mike Melanson in his post on ReadWriteWeb:

   “The partnership reinforces the idea that our Facebook profile is at the center of our online existence. Whether or not someone is signed into AOL is no longer what’s at stake here, it’s whether or not the user is logged into Facebook.”

In January, Mike had revealed how statistics released by widget-maker Gigya showed that 65% of its traffic came from Facebook.

A look at data published by Experian shows that, for the week ending 20th February,  6.98% of visits were to Google and that this was followed closely by 6.77% of visits going to Facebook. This of course excludes the number of people that have Google as their homepage and the ones that go to Google to type “facebook” and click on the first link! The Experian data dashboard also shows that over 49% of social network hits were to Facebook. Google must have been aware of this when, on the same day as the Facebook/AOL deal they launched Buzz. I remain unimpressed by this last addition to Google’s portfolio and so I am not going to waste your time by linking to it. :)

   Fact 1:  Facebook Connect is free and easy to implement, allows any website to link to 350 million facebookers and is steadily being implemented by all those who would like to stay alive.
   Fact 2: Facebook Connect is part of the Open ID project. Simply put, OpenID allows you to use an existing login account from any participating partner to sign in to multiple websites [read more]

If Facebook Connect is becoming so important, when will it go the next level and start offering to authenticate the identity of its users? How would this affect open government initiatives?

Following the launch of the OpenGov initiative in the US, ten industry leaders (including Google) had come forward to take part in a pilot that would allow the American public to participate in Government through Web 2.0. Why is Facebook not one of them?

Open theatre

The curtain goes down to never, never come back up. The stage, the whole theatre, the square in front of the theatre and the streets leading to the houses with the flickering white lights coming from TV and computer screens spilling outside onto the dark alleys — all has become one. The roles have been reversed and the king is on stage singing to an audience that can’t be bothered to listen and be moved.

Spun into one big act, where there is a place for everybody, this is the setting which allowed the world to welcome social networking. A social leap, rather than a technological leap as it is frequently perceived. There is only place for those who understand this reality and will play this game.

“Open” is in because “open” is everywhere and synonymous with that theatre that has dropped its boundaries. It is one big act and if you are not playing or singing, you are dancing to a beat which you can make your own.