Twitter eight years on

Public. Real-Time. Conversational. Distributed.

Today marks the eighth anniversary of Twitter, the communication platform that is globally ubiquitous today, the eleventh most-visited website in the world.

From co-founder Jack Dorsey‘s first tweet on this day, March 21, in 2006, the number of active users of the service now exceed 240 million per month worldwide who tweet in more than 35 languages, with over three-quarters of people now using Twitter on a mobile device. Users range from the average Joe to celebrities, big brands, the mainstream media, presidents and PRs.

Who would have imagined Twitter would become such an integral part of the way in which a lot of people connect with others and with things that interest them?

Twitter monthly active users

The platform (for that is what Twitter is) has changed in these eight years from the cosy curiosity of public and private text messaging between geeky early adopters in a little social network out of San Francisco to a sophisticated service from a publicly-listed company that reported annual revenues of over $660 million in 2013, and that now lets you record and share short videos and lets governments and other organizations alert you to emergencies.

I first heard about Twitter in early summer of 2006 and joined in December 2006, mainly because I wanted to see for myself what others I knew were increasingly talking about. The service really began to take off after SXSW Interactive in March 2007.

From the communicator’s perspective, there’s no doubting the value of this tool today as a method of listening to what people are talking about – a foundational step in communication planning, something you do before you start talking. It also offers you terrific opportunities to engage with others once you do start talking.

In my view, there’s no right or wrong way to use Twitter from the business communication perspective, only effective or ineffective ways. And like all online communication tools and channels, Twitter is a mirror on the behaviours of people, reflecting what they say and do.

Just like the real world.

To mark this milestone, Twitter posted #FirstTweet, a nifty tool that lets you find your first tweet.

#FirstTweet

Mark your milestone.

New research shows what drives consumers in the collaborative economy

The world of sharing

If you want to know about the collaborative economy and what it may mean for businesses large and small, the man to pay close attention to is Jeremiah Owyang.

The collaborative economy – also variously referred to as the sharing economy, the maker movement, and co-innovation – is a concept that is gaining attention as a viable business method to be considered seriously.

In its simplest form, the collaborative economy is about a consumer using a good or service rather than owning it: you buy access to the good or service for the time when you need it. When you don’t, others make use of it.

Of course, there is far more to the collaborative economy than such a simplistic description, as Owyang makes clear in Sharing Is The New Buying, a new report published today that offers a wealth of credible perspectives on the rise of the collaborative economy in the US, Canada and the UK from 90,000 people questioned to find out how they partake in digital sharing services related to goods, services, transportation, space and money.

The report contains the following sections:

  • Introduction and Executive Summary
  • Breakdown of the three groups of sharing customers
  • Market adoption rates, forecast and growth rates
  • Taxonomy of the market
  • Breakdown by demographic: age, location, political party, marriage status and more
  • Satisfaction rates of sharing services
  • Forecast of future behaviours
  • Recommendations for corporations: market opportunities, and specific departmental impacts

An ex-Forrester and -Altimeter analyst, now founder of and Chief Catalyst at Crowd Companies, Owyang says his latest research has uncovered three distinct types of people who participate in the collaborative economy:

  1. Re-sharers: Those who buy and/or sell pre-owned goods online (for example, on Craigslist or eBay), but have not yet ventured into other kinds of sharing.
  2. Neo-sharers: People who use the newer generation of sharing sites and apps, like Etsy, TaskRabbit, Uber, Airbnb and KickStarter.
  3. Non-sharers: People who have yet to engage in the collaborative economy, although many of these non-sharers intend to try sharing services (in particular, re-sharing sites like eBay) in the next twelve months.

In a world where people can get what they need from each other, how can big brands survive and succeed?

Owyang believes that is the question every business should be asking as the collaborative economy becomes more established and is set to grow, as evidenced in the report.

Like social media before it, Owyang says, sharing will be rapidly adopted because the same technologies that make it easy to share also make it easy to spread the word about the benefits of sharing.

The Collaborative Economy at a glance

While the collaborative economy could disrupt many industries – and, says Owyang, is poised to do so – there is little data available on how many people participate in sharing, who they are, and, most importantly, why they do it.

This report – produced in collaboration with Vision Critical – fills a significant gap in knowledge leading to understanding, offering a picture of the sharers in the collaborative economy and provides important recommendations for businesses that want to win in this new economy.

Sharing Is the New Buying, a 31-page PDF, is available on free download: read it at Slideshare or in the embed below.

If you want my data, reward me

Reward Just AheadAt the moment, we provide our personal details free to data-gathering giants like Facebook and Google. That won’t always be the case, says guest writer Daniel de Bruin.

Data security promises to be one of the main issues facing organisations in 2014. During the past year two main threats to data security have emerged. First, inadequate and weak security mechanisms have been used by most organisations. Second, it has been revealed that government security agencies have gained access to a vast amount of private user data stored on private corporate systems, usually without the knowledge of these corporations.

These revelations have shaken faith in the safety of the Internet, the way we do online business, and compromised the products and services we all use and trust.

Faced by the prospect of a consumer backlash, some of the world’s biggest technology companies took the unprecedented step of joining forces to demand sweeping changes to US surveillance laws to preserve public trust in the Internet.

In an open letter to President Barack Obama, Yahoo, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, AOL and Facebook urged radical change, claiming the balance of power had tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said:  “People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”

But companies have also been seen as complacent in allowing themselves to be used as agents of surveillance.  If nothing is done to remedy this perceived breach of trust immediately, some brands may be damaged beyond repair. In an age where more and more details of our private lives are stored online, trust and data security are essential to any organisation’s continued survival. This principle does not only apply to technology companies, but increasingly to companies operating in all sectors.

Shares in technology companies are already vulnerable and may continue to be affected as more revelations about data security emerge. Sales of networking switches and routers manufactured by US technology companies recently dropped by about 30% in developing economies like India, Russia and Brazil, mainly because people do not trust some companies as much as they used to.

According to Reuters, more data has been generated in the past 30 years than in the preceding 5000. Every day, more and more data is generated, and at a faster and faster pace. As home appliances become more connected, and more intelligent, ever more data is stored, and made available online.

Market watcher Gartner predicts that by 2019, some 90% of organisations will have personal data stored on IT systems they do not own or control, which can be a lucrative target for cyber criminals.

Several large-scale data security breaches have revealed that all organisations face increasing threats from criminal networks and from government agencies. Target Corp in the USA was recently the victim of a security breach where millions of credit card details were stolen. In South Korea, the details of millions of credit cards from KB Kookmin Card, Lotte Card and NH Nonghyup Card were stolen. This week, German authorities uncovered a large-scale criminal internet attack, which compromised the personal details of over 16 million internet users.

Furthermore, in a global marketplace of data proliferation on such a giant scale, opportunities for governments to spy on citizens, to monitor their behaviour, track their movements, listen in on their conversations and ascertain their views, have never been easier or more tempting.

Countless tasks, performed in the same way for hundreds or even thousands of years such as banking, shopping, socialising and sharing information, are now electronic and sometimes automated. The next wave of products controlled online will include domestic appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and ovens. The threat of hackers controlling these appliances will create a whole new class of online crime.

Apart from accessing bank and credit card details, collecting passwords and taking out fake loans, hackers will have access to much more information. For example, a hacker attempting to access digital records, could log users’ movements, when they are at home and what they do at home, how much money they spend and what they buy, who they are talking to and what they are saying to them, their views, medical conditions and the jobs they are applying for.

User passwords are the keys to these online data vaults, and are one of the main areas of weakness in data security systems. Some companies have stored user passwords using insecure methods, and millions of passwords of large technology companies such as Adobe and Linked-in have been stolen.

If organisations do not take action to address data security concerns, consumers may be inclined to reduce the amount of information they are willing to share, or even abandon online platforms and services they have become accustomed to.

However, more worryingly, most hackers do not even require technological methods to hack into an individual’s personal accounts. Most users have very weak passwords, and as a result, hackers can deduce an individual’s password using social engineering. An individual’s personal details, such as their favourite football team, the year they last won a championship, their favourite band, their mother’s maiden name can be used to guess passwords. For most individuals, this can be done in only a few minutes.

This means that the weakest point is often people’s social media accounts. Because many users use the same passwords as their internet banking passwords, or store information which can be used to access their internet banking, a lot of valuable information is made highly vulnerable.

In the future individuals will demand to have far more control over their own data and this will require them to be rewarded for sharing their data, in much the same way as loyalty cards are essentially data gathering tools, but reward their users for gathering the data about themselves and making it available. The same is starting to happen with online data, and the reward aspect will very soon become the norm.

Cookies are already being replaced as consumers are herded onto data gathering ‘ecosystems’ like Facebook and Google. While cookies are stored on a user’s computer, this makes deep analytics of this data almost impossible. Instead, these ecosystems store the behavioural and browsing data on their servers, which allows for highly complex algorithms to be executed on this data to provide for highly valuable deep analytics to be performed.

These insights can then be sold and used to drive highly targeted advertising. While cookies are provide individuals a lot of control over their own data, although most users are unaware of this, large data gathering organisations like Facebook are instead moving towards a highly centralised data storage approach.

This, in the short-term, is likely to cause a further backlash from consumers. The shift might therefor be temporary, as we move to a world where consumers demand to own their own data and get rewarded for sharing it.

One approach might be to give each Facebook user a reward point for every post, or number of friends who liked a post, etc. The “free” Facebook model is anything but – users are essentially paying with their data, and not getting anything in return. But in this savvy consumer age, that cannot last forever.

Here are some basic rules to follow to protect your data security:

  • Re-evaluate which companies you deal with. Don’t assume large organisations like Google, Apple or Sony are immune to data theft or that they won’t sell your data on. Hidden far down in contracts with these companies that everyone signs and few people read is your agreement that all of your personal information can be shared with third parties.
  • If you’re not satisfied that your personal information is entirely safe, you should switch to a new provider.
  • Only use cloud-based platforms or email services on a highly secure network.
  • Don’t carry out searches if you’re connected to Google Plus unless you accept that the company will store and share all of that search information, even with your employer or another government.
  • Don’t use wi-fi printers for sensitive material or, if you must, ensure the wifi channel is secure and encrypted.
  • When logging into cloud-based or remote sites such as Facebook, Yahoo or Hotmail don’t assume that you’re on the right site. Your password may be stolen by fake sites pretending to be the original.
  • Don’t use a memorable date for your favourite football team as your password. If you use your mother’s maiden name, for example, remove all of the vowels, or every second vowel, and add numbers. If you use your date of birth, use it plus one or minus one. And definitely don’t use the same password for everything!
  • Always encrypt your computer. There are some very good software packages which are great at encrypting your full hard disk and without access to that people can’t get to your data. With today’s technology it would take them more than a million years to break in.

Daniel de BruinDaniel de Bruin is managing director at Modelling Design Partners, a business intelligence company with offices in London, Edinburgh and Johannesburg, implementing the latest techniques in data analytics and machine learning. Information: www.modellingdesign.com.

Is a (search) picture worth a thousand words?

Jelly questionI’ve been having some fun this morning with Jelly.

Jelly is a new mobile search service announced yesterday that works via apps for Android and iOS. The company was co-founded by Biz Stone, one of the original founders of Twitter.

So what is Jelly?

In a nutshell, it’s an app you use to ask a question about something, such as the one about Starbucks mugs you see in the screenshot, where you show a photo of a mug you take with your phone’s camera.

You ask the question of those in your social networks – the app currently lets you sync with Twitter or Facebook – and anyone who sees the question can offer an answer. You can quickly give thanks to those who answer, and share the Q&A publicly on the web via Twitter or Facebook.

Jelly: answer

The app has some simple editing capabilities for the photos you take: you can crop them, for instance, or add lines and circles with your finger to emphasise or highlight an aspect of your image.

Jelly has certainly captured some imaginations if my experience earlier today is any indicator. Once I’d installed the app, synced it with Twitter, and asked my first question, interactions started happening at quite a pace as these reduced-size screenshots from my Galaxy S4 suggest.

Jelly - questionJelly - answers

It reminds me a bit of Quora, the text-based Q&A service on the web where you ask questions and get replies from the crowd. Jelly is mobile and uses pictures.

The service has just gone public and the Android app I used is clearly a version 1 in terms of features and what you can do with it. The questions come as a firehose – I can see no means right now of filtering who you can see, something I would imagine would come in a later version, along with other features, based on user feedback.

The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is quite apt for Jelly. Snap a pic on your phone, add a short question, and hit ‘send.’ No need for a thousand words!

There are so many instances of a question forming in your mind where typing it out often isn’t easy (or even practical tapping on the screen of a mobile device) as you’re not quite sure what the actual question is. Showing a picture makes it very easy to frame the question.

Take my example of the USB connector I mentioned earlier – far easier to show a photo of it and ask what it is then to try and describe the connector and ask what it is.

Imagine the possibilities also for business. For instance, a visual gallery about a product showing common questions with the answers provided by users, fans, anyone who has an answer. Hashtags will be key here. I imagine things like an API will come to enable more sharing opportunities of the content resulting from all those photo Q&As.

I think Jelly is a neat offering and I’ll continue experimenting with it. Try it and see for yourself what Jelly is all about.

(Via TechCrunch)

Is your Facebook profile enough to prove your ID?

Facebook

One thing synonymous with air travel is declaring your identity, usually in the form of a passport or citizen ID card, depending on the country and other factors.

In some countries, you can manage just fine with a driving license (a de facto ID document in many places), residency permit for foreigners, or a multitude of means of proving your identity.

But would a social networking profile be an approved method of substantiating your identity? Facebook, for instance?

The Drum reports that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – the US government agency responsible for security at places like airports – has accepted sight of a traveller’s Facebook profile as an approved form of ID.

The news emerged after Twitter user @ZachKlein tweeted his experience on 22 December. [...] “Got to the airport, realized I left my ID at home. TSA allowed me to use my Facebook profile instead,” he tweeted.

According to the Drum’s report, the TSA says it will accept identification in lieu of other more traditional forms of ID from “publicly available databases.” And the TSA says this clearly on its website in the page entitled ‘Acceptable IDs‘:

We understand passengers occasionally arrive at the airport without an ID, due to lost items or inadvertently leaving them at home. Not having an ID does not necessarily mean a passenger won’t be allowed to fly. If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone’s identity, like using publicly available databases.

The web page doesn’t explicitly mention Facebook. But the question does arise – is this a new policy or just an individual decision by a TSA employee at one particular airport in how he or she interpreted the meaning of “publicly available databases”?

Another question is: what does it say about Facebook as a place of supposed privacy if a government agency sees it as a publicly-available database?

The possibility of using a social network profile for an ID purpose like this wouldn’t immediately occur to me. But when I think of it, I wonder: why not? If you set your profile to be visible publicly, doesn’t it qualify it as being on a “publicly available database”?

On the face of it, using digital information like a database of personal information to verify someone’s identity makes a lot of sense. It’s efficient, it doesn’t require you to carry bits of plastic or paper, undoubtedly it’s more cost effective, and more secure.

If you trust the end-to-end process of doing this, then it’s not a big step to imagine such digital information about you being used in many other areas where ID verification is required. Think of international air travel where a passport currently is an essential ID to show no matter what other form of ID you may have.

It’s also not hard to project that thought out to iris scanning or facial recognition as a way to verify ID, where no other form of ID is required. That’s not a new idea at all. Indeed, I remember making use of iris-scan recognition for entry to The Netherlands when I lived in Amsterdam a decade ago – no need to show a passport when arriving (or departing) on an international flight.

But all that’s the logic. The emotional aspect of it is a dark place given the absolute lack of trust many people have with regard to governments and personal information. Just ask Edward Snowden.

Still, if it helps makes air travel (for instance) a simpler, easier, safer and more pleasant experience, I like the idea.

I’d be willing to consider it. Would you?

Be cool with social media logos

Here’s a quick just-before-New-Year quiz – which one of these is the correct Twitter logo?

Twitter

I see them all over the web, especially the text one and the ‘t’ image.

None of them is correct. Today, there is only one official Twitter logo:

Twitter

Web designer and branding enthusiast Dustin Stout has a bee in his bonnet about correct and incorrect social media branding and logo usage and makes the obvious case for getting it right:

[...] When I see someone use a social media logo that is out-dated, or worse – a cheap knock-off of a logo – it really bothers me. It not only hurts my eyes, it gives the impression that the individual using it either doesn’t know better (they’re not paying attention to what they’re talking about) or they don’t know the importance of using credible visuals.

If you’re a web designer or help others understand social media, Stout’s last sentence above is especially for you.

Stout’s passionate criticism of incorrect logo usage embraces Twitter, Google+ and Facebook in particular – the three social networks that suffer most from others’ use of incorrect imagery. His particular bee is Google+ whereas mine is Twitter.

The changes to Google+ and Facebook are more subtle and it’s easy not to notice those changes (but still see Stout’s quote above). Twitter’s is far more obvious.

googleplus-correctlogo

facebook-correctlogo

Either way, his infographic and links to various social media logo use and branding guidelines provide a very handy resource that makes it easy for anyone to get it right.

No excuses.