Street View in the UK

There’s been a bit of a furore recently about Google’s Street View, which has now come to selected cities in the UK. When it was launched a number of images had to be removed because they showed people in situations that could be potentially embarrassing or which people said invaded their privacy. There was the ambulance crew; the man coming out of a sex shop; the rock star enjoying a pint at his local. Complaints ensued and Google took down the images.

I am slightly perplexed as to why this kerfuffle happened at all. Google had a similar reaction when it launched in the US in May last year, and its face-blurring policy is a result of that pushback. Surely it was ready for a fuss to be made here? Especially as Privacy International pre-emptively threatened them with legal action last July. (PI kept its word and complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office.)

I think Google could have prevented a lot of this bad press by removing suspect images prior to launching the tool. Computers are really bad at figuring out what’s in an image, and even though face recognition software improves every year, a computer cannot make a judgement on whether that face is in a compromising position or not. But humans can, and there are millions of humans online who are not only capable of spotting an obviously unsuitable photo at a glance, but also willing to do so if it’s made easy enough for them.

Google could have put together a Galaxy Zoo-like tool to allow volunteers to assess each photo, after the face-blurring, but before it was accepted into their database. If Galaxy Zoo can find a few tens of thousands of people to check pictures of galaxies, Google can find a couple of million to check Street View photos.

I suppose some people would complain that even if you showed a compromising photo to just three people – which is all it takes to pass reliable judgement on an image – that’s three people too many. But I don’t believe that’s a reasonable stance to take. If you are in a public place then why should you have an expectation of privacy? My dad was once filmed getting off a train at Reading station, and for years afterwards his face showed up on every news story about trains. We have to accept that when we are in public places our image may be captured and may sometimes turn up online, or even on TV.

In my opinion, Google should have assessed the photos prior to publication because it’s good customer care. Google isn’t perfect, but if it has a fault, it’s that it often seems to lack a human dimension, using computer engineering to try and solve what are often human problems. The question of Street View isn’t, to my mind, a privacy question as much as it is a simple issue of empathy. Even the PR angle, really, is secondary, a side-effect to caring/not caring about the people around you. Would there have been as much bad press about Street View if Google had cleaned out any potentially embarrassing photos prior to launch?

Community Conference 2009: Jake McKee, How to build a community that’s crazy about your product

Jake McKee begins by talking about ‘success by a thousand paper cuts’, which is thinking about the smallest thing possible you can do without approval to get you closer to your goals. He also said that we’ve talked a lot about community, but what we’re really talking about is ‘social engagement’. Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s difficult.

Rather than talking about building a community that’s crazy about you or your product, he talks about how to throw a great party. We already build relationships with people in our lives. Parties connect, excite and engage. He lists ingredients to create a great party:

  1. Your party needs a reason to be. What is this thing? Is your party a 12-year-old’s birthday party or a cocktail party with friends.
  2. What’s the higher calling? What are we here to connect about? What is the need we are addressing? What problem are we trying to solve?
  3. Your party needs good planning. Every good social effort starts with good strategy. Prep for scale. Make it simple and flexible so you can constantly evolve. Keep in mind the 1-9-90 principle.
  4. Your party needs a host. We need leaders in social groups. It gives direction to where we’re going in this social group. It gives accountability and direction, and it builds the culture.
  5. Your party needs a few introductions. It doesn’t happen often enough. In the early days of Flickr, every new user was introduced by one of the staff. Every single person who signed up and posted a picture was introduced to others with similar interests. That might not be possible when you’ve got 200 sign-ups an hour, but Flickr had established the culture.
    Not enough communities have mentors, volunteers who welcome people and help them find their way around.
  6. Your party needs an invitation. The site needs functionality and tools that make it easy for members to invite other people. Make it portable such as the share this buttons for Facebook or Twitter. Be explicit with the invitation.
  7. You need social norms. Guidelines and rule are important. Guidelines are guiding principles. How do we translate guidelines into something that people will pay attention to? He points to Flickr’s community guidelines: “Don’t be creepy. You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.”
    It is about building culture, not blocking content.
    It creates collaborative ownership. It’s clear and fun. In online environments
  8. Your party needs a bouncer. “Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.”
  9. Power in n00bs and nerds. It’s so easy in a social group to get caught up in the history and the legacy.
  10. You need your attendees to pitch in. People want to be heard, but they also need a something to do.
  11. Your party needs you. These things don’t get outsourced.
  12. Everybody goes home happy. This is what it all boils down to.

He was asked what it takes to be a good community manager. He says it’s all down communication skills.

Community Conference 2009: Tommy Sollen, social media manager Visit Sweden

As I said, the Community Conference 2009 in Copenhagen is a mix of business, media,

Tommy Sollen talked about how he set up a community for Visit Sweden. While he did this, he set up a WordPress blog to talk about the development of the community and the site. He was working in the open. Tourism organisations across Europe and in Canada, which helped in the development. They developed Community of It focuses photos and stories. The main goal is to help the members of community to inspire each other. It’s built on the EPiServer content management system.

They have tags on all the content including geo-tags and activities. One of the things I liked is that they also have a tag for the seasons. He talked about how they encourage people to tag photos because the titles provided too little information to properly index. Photo sharing has surpassed their expectations, and they now have more than 12,000 photos (the site was launched in late 2007). He highlighted some of the photos and said that they could easily create an online magazine just with user-generated photos. If they use a photo in their print magazine, they give full photo credits to who uploaded the photos and offer to buy the photo.

One of the users, from Italy, had taken a photo that their print magazine editor thought was perfect for an article. They contacted him and offered to pay him for the photo, but he refused to accept payment.

They do no marketing for the site, but they now have 6,300 registered members, 12,000 photos and more than a thousand travel stories. They have a community and the development blog, but they wanted to know what came next so they integrated Community of more tightly with the Visit Sweden website.

They have also created Sweden pages on Facebook and a Sweden channel on YouTube. “It’s about placing ourselves in the social media sphere,” he said. They also have created widgets that allow people to add these to their blogs, sites or social networks.

He was asked about the issue of people on Facebook saying that they would come to an event but didn’t. The person asking the question asked if they had tried to offer a coupon to encourage them to turn out. Tommy said that he wanted events but hadn’t got the budget yet for it, but he believes that events would help support the community.

He was asked about how 6000 users was seen as a success. He said that people have spent not just minutes, not just hours but days on the site and had ‘created ambassadors for Sweden’.

Community Conference 2009: Lois Kelly, Communities and business

I’m at the Community Conference 2009 in Copenhagen. The audience is a mix of media, government, NGOs and business folks.

Lois Kelly of Beeline Labs talks about how she got into the field. In 1992, she became involved in the AOL miscarriage community. “This is what the internet is about. It is about creating ways to connect people.”

In 1998, she launched her own consultancy. She found Alan’s Forums, a community for consultants to help each other with tip on how to market each other and build your business. People were all over the world. People helping people.

In 2001, she and her neighbours joined together to save a local landmark, an old bridge. People wouldn’t show up for meetings or sign petitions. People would go online at night and voice what they wanted.

In 2005, Ning makes communities free. It’s so inexpensive and easy to use that almost anyone could start playing comunities, 900,000 communities in February 2009. There are 4000 new communities a day with almost 40% outside of the US.

Tribal behaviour has been here forever. We want to connect with each other. The biggest challenges are how to attract people and get them engaged. Only 40% of the communities set up on Ning are active.

What makes communities successful:

  • Communities need a purpose. They need a clear purpose
  • The community needs deeply felt or widely felt issue
  • Help and get help. Trust.

People do not trust businesses or governments. They do not want to be marketed to. A Nielsen study found Denmark had low levels of trust in advertising, only 28%.

What drives people’s use of communities

  • Ability to help people
  • Ability to connect with like-minded issue
  • Community focused on hot topic issue

The value of communities to businesses and non-profits is for market insights or research. She gave the example of an ’employee community’ that saved $5m a year through insights gained in the community. They were little ideas not huge complicated ones.

The unexpected value of communities from a case study:

  • Insights and Ideas. The case study company said the community had become ‘an unlimited source of R&D’.
  • Sales. They had higher average sales per community member ($1200) compared to a typical customer ($500)
  • Customers are creating their own marketing in the community.
  • They could cut down their PR or even get rid of their PR.

She suggested the people ask 5 simple questions that businesses need to ask before creating a community:

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. How will people (not the company) benefit?
  3. Do people care enough?
  4. What do we expect to get? (There needs to be business value, which is tied to the first question.)
  5. How do we measure?

She suggested the businesses creating communities need to be customer-centric versus product-centric. Focus on ‘behavioural tribes versus demographic segments’. She pointed to how a scissors company had created a community not based on scissors but rather based on how people used scissors, in this case scrapbooking. She also said that companies need to foucs on ‘networks versus channels’. IBM created an internal community called beehive. Employees were able to connect with each other. Employees with really good ideas started promoting their projects. Instead of going through usual channels, employees were going through this network to promote their ideas. People also thought they could get ahead faster – ‘climbing’. She had interviewed a 27-year-old employee who said she was able to advance more quickly because she used the intranet to show off her skills. “Before this, she would have been anonymous,” Lois said.

It allows great talent to network and share.

She found that many companies do not have internal networks but will create their own through Facebook (or LinkedIn, I would say).

She said that businesses with communities need to measure against business goals. New product ideas? Earn customer confidence? Reduce customer service costs? Awareness in category? Reduce training, education costs? Change perceptions? Get votes, get sales? That will help drive design.

Communities are a lot of work. If you want a successful community, you have to put the resources in.

She also said that some companies need to be more ‘social’ but don’t necessarily need a community. She showed how had created customer reviews and recommendations. She compared a number of social strategies – badges, tagging, Twitter and communities. Communities take investment and resources to be successful, but there might be simpler social strategies to achieve your goals rather than creating a community.

There was an interesting question about Facebook. They need to pay for the service but communities are resistant to advertising or marketing messages.

Lois: In the US, a lot of us think that Facebook is over and we’ve all moved to Twitter. We’re nomadic tribes. Last year, it was Facebook. This year is Twitter. I don’t know what it will be next year. Value needs to be there for a payment value. (She talked about some of the features that Twitter is considering as a business model including adding a service for business ala Yammer.) Advertising model still has value.

links for 2009-03-28

  • Kevin: John Dvorak says: "For too long newspapers have taken on the role of cultural arbiter and distribution channel for popular culture ideas. That is all over and can never return." He criticises The New York Times for considering a pay-wall for their content. "The problem with the subscription model for today's big newspapers is the fact that there is very little exclusive information of any real value." He adds: "The Internet added comparison shopping to the mix. Want a story about the baby stuck down in the well? How about 3,000 stories about the baby in the well?

    Pretty soon the public began to notice that 2,975 of those 3,000 stories about the baby in the well were the exact same story, with the other 25 being rewrites of the exact same story."

  • Kevin: Robert Picard looks at the problems with proposed legislation to allow newspapers to operate as non-profits. It's a fundamentally flawed bill in its current form that would help few newpapers and creates opportunities for abuse.
  • Kevin: Eric Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, guest blogging on TechCrunch says his "basic premise is that the internet is not replacing advertising but shattering it". He says that consumers don't trust, want or even need advertising. I think one of the important elements of this post is thinking about other revenue streams beyond advertising.
  • Kevin: Fitz & Jen of Editor & Publisher write about the three factors that they believe killed "The Ann Arbor News". They say: "In the case of The Ann Arbor News, which is closing in July to be replaced by a mostly Web business with a TMC and a twice-weekly print paper, three factors conspired in its doom – its state market, its home market, and its family owners."
  • Kevin: Social media strategist Woody Lewis gives five ways that he believes newspapers can avoid extinction. The thing I see most in this is that newspapers will have t become more collaborative, especially when it comes to technology. Most newspaper companies simply do not have the resources or the culture for rapid technological development. And I agree with Lewis, "Doing nothing is not an option."
  • Kevin: "The new Obama administration’s emphasis on transparency and the recent economic crisis has focused a great deal of attention on the value of online APIs for accessing government data. One of the latest examples comes from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis who have recently released a new API to access their FRED database, a comprehensive collection of U.S. economic trends. The API also provides online access to ALFRED, an archive of historic economic data, which features information dating all the way back to the 1920s."
  • Totally agree with Charles about how broken email is, but we need a way to ween people off email, otherwise the problem's just going to get worse.
  • Kevin: As the New York Time announces pay cuts to deal with the advertising recession. Jon Friedman at MarketWatch says that bad news from newspaper businesses will be accepted as routine. Jeff Jarvis says that he expected an orderly transfer of the traditional newspaper to the digital model. "Instead, we have great confusion." I think that we reached a tipping point in audience behaviour beginning in 2004-05 in the US, even while most newspaper execs still believed that the crash had dispensed with the threat from the internet to their businesses. Once, conservative advertisers make the digital transition the 'confusion', as Jeff calls it, will become even greater.

Yo Vodafone! 15MB per day is not an ‘unlimited data’ plan

I don’t usually write about commercial products or services here on Strange Attractor, unless they are really, really good or really, really bad. This would be a case of the latter, at least in terms of honesty regarding terms and conditions.

I’ve been a Vodafone pay-as-you-go customer since I moved to the UK four years ago, mostly because when I came here, Voda was the only company I could find with international roaming on PAYG. I also didn’t know how long I would be in the UK and so I didn’t want to get locked into an 18- to 24-month contract. Besides, I don’t really use my phone to make calls much. In the UK, unlike in the US, you only pay for calls you make so if people called me, I don’t have to pay for those minutes. Instead, I text people, and I could get 70 texts a month for about £5 plus all the calls I ever made for £10 a month all in. Up until recently (although their website says different things on the tarriffs), Vodafone also would sell PAYG customers 15MB of data a day for a £1, which was generally reasonable for the amount of data I was using. It made economic sense, and it fit with the way I used my phone.

However, since I’m relatively settled here in the UK and have an Nokia N82 with a lot of data services, I decided to look into their new SIM-only plans. I don’t need a new phone. I also noticed that my PAYG credit was disappearing surprisingly quickly, even though I wasn’t making more calls. I spent a goodly amount of time clicking around on my account on the Vodafone site trying to determine where my credit was going, but Voda doesn’t actually seem to let me in on the secret of how I’m spending my PAYG credit. It might be buried in the website somewhere, but there isn’t anything in My Account that says, ‘See your latest bill’ or latest usage. I was none the wiser. I can only guess that I must have been going over the 15MB limit so a £2 per megabyte charge kicks in. Ouch.

Still, I was paying about £15 a month for text, calls and data, and with a new £7.50 monthly data plan for pay pay monthly customers, it looked like I could get ‘unlimited data’. Of course with any of these things, there is the fine print. ‘Unlimited data’ actually doesn’t mean unlimited in any traditional definition of the term, which isn’t surprising. In the UK, most of the broadband plans are capped at 5 to 8 GB a month. Like many others, the Voda ‘unlimited’ data plan has a ‘fair use limit’. But what exactly is this ‘fair use’ limit?

For £1 a day you get unlimited data access in the UK only, subject to a fair use limit of 15MB per day (100s of emails and web pages). If you use over 15MB a day then we may ask you to moderate your usage. If after we have asked you to moderate your usage, you fail to do so, we reserve the right to charge you for the excessive element of your usage at your price plan’s standard rate or to suspend or terminate your service in accordance with your airtime and/or price plan terms and conditions.

‘Unlimited’, to Voda, equals 450MB in a 30-day month. The chap in the Vodafone shop up the road assured me that “no one ever goes over the limit” and besides, “all of the data is compressed [using their Novarra internet service] anyway”.

What a lovely bit of thinking from 2006. Memo to Voda: People use the data plans on their phones for so much more than surfing the mobile web though your portal. My phone has a Flickr uploader. If I want to upload 15 pics from the N82’s very capable 5-megapixel camera on the road using the phones built-in uploader, I’m getting pretty close to 15 MB right there. I use Google Maps all of the time, and the N82’s GPS uses network servers to speed location-locking. Using Vodafone’s own data calculator, they reckon I’d use 1GB of data a month if I only spent 1 hour browsing the internet a day, sent and received 10 emails each day, (what planet do they live on?), download or upload 5 documents a day, downloaded 10 music tracks a month, uploaded 55 pics a month and downloaded 1 software program or system update a month.

Also, chaps, why do you call it ‘unlimited’ subject to a ‘fair use limit’ when you tell 3G data dongle users exactly how much data they get with your laptop plans: £20 for 1GB and £25 for 3GB. Why not just do that with your so-called ‘unlimited’ plan for phones? It’s not unlimited even with the ‘fair-use’ fig leaf.

This is much more than taking liberties with the English language. For the annual award for Greatest Abuse Done to the English Language in Pursuit of Profits, Voda’s lawyers seem intent on challenging the marketing departments in the landline ‘fraud-band’ industry that routinely quote speeds you would never get unless the switch was in your bathroom. Deceptive marketing practices really piss me off, and this is deceptive, which is why right after this post, I’m headed to the Advertising Standards Authority website (or the Trading Standards folks). Let’s file this one under lies, damn lies and terms & conditions.

links for 2009-03-26

  • Kevin: In case you missed this at the time, Kevin Marks has written a wonderful parody of the newspaper columnists writing about Twitter, mostly out of ignorance. As he writes: "Feel the need to tell everyone everything what to think all of the time? Then a newspaper column is for you." Bit rich newspaper columnists tweaking people on Twitter for compulsive self-revelation.
  • Kevin: Steve Yelvington challenges the idea that making newspapers in the US non-profits is a way out of the current newspaper crisis. Investors waiting to buy up and under-invest in newspapers is also no solution. "Newspapers got where they are today by underinvesting in R&D, not overinvesting. The debt load didn't come from building websites. Newspaper companies borrowed to buy more of the past, not to build a future."
  • Kevin: Robert Picard looks at the figures behind the worries about a decline in journalism jobs. "Even granting employment losses of 2,000-4,000 since the last census, employment is still about 18 to 20 percent higher than it was in the 1970s." But Picard doesn't see an increase in the quality of journalism. "If you look at newsrooms you can see the problem. Most journalists in newspapers do everything BUT covering significant news."
  • Kevin: Some details on the advertising climate for newspapers in the US. Newspaper advertising has been in decline since 2005. Since peaking that year at $47.4B, ad revenue has now dropped 40.5% over three years to $28.4B. Ron Shuttleworth writes, "This industry has missed so much opportunity to transform. Here is the laundry list of already missed billion dollar opportunities: search, RSS, ad networks, video, blogsphere, social networking, social broadcasting…uh…the point is made." Is it too late? For some newspapers, obviously it is.
  • Kevin: "Streamy is a mix between an RSS reader, a social media aggregator, and a real-time search engine. You can connect your Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Friendfeed, and Flickr accounts to Streamy, and post status updates from Streamy directly to these services." With the number of services and information sources, aggregation services will become more important. At some point, we'll see consolidation in the social networks and services, but until that point, aggregators will become increasingly important.

Ada Lovelace Day: Tribute to Suw Charman-Anderson

For Ada Lovelace Day, it will probably come as no surprise that I’m choosing to blog about Suw, my wife and mad ninja geek soulmate. Suw came up with the idea for Ada Lovelace Day because she often went to conferences where no women were on the panels, even though she knew plenty of incredibly talented, intelligent women who would contribute to the discussion about technology and social media.

As she said when she launched Ada Lovelace Day:

Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised.  

It’s not necessarily a lack of women in technology that Suw was mourning, but a lack of visibility.

Suw also wanted to highlight the contributions of women in technology and science so they can serve as role models for girls. I’m from the US, and it’s long been known that girls start school with strong math skills but lose interest in their tweens, mostly due to social pressure. Suw said that the situation is similar here in the UK.

One of the reasons I chose Suw is because I think she’s a great role model for girls who want to study technology and science. When Suw and I first started dating, I remarked to a friend that she was probably the first woman I dated who out-geeked me, and while that might sound like typical male insecurities, I love her for it. Being a geek is not just about skills and knowledge but also about passion, and she has a passion for knowledge, not just in terms of computers and the internet but for all kinds of knowledge, whether it was the geology she studied at university, physics or psychology. Her curiosity is limitless, and if we share a common failing it is that we’re so curious about nearly everything that we sometimes find it difficult to focus on just one thing. She is a keen observer, and she quickly turns from noting a trend or a pattern to asking deeper questions about the underlying causes and motivations driving that trend. She wants to understand the world around her.

She also is a pioneer. I felt like a blogging charlatan when I met her. I started blogging in 2004 at the request of my editor at the BBC. I quickly fell in love with it, but Suw had been exploring blogs and other forms of social media long before. She set herself up as a ‘blogging consultant’, and many people told her that she couldn’t make a living with it. But she has, largely because she was years ahead of the curve of blogging and social media consultants that have sprung up in the past few years, and she remains ahead.

One of the things that keeps her ahead of the curve is not just her knowledge of the technology but also a deep understanding of people’s relationship to the technology and how social motivations influence our use of technolgy. I think the psychology of social media is fascinating, and I think Suw’s understanding that the fundamental human need to not only express ourselves but to communicate drives so much of the current trends online and on mobile.

She’s also a doer, and I think that Ada Lovelace Day proves it. She realised that highlighting women’s contributions in technology is important, and instead of getting frustrated, she did something, something that she hopes to build on. For all these reasons and more, that’s why I have chosen to blog about Suw Charman-Anderson, my wife and someone who I think is not only inspirational to girls looking to become tomorrow’s technology leaders but someone who inspires me.