Your website: Do you want action or awe?

Today marked a relatively new occasion on America’s event calendar, an event labeled in the lexicon as “Cyber Monday.” This is the day that online retailers, or the digital counterparts to physical stores, lure holiday shoppers in to spending their post-Thanksgiving dollars online with offers of free shipping, special discounts and the like. If you ask me, the deals are there to be had whether online or in stores regardless of specific days – it’s more a matter of whether you want to actually go get overwhelmed and fight the crowds or surf in the comfort of your own home. There are even mega shopping aggregators that tell you (via mobile apps now also) who has the best deal on an item, and online coupon code sites that save you the trouble of trying to find the catalog number  or physical coupon in order to get the discount.

It’s all for naught, though, if the shopper can’t take the action that rings your cash register once they find your digital home and make their way to the goods or services they’re seeking – so I thought I’d share a couple of recent examples of where this can go awry.

My oldest son is in graduate school 1000 miles away, and he requested a couple of pair of specific boots from online retailers. He gave me the URL to the sites that carried them and supplied me with his color choices and size preference, after having gone to the store in the state where he’s residing to try them on. Sounded like an easy gig on my end – click on the URL, add the item to the cart, check out. It didn’t prove to be that simple.

Turned out the website for this retailer was beautiful  – lots of Flash animation teasing me with all of their newest offerings and specials, categories laid out and offering me different roads to follow.  But I knew exactly what I was after, and when I bypassed all of the hoopla and added the items to the cart, I couldn’t get the cart to turn over to the checkout page no matter how hard I tried. I kept getting re-routed back to the lovely, Flash-driven home page, where I could see the number of items in my cart tabbed out on the top of the window but, as they say Down East, “I couldn’t get thar from here.” Several attempts later, I resorted to the old-fashioned way and called the 800 number to ask a live person to help me. She was lovely and helpful, and my experience with the checkout cart didn’t seem unusual to her. The irony was that she even plugged in a coupon code from retailmenot.com for me and saved me 17 dollars on the purchase! Rather than call her, though, I might just as easily have gone to Dealcatcher or MySimon and purchased this brand name product from any number of other retailers. So what good was all that Flash?

Then, in the very same week, I was asked by a client for whom I’m doing some contract work to chase down research done by business partners in the past in order to add it to an online knowledge base. Again, I knew the names and companies of the intended targets, but in as much as everyone in the organization I’m representing is relatively new to their position, I was lacking contact information. The solution would seem to be an easy one – find the companies’ websites, see if they list their staff online, or at the very least find the central phone numbers and call and inquire. What I found out is that a lot of companies that are dependent upon building client relationships seem to have laid off their receptionists, because several central voice-mail systems offered me alphabetic directories that, when the intended person’s name was not listed in them, sent me back through an endless loop with no information or live person to whom I could inquire about next appropriate contact etc.

Other companies went so far as to have fancy Flash animations with all of the faces of their staff members flowing nicely by like a river of smiling faces. Click on one of the faces and you get their bio but, alas, in every case that I tried, absolutely no contact information! Even the owner of a consulting company failed to have her business email or phone number listed on the same page as her bio. What good is the bio if I can’t follow up and give you my business? Is there some inherent fear that disaster will come from contact made using one’s business lines of communication these days? If so, then why bother with a  website?

I suppose I could have gone to any number of social directories (actually I did in a few cases) and found the desired information a back way, but the point is this:

  • Make it easy!
    • easy to find you
    • easy to contact you once I find you
    • easy to take the action that brings money to your coffers in the form of goods sold or services rendered once I do find you

No amount of Flash or cuteness can compensate for the sale you are going to lose when I can’t check out with your products or contact your representatives with potential new business.

Lots of web designers recommend the book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug. I purchased it a while back from an Amazon reseller, and perhaps Cyber Monday is a good day to go back and revisit it with these recent experiences in mind.

What transactional barriers have you encountered due to bad web design?

Posted in Customer Service, Searching, Technology, Usability | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Searching for meaning…no, really!

With so much information raining down upon us on a daily basis these days, we hunger for ways in which to pare it down to the meaningful nuggets that we each need to go about our day and attain the goals with which we set out. Some of that has to do with keeping up with and  knowing which tools to apply to which needs – productivity tools, social media tools, real time and regular search tools, professional aggregation tools, etc. Sometimes it means being able to approach these tools with a sharper blade and to cut out the unnecessary clutter that is inherent in the bulbous, living mass of Web content. We can do that by learning how to apply search techniques to get the machines to filter out some of the irrelevance for us.

If we’re lacking in ideas or acumen about our intended information target, we can use keyword tools like the one supplied by Google as part of their AdSense suite to determine how folks are searching for a given topic, what words they are applying to it the most and what some of the other good options are. We can also look at any number of social sharing sites, such as YouTube, Flickr or Delicious, to get ideas for tags that others are applying to a given subject.

But a friend reminded me of another trick recently that I had forgotten about, this one meant to fill you in on all of the ways the term you’re targeting can be misconstrued, and therefore give you some idea as to what you might want to build in to your search as exclusions to eliminate that clutter: The disambiguation page.

Go to any Google search box and type in  a term that has a lot of different meanings, adding either the word “disambiguate” or “disambiguation” to it in the search box. In the results set, you’ll see a list of disambiguation pages, many of the good ones from none other than Wikipedia. I stumbled upon an example that we’d all love to know about, which I’ll use as an example here: The disambiguation page for Life.

Wikipedia begins by giving us the definition of Life as “a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have self-sustaining biological processes from those which do not.” The page then goes on to tell us all of the other things that the word Life might refer to, some that you can assume like the cereal, the board game and the magazine, and others that might surprise you, such as a 2004 Spanish drama entitled Whore with the alternate title of The Life, a Formula One racing team, a Boy Scout rank, and a private label brand of Shopper’s Drug Mart. There are also dozens of television and radio shows, the Life Act U.S. immigration law, and even a rapper by the name Life.

Let’s try another one, just for fun. How about the term “Fox?” As you can probably guess, there are plenty of Fox Broadcasting terms listed in various categories, from companies to shows. But did you know that the Fox 40 is a whistle commonly used in sporting and lifeguarding? How about Fox, Indiana? Remember the Audi Fox? It’s listed under Transporation, along with the Ford Fox Platform, a yacht by that name used by Francis Leopold McClintock to explore the Arctic, and the British Fox Armoured Reocnnaissance Vehicle.

All of this stuff floats out there on the same networks, and despite the rise of the Symantic Web, machines for the most part still only see words as words. We have to help them think smarter by digging around and trying to stay a step ahead of them when telling them what it is that we want to see.

What are your tricks for searching the Web?

Posted in Information profession, Searching | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s never been about the technology…

Technology is an enabler. Click your heels together and keep repeating that. Modern technologies keep evolving and providing us with faster, more integrated, more productive ways of connecting and sharing ideas and content. They help us to bridge boundaries of time zone and geography as economies and businesses become more global and interdependent. What they don’t do is magically transform introverts into social butterflies, or make stakeholders care about what you have to say, or tell you which relationships to build and how to build them (ok, you can use them to  “listen” and identify the relationships, but do you want to rely entirely on a machine for that?). What you need for that is a strategy and an engagement plan that begins with identifying and listening to the different stakeholder groups in your value network and then determines the appropriate channels and approaches to use with them.

The announcement this week that Google is scrapping its much-trumpeted Wave platform is what prompts me to jump on this bandwagon. It is a concept that I’ve shared repeatedly when speaking to others about building communities of practice or embarking down the social media path. I remember clearly the big Google event, very much a staged exhibition, that unveiled Wave as the Second Coming. It had the big name behind it; they seemed to have done their research; it did magical collaborative tricks that we’d all dreamed about; it looked like it was disruptive. But for all of the hoopla and for various reasons which I won’t attempt to deconstruct here (plenty others are doing that), it didn’t fly. So what if we had bet the organizational farm on it?

I repeat: It can’t be about the technologies. If you bet the farm on the technology itself and don’t focus on the relationships, you’re nailing the proverbial jello to the wall. Technologies are evolving too fast for that in this day and age. Instead, figure out how you’re going to build the relationships, and let them follow you when the technologies evolve and change.

Information Week supported this sentiment in a post entitled, “IT Neglecting Social Media,” , in which they cite strong numbers from a report by WildfirePR for provision of social technologies in Tech enterprise platforms, but also report a lack of engagement strategy, workflow or integration planning that results in low adoption rates.

Put relationships and meaningful conversation front and center when building community or social media strategies, or else the baby will go out with the bathwater.

Posted in Communities of Practice, Social Media, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kindle versus Printed Text: Round 1

Recently, the great and popular social media blog Mashable posted a poll called “Reading Faceoff: eBooks Vs. Print Books” in its Mashable Battles subsite. The poll challenged readers to vote for their preferred reading format – electronic reader or the old stand-by, hard copy books. The choices were one or the other or a tie vote, indicating that the voter saw advantages to both formats. I voted for the tie, and now I’m going to spend a few minutes explaining why I voted that way.

Like so many other folks, I was the proud recipient of an Amazon Kindle 2 during the 2009 holiday season. I’m now about six months  down the road in using it, and I’ve established some pros and cons in my own mind about when to pull it out and when to defer to the old stand-by.

The first time that the benefits of a Kindle really clicked in my head was when I was sitting at O’Hare airport with a friend and colleague waiting for a flight to depart. Out of my briefcase, I pulled my 770 page novel with which to ride out the wait. Out of hers, she pulled her version 1 Kindle and said to me, “You know, you could have had that on here.” That message tends to hit home when you’re dragging a 770 page book around the country in an already-stuffed briefcase. Despite my love of all things digital, I had been avoiding the investment in the Kindle, but this point-of-impact reality reminded me of the old commercial that declared “You could have had  a V8″ after someone swallows a boatload of calories with little nutritional benefit.

Upon receipt of my Kindle, the first rule that I established was that, if I already owned the book in hard copy, I would not purchase the book in electronic form as well. This was a decision that I came to from not only a financial perspective, but from a sustainability one as well. (Having said this, I will choose one that I don’t own in hard copy when traveling!) Given the state of the economy and the need to conserve purchases, I’m also fairly judicious about what to hold and pick up at the library versus what I will choose to own. If I’m not sure, then I’ll test drive the library’s copy before ordering either the hard copy or digital version of my own.

I’ve found the Kindle 2 to be less than ideal for some nonfiction titles, particularly when detailed graphs and charts are plentiful in the publication. No matter what one tries to do with the font size, the formatting on those things still has a way to go in my mind in order to equal the print version. Although I’ve mastered the highlighting feature on the Kindle, it is a much riskier process to search for a favorite passage and then to find one’s way back to the furthest read page than just thumbing through the hard copy version. There are not page numbers per se in electronic books, only “locations” with four digits and a hyphenated number – way too much to remember when flipping back and forth. The “sync to furthest page read” feature provided with the Kindle’s wireless service seems sort of inconsistent in performance.

The inability to bounce around in the e-published works can also be frustrating if you decide to demonstrate or share your Kindle with a friend who innocently pushes a few too many buttons and loses your page or, worse yet, tries out the store and inadvertently purchases a few, too-easy-to-order titles on your account without realizing it.

On the bright side, if one needs a book in under a minute for any number of reasons, you can’t beat the Kindle. Find the title on either Amazon’s website or through the Kindle’s built-in store, click “buy” and it gets delivered wirelessly as if by magic. The voice-to-text feature has been favorably reviewed for its potential  in assisting patients recovering from brain injury who suffer from aphasia, a re-ordering of the speech and cognition pathways. If you don’t mind the slightly computerized-sounding voice reminiscent of a telemarketing message, it isn’t half bad! I suppose if you’re one to leave your book lying around somewhere, losing the Kindle is a heftier financial loss than losing the hard copy – although if it’s just the download and not the device that you lose, it is conveniently backed up on your Amazon account.

For fiction, the Kindle hums like a well tuned machine. As there is less need to go back and refer to the passages again, the bookmarking/place-finding issue is less pronounced. The slim frame (for which so many wonderful protective covers have been developed to make it seem more “book-like”) travels well outdoors and is readable in direct sunlight, and with a cover to attach it to, a slim booklight can be clipped on to make night time reading a snap as well.

Last week, I watched Robert Scoble’s interview with the Flipboard CEO Mike McCue. I hadn’t seen the great need to play with an iPad until I watched that video, but now between the Flipboard demo and the demo of the Wired Magazine tablet application demo on CrunchGear, I’m feeling as though the next big disruptive wave is about to wash over us and I want to be ready. Of course, that probably explains Amazon’s recent drop in price on the Kindle of about 70 dollars.

Incidentally, in Mashable’s poll, printed books won the faceoff by about a 7% margin over the tie vote. What are you reading?

Posted in Technology, Trends, Usability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tiptoeing Through The Shallows

I found myself more scattered than usual at this year’s Special Libraries Association (SLA) Conference in New Orleans, since I was representing my chapter as President and attracted to career-focused sessions in search of the new, best setting for my particular skill set. I did manage to attend several sessions that, when considered in aggregate form, provide some good food for thought regarding human knowledge and the “perfect storm” of evolving information consumption in which we find ourselves.

As I was listening to Nicholas Carr espousing the theories from his newest book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, during the closing general session on Wednesday, it occurred to me that some of what he was sharing as documented brain research might be in direct contrast to David Snowden’s Rules of Knowledge, which I have found to ring true when working in distributed organizations suffering from the disease of siloed practices. Referring to the exponential rise in use of social technologies across the globe, Carr cited multiple medical researchers who substantiate his claim that

“When we take information in in a distracted way, we learn less and comprehend less than when we take things in and give them our full attention. Things like comprehension, reflection, and deep reading don’t happen.”

Snowden has studied human learning across multiple cultures, slicing and dicing behavior from an anthropological and ethnographic perspective. He claims that humans are actually evolved to handle fragmented patterns of  information (number four on his list), and attributes the wide adoption of Twitter and social networking sites to the natural fit that they have with our evolved learning preferences. Two of his other rules, “We only know what we know when we need to know it” and “In the context of real need, few people will withhold their knowledge,” have served me well when advising managers of communities of practice. Most people are so consumed with their own projects and tasks at hand that they can’t possibly retain everything that they read and learn about every minute. That’s why I love Delicious, the social bookmarking site – because when I see something that I know may come in handy later, I save it there and tag it where I know that I can access it at the point of need. I may not have taken the time to read the entire piece when I saved it, but I can search my subject tags or I may remember the fact that I saw something on the topic and probably bookmarked it. When a colleague or client asks me for something along those lines, I will take the time to go look for it, and will probably study it more so that I know what I’m actually sending to them and can assess whether they may need more on the topic.

Communities of Practice and social technologies work because they allow folks to query one another at the point of need, and the social structure of these environments rewards sharing, not hoarding – at least it should, and if it doesn’t, then you need to bring TL&D, HR, and senior leadership to the table.

“Skimming is becoming our dominant and preferred way of gathering and making sense of information of all sorts,” says Carr, adding later on that “What we are doing when we multi-task is we are learning to be skillful at a superficial level…To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”

While Carr rattled off a number of learned medical scholars and some pretty compelling findings, perhaps new and different doesn’t equate to bad. Information is certainly cycling exponentially faster these days, and there is perhaps a Darwinian reason that those who cycle ideas and innovation through the extraction of meaningful nuggets in fragmented form will end up being the ones rewarded in a global economy. One might even argue that things are cycling so fast that becoming entangled in the “paralysis through analysis” loop would equate to missed opportunities.

Perhaps there is a fit of the two sets of theories to be found in what Snowden claims to be the most important of his rules: “We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down.”

I wrote a blog post recently about tacit knowledge, conveying the concept through an experience that I had with my husband in a gardening center in May. He had asked me how I came to know which plants to pick so efficiently for all of the containers and locations around our yard. The answer involved fourteen years of trial and error, observation of growth and exposure and animal patterns, and tolerated levels for maintenance – way more than I could possibly convey to him in a simple answer. It occurred to me that if someone asks you something that makes you very uncomfortable because it would be way too much to explain easily, you are probably in possession of a lot of tacit knowledge on that subject. How do we normally pass this type of know-how on, then? I would argue that we do so naturally in fragmented form, and at the point of need. Work along side me while I’m doing it and I’ll explain it to you, walk the perimeter with me when I’m mapping it out so that you can hear me thinking and planning – that will sink in much better than if I hand you a long workbook on the subject. My husband still retains a certain bitterness when he reminds of how, years ago, I made him read all of the rules for backgammon from the book and then had him transfer the main points to me in a matter of minutes, then I beat him soundly at the game.

The point of commonality is in the anecdotal process – the need for people to explain things to one another and to ask questions around the points of dissension or lack of clarity. We may not be reading long, printed documents the way we once were, but we will need to help people make sense out of the fragmented patterns as they emerge through various methods of facilitation and sharing.

The colleague sitting next to me at Carr’s lecture pointed out that I was the very poster child about whom he was speaking – tweeting back to my chapter, taking notes on my laptop, looking up his book and the reviews on it. For me, the experience was enhanced because I could seek out and incorporate the knowledge objects associated with Carr’s topic and disseminate what was happening to my constituents who were not able to attend. Perhaps we as information professionals are more prone than the average person to this malady, since we are curating so much of the world of information for others. What do you think, did I absorb anything?

Posted in Communities of Practice, Knowledge Management, Social Media, Technology, Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

14 years of “why” is a lot to explain in a nutshell…

This past weekend, I chose to get my annual flowers planted around the yard during what was an unseasonably hot – perhaps even record-setting – period. My husband, who has for years been enjoying the benefits of my floral decor with little understanding for how it materialized, decided to accompany me on the purchasing journey. As we began to walk around the racks and tables of choices at the garden center, I pointed at selections to be added to the cart and crossed them off systematically from a map that I had drawn of the front and back yards. He grabbed the items loyally and added them, and then he looked at me and asked me how I seemed to know automatically which plants to pick and how many.

Good question. I think my answer to him at that point was, “because I’ve been doing it in this yard for fourteen years,” but of course it’s not that simple. Inherent in that statement are my trials and errors in planting things over that fourteen year period, my knowledge of the various critters and insects who seem to prowl our flower beds (and even the deck at times) and their culinary preferences, the changes in the growth of the trees that has taken some sections from sun-loving to shade-loving, the soil type and the growth habits of surrounding plants, the amount of effort I want to put into caring for and pruning my choices, the inventory of existing containers in which to place the flowers, varieties of flowers that have been developed by growers to minimize maintenance and error, and knowledge of the colors that work best with the light conditions at play around the yard. I’m sure I’m missing other factors.

The point is, it would have been very hard for me to say all of that to him when he asked me, and almost impossible for me to transfer all of that knowledge to him by trying to write it down and send him off to do the job on his own. In the world of knowledge management, this is referred to as “tacit knowledge.” It is the knowledge gained from the experience of doing something, the lessons learned from the trials and errors, the buildup of working with the permutations and outcomes over time. Sure, he could decide to become an expert and study gardening books, seek advice from gardening centers, and make a pretty decent stab at getting some things going on around the yard – but he’d probably have to make some of the mistakes that I’ve already made over the years because he’d be missing some of those little factors that I mentioned above – things like the fact that, even though the deck faces south, the locust tree is now so large and umbrella-like that the deck is now a shade environment, or the fact that the dog likes to sniff out bunnies around the bushes by the air conditioner, so anything planted there is likely to be trampled.

In other words, when someone asks you a question that makes you feel frustrated and squirmy because it would be very difficult to explain it all, you’re probably holding a lot of tacit knowledge around that question. So are a lot of folks who are leaving organizations, whether due to retirement, the faltering economy or for other reasons, and that’s a real problem.

Government agencies move in to analyze accidents after they occur in order to try to prevent the set of circumstances that would lead to repeats. The first thing they always look for after a plane disaster is the cockpit voice recorder, because they want to know what was going on in the minds and decisions of the people in charge in order to understand what the machinery can’t tell them.  The Army and other branches of the military hold After Action Reviews to capture the memories of what happened and the factors at play immediately after an event on the battlefield, because they know that later on, after everyone’s moved on to other things, some of that memory will fade, and there is no way that soldiers are going to write it all down. David Snowden, in his 7 Rules of Knowledge culled from years of behavioral research on the subject, states that “We always know more than we can say and we will  always say more than we can write down.” (Source: Cognitive Edge)

When new technologies at the end of the last century began to enable us to capture what is normally called explicit knowledge – that is, knowledge contained in reports, manuals, presentations or some other tangible form – we focused on what some now call “KM 1.0,” which involved building repositories and search engines. Organizations honed in on the term “best practices” and set out mandates to capture and share them, as if they were rabbits that could be bated into electronic cages. The hard piece of the puzzle, though, involved the “why” of these outcomes – what were the parameters and permutations at play in the documented examples and why were decisions made based upon those circumstances? It’s hard for a document or a database to tell that story. Would a best practice in one situation prove to be so in a new one with different factors at play? How about in different cultures? It is in the nuances of the stories and experiences of those involved that these differences can be discerned, and it is why “KM 2.0″ has focused on those stories and the context of the content that is being shared. Technologies have evolved that enable folks to readily locate and share their stories, as well as to enhance them with links to the relevant documents, photos, videos, presentations and discussions. These technologies are proving Snowden right on a number of his other rules, such as the fact that we share best in the context of real need and we handle information best in fragmented form. (Source: Cognitive Edge) Hence, the popularity of real-time and mobile applications.

The evolution isn’t over. I think many would argue that we are in the middle of a renaissance, and that we are all struggling with how to handle the transitional period, because of course rapid innovation and global access produce new questions and problems to address – such as how and whether we should be archiving these fragmented stories and their related content.

In the meantime, to handle the transition, we need to employ other tools that help us and our stakeholders to work our way through the effort of sorting out our stories so that others can benefit from the trials and errors that went into creating them. Whether enabling Communities of Practice, storytelling and Anecdote Circles, After Action Reviews, Knowledge and World Cafes, or any of a number of other methods, it will give the next generation of leaders a leg up on innovating if  we empower the telling of the “why” in decision making.

I try to make a point of taking photos of all of my plants every year, thinking that someday I’ll provide a photographic representation of what works to the next owner of my house and save them a lot of effort and time. Ok, I selfishly want them to continue caring for the yard and the things I’ve painstakingly nurtured over the years as well…What would be even better would be adding a video tour to that idea, with me providing descriptions and explanations as I walk around the yard. To make it even more effective, I should break the video down into short segments that the new person can access and digest as needed – arranged perhaps by corner of the yard (deck, outer island, family room bed, east side, west side, front bed, doorstep), or by stage in the process (planning, purchasing, executing, maintaining). Then I have to hope that the new person has enough interest to explore what I’ve offered, because you can drive the horse to water, as they say…but that’s another post about engagement.

Posted in Communities of Practice, Decision Making, Knowledge Management, Knowledge Types, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 Simple Things To Make You Smarter About Privacy

Privacy is all the rage these days. Suddenly, in light of all of the Press about Facebook and its new privacy (or not) settings,  it’s an issue on everyone’s lips and under the control of their computer keyboards and mice.  I guess I’ll ponder it here as well.

It dawned on me that  the game was changing about a year and a half ago when I was using Gmail to work with a caterer to plan an association function. You see, I had been emailing back and forth with the head of catering at one of Chicago’s better business venues about having a special cake made for the 100th anniversary of the Special Libraries Association. Before I knew it, there were ads from local bakeries about speciality cakes appearing in the right sidebar of my Gmail account. There were also ads appearing about other things related to what was in my emails. Can you hear Jaws music yet?

I thought it was kind of creepy, sure. But I was playing around in a host of social media environments as part of my job, and in doing so I was becoming very aware of just how transparent our lives really are becoming. People directories such as 123 People, Pipl and Spokeo can really open your eyes if you start plugging a few names into them. You may have a sense of privacy, but most everything you do in electronic environments gets tracked and leaves breadcrumbs these days for one purpose or another, whether under the auspices of marketing or Homeland Security.

I recently attended a conference for the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP) , a group of independent information hounds who really know how to track stuff for their clients. If I had any doubts about my hunch that privacy was becoming harder to protect, they were dispelled when I heard some of the speakers there who let me know in no uncertain terms that I was not the only one finding out way more than I had a right to know about people.

Let’s face it, we’ve always told our children not to put anything on the Internet that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the New York Times, so why are we surprised to now find out that this stuff gets archived and becomes searchable? Those same algorithms that are churning behind the scenes to deliver relevant search results and amazing productivity tools that are streamlining and integrating our lives are also grinding away at our own information.

There is another issue that goes hand in hand with this one that folks outside of the information field are sort of missing. It is the one about people making money off their innovations and being able to sustain a living from them. These new technologies have been so wonderful and so abundant, dropping into our browsers so frequently that it feels like Christmas morning almost daily for digital junkies, and we’ve become used to them being offered for free. We forget that at some point someone has to make some money in order for this creativity to continue. Otherwise, they will all have to go back to their day jobs. This was, in fact, the original intent of copyright law – to reward innovation and creativity so that it could continue.

As I’ve been preaching the elements and implications of these new channels, I’ve been cautioning people to focus on the relationships and not the channels, because the channels are fleeting. Part of the reason for that is because the world is flatter and innovation can come fast and furiously from anywhere, and part of it is because tools such as Twitter and Facebook are still trying to figure out how to monetize their offerings in the face of exponential strains on their systems and global competition. I’m not condoning a “pounce now, ask for forgiveness later” policy aimed at consumers, but I am cautioning consumers to be aware of what’s going on and make an effort to get smarter. There are some simple things you can get in the habit of doing:

  1. Before you click on the “I Accept” button, maybe it would be a good idea to grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and read the license agreement first. If you don’t want to be suprised later, this is a good practice. If you don’t like what you read, don’t accept and go find some other application. There’s a new one every day, and there are for-fee services which give you more privacy in return for the monthly fees. Repeat Step 1 for each new application.
  2. For the channels that you are using, make it a point to go into the “Settings” section and check out all of those pesky little tabs for your various security choices and set them accordingly. This includes the settings for all of those little games that people play on Facebook, like Mafia Wars and Farmville. If you don’t understand them, most of these sites have FAQs and forums. This may take another coffee or glass of wine. (Along these same lines, be sure that you have decent security and malware scanners installed on your machine. You can find reviews of these readily available online.)
  3. Get an account with an RSS reader and start following some blogs that keep you informed about this stuff. Mashable , ReadWriteWeb, TechCrunch and many other social media and technology related blogs have been posting step-by-step directions for increasing your privacy on Facebook. There’s a treasure trove of information out there, and you can bookmark it on Delicious!
  4. Join the conversation in a meaningful way to help these companies figure out responsible ways of monetizing themselves and creating more wonderful tools that we can share. Jumping on the “I’m mad as hell and I’m gonna quit Facebook but I haven’t got any better ideas” bandwagon isn’t helpful.
  5. Don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the New York Times. Truth is, most of our lives would seem pretty unremarkable to most other people, and other than my credit card number or other numbers that could lead to identity theft, I really don’t care who knows most of what I post.

I see that MySpace is now responding with new privacy settings. I’ll have to go read about that, but I’m not betting the farm on the privacy myth.

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