Thursday, 31 May 2007

How trustworthy is Facebook?

I sent this email to Facebook a few weeks ago:

"I have just visited Facebook home page for the first time. You invite me to submit my email address and email password. Firstly, I am surprised you are asking me to submit my email password - what is the purpose and justification for this? Secondly, how do you obtain access to the contacts lists of webmail users? Finally, why is none of this (as far as I can see) mentioned in your privacy policy?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Simon Carswell"

I received this reply:


If you are referring to the "friend finder" feature, we created this
tool to help users quickly find friends who are already on Facebook.
This tool temporarily accesses your addressbook after you have entered your email information and displays the friends in your addressbook who have already joined Facebook. You will also have the option of inviting friends who have not joined Facebook yet. None of the information you enter is saved, and this feature is completely optional; you do not have to use this feature to use our site.

Let us know if you have any other questions.

Thanks for contacting Facebook,

Customer Support Representative

I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of handing over my email password to anyone. I suppose to be honest I have done it, such as recently when I acquired a Blackberry and needed to enter it to set up my email account on there. But delving into my address book feels different. And if the information is not saved, why is this not mentioned in the privacy policy?

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Journalists fear Web 2.0

Or at least a collection of them felt it worth getting together recently to discuss the impact of the Internet on traditional media. It was organised by my old Oxford college, and indeed the speakers were from there - spanning several generations.

A range of views were expressed about the likely impact of the Web on journalism and broadcasting. Some welcomed the democratisation of publishing that characterises 'Web 2.0', whereas in other cases there was more than a tinge of fear and loathing. The 'pro pros' could see the benefit of whistle-blowers (apparently a blogger exposed corruption among certain journalists during the Enron scandal), the increasing levels of participation and feedback that Web 2.0 entails, and so on. The 'antis' were in some cases, frankly, mere knee-jerk net-haters, trotting out old lines about quality control, paedophiles and so on. In the middle ground were those who saw benefits of the net, but thought that traditional journalism would survive thanks to the 'professionalism' of journalists. This seemed to boil down to informed comment and authentic sourcing.

Where views smacked of protectionist thinking I tended to discount them. Not being a journalist I don't share the fear of obsolescence. I did find myself wondering a bit about quality/authenticity - but not much. Librarians have cited this objection to the 'net for years. I don't really buy it. I find it relatively easy to figure out if what I read on the web is trustworthy or not, and if I'm unsure there are plenty of ways to cross-check. I do agree this takes time, though. A journalist who has done it for me should be worth his cover price. But how many do?

There also seemed to be a widespread ignorance of how high the quality is of many blogs, probably because most members of the audience had not figured out how to use the Web 2.0 tools of tagging, RSS and so on to identify the blogs that they might want to read.

Some of these concerns get raised as objections to Enterprise 2.0 as well. Any thoughts?

Thursday, 3 May 2007

'Social Computing' versus Enterprise 2.0

A couple of recent experiences have prompted me to think about definitions, or, more interestingly, what someone might have in mind when they use one of the many terms for Web 2.0 etc.

The first was my getting involved in a tender for a contract with a public sector archive organisation. Perhaps not the stuff of Web 2.0, you might think. But this organisation is keen to investigate applying 'social computing' to its archives website. In their case their definition of social computing is broad, which is fine, because what they want done is a survey of the field. But if they had simply decided to award a contract to build a 'social computing' facility, the wise contractor would have taken quite a lot of trouble to pin down the definition. Otherwise, how long is a piece or string?

The second was an interesting chat with an information manager in a firm of headhunters. She wasn't hunting my head, just kicking a few ideas around with me. My knee-jerk assumption when talking about Enterprise 2.0 is that it'll be about internal knowledge-sharing via blogs and wikis, loosely structured and 'socialised' via tagging and RSS. She was skeptical about the chances of this taking off in her organisation. People don't have time, incentives don't support sharing, culturally information is something that has to be 'pushed'. On the other hand, there is great interest in social networks of the LinkedIn kind, because a headhunter's business is people and the relationships between them. Nirvana would be to be able to integrate information from external sources and the internal contacts database to give an overview of connections, LinkedIn-style.

I have learnt that when I start talking about "Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 / Social Computing etc etc" I need to make sure we're both on the same wavelength. And probably each organisation will have a subtly different need.