Social Networking

Social Media: DVR Killer?

I remember (from my visits using The Wayback Machine) when certain hit shows like MASH and Friends had their final episode, and people would gather at someone's house to watch together.

Then along came the DVR—Digital Video Recorder, the collective noun version of TiVO—and forevermore we were "time shifting"… recording shows and watching them whenever we wanted, as opposed to when the networks wanted. Media people wrung their hands and worried that this was the end of television advertising, since viewers now had the opportunity to fast-forward past the commercials.

Fast forward to the world of social media. People at an event are "live-tweeting", meaning you're getting a stream of messages that are directly or indirectly telling you what's happening at the event. So for instance, you didn't have to be watching or listening to know how the Stanford-Oklahoma State football game was going… Cheer, groan, cheer, etc.

And if they're not tweeting, they're using Facebook. Or texting. Or using any of a number of other commenting and sharing services. What's happening here is that the community that at one time would have gathered in someone's house, or a bar, or at the event itself, is now gathering in a virtual way. We're all watching, and social media gives us a way of staying connected and sharing the experience.

And here's where the traditional media people should pay attention. The trick is, you can only connect and share as the event is happening. If you recorded the Stanford-Oklahoma State game for later viewing, all this sharing is going to ruin the ending. And if you want to connect and share, you have to do it live. Which means you have to watch the commercials.

So if the traditional media people are on their game, they'll be creating all kinds of opportunities to share their shows, games, tournaments and so on as events.

Fast-forward that.

A Tweet-ful of DreamForce

I took advantage of a free offer (not offered by Groupon, FYI) to attend DreamForce,'s annual tradeshow and love-fest.  I've been thinking I have skills transferable to the SaaS industry (a view yet to be endorsed by hiring companies) and figured I would head up to San Francisco to see what companies were part of the salesforce "ecosystem".  Here are my observations, in tweet-sized bites.

  • I'm glad I drove to Moscone Center, vs. taking the train.  Three hours of travel for an hour or so of walking around would have seemed like a waste.
  • To the parking lots that doubled their rates this week:  way to keep it classy!
  • It's always a treat to find free parking in San Francisco; my Dad would have been proud!
  • You have to love Larry Ellison.  He hires people to walk around outside Moscone Center with cloud-shaped balloons proclaiming "Oracle, #1 in CRM".
  • Confidential to Larry:  sorry about that $1.3B smack-down from the Court of Appeals.
  • Apparently this is the ninth year of DreamForce, leading to the cute and inevitable "Welcome to Cloud 9".
  • Salesforce's,, and so on... very confusing.
  • Interesting to attend a trade show with no Oracle, SAP, or Microsoft.
  • BMC's "Remedy for Salesforce" or whatever it was called... why do I have the feeling this looks like the old DOS programs that ran in a Window?
  • Accenture, Deloitte and CapGemini here looking for business.  That seems like a tough sell.
  • iPads way outnumber laptops.
  • Most of the exhibiting companies are involved in the various stages of the marketing-sales process:  quote, order, customer engagement, marketing analytics, customer service and so on.
  • All my favorite Identity Management companies were there: Ping Identity, Okta, Symplified.  Still an idea looking for a market.
  • exhibited, but not Dropbox.  I guess that confirms what market each company is targeting.
  • Saw Neal Young on the rebroadcast of Benioff's keynote.  Don't know if that was hip or sad.
  • Most over-the-top exhibit:  the guy dressed as the "For Dummies" character.  Second place: the exhibitors dressed with green wigs.
  • Gamification... really?
  • I finally understand that iPass isn't SaaS; it's IaaS.  Or MaaS (mobility-as-a-service) if you want to make up another acronym.
  • A day like yesterday makes it easy to love working in San Francisco!

Zora H., Woman of Mystery

Or, How to Spot a LinkedIn Spammer

Of course, I could have reversed the title and sub-title of this posting, but how boring would that be?

If you're familiar with LinkedIn, you know about their "groups" feature.  The idea behind a LinkedIn group is that you get to connect with people that have similar interests or backgrounds.  I set up a LinkedIn group for current and (mostly) former employees of iPass.  I like to use groups to pass on career/job leads.  Other people discuss things like the outcome of Nortel's bankruptcy, how to be a better product manager, and so on.

The appeal of a LinkedIn group is that you can send messages to another group member, even if you don't have a connection with that person.  So it's a great way to network and expand your circle of contacts.

My friend Michael Surkan (whom I met on LinkedIn) also discovered that groups were a good way to promote products and services.  At one point, Michael considered starting a business around this idea.  He didn't, which is probably a good thing--the line between promoting something and spamming fellow group members is a fine one.

Of course, others also figured this out and (lacking the restraint Michael showed) have littered groups with their spam.  Why do they do it? That's simple:  they want to drive traffic to a given web site.  More clicks mean more money in their pockets.  So how do you spot these people and get them out of your group?

Spotting the Spammer

Here's where Zora H. comes in.  Zora joined a group that I volunteered to moderate and immediately began posting discussions with titles like "Get Hired Now!".  The common thread in all of the discussions was that they pointed to the same web site.  I checked out the site and could tell right away that it was a "link farm":  a site with little original content that existed simply to encourage clicking on highlighted links.  What I learned about Zora and her ilk is that they share a set of traits.

  • They're usually female; at least, they have a female photo on their profile.  The "first generation" of spammers had no profile photo and were quickly found out, hence the move to a photo.
  • They often have no obvious reason to be in the group.  Zora has no connection with the corporate "alumni" group I moderate.  You could criticize the group owner for not policing the membership better, but a) many LinkedIn groups are now "open" (meaning anyone can join) and b) even for closed groups, it can be a lot of work to research a person before deciding if they should be allowed to join.
  • Their profiles are very brief.  Zora lists her current position and one other, along with her educational background.  There's very little detail.
  • In contrast to their listed work experience, they are members of a large number of groups.  No surprise there!
  • They work at companies with no published web site.  Zora is a manager at CLE, in the United Arab Emirates.  Good luck finding a company web site.
  • They have few, if any connections.

At this point, you might be wondering if these people are real.  Sure they are--as real as anything else on the Internet.

And if you work for LinkedIn, you might recognize that these traits can all be measured... meaning LinkedIn could automate some of this spammer-spotting activity.  Just sayin'.

Dealing with Spammers

The obvious solution to dealing with these folks is to kick them out of the group.  I've done that on occasion, but have found a simpler solution.  I simply require that their posts be moderated before being published.  Then I go into LinkedIn and move their discussions to the "promotions" tab.  After all, maybe someone out there really wants to visit one of these sites. 

Moving their discussion to "promotions" means about 90% or more of the group will never see their posts, since you have to actively search to see them; they don't show up in an email.

Often after a few weeks the spammer will disappear, only to reappear under another name.  Other times, they will hang around, continuing to try posting discussions.  I could kick people like Zora out of the group, which would be less work for me.  But what fun would that be?


My 33 Minutes of Fame?

It is more easy to be wise for others than for ourselves.  ~François Duc de La Rochefoucauld

I've been involved with job search, career development and related topics for many years.  What started as a way to help out my friends at Nortel Networks during the first telecom bust has evolved into a broader involvement in helping anyone who asks for help.

Recently Michael (Mikhail) Surkan got in touch with me through LinkedIn and asked if I'd be willing to be interviewed as part of a podcast series that Michael produces.  His podcast is called "Tales from the Job Search Trenches".

Here's a link to his discussion with me; as a bonus, listen for our barking dogs at the end of the podcast :)

Twitter Taxonomy

If you're on Twitter you know about "following" and "followers"-- people you follow and those who follow you.  I think it's time for a further refinement of the taxonomy.  There are also:

  • "Prostwitutes".  These are the sexy young things (I'm sure that's their real picture) that "follow" you, whose tweets are along the lines of "just posted new pictures of me, check them out!".
  • "Promotwits".  These are companies that "follow" you, who are promoting their new web site, software, or whatever.
  • "Tweetspam".  These are "tweets" from people/companies offering the same things regular spammers sell: viagra, college degrees, acai berries and the like.  

Maybe you can add to the list! 

Twitter Gets a Reason to Exist

I was hearing/reading about Iranians using Twitter to spread the word about protests they were organizing, in reaction to the recent election and allegations of vote-counting fraud.  Here's one example news story.  The Iranian government had had some success closing down sites such as Facebook, but the distributed nature of Twitter (lots of people posting "tweets") apparently made it much more difficult to control.

This reminded of me of the Tiananmen Square protests in China 20 years ago.  The government sought to control access to the media then (as it does today) in order to maintain control over information about the protest.  But apparently one of the technologies used to get information out of the country was something relatively new at the time--the fax machine.  People would fax updates to friends outside of China, who would spread the word among expatriate Chinese, and in some cases forward information back into the country.

It's great to see technology serve the interests of democracy movements!  Now if Twitter can just turn this into a plan for "monetizing its asset"...

Screen Wars

You've no doubt heard about the term "market share"--what portion of the total market for something is controlled by one brand or one company.  And I recall that in the 90's one of the management fads was "customer share"--what share of the customer's IT budget your product accounted for.  And I'm sure there are a dozen more "___ share" terms floating about.

You've also heard about web ventures that want to "attract eyeballs" as a way of "monetizing their asset".  Which in English means, "we can get paid a small amount of money per person who views and/or clicks on an ad... and that's how we're going to get some revenue to offset all the costs in programmers and servers that we're racking up with our web 2.0 service".

Of course, the monetizing isn't that easy.  More on that later.  But now that I've been interacting with email, photo sharing, social networking, and other web-based services, I've come to see that the battle is all about "screen share"--whose screen you see when you go about your internet business.  In other words, whose application will you use, and therefore whose ads will you be exposed to.

Take the example of sharing a photo.  Thanks to advances in cell phone and digiital image technology, and the avaiability of reasonably cost-effective bandwidth, taking a photo on the spur of the moment and sharing it is quite simple.  Had Brian been willing to stand still long enough, I could have taken his picture at the top of the run at Heavenly Valley, with Lake Tahoe in the background, and posted it or emailed it before I got to the bottom of the mountain.  (Of course, with my skiing skills, Pony Express could deliver it before I got to the bottom of the mountain, but that's another story).

So consider my options for sharing that photo:

  • I can send it as a "multimedia" message... basically a text message with a photo attached (except that I have an iPhone, which doesn't support this basic service)
  • I can email it to my friends using a service like gmail or Yahoo mail
  • I can post the photo to a photo sharing site like Kodak Gallery or Phanfare
  • I can post it to my Facebook page
  • I can post it in a "discussion" on my LinkedIn page
  • I can send a "tweet" with a link to the picture 
  • I can post it to my weblog

There are pro's and con's of each approach.  But what's interesting is that wherever I choose to post it will determine what ads you see when you view it.  Unless you view the photo on my weblog (which has turned out to be a not-for-profit venture), someone's going to be showing you ads.  They may be targeted ads, like something at the top of the gmail browser that says "ski vacations, click here".  They may be unrelated, like the "IQ" ads I keep seeing on Facebook.  Or they may be anywhere in between.

And the odds are that wherever you view that photo, you will likely respond using that same web site or application.  If I send a text message or email, you'll likely reply with a text message or email.  If I post it on Facebook, you're less likely to send me an email saying "cool picture, who's the stand-in for an actual skier?!", and more likely to comment via posting a comment on my "wall".  And if you write on my "wall", guess whose ads you'll see?? And when everyone else sees that you commented on my picture...

So it's clear that the first battle may have been about creating a fan base (and keeping it interested).  The next battle is about steering that fan base to your application for all their social networking needs.  And since social networks are non-exclusive clubs, and since we all have text messaging and email accounts, it's all about creating the most useful, easiest to use application.  After all, we're all lazy in a way, and will use your application to carry on our conversations if the application is reasonably easy to use, reasonably unintrusive, and so on.

So the battle is on, and corporate America is beginning to pay attention.  Hell, even Oprah and Shaq use Twitter.  Who will win? Whose cuisine will reign supreme? Oh, sorry, wrong show.  It will be interesting to watch...

The Social Ramble Ain't Restful

Thanks to Satchel Paige for that reference...

In the Beginning, there was LinkedIn.  OK, really, it was MySpace, or Facebook, or some other social networking site.  But I ignored the world of social networking until last year when I started a job search in earnest, and felt the need to establish my online "presence".  So I started with LinkedIn.  And that was fine.  It took a bit of work to get a completed profile, tune it, and link it to the weblog you're now reading for insights into me that don't start with "seasoned executive" or some such phrase.

And all was well with the world.  But (to torture the metaphor), God said that it Was Good, and thus Silicon Valley said that More of a Good Thing is Always Better.  

And so it was that I started receiving random "pings" from people that wanted to connect with me on other social networking sites, especially Facebook and more recently Plaxo.  And I had ignored those requests, since I felt occupied enough with one site let alone two or three. (And that's not counting the photo-sharing sites like Kodak Gallery and Phanfare).

But when our HR group set up a Facebook page for SOMA Networks, I took the bait and signed up.  And that's been a mixed blessing.  All of a sudden I'm tuned in to what people from my high school are up to (looks like Dino Di Muro just sold his house), not to mention more details on the goings-on of my nieces and nephews than I usually get at family gatherings.

So that's the good part.  The challenge is that Facebook wants me to contact all my acquaintances and sign them up as friends.  And having received Facebook friend requests addressed to "exNortel" and other mailing list alias's, it's clear that the Facebook friend-finder engine is pretty unsophisticated.  And of course I have to set up a profile, and let people know what I'm doing.  It's all OK so far, and has given me greater insight into where the battle is being fought for social networking "eyeballs".  

Then suddenly I ended up on Plaxo.  I think there was one person somewhere that wanted me to update my address book.  So I said OK, and then learned that Plaxo may have started as an address book, but is now a full-fledged social network.  And I'm getting connection requests from all sorts of people.

The bigger challenge is strategic, not tactical.  (As you might expect, someone has an app that will cross-post all my stuff on all my sites at once).  Do I replicate content across these three sites? or do I tailor it?  Reading the same thing on three different sites sounds pretty boring.  But since there's not a clear division between friends on one site or another (nor a clear division between items of interest to work friends vs. social friends), it's hard to judge where some material should (and shouldn't) go.

Then there's the quality control (more correctly, brand management) issue.  Do I post photos of me with the lampshade on my head from that Cinco de Mayo celebration that got carried away?  And what happens when someone sees that after reading "seasoned executive" stuff on LinkedIn?

All I can say is that if I live my life as if I have no secrets, there's a lot less to worry about.