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Massive, sweeping surveillance on *all* you do

Whether you think, “Ahh….I don’t have anything to hide” or “we’re in a war” or “the government needs the tools to fight terrorism”, you need to be aware of what’s going on and the power….the massive and sweeping power….that an unchecked government could have at their fingertips.

Bruce Schneier has a very important post today about the resurrection of the Total Information Awareness program — which caused an enormous outcry from those among us aware and informed — so it was killed by Congress.

It’s reappeared. Read Schneier’s post for more.

Look…I’m against evil and the bad guys. I also will admit that I’m not sitting on the Senate Intelligence Committee and I’ll bet there are geopolitical happenings of which I’m unaware (I think of that when I voice my strong opposition to the war in Iraq). I also am well aware that with today’s tools for privacy (that mostly geeks know about) it must be incredibly difficult to be in law enforcement or to be focused on our national security. But the oversight , the checks-n-balances are missing. Of course, the president said yesterday “terrorists will win” if the Democrats (possible oversight and check-n-balance?) win control of the House and/or Senate.

Case in point about no oversight: the (admittedly bonehead) kid that created the fake boarding pass? Anyone with half-a-brain and Photoshop/InDesign could easily have done exactly what this kid had automated. Certainly terrorists that can figure out how to smuggle arms, blow stuff up, and are funded by oil rich monarchies, can certainly figure out how to use encrypted Skype or PGP, or any of the other numerous solutions available in open source or commercially available. Still, a Congressman went after this kid hard (though later retracted somewhat) to make, in my opinion, an example of him.

What do you think might happen if there had been slightly stronger circumstantial evidence, no Habeus Corpus and a status of being an “enemy combatant”?

I have a former colleague who was born in Syria and calls home frequently to talk to family. I’ve often wondered if his transactions at Sears, emails, phone call records, library habits and book purchases were datamined and he was watched. A successful tech entrepreneur and American citizen, I could see him being watched and benign activities interpreted as suspicious. THAT is the problem. Since all of this is secret and “a matter of national security in a time of war” there is no disclosure possible. How would he ever know? What if he went for venture funding but the well was dry since he was “under suspicion”?

I was blown away with the capabilities and power of enterprise data mining software when I learned about it starting five years ago. Trust me when I say this: everything you do (unless it’s when you’re in your house having unclean thoughts or something) is open to data mining, matching and inferences drawn. Think about that the next time you make a purchase with your credit card at Amazon, surf pr0n, call outside the country or do a search on Google.

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Are you good….or great?

Yesterday I grabbed lunch with three other podcaster/bloggers in the Twin Cities. As we talked, I once again thought about all the talent and skills sitting around that table and it made me wonder, “How come none of us are famous? Why haven’t any of us hit a home run, knocked it out of the park and watched the cover come off the ball?”

All four of us have all the enabling tools we need to deliver (and we are delivering) podcasts, blogs and other specific value to the world and to our respective clients. I would argue that at least two of the others around the table have the talent, the niche and the skills that should have the cover coming off the ball as it sails out of the ballpark in areas they happen to be passionate about.

Here’s the kicker: the enabling technologies for blogging, podcasting, vlogging, participation in social sites and so forth…are too easy. The barriers to entry are so low that anyone with a cheap camcorder can vlog; a microphone and computer can podcast; and anyone can blog with free services! As a consequence, there is more noise than ever…noise that makes it even harder for anyone with talent, skills or value (and yes, that’s in the eye of the beholder!) to get heard, seen or read.

So what’s our respective problem? Is it marketing? Somewhat. Where we live? I think that’s irrelevant in a day where the internet is increasingly the primary conduit for value exchange. Distribution? Ahh…that’s a big one since existing distribution networks can really help get the word out as all the new media, content and participation we (and thousands of others) are doing eat away at traditional sources and “push’ publishing models.

One example of that is a company started by two friends of mine, Internet Broadcasting Systems (IBS), that builds TV station web sites. Turns out IBS is the 7th largest news and information site with 11,700,000 unique visitors and 278,000,000 page views per month. When IBS built their first web site, Channel4000 (for the local CBS affiliate, WCCO-TV which is on channel 4 locally), night-after-night viewers were referred to the web site. People went and went and went and pageviews continued to grow. It’s that way with most of their properties.

“What about Ze Frank?” you say. “They weren’t augmented or promoted by traditional distribution sources.” Great point. But how many other babe-fake-TV-news-shows or unique-funny-guy-with-face-right-in-camera shows will succeed?  I doubt too many as is evidenced by theHill88 which I went to after reading this post by the (peeping tom/lurker?) Marc Canter. How many pretty-little-girl-acting-goofy serial video shows can anyone take? If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Recently, I had a post hit Digg and it ended up on the front page. Within 24 hours, a frighteningly huge number of new and unique visitors viewed my post and I’ve seen both my RSS feeds and pageviews grow since (hopefully a few of them came back to read more).

While most A-list bloggers experience that many visitors per hour, it was an interesting spike and made me at least stop and think about energy that I could possibly invest in building buzz and marketing my own blog. Is that what it takes?

My only concern is that doing so would divert attention, energy and effort away from my core mission and purpose: providing guidance, insight and ideas (with next generation internet technologies and applications) in a time of accelerating change for those who need it most (small-to-midsize business). Perhaps…building buzz about this blog would facilitate that mission and purpose? I’m beginning to think so and thus am considering buzz-building for my own blog…

…or I’m going to go open a Fantastic Sams salon and just be done with all this tech stuff.

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Talkshoe + Teamslide = Your Show?

What if you could host a live talk show on the Web and turn the audio into a podcast? That’s cool, but wouldn’t it be cooler if you could also have your audience sit back, relax and watch your slide deck go by while you talked?

You can do all the above (with some limitations I’ll discuss below) with two fairly new offerings on the Web: Talkshoe and Teamslide.

I’m always on the hunt for enabling technologies one can seize to deliver value in consulting, marketing, sales, and deliver intellectual capital in new and more efficient ways. With these two offerings combined, we’re soooo close to being able to deliver high value, mass audience webinars without paying hundreds or thousands of dollars per month in fees to the likes of WebEx, Go-to-Meeting and others…but we’re not there yet.

When Skypecasts were added as a preview on the Skype site, I was initially excited until I realized that — even though they were able to deliver call-in “shows/events” for up to 100 people — it was Skype only (no landline callers can participate). I then was quite enthused when I discovered HighSpeedConferencing which delivered call-in shows/events for up to 500 people and both Skype and landline callers could participate.

But there are no visuals with Skypecasts or other cool, new audio conferencing solutions! I have my own pent-up demand for high volume, mass audience webinar and presentation capability. While reading the Skypejournal and forums where Skype’ers hang out, there is no question that many, many others share that need so there’s a market for this combination.

Are there any “gotcha’s” with using Talkshoe, Teamslide, HighSpeedConferencing and other services to hold mass webinars or shows?

[Read more…]

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Email? Direct mail? SEO? Free stuff?

How the heck can you reach customers, prospective customers and interested others when you’re competing with EVERYONE in channels that are NOISY?

Enterprise software sales executives I know have teams of salespeople virtually unable to penetrate the front door of corporate I.T. in order to get their value propositions in front of people who could buy them. Why? There are simply too many software companies banging on the same doors all trying to do what they’re all seemingly mandated to: “Get in at the “C” level and get our story heard.

Almost all the under, say, $100M firms led by people I know well have a really hard time getting their messages heard so as to sell, grow or position their company, products or services in a better way. Do they still try to use the virtually-completely-ineffective email blast? Go back to the expensive — and low effectiveness — direct mail game? Get better at search engine optimization (SEO)? Give away free stuff in order to build an audience and then try to sell them something later?

Startup-after-startup I deal with are also trying these routes in addition to buzz and viral marketing approaches. “Do a funny video for YouTube” I hear often. “Go after A-list bloggers” is the next refrain. “We’ll lose money for the first year or so but we’ll get the eyeballs and make it up when the advertising hits” is also an oft-heard strategy. It’s getting tougher and tougher to come up with unique things that gets people’s attention and isn’t cheesey.

There are no magic bullets. Most of these traditional (and even new) approaches are simply not working anymore. So what is, Borsch? What do you know that we don’t (and will you tell us)? I’ve certainly got some ideas but I do know that most methods of getting the attention of customers and prospects fail because most recipients are not interested, do not have a need, or already have what you’re trying to sell.

So let’s flip the problem around. Instead of figuring out how to find some sort of magic, efficient and more effective way to scream louder than your competition (or loud enough to be heard at all), instead let’s focus on ways to let your customers and prospects be heard and how you can give them what they need and help them buy.

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Voting, Diebold and Trust

We’re getting close to election day in the U.S. and my thoughts have turned to making my final decisions and going back over comparative data on my choices. As I’ve contemplated standing in the voting booth and making my selections, I suddenly realized that I had NO CLUE if the State of Minnesota was or was not using electronic voting machines.

At this stage of my life, I’d never expected myself to begin questioning the integrity of thevoting infrastructure in the United States. Integrity of voting is thebedrock of any democracy and trust in it is as important as trust in
the banking system if not more so. Instead of holding trust, my concern has continued to grow about the possible continued deployment of closed, proprietaryelectronic voting apparatus without a paper trail for recount as a backup. It’s far too easy to manipulate results.

We’re living in a time of an unfortunate, acceleratingmistrust of government, due in no small part to more than half the populations’ fundamental concern about the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. In addition, there is an accelerating awareness of the insecurity andunreliability of voting machines manufactured by the largest maker of these machines, the Diebold company. To get a sense of what’s going on, perform your own search on Google with the string, Diebold voting machines and you’ll discover it returns 3,150,000 results — the first several pages of which details the growing controversy surrounding the concerns about Diebold and the baselevel insecurity of their approach.

As it turns out, Minnesota isn’t using them this time around (I’ve emailed the elections commission and the Secretary of State in Minnesota to inquire about the 2008 election). Check out your own Secretary of State’s web site or area and find out what your state is using for this election and, most importantly, what they intend to use for the next presidential election. You may think, “Ahh…Borsch is just paranoid” but I’m certainly not alone and for good reason (just read some of the stuff at one site, BlackboxVoting, to get a feel for what’s going on and why this is such a big deal).

To ensure trust in voting is maintained (and, frankly, won back) and the integrity of our voting infrastructure to be above reproach (and thus faith in our democracy), it’s absolutely imperative that we ALL push our elected officials to ensure that any electronic apparatus put in place is thoroughly vetted, open source software and processes analyzed, and done so by independent organizations.

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Imagine the creation possibilities: 2D to 3D

Saw this video today about a development from Carnegie Mellon (June press release here) that turns 2D digital photographs into 3D ones. As you watch this amazing video, don’t focus on any image anomalies like tearing or missing pixels, instead imagine the creative possiblities of quickly building virtual spaces in Second Life; adding this capability to video game or virtual world engines; or desktop authoring tools that could let mere mortals like most of us create 3D walk throughs.

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WordPress: This tool has become quite good!

Working on a project has compelled me to examine tools that I’ve looked at previously. One of them is WordPress and boy…has this tool ever matured!

Not only are there alot of themes and plugins, the administration capabilities and user interface is really well done. It works really well. So well, I’m thinking seriously of climbing the learning curve and using this tool for several things going forward.

Just for grins, I exported all of this blog’s posts (Typepad exports a Movable Type-formatted text file) and imported it into WordPress. It worked flawlessly though all the image URL’s point back here to this blog, so if I opted to change platforms myself I’d have to re-insert every single image in every single post. Tedious…but possible.

There is also a hosted WordPress offering worth looking at too.

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Is commercial software dead?

Of course not. Mainframes like the one pictured aren’t dead either…but computing and commercial software have both grown dramatically over the years.

What’s interesting, however, is how the commercial software sector is concerned about open source and all the messiness of Web 2.0 (the main focus of this post), but thought leading I.T. executives are looking toward both for lessons and solutions they can use.

Very good article on CIO Insight entitled, “Are Enterprise Apps on the Way Out?” that asks leaders some very pertinent questions and the answers won’t come as a surprise I’m sure:

  • Finding 1: Improving business processes is the top priority for many IT executives, especially at small and midsize companies.
  • Finding 2: Although process improvement is a priority, the pace of change is moderate.
  • Finding 3: Business process software and services often fail to meet expectations.
  • Finding 4: New integration technologies are starting to displace older enterprise applications.
  • Finding 5: Much more can be done to automate business processes.

I’ve personally been witness to multiple millions of dollars worth of software and services expended on enterprise implementations that took years to come online and were wholly unsatisfying when completed. There is a constant and ongoing march toward eliminating inefficiency and making process more efficient (though governments often get in the way of that happening by changing incentives) which is being manifested right now with the onrush of the internet becoming the platform with Web applications on top.

Web 2.0 (which I include in my tag “FutureWeb”) delivers discrete functionality quickly. Just look at the bazillions of apps that are already out contained in these lists. It’s an impressive volume of solutions that have come to market and are being modified and improved at an amazing rate. Yes they’re messy, many have unknown security models and their ability to scale is anyone’s guess (all of which is of great concern to most CIO’s), but the fact remains that people inside and outside the enterprise are just using them, somewhat like when people started bringing those Apple II’s with VisiCalc in the back door in 1978 since they couldn’t get mainframe time to crunch numbers.

For more thoughts surrounding this, check out articles here, here (and a rebuttal) and here as well as poke around Dion Hinchcliffe’s journal and ZDNet blog.

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UndoTV: Actual talent delivering thought leadership?

What a delight it’s been seeing the growth of everything touched by that one-man media machine (Leo Laporte) as well as the acceptance and embrace of the value Chris Pirillo is bringing to techdom (e.g., Gnomedex). Reading Chris’s blog this morning led me to an update post about UndoTV where he asked readers NOT to slam the site until the DNS was propagated. I waited awhile and headed on over to check it out.

Imagine my surprise to see this under the “About UndoTV” link:

The blogger Steve Borsch commented in a previous thread: “So, who decides what gets ‘on’ UndoTV? Who the talent is? What emerges?” The UndoTV talent base is starting with the former ZDTV / TechTV staff, previous show guests, and vetted friends. Without a base of quality content, we’d be nothing more than a video portal clone.

This pleased me due to my respect for Leo and Chris as well as I’m highly interested in what they’re apparently focused on delivering — much of which is confirmed by the note on the site — which is talent who “get it” and can deliver what the audience expects. I’m glad that they’re not taking a “Digg or YouTube-like” approach where everything is thrown up against the wall and having everyone weigh in on what they think is important. I want to consume content that is delivered by people that either know more than me or are plugged-in more so than I am — and connected with big thinkers.

Thanks for having your initial vision NOT being a “me too” video portal. The wisdom of the crowd seems too often to be a collective, mass viewpoint with little strategic or critical thinking behind it. My wife (the home furnishings trend forecaster) said it best: “I don’t really care what everyone thinks.” We’re not being elitist, but when she and I talk deeply about social promotion of news, community forums, YouTube “Most Viewed” or other crowd-wisdom-must-see-content and developments on the internet, both of us realize that it’s most often baseline stuff on these sites and what we REALLY gravitate toward is thought leadership.

If I could hope for one thing out of UndoTV, it’s that: thought leadership. In the TechTV days, ScreenSavers, Big Thinkers and other shows were ones that BROADENED my knowledge and horizons and made me think and become more aware. That’s what I so enjoy with many of the TWiT shows now, Chris’ adventures and DLTV. Though I often am already far beyond what’s discussed I yet still learn something from virtually everything offered.

The last piece of my hope for UndoTV is the answer to this question (when you’re looking at what content to offer and the talent to deliver it): is it interesting vision or is it actionable? Can I use something now to enable myself, inform what I’m doing now (or will be doing soon) or take action on what I care about? Or is it stuff that a guy like me would think, “Oh that was cool” but then go on about my day? (If it’s the latter…I submit that I’d quickly lose interest and will turn away after the novelty wears off).

Thought leadership will be sustainable for UndoTV since every nanosecond we’re pushing against the membrane of the future and none of us know for certain what’s just up ahead. For that matter, most of us don’t know what’s already here as evidenced by the gignormous number of Web 2.0 hosted offerings that most people have never heard about let alone used!

Let me end with one more thing about thought leadership and a suggestion about what could be a guiding principle for UndoTV.

  • It’s NOT just the latest flipper, flapper or dweebezaarb technology I want to hear, see or learn about (and PLEEZ don’t dumb down the content “for the masses”) though technologies are important since they’re the manifestations and creations of thought leadership. Without talking tech UndoTV would be a bunch of pontificators blowing into their bags of wind.
  • What IS leading thought is a focus on the trends, the shifts in socioeconomics and culture, the acceleration in global connectivity and global innovation. In short, the stuff BEHIND the technologies and innovation driving much of it so all of us can deepen our understanding the catalysts of the future.
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Global Shift in Value Exchange

Most people think about creating value with their work (and many see work as working in a coal mine) in exchange for money. What if you went to work but didn’t get paid in money? Or what if you created something that doesn’t exist…but has enough value that people are willing to give you value for your virtual creation?

A post on 3PointD today about this Reuters article entitled, “US Congress launches probe into virtual economies” got me to thinking about some dots I’ve been trying to connect for the last year or so. The dots are that I’m seeing a global shift in value exchange that may make much knowledge (i.e., intellectual property) free and the implication of free on capitalism and geopolitics will be profound.

Booming virtual economies in online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft have drawn the attention of a U.S. congressional committee, which is investigating how virtual assets and incomes should be taxed.

Why is Congress doing this?

  • Think for a moment about the global shift that is occurring in intellectual property. Open source software, as one example, is a manifestation of “value for value exchange” of the highest order. People from around the world invest energy, effort and intellectual capital in the creation and delivery of software value that is non-monetary and non-barter in nature. The relevance and intrinsic value of any of these projects could, I argue, be directly related to the number of people actually using them.

So far, no government has attempted to tax me on the “value” of open source software I use. Is a Linux desktop worth 80% of the value of Mac OS X or WindowsXP? If so, I’m receiving roughly $100 worth of value if I use it. Same thing with content management systems, blogs, wikis and all the other amazingly valuable open source packages I use instead of buying commercial off the shelf software or using hosted services. A very rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that I use tens of thousands of dollars worth of open source package value (if one were to look at commercial alternatives for each).

  • Look at the acceleration in the use of virtual worlds and people making money in them. This is the real reason for Congress’ action: not if…but when virtual worlds have good enough resolution to facilitate an increasing amount of value exchange and commerce occuring within them, how will earnings be taxed? What if the world is hosted, say, in one country and the value-creator in another. Will the country where the value is created (and the virtual world company located) tax the virtual value and transactions or will the tax be on the individual value-creator and their virtual real estate and commerce businesses? What if a company holds a contest and gives a prize of an island with structures on it? Will I receive a 1099 for its “virtual worth” and have to claim it as income on my tax return?

All of this goes way beyond labor and workin’ in a coal mine for money. Alot of really smart people are examining these questions and many more important ones. Yale Law School has their Access to Knowledge project and event. Yochai Benkler has written a fabulous examination of the impacts of networks on production, macroeconomics and the profound shifts occurring. If you are in a leadership or strategic role in any company or government you already should be wrestling with these questions. Or if you are a parent or guide who cares about the future of work and where your progeny may be directed then it behooves you to at least think about the changes and shifts happening right now as the world connects.