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You’re not naked…but what about your computer?

In January of 2005 I wrote Are You Naked? and again in July of 2007 Are you *still* naked in a coffee shop?. My objective was to try and elevate the discussion about the fact the overwhelming majority of us who use free wireless internet access in public hotspots are completely “naked” since it’s trivial to capture your wireless packets as they fly through the air.

There are certain things I never do in a coffee shop: use File Transfer Protocol (FTP) but instead the Secure FTP; never access my banking or stock sites; set my firewall and more (for best practices, see that second post on the subject here).

Managing eight email addresses through the Google Gmail interface, I’ve always made certain that I access Gmail through Secure Socket Layer (SSL) which is the encrypted security protocol used by banks, stock sites, ecommerce and any other transactional site with security (you know you’re using SSL when you see the little padlock in your browser and an “s” after “http” in your browsers address bar). Felt pretty good about it too and I’ve trusted the big brains at Google to be 110% on top of security issues.

Now comes word that there is a security hole in Google’s Gmail javascript (used in Gmail for the fancy-shmancy Ajax interface framework and elements):

When Robert Graham demonstrated how Web 2.0 wasnt safe at last years Blackhat, it was thought that at least the SSL mode (HTTPS) of Google Gmail would be spared from sidejacking. That presumption now appears to be false according to this updated blog posting from Graham. Even with SSL enabled, Gmail sessions can still be hijacked by Grahams Hamster and Ferret (or less easily with Wireshark and Mozillas cookie editor).

This is just great. If me, Mr. Security and Web Application Awareness, has an opening for his laptop and Gmail session to be compromised, what about everyone else?

My daughter logs on to any wifi hotspot with her iPhone or Macbook and sees zero harm — though I’m trying to educate her on how to be safe (which feels to me like havng a safe sex discussion and we know how effective THAT has been globally…but I digress). This means, for example, a “packet thief” could sit in a coffee shop, log in to the free wifi and setup a rogue hotspot (it’s simple to set up your own laptop to pretend it’s a wifi access point and lure in the unsuspecting) and then fire up the tools on their laptop and capture my daughter’s packets that come through the packet thief’s own laptop. Voila! The packet thief now has her username, password — or in the case of Gmail’s cookie security hole — the cookies with temporary credentials in them.

With a temporary cookie session initiated, the packet thief can now change her password and have complete control over her email (and, God forbid, her banking, stock trading, or any ecommerce transactions executed while accidentally logged on to a thief’s laptop).

Fix this Google…now.

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Sprout: A mashup & application tool for the masses

Our pals at Techcrunch just posted about a new company that debuted today at DEMO called Sprout and thought I’d attempt to get in on the private beta and lo-and-behold…I got in.

The ‘sprout’ (their term vs. ‘widget’) you see below is one I created in 15 minutes. It took me longer to open Photoshop, reduce the size of the Connecting the Dots header and to type in the pathnames to my podcasts (yes I know…they’re OLD) then it did to create the sprout!

I just grinned and shook my head in disbelief as I used it since Sprout has delivered on my pent up desire to have just such a mashup and creation tool which begs the question: why the hell didn’t Adobe do this with their rich internet application (i.e., RIA or Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)) strategy? To date mere mortals — who are savvy enough to use InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and the like — can’t truly deliver on AIR, Microsoft Silverlight or even Webkit apps unless the propeller on their beanie is fairly large.

There are a few nits (the words “Click on any playlist…” were bolded and italicized which didn’t publish) but they’re so few compared to the power Sprout has unleashed they’re easily overlooked. I also want to understand what they’ll charge for the service — or those I direct to Sprout to create — before I get too fired up about recommending people leap on the tool and deliver mission-critical products.

I also noticed a slight latency as my ‘sprout’ loads which you might notice also. I’ve been a broken record on the topic of the “dirty little secret
— that Internetwork latency is already affecting mashups, Web/Enterprise 2.0 applications, video delivery and essentially everything we do over the Internet — but this latency won’t likely slow down the creation and delivery of mashed up applications. I hope, really hope, that this latency doesn’t crush the spirit of those of us truly wanting to create and deliver significantly higher value on the Web with tools like Sprout.

Using this tool for 30 minutes tonight has sparked about 25 ideas for how I’d use it. From completely self-contained multimedia slideshows to a different sort of ebook to a poor man’s RIA, I suspect many others will have exactly the same reaction and start building these things like mad.

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Reality of One Laptop Per Child?

So much has been written about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project that I won’t rehash it in this post, but will say that my position has always been that the primary value in the OLPC project is that the Internet is the biggest shift in human communications and knowledge storage ever, and ideas, innovations and human connection now move at the speed of electrons. Denying anyone, any kid, from being a part of that shift — no matter how small and regardless of the technology used to participate in it — is relegating them to a future of intellectual and knowledge poverty.

When I was invited to join the Institute of Distributed Creativity mailing list (comprised of many academics and thought leaders in education, learning, social media and more), I was part of a very spirited discussion about the OLPC with people’s opinions being slanted toward it being “male created technology” or that we Americans (OLPC head Nicholas Negroponte in specific) were acting as “imperalists” or “capitalists” within the context of OLPC, pushing our way and consumerism on the third world.

After participating in this OLPC discussion, I then ranted on the list that I’d expected the list members would be comprised of deep thinkers and those who appreciate vision and are trying to move the world forward. People who push against the membrane of the future rather than pull back from it as critics (and I felt I was seeing more criticism than critical thinking). I’ve been accused of being a happy-assed optimist (my words) in the list with respect to technology and am guilty as charged, but at least Negronponte was doing something while the list members pontificated about their views of such a project and how it should be done or not done at all.

Then the thread went silent….until today when a man named Martin Lucas weighed in with such a well written counter-point to my optimism — and the varying perspectives about OLPC — that I asked him if I could publish it on my blog in total as it’s too good to leave on a closed list.

Continue on to read Martin Lucas’ “One Slate per Child” paper that gives a dose of reality — from someone on the ground in the African state of Malawi — about the reality of introducing the OLPC and obstacles faced in one country ostensibly a perfect target for OLPC…

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Are you suffering from attention overload?

In my work it’s imperative I stay abreast of new technologies, approaches and how social media startups are figuring out how to increase our capability to connect to one another in more interesting and meaningful ways.

But how many places can we focus our attention?

I blog. Follow and skim 138 blogs and dozens of news feeds in Google Reader. Deal with dozens of emails per day. Scan Techmeme and Blogrunner. Post and follow people on Twitter and now Pownce. Barely use Facebook but feel compelled since so many people I know are using it. Just joined Seesmic (in private alpha) which is a social network for participatory video (see what your friends post, you can post, and a ‘conversation’ can carry forward). Scroll through Digg‘s feed and often click on an article.

Oh….and I have work to do for my clients and business!

Since one my strengths is “input” (collecting information is something I love to do), I thought my scattered focus and partial attention was atypical until I talked to dozens of other people. Nearly everyone I talk to is feeling the effects of traditional media clamoring for our attention, more coverage and news with less analysis than ever before, and thousands of new media methods (some which I mentioned above) that are connecting us in ways that making it very challenging to think, mull it over and breathe.

Many business leaders feel that this continuous partial attention is a Millenials or kids phenomena, but my own anecdotal research shows that this is increasingly cutting across all age groups, demographics and cultures (Linda Stone has the seminal thoughts on the topic).

Anyone with a computer and internet connection is now a mini-media mogul since it’s trivial to publish, create radio and TV (even live streams ala uStream, Qik, Stickam), deliver screencasts and learning content, and stake a claim in the micro-blogging arena (e.g., Twitter, Pownce) and snag followers tuning into your thought stream.

With all of these sources coming at us (or those we choose feeling compelled or pressured to stay abreast of their content) while we pay continuous partial attention to each, what happens to these attention traffic jams in our brains? How can we discern what is worthy of our attention since not all of it is?

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What if all human knowledge was free and accessible?

Imagine that for lunch today you had to go into your storehouse and find the peaches you canned last summer, the meat from the cow you slaughtered and smoked, and the grain you packed away after harvesting it while heading up to the kitchen to prepare it all. Pretty ridiculous to consider for we urban dwellers, heh?  We instead go to the grocery store and get what we need all nice and shrink-wrapped or just head over to our favorite local restaurant for lunch to be served to us all piping hot.

The farming, ranching, slaughterhouse, bakeries, food service and distribution system (e.g., refrigerated trains, trucking, grocery stores) ensures that most of us don’t need to think too hard about where we’ll get today’s lunch or tomorrow’s remarkably inexpensive calories. We also expend laughingly few calories to obtain what we need compared to even a generation ago (thus why we’re so fat…but I digress) and this whole food ecosystem has allowed all of us to move to a higher level and specialize in our work in ways our great-grandparents could never have foreseen since we’re not expending so many calories (not to mention time) to grow, gather up, store and prepare them.

One thing is clear if you’re investing any time staying abreast of the acceleration in Internet-centric knowledge repositories (e.g., Wikipedia, Google Knol, Instructables, Connexions), as well as higher learning institution initatives (e.g., MIT Open Courseware), then you’ll begin to understand the vision and promise embodied in a new initiative by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Rich Baraniuk, respective founders of Wikipedia and Connexions, called The Cape Town Open Education Declaration (via Smart Mobs).

We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.

This emerging open education movement combines the established tradition of sharing good ideas with fellow educators and the collaborative, interactive culture of the Internet. It is built on the belief that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint. Educators, learners and others who share this belief are gathering together as part of a worldwide effort to make education both more accessible and more effective.

Does this mean that your training, learning, knowledge work or content is going to be free or cause you to give it away?

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We will tell YOU what to do with your Internet access!

wifiWith Comcast (my provider at home and office) throttling bandwidth and people up in arms and suing, I’ve been really torn about how I feel and something that happened today deepened my troubled thinking.

As I’ve written before, I’m really agitated that Comcast is playing games with traffic shaping and I (and many others) are suffering because of it. It’s not just downloaders and uploaders of bittorrent files, heavy YouTube watchers or even those who simply use their internet connections to the fullest, it’s Comcast playing God with what we can-and-cannot-do with the pipe we’re paying for into our homes and offices.

If you’ve worked at senior levels in corporations in a strategic capacity like I have, you would see how blatantly obvious some recent defensive moves have been by companies in response to Apple, NetFlix and others offering movie download services (e.g., Time Warner tiered bandwidth pricing) let alone what’s happened in the past with voice over internet protocol (VoIP). It’s crystal clear to me that tactics like Comcast bandwidth manipulation and Time Warner’s pricing trial balloon are attempts to defend their own video businesses by putting up obstacles and barriers for these and other companies to ride on the cable distribution networks.

But what’s OK for ISP’s to do, what are we really paying for and can they legally and realistically dictate to us what we can-and-cannot-do with the Internet pipe they supply to us?

My mind was made up a long time ago: I pay you Mr. ISP and thus can use any application I want on your network. But today I was at a hospital (for a loved one having surgery) and was there for roughly five hours. With free and remarkably fast guest wireless internet access, I had ample opportunity to get work done, make Skype phone calls, send emails and more. Today’s experience, however, sees me struggling with the black-n-whiteness of an issue that has now suddenly become gray.

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Who Cares if Apple Focuses on the Enterprise?

Ever since Mac OS X Server shipped in 1999 and the desktop version in early 2001, many Apple and enterprise I.T. watchers have pontificated about Apple possibly moving into enterprise sales in a big way and making it a focus of effort.

On a scale of 1-10 (with “10″ being hyperfocused on a strategic market), I believe Apple’s interest in the enterprise is a “2″.

My friend, Graeme Thickins (blog; business), sent a few of us an eWeek article today entitled, “Apple Goes Enterprise.” The authors premise? That enterprise I.T. is clueless unless they seriously consider Mac OS X Server and Apple’s Xserve or Xsan hardware for their server room due to the world-class aspects of these products and his argument was on the merits of what Apple offers.

I’d agree they’re worth a serious look, but I see one huge caveat to this article from the point of view of someone who was a manufacturer’s rep for Apple in the early 1980′s, worked again for the company after Jobs came back in 1996 for three years, was in leadership positions in the enteprise software space (e.g., Vignette; Lawson Software) and have thought long and hard about what Apple is up to while simultaneously knowing what it takes to kowtow to and please enterprise I.T. folks.

The enterprise wants every conceivable feature and typically places their bets on technology momentum, a new class of product or a vendor if they deliver a corresponding support infrastructure (i.e., a vendor that invests in support for enterprises specifically) or demand is off-the-charts high. Currently Apple’s support for the enterprise is modest…at best…and many of Apple’s former resellers (who could support the enterprise) are gone due to the Apple Store juggernaut.

In a January 2000 Fortune magazine interview, Jobs said this about Apple’s new directions — including any sort of focus on enterprise sales — in response to a line of questioning about why they wouldn’t pursue the enterprise after Apple’s reenergized and growing sales as well as the then well accepted “jelly bean shaped” iMac:

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Giving your value away…

valueAs the weeks go by I’m more certain than ever that monetization of any intellectual capital-type efforts will be Internet-centric or people won’t give money in exchange for it — and, ironically, that giving value away over the Internet may become ‘table stakes’ to be in the content or software game.

Traditional distribution channels for intellectual capital (TV channels and non-online video, bookstores, video rental and music stores, industry publications and newsletters, learning in classroom or DVD, et al) can’t scale in the same way they can on the Internet. There is finite shelf space; it takes too long to deliver information when something is published and distributed; people want the information or training when they need it vs. when they can travel somewhere to learn it; and people are shifting their demand criteria anyway in a day of on-demand, always-available access.

Something you might not have considered is that people are also increasingly expecting complimentary sources for what they consume so they can get multiple points of view and perspective as well as having multiple sources to compare and from which to choose (it’s where my “experts don’t exist” mantra comes from since I demand more than one or two sources for anything). Shopping services; memetrackers to get multiple blogger points of view; voting sites (e.g., Digg) so the community decides which articles are most important and so on.

What’s unique in delivering intellectual capital-type efforts over the Internet is that more of us are expecting it to be delivered for free and many of us take advantage of it. The kicker? People simply taking the value without paying for it increases its intrinsic value IF the act of taking it in some way adds a form of personal perspective or influencer metadata above it and provides the intellectual capital-type efforts with more attention, importance, word-of-mouth buzz or informal guidance (premise based loosely on Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns).

Here are three examples.

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Apple II Forever?

Today’s Macworld “Stevenote” was interesting and brought back memories. In the Spring of 1984, I was in San Francisco for the Apple II Forever rollout of the Apple IIc, a small desktop machine which was quite compact but still needed its little green screen monitor (I was with a manufacturer’s rep firm out of college and Apple was our major line…and this was before they hired their own direct sales force).

Though some are already pointing out some of the Macbook Air’s shortcomings (e.g., non-user replaceable battery; only one USB port) I still have to admit to being amazed at the power we have in our hands compared to what I’ve lived with as the personal computer industry has evolved.

My biggest pump today? The iPhone’s new software. I’ve already bookmarked some Google Maps locations and created two screens of oft-used web sites that I’ve “clipped” and made into icons to instantly go to a page…and the exact part of a page all zoomed in and so forth (see the demo here).

Take a walk down memory lane and watch this video from the Apple II Forever event in San Francisco in April, 1984 and you’ll see that all the cool stuff announced today is but a milestone on the way as we walk into our technology future.

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New York Times is now in (and leading) the conversation

In September of 2007, The New York Times made a monumental decision to stop charging for TimesSelect (the NYTimes online) as well as opening up their archives searchable back into the 1800′s. Big risk but was a brilliant strategic move in my opinion.

I’ve been noticing the Times showing up more frequently as the thought leader blog on the memetracker (blogosphere conversation tracker) Techmeme. Today is a great example (and yes, I understand Sunday is the most in-depth article day), but I’ve never seen FOUR of them above-the-fold previously.

Why is this such a brilliant strategic move? As evidenced by not only being IN the conversation on Techmeme, they’re also LEADING many of the conversations. Very smart, heh?

With more of us consuming news and information on the Web — and now video and full TV shows — there is no question that any organization wishing for relevancy going forward needs to be 100% immersed in Internet-centric media and the attention being paid there vs. traditional media. It’s the only way to quickly shift, modify, and embrace emergent new media forms as well as be a leading provider right smack-dab-in-the-middle of where our attention is increasingly being focused.