New Media and Social Network / Identity Interop

Ok, so my hope for this post is to be able to cover many different topics, but in general there are two overall themes that I want to write about. The first is something which came up at the recent KOMO Meetup. We were discussing how mainstream media had obviously started to branch out to the new media, and while there was no agenda, clearly they want to start getting to know the blogosphere pretty well. The second topic is one which I alluded to in my previous post which is a “short” discussion around Social networking as well as Identity, the portability of those concepts as well as the trust which becomes necessary to represent on each of these sites.



Think about for a moment the state of current television media today. You pay (usually) for the access to several channels; sometimes hundreds of channels (if you have cable or satellite). This fee as well may be very steep, as high as hundreds of dollars per month depending on your plan. But if you think about it, this is not even really paying for what you get to watch. In the end, someone still has to pay for the content which is being delivered, because with only a few exceptions, the fee that you pay for these channels only covers the delivery mechanism and the equipment to support that mechanism. The content itself is paid for by advertisement. Not only that, but if you go back and look at history, this is a case where the technology itself almost was pushed along by the need to advertise. It’s so prevalent that in any given half an hour of television, you may only have between 13 and 17 minutes of actual programming depending on the show as well as the network.


However, let’s look at the state of technology today. I have both a tivo as well as a media center. Both have the ever so coveted {by me} 30 second skip button. Some “well known” number of presses of this button and you have skipped all the commercials and are back at real programming again. The only cost to this benefit is that you must usually wait until you are some time past the beginning of the show (so that when you catch up to “now”) you don’t have more commercials to go. Also take the AppleTV for example, or even itunes, and of course the Xbox 360 Marketplace. These all allow the small purchase of shows without advertisement all together. So what does this mean? This means that in this day in age, decades later, technology has finally matured to the point where the financial crutch pulling this new media form along is either no longer enforceable (in the case of skipping) or no longer necessary (in the case of on demand downloads). Either way you look at it though, this is not necessarily of immediate benefit to the “old mediacompanies. They would do better if you LOVED the commercials. (seriously, why do you think super bowl ads are so expensive? The more the world pays attention to them, the more that air time is worth and becomes a self fulfilling cash cow.) But thankfully that is not the case.


So obviously media technology in all forms is still thriving, so what has happened? Well it's moved online of course, and now with the power of the web, advertising is fighting back, using technology of their own. They can now target specific ads based on what you watch, what you search for, where you visit, etc. But mind you, almost ANYWHERE you go, there will be ads. Not only that, but now since companies like google have come along, they have actually made it a large incentive to online content providers (both old AND new) to deliver all sorts of advertising to readers/visitors. So much so that as I wrote about previously, I think that even this “relatively new” revolution in content/media advertising technology has a limited lifespan.


Why, you ask? Well let me get into the next revolution I am starting to see. One additional advantage to this new technology revolution is that it's no longer limited to the large players. I can go out and put 50 banner ads on my site just as quickly as a company like Fisher Communications ;), or NBC Universal, etc. Additionally, if I can drive the traffic (which where I “personally” am concerned is unlikely, but with some other individuals is MORE likely) then suddenly the “average joe” providing possibly niche content online is suddenly competing with the big boys. There are even companies forming out of this model like Gawker and Weblogs Inc. Some would say that THIS revolution is the epitome of web 2.0. I say possibly….but I think that once again, it's all because the technology has advanced.


Not only that, but I actually predict that once again people will realize that they can use the same technology which delivers this content to also remove the advertisement from this content. In some respects, this is already starting to be popular today. I read most of my news sources now as RSS feeds. There are some which embed adds in the feeds, but since they are that the bottom and not embedded, then they can easily be ignored. Even if companies do again use technology to better embed the advertisements in the feeds there is even NEWER technology out now which lets me customize RSS feeds running parsers on them to add or remove whatever content I want. I have well over 10 customized feeds right now on Yahoo Pipes. Some are almost indispensable to me now providing a large chunk of my daily information.


Let me ad a small break in this logic as well to also examine why it is exactly that these advances are going tit for tat so quickly. In marketing and advertising nothing is all THAT new. Humans still perceive things the same way that we always have. This means that when promoting something, the most important concept (and I didn’t just learn this from Trump, but he constantly re-enforces it) is in brand value. In online media it's not only the brand value of what you are advertising but the brand value of the mechanism itself in which you are delivering the advertising. Case in point is google search. Honestly, they could have the crappiest search algorithm (not saying it is, just that they could) at this point, but as long as they drive more people to their site whether it's publicity stunts, little tools here and there, or whatever it is they are doing which gets attention, they are driving their own brand value. Now the interesting thing comes where by them promoting their OWN brand value, they are subsequently promoting the brand value for all those who advertise with them.  Thus Google’s revenue stream is directly proportional to however they can drive more people to browsing to either one of their sites or one of the sites which advertise with google. (I don’t know anything about this having never worked there, but if “I” were them, I would always put sites which have adsense embedded higher on the search results, since by default users that follow those links will just be driving even more revenue.


Ok, so where am I going with this tangent? Well, SOME enterprising people out there (ok Scoble and Pirillo are the first two I would probably pick) have started to realize this, but have turned the equation around. Now instead of the brand value being corporate, the brand value is their name, their presence, their comments, etc. Pretty much the more information they can post, the more people they can interact with, the more people they can attract to their sites drives more revenue for themselves. Just like the larger players, more brand recognition (i.e. THEM) == more revenue. (Note Scoble does not have ads on his site, but he heavily links to his work content thus being a direct conduit for his company.) This is not a new concept mind you, personal brand value has been around for a while. But in the past, it was mostly called “street cred.” :)


I was reminded more about this recently while reading some of the follow-ups from the recent Black Hat and Defcon conferences. I had been to both in the past, and noticed the same thing that I seem to pick up on in the writeups every year. Most of the presenters which talk at these conferences (not all, but most) are simply full of themselves. I am not sure whether they do it on purpose or not (I just don’t know them well enough), but the effect that it can have in those audiences (captive, enthusiastic, subject matter experts) is that it is a self fulfilling cycle where by virtue of the fact that they project that they know all this information, they are always assumed to know lots of information. This (and I am presuming at this point) probably drives career deals, book deals, speaking deals, etc. for many years afterwards. (There are only a few people I have seen who know what they are talking about and still revolve in these circles. However in my experience, the better ones can’t stand attending much less speaking at conferences. :))


So going back to the Komo meet-up, maybe Fisher has started to realize that they are starting to grasp on the ever short end of the stick (since remember that “classic” media has very high infrastructure and operating costs when compared with “new” media) and just want to get to know the “future patrons and proprietors” of this new media revolution. Just as Monica points out, maybe this is actually a good thing. As I pointed out above, I think that my “new” media sources are indispensable now days.


Ok, NOW, back to the latest in advertising revolution swings though. I mentioned that it seems like every time a new form of advertising or commercializing media content comes along, there is also a technology which comes along to bypass it? Well, here is an interesting thing which honestly got me thinking about everything I just wrote above. How do you analyze the tipping point where the “anti-ad” technology of the latest generation has achieved critical mass? Not only that but also the CURRENT battle aside, what is the NEXT form of ad revenue going to look like, and how do I start working today on the technology which will bypass it quicker, faster, and easier than ever before. :)


I suppose when it comes down to it, I just see today’s advertising revolution destroying innovation as we know it. I see too many good ideas thrown out the window because in the end it means that either they or their company will make less money as a result of this good idea. It's almost enough to make me want to get back into academics again and seek some kind of grant…..almost. ;) I’ll stick to my current day job making the lives of over a billion people and counting just a little better. :)



Ok, so now for the second topic I was going to write about. I talked about it quite a bit in my teaser post actually, as well as talking about it in the past, but in general today’s society exists online in more ways than we ever did before. With this online presence, comes a need to identify ourselves and interact with other’s identities in the same space. There are LOTS of sites out there which let you do this as well. They have all sorts of spin on them as well. In fact most likely if you are reading this right now, then you are interacting with my own online identity. Not only that but with all the links I have to other online sites on the side, I expose and detail even greater parts of my online identity as well. For me personally, having this site which is solely mine is a large part of the process. By virtue of the fact that there is no one else controlling the content of this site, or what is and is not displayed, I am confident that others which find my site online can trust the authenticity of who I am. Also those who have been reading my blog for the last 5 years (just under 2 months away from my 5 year blog anniversary) know that authenticity and honesty are very important parts of this outlet.


Now having said that Dare makes a VERY excellent point that trust is more than just you trusting me, I also want to have a way to trust others. In fact I would say that over the last 5 years, I have actually had to hold back quite a bit some of the things I could say on my blog for various reasons. If there were an easy way to “trust” the identity of those reading (no, I don’t want drm….in the end you still have to trust the person) then I could easily assign various levels of honesty/exposure based on who is reading. I tried doing this with my first blog. I spent a long time actually on a complicated login system which used cookies and secure hashes to control what levels of information were shown to readers. I could even tag specific words or sentences within my posts for specific audiences. From a technology standpoint I LOVED it. It was all that I was wanting. There was one small downside. That was that the mechanism/operation of having everyone login (even if they only had to login once per machine) totally made the whole plan a bust. Not only that but those little bits of guarded information were not interoperable either. People who read via RSS feed were just out of luck because it was all based on cookies, which could not be accessed via most RSS readers.


So before I really dive into the heart of the conversation, there are some more definitions which I need to go over. The first is regarding what a social networking site actually is. I think that if I were to right off the bat answer the question, I would pick sites like friendster, orkut, myspace, facebook, etc. But at the same time, I know many people’s blogs which have just as much if not more information on them. Or, what about specialized sites like Flickr which are taking a niche solution to the social networking scene (and doing a damn good job of it if you ask me). There may be many several types of sites out there which don’t fall into the classical model of social networking. However, I would say that all of these sites store and/or represent your identity just as much as the classic social networking sites. For instance, two of my friends blogs' now also have a login mechanism where I can set an avatar, contact preferences, various bits of information etc. and it's just his blog site, nothing more than that. Another good example is bulletin board sites / forum sites. These have always had an important sense of identity within the community they foster as well.


Thus having the discussion regarding open social networking sites is somewhat lame and un-interesting. But a conversation around really defining a portable, trustable, and extensible identity model for the web seems like something more worth investigating. I think the problem so far has several facets. The primary problem as I see it (which I commented on before) is that quite honestly since the operating revenue for many of these sites is driven by how many page clicks, click throughs, or just visitors in general these pages can get, any good idea which revolves around users being as portable as possible sort of goes against the concept of “good” business practices. Another problem though is that if anyone ever tries to solve the problem (I hereby nominate Live ID and Google ID as crappy solutions that need to either be fixed or killed) their motives are usually close minded and narrow. Not that I blame the designers of these solutions. I am sure they had very specific problems that they were trying to solve, but honestly the solution really needs to involve MANY companies, MANY individuals, MANY experts. That automatically means the solution will take a very long time. But having worked on a few standards at this point, I think for anything worthwhile to be developed between multiple entities the process of “hashing things out” or “finding common ground” is just critical. For example, do I want someone who is an expert at the latest technology in extensible markup language to be the same person designing the identity and security algorithms? No way. In fact, I don’t even want the same person working on both authentication and authorization. They can share notes with each other, but honestly making sure those concepts are independent (they are often shared in today’s solutions) seems important on many levels.


So, yes, I think Dare has started to ask the right questions. I am even rather sure he has started having some of the right ideas. But honestly the only way I see this working is if everyone comes together to work on it. It can’t be a partnership or even a group of three. It must be an open dialog with the online community to see what problems really need to be solved. Personally if I could just manage the fact that some pictures are on flickr, some are on my own server, some are on various other hosted servers I have. Some information is in facebook, myspace, friendster, orkut, etc. and some information I definitely don’t want to be, then I think any solution which could make all those scenarios work in concert would be a start.

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