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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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Communications

Communications is KEY, in the classroom too

So I took this expertise I have – communications – and simply applied it to the classroom. We live in the “age of communications”. How we communicate is a big deal. I really wanted to speak about my  concept of education through communications at the conference this week in Boston, lead by The Communications Guy – Jeff Pulver. But I am teaching now. No time off.

Communications is key, yet in most classrooms it’s still the same hundreds-years-old model of one teacher “communicating to” many students. The blackboard was the first edtech which improved the communications in the classroom. Not to be confused with the 20th century’s whiteboard, or the later smart-board. Or so many other technology solutions aimed at marching the classroom communications forward.

But really, communications is first and foremost a listening-speaking-listening cycle. And while we often ask students to listen, we’re not coached to listen to the students (other then when they are tested). And there’s a lot to listen to.

I started this year with a “Getting to know you” questionnaire. It’s amazing how much head start you get when you open the year with this. I teach 7th and 8th graders English as a Second language. Being a country of immigrants, for some this is the 3rd or even 4th language – which was another important questions to answer. And that’s just one example.

I received information about the students from their homeroom teachers, and continued to take a look at those open and unprotected Facebook profiles. When the group of students who are into racing cars received from me an assignment about a teen racing driver they were surprised and pleased. When the artist was asked to use her special skills in designing flash cards she was thrilled that someone has noticed here talent. I learned that one of the students, who is a recent immigrant from Russia, has a dream: to learn programming. So I asked him and a classmate who also stated an interest in high tech to do the Codemonkey programming game in class. This got him totally devoted and also earned the respect of his classmates, who bothered for the first time to communicate with him.

It’s not easy to get through to all kids. Some are still a mystery to me. So I try to get them to talk with me for a minute or two in between classes or assignments. I will win them over eventually. I must. The thing is, what I need to teach them has nothing to do with the process I am into at this stage. This is all about communications. And it’s much deeper than the transfer of knowledge.

I think the main surprise so far was the shock of my students when I insisted on developing other digital communications channels in favor of learning. Other than Whatsapp that is.

My 7th graders seemed to think that email is old-fashioned and not needed. The class wiki, where I post the class summary, homework, links and files, is a burden to them. And while they all where extremely enthusiastic about joining the Classcraft game – only about a quarter of the students bothered to login and create their character in the past 10 days since they received their invitation. They don’t open their email, so they didn’t see the invitation. Only half of the class logged in the wiki to see the links and invitations there, the fact is not even all of those got into Classcraft. Several kids forgot their passwords – some of them learned the process of retrieving a password. Others didn’t get that idea. They seem over confident about their mastery of technology – yet this extremely simple actions are beyond them. And don’t even get me started on things like Google Docs…

I find that preparing them to properly communicate in all these channels is an essential part of their education. Since most tools are in English – I dared to add it to their English class. But then, what about the English curriculum? Looks like even these declared young innovators prefer the old ways when it comes to the classroom. The new is scary. I have a long long way to go.

 

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The Pitch & The Name, The Chicken & The Egg

Last week I took a rare drive to the TechAviv Founders meetup at Herzliya IDC. Not a drive I take lightly, mind you. But a rare opportunity with the kids taken care of, my lift both ways arranged, and enough coffee to keep me alert at the hours which are correctly referred to as “twilight”.

It was a great opportunity to meet with the community of entrepreneurs and investors I am proud to be a part of. Was nice to meet old colleagues, some new ones and of course Yaron Samid, who first introduced this meetup as a guest in a meetup I organized some years ago (continues here ).

Dave McClure gave a great talk and conversation around pitching. It’s great to be able to practice your pitch in a sympathetic environment, and get a really useful feedback to help you improve.

I was surprised though at some of the pitches, not to mention company names I heard during the evening. It took me right back to my consultancy days, when most of my business was creating names and doing renaming projects for startups and helping them create their pitch and communications strategies.

Name Thy Baby

So let’s start with a name. Or – let’s not. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about naming companies and products is that too often people come up with a general idea for their startup and their second step is immediately to name it. As if this baby, if not named immediately, will never learn to walk. They take great pride of the name they have created, sometimes they sound prouder of the name then of the business.

But a better way to do it is to use a temporary name, working title, project code-name and delay the naming until you are sure of your markets, your business model, your marketing & communications strategy and the overall terminology your business is going to use. Not to mention languages. Lots of Israeli entrepreneurs assume English automatically – but that’s not necessarily your target audience or all of it. If you might be targeting more than English speaking markets, beware embarrassing mistakes like “Pajero” “Pinto” “Mist” etc.

It’s almost a chicken and an egg question, only people here are so certain the name comes first. It shouldn’t. Your pitch should.

The other thing I noticed about the recent names I heard was intentionally using misspelling or a mixture of words one simply can’t spell from hearing only. Be very careful about these inventions. You might be a tech genius but when it comes to naming, using an expert could be the wisest and most cost effective move you can do at this very early stage in your company’s life. 

But this is really just the tip of the iceberg. You can look at a sample process here or look for more great tips on Google.

Pitch At All Costs

It might be that 15 years as a journalist in print journalism made me very efficient with words, especially crafting headlines that can tell enough in a limited number of characters and leave enough mystery so the reader continues reading. But this is exactly what you should do when you are pitching your company to an investor, partner, employee or supplier. Don’t attempt to tell the whole story. One of the main things to remember of course is who your audience is.

Take the same news item and compare the headlines it gets on various media. The differences result from the audience a medium is directed at. The same goes for pitching. You should always prepare a set of pitches for potential audiences. Not totally different pitches obviously, but different ways of saying the same thing.

To make sure you are using the right pitch – prepare before you go to an event where you might meet Dave McClure, for example. There’s enough information online about him and what he is looking for. So if this guy is looking for companies with traction – and you have traction – then grab his attention with his declaration of interest. Not with the fantastic and original un-spellable name of your company, nor with the story of what it is you do – that does not belong in a pitch.

And just for the sports – if you want me to draft some sample pitches here for you – I dare you to send me a paragraph (up to 3 twits long -520 characters) – and I’ll do my best. First 5 to send me (comment on this blog post) –win.

VC Marketing, They do it too

A group of investors has been waiting for me to finish a few documents. So my guess is they might be surprised if I put up a new blog post before I submit their expected papers. Priorities, you know. This post got delayed. But along this ongoing process of funding my startup I can’t help but looking at my potential suppliers – those people with the money – and consider their marketing strategy: The investors’ marketing strategies.

As we, the entrepreneurs are searching for funds, and work really hard to market ourselves; we often forget that the people we try to market-to are also working hard on marketing themselves to us.

Investors, whether angels or funds, have to market not only to their investors, but also to the fund-seeking entrepreneurs. They compete on getting the best entrepreneurs coming through their doors first. Some acknowledge this reality better than others: The attitudes range between those who are playing hard to get to those who are open and accessible. Those you can only contact via a shared connection, to those who put their email-Facebook-twitter up there. Those who have you fill out forms to those who will happily get a friendly cup of coffee with you.

It was more than a decade ago that one of my clients was a major Israeli VC fund. I had consulted them on their web positioning and executed the project with the best GUI expert I have known, Yoav Perry, who happens to be my cofounder at Saveby, our startup. I just remembered that experience and considered the long way that web positioning and marketing tactics has made since. Well, at least in some cases. The most interesting cases are those revealing a unique positioning.

So starting close to home with the Israeli VCs I’ll disclose my interest first: My husband is Partner and CFO at Genesis Partners, one of the earliest and leading VCs in Israel. This is their homepage, the images switch randomly.

Genesis Partners Homepage
It's all about the people

The “all about the people” tagline says it all and markets to all direction: the people in the fund, the people trusting the fund with their money and of course the people that the fund invests in. Funds invest in people first, before the ideas.

The people are the fund’s greatest achievement. Which is why Genesis Partners have gone even further. They established “The Junction” – a shared workspace for entrepreneurs doing their very early steps towards a startup company. With an internet connection, a coffee machine and a conference room they fulfill the early stage entrepreneurs’ needs, and all that for less than the coffee costs. Did we mention marketing strategy?

Confession of a Social Networking Discriminator

I’m a social networking racist. I admit it. If you’re not there – you’re not. As simple as that. As I start browsing for business connections for my new startup, either service providers, potential employees, strategic partners – you’ve got to have an online presence, and a maintained and updated one.

Too often I am approached or connected with people who aren’t. Not online, or not updated, or think they can maintain their anonymity in this day and age, and still be looking for a job in hi tech, internet or marketing. I almost think it’s ridiculous. It’s like looking for a job as a life guard when you can’t swim. Really!

Thanks - http://politicalirony.com/

The common argument I hear is “I’m entitled to my privacy”, “I am a private person” and the best is “I don’t think the world should know when I have to go…”. -which proves my point exactly. These are not sentences a person who knows a thing or two about social networks would say.

For the benefit of those who don’t understand it yet, but want to, here are some replies and tips.

First of all – people can preserve their private lives to themselves even if they have a Facebook or Twitter active accounts. It’s your choice what you put up and what you don’t. You really should avoid reports on “when you have to go” – because no one cares.

Second – if you have any professional value, then you have content to share, and hopefully a valuable one. You don’t have to open a blog,  just join the conversation, one way or the other.

Joining Social Networking Stages
1. Share Knowledge You Came Across
Being a professional persona I bet you are exposed to professional knowledge which you can share. Assuming you haven’t started to write articles and blog posts yet – start by sharing links.
2. Share Your Opinion
Share comments on items you read. You can actually post your professional opinion on market news, even if you read them offline. Just don’t forget to mention what you are referring to.
3. Get Knowledge from Others
Look at other professionals in your area and see what links and opinions they are sharing.
4. Share Information by Others
If those links are valuable – then share them with your friends and followers too (retweet/share).
5. Converse, React
Reply to those who shared knowledge with yours, or with thanks. Don’t forget to reply to those who replied to you or thank your retweeters.

Privacy Preserved
All of those have nothing to do with your meals, children, spouse, sleeping habits, entertainment preferences, religion, or any other personal information which you would rather keep private.

Your online presence is yours. So avoid using the photos of your children instead of your own. Show online a simple photograph that would help potential business contacts find you in events.

Choice of networks
The most popular networks for business networking are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. There are other social networks of course, but I’d like to review my own choice of how I use those:

1. LinkedIn is a networked résumé. It is based on the same Curriculum Vitae one might submit when searching for a job. So it’s an important network to be on, but it’s beneficial only if you make sure your CV there is really kept up to date. Another benefit is the ability to collect recommendations from people you worked with in the past – colleagues or clients. These are usually traded for your recommendation, but do reflect positive working relations. You will eventually decide which connection you’d want to make on each network. On Linkedin I’d start with people you have worked with or done business with. This can evolve later to potential employees or partners. Remember the main benefit of connecting to someone on Linkedin is to be able to connect through them to someone else, who might be a useful connection. Obviously, in a similar way, you should be able to help your contacts connect through you.

2. Facebook can be both a work tool and a personal tool. You can use it for both; you can group your business and family connections in two different lists and choose which items posted are exposed to which group. But for those who fear the leak of their personal information let’s just discuss the business use.
Facebook is an excellent communications tool. You start by connecting to your business contacts, colleagues or clients and begin by following them. Except for links and updates that they share, some might be more interesting than the others, look at groups and pages they join and of course – events.

Groups and pages are in fact smaller communities within Facebook with shared interests (I’m referring to professional interests). Some of these groups meet on various events, which would give you a perfect opportunity to meet with those colleagues of yours and expand you networking relationships beyond. Who would you connect to on Facebook? For me Facebook is rather personal so I try to limit my connections to people I’ve met or done business with or am already connected and familiar with over a longer period of time (for international contacts). When people who I don’t know ask to be friends with me on Facebook I will try to find out what is their interest. I would rather offer my personal email for assistance, than add them to my list of contacts. By adding them to my list of friends their updates are in my feed (are they interesting connections for me? Is their feed relevant?), and also they get updates from me on their feed (do I want to share with them?). The other suggestion I make to those who want to follow my updates – is to follow my twitter.

3. Twitter is a different platform. It’s the easiest and in a way the smartest tool of all. As a default your twits are public. You can make them private, but what’s the point there? Quoting someone smart – “it’s like going to a nudist beach fully clothed”.
So what is the business use of twitter? It does 2 main things: on the first level it allows you to gather professional information from your preferred sources – be it your colleagues or international bloggers or any knowledgeable sources who are sharing their wisdom on this platform. If a couple of years ago I needed to perform a daily search to find my most relevant news items, then today I get the most relevant items from my preferred sources, which already sorted a lot more than I could have scanned.

The second use of Twitter is to get your word out there. Use it when you feel ready. As stated above, social networking is a conversational tool. You join the conversation when you have something valuable to contribute, and you follow simple rules of courtesy towards your connections there.

To social-net or not?
This is an existential question especially if you are in marketing or marketing related industries and in the internet related industries too. I feel this is where markets go to. If the masses could have influenced the choice of logo of the Gap (just an example), then anyone ignoring social networking in today’s world is attesting to their staying behind.

Why am I “doing a startup”?

The past two weeks have been the busiest I’ve experienced. Well, no wonder: I’m launching a startup. Hadn’t expected it to be any different.
And as I am doing my work, including among other things constant research and networking I ran across Dave McClure’s blog post titled “Why NOT to do a Startup — becuz yer Gonna FAIL. (spend more time with your kids)“.
It’s got McClure’s presentation on the topic from the Seattle Startup Day. I watched it twice, and tested myself on the question of to do or not to do, or: why am I really doing it?
Here’s the presentation:

so why am I “doing” a startup (and planning the next one, or two)?
1- My correct reasons:
Because I am pissed whenever I approach online shopping
Because I have to solve some problems there
and yes, some fear is fueling my drive for this startup (and a lot of fear regarding the next one)
2- The unreasonable:
I live in a nice apartment, raise 3 happy kids and a hubby, and am a trained, professional, multi tasker: I have to be, because I always look beyond and watch for the wider contexts.
3- I’ve re-written the business plan so many times, to a point where I’d let the product and the customers interact with the business plan to make it true and dynamic as a good business plan should be.
4- My idea is GREAT! But I haven’t settled for my own view about it. I tested it on a wide variety of contacts, some less closer then others. Most comments are “Are you sure this wheel hasn’t been invented yet?” and “Let me in!”.
5- The idea was born as an awesome solution for the shoppers. But I was constantly aware of the fact, that if sellers interests aren’t met there will be no value in this solution. As I recruited my co-founder, a seller among other things, I’ve discovered this in fact solves a real problem for sellers too.
6- Leader or a looser? I must be some sort of a leader, if so many people recognize me in events or venues and contact me to help them solve their problems or answer their questions. I’m always happy to help, open to discuss anything and eager to learn from everyone.
7- My pitch is short and to the point. I don’t need a presentation (though our video clip is really cool!). I hope I’ll raise money to get out of bootstrapping and to -…
8-Recruit a full team!
Between us, the two co-founders we’re a tech, brand and GUI expert, and an international marketing, communications, social networking and biz dev. But to make it work we’ll need a full team of experts, each a master of his or her area.
9- Hopefully we will be able to establish a company based on care and generosity. It’s all about the people. First and foremost. People make the company, and not vice versa.
10- Can I sell or market? Marketing and communications strategies are my forte. Yet, even within marketing, you need the help of experts. No one can be an expert in everything. Recognizing this, and not trying to be a “know it all” is one of the keys to a successful startup. At least from my experience.
11- Oh YES! I want to change the world. Step by Step. Some steps will make more noise then the others. I fear this is only my beginning, because once you’ve liberated the startup bug, ideas will keep flowing.

Please Reply in 140 Characters

The new school year has started. I’m starting my 11th year at school as a parent. My kids are now in 3rd grade, 7th grade and 11th.

My eldest has started this year with great determination and a total focus. She chose her major topics, decided how she’s going to study, she’s taking control of the rhythm to the best of her ability, treating school as a mere accessory: realizing she must go through it to get her high school diploma and her final exams. Lead by the tempting scent of true academy she tasted during an amazing experience at the Weizmann Institute this summer, she simply decided “not to let school get in her way of learning”.

My 7th grader started this year fully aware of the fact that this year will be tougher on him than the previous one, with more material to learn and harsher demands from his teachers. At 12 years and a half he is expected to spend 40 hours in the classroom every week. I think it’s too much. Only 2 hours are sports and less then that is arts. How much fun or creativity is let into his other classes depends on the teachers: math, history, geography, bible, language… His successful adjustment to the schooling system so far is due mainly to the fact that his class is often engaging in more active discussions. But with more material to push in students heads, I am not sure how much of it will remain this year.

My 3rd grader started his year with a sigh. This schooling system is not for him. In a world where 2 year old kids can play with iPads, or take pictures with their parents’ mobile phone, find anything they want online, choose from tens of TV channels… in this world – it doesn’t make sense to tell a kid to “sit straight” for 5 hours a day and fill in the blanks in some workbook, or cut and paste with actual scissors and glue. In a world where kids use IM in first grade, and start texting when they’re in 2nd grade at the latest, followed by twitting – limited to 140 characters, it’s difficult to explain to my 3rd grader why it is important to answer a question in more than one word, preferably more than 3 words. Not to mention the mysterious value in it.

Now it’s my turn to sigh.

We’re living through an education revolution. It’s a serious revolution, but unfortunately not acknowledge by enough factors in education systems around the world. From students, to teachers to policy makers – too many people imagine it’s a temporary buzz and no drastic changes or adjustments are necessary.

Fortunately this revolution has some amazing world leaders.  Greg Whitby, Sir Ken Robinson, Connie Weber and others, some I have mentioned in my blog before. Another one is Steve Hagardon. Just saw his slides for a talk at the “Future of Education” today.

“Three internet driven cultural shifts that are having profound impacts on how we think about education”, he writes, “How we find, create and consume information; How we get things done; How we connect with others”. And towards the end he asks: “Honestly, how well are we preparing students for this world? And how prepared are we for these changes?”

Me? I’m just waiting for the first teacher to add a remark in an assignment:
Please limit your reply to 140 characters.

ADD – The Human Evolution

Are We All Acquiring ADD?

Last week I ran across a status update by a facebook friend who wrote “I think I won’t be able to complete this blog post without a dose of Ritalin”.
This floated at the same week I read some comments about the rising rates of ADD and ADHD among children and adults and how you can blame the web for everything wrong.
I don’t take Ritalin and it took me a lot longer then I had expected to finish this blog. My facebook friend had already completed and uploaded her great post titled -free translation from Hebrew: Attention Deficit Surprise. (Read it in Hebrew).

ADD is “Attention Deficit Disorder”. Ritalin is one of the more common drugs used to treat people who suffer from ADD. As one explained it to me once “Ritalin is like oiling the brain’s wheels so they won’t make a noise when they spin”. At the same time, if I use the same image, those Ritalin-oiled wheels slow down a lot, and go only straight, no sharp turns.

Which could be a problem.

But going back to the reality and the statistics – I won a “wow! You have serious ADD!” last week, as I was working with my partner on our startup’s verbal branding, while I gave him some advice regarding his wedding arrangements, took care of the kids’ lunch, schedule some doctor’s appointment and well, I don’t remember which other action items jumped in the list that morning.

His remark took me by surprise. I don’t think I have ADD. I think people often find it difficult to concentrate – that does not automatically award them with a disorder. I know I speak for many working mothers when I say we have many, many action items on our daily lists – and that also doesn’t amount to ADD or entitles us with a dose of Ritalin. It’s just a simple overload with no special order or dis.

I’ve been thinking about the ADD – the disorder, the definition and the perception – for a long time now. I have two boys diagnosed with ADD, who do not take Ritalin. And I have a brother and a sister diagnosed with it too. We assume that our parents have it, and science claims it’s hereditary. I still don’t think I have ADD.

But going back to the definition of ADD and recent statistics showing a rise in ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder) as a percentage of the general population, especially, but not only, among children:

Some might attack the actual statistics, some might argue that the rise is due to better knowledge and understanding of this phenomena, but often people blame the world we live in, specifically digital communications age. Because, really, think about it: life has gone from being simple 1-2 channel activity to being multi-channel activity all the time!

Consider only the communications channels that we have accumulated over the past 120 years. Started with face to face conversation added letter writing, telegraph, then phones, email, then mobile phones, then instant messaging, SMS, forums, chat rooms, social networks and twitter. Who knows what lies ahead!

This means that we’d better start thinking how to wean the world of Ritalin, because – yes: we are all acquiring ADD and it’s going to be the next generation’s normal.
Or is it?

I feel that sometimes ADD does not present itself as an attention DEFICIT but rather as an attention EXCESS (and let’s leave the disorder for now). Consider how we divided our time only 30 years ago between face to face conversations and phone conversations, each would be a single channel activity. Now think of today’s teenager’s time divided between face to face conversation, phone conversation, SMS, chat, email all together with web browsing and TV, all at the same time. The reality requires the Attention Excess – and the result could become “disorder”, a mess, a chaos.

But is it really a mess or is it a phase in evolution?
I read today that “according to Fortune Magazine people with ADD/ADHD are 300% more likely to start their own company”. I also found this simple explanation: “The ADD/ADHD gene affects the brain’s relationship with dopamine. This difference causes one to crave stimulation just to feel alive…” and “while only about 10% of the general population has this gene, most of self-made rich & famous have the ADD/ADHD gene. This group includes most entrepreneurs, artists, inventors, geniuses, rock stars and billionaires.”

The real problem with ADD is the labeling system that’s attempting to treat this evolution as a disease that needs a cure – drugs, to be specific.

Of course some ADD people, who may use Ritalin successfully might disagree with what I write here. And to be fair I must make it clear: there are various levels of ADD. In most cases ADD people do not see their problem as an attention “Excess” because even though they can split their attention between multiple stimulations, they never get to maximize their attention to any of those channels, leaving them with a feeling of “missed something”. But that’s not the same in all ADD cases. Not even in all ADD days.

In the meantime I’ve been watching this 2 year old who’s playing with her iPad, first encounter. Looks like she’s born into the digital age. She can instantly do stuff with her iPad that her grandparents might take hours to grasp. She’s born into a world where she can work around multi channels of stimulation and once accustomed to it at this early age, her brain is beginning to constantly crave stimulation, just like the brain of an ADD child.

In 4 years she’ll go to school and be asked to sit still in a classroom, listen to a teacher talking for 45 minutes at a time, write with a pencil in her notebook, a paper notebook. Before you know it she’ll be labeled ADD. It’s like sending a kid to the moon then dropping them down from there to earth – to a hundred years ago earth.

Time to make a reality check:
I am sick and tired of all those magazine articles warning humanity against the horrible things technology, especially the Internet – is doing to our brains. Technology is NOT JUST here to stay, it keeps EVOLVING. It’s not going to go away and I suspect the middle ages will never come back. The question is not “how to prevent humanity from changing” but rather how to get humanity to embrace the change, work with it and start to benefit from it.

Follow Your Followers

Well, these two guys, veteran internet entrepreneurs, are starting a new web venture. Obviously I got curious. So I googled them up and found that each of them has about 3 pages: LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. In that order. Their LinkedIn profiles seems relatively detailed, but I noticed for the first time that there’s no way to discover when they visited LinkedIn last or when was their profile updated. Their Facebook pages where private – which is understandable. OK, but their Twitter pages where the final straw: just a few twits, from about a year ago.

My instinctive reaction: these guys are talking about a new web venture? They don’t get the present day web at all!

Hey, I am open to your feedback on this one. Is it possible that because I am so very much connected and involved with a cloud of undefined worldwide web community that I am biased? It just feels to me like this is what the current web is all about, it’s a global conversation, and if you are not part of it – how can you make any offer to this web community, trying to sell a new web venture, product or service??

These guys are obviously not alone. I’ve recently came across several people who are similarly not “floating on the web current”. I divide them to two major groups: one is those who have never been involved in any type of online presence, and find the current personal openness and entangled involvement in this elusive community somewhere between overwhelming and intimidating.
The other group is actually people who were pretty much on top of things up to 5-10-15 years ago, but sort of let go in the recent years, to a point where they missed the big and still growing social revolution. At this point they are too embarrassed to admit they are no longer on top of things, and they claim they are either not interested, or don’t need it, or – those very important persona – don’t have time for it.

Well, just so you know – I too do not have time for social networking. Strangely enough I also don’t “make time for it”. Facebook and Twitter are present in my work day the same as my outlook, Firefox, post-it, my pens and pencils, my mobile phone and my coffee.

I found various tools that help me stay connected to my trade floor, that’s this odd social web community, with minimal time investment.

First of these tools is Digsby. This is an instant messaging program, but it also connects to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and my major online email accounts. It allows me to get streaming updates, and I don’t have to open any web page for this.

The second tool I use occasionally is Tweetdeck, which is of course useful when you create twitter lists. I only start Tweetdeck when I want to take an active role in a twitter conversation, like #edchat for example.

But really, the Twitter lists should be the topic of this post. I think each of us have several areas of interests and we follow people who belong to various groups of topics. When Twitter introduced the lists earlier this year it was one of the smartest things they have done. I can’t remember the prehistoric era. I’ve created several lists among them lists of educators, gamers, techies, entrepreneurs. If I do have some reading time allocated, I browse the lists, according to the most relevant topic to my work at the time.

Today I started to wonder how comes that Facebook, who allow grouping of contacts for ages, doesn’t enable sorting the news stream or recent updates, to group views. This would save so much time!

If you want to look for me online search for lemino. Just letting you know.

The Paradox of Online Privacy

Last night, at a diner party, people were discussing the latest online privacy issues concerning the recent changes by Facebook. One friend mentioned what she likes about people’s online presence is the fact that it is so easy to gather so much information about people. The other said she doesn’t have a Facebook account out of fear for her privacy, and mainly of loosing control over her information online.

This morning I found the latter’s personal details online: her name, position, home address, land line and mobile phone number, email, and at least one clear photo with her husbands on some non-profit organization’s newsletter.

Privacy is no longer.

Or at least it is re-defined.
If you live in this online era, you have to understand that defining your privacy on Facebook, even before the recent changes in the privacy settings, is like whispering to a friend when you are in a packed mall. You might think that only your friend heard what you whispered, but you can never be sure that a lip reader haven’t got you from the other end of the passage. You can also never be a hundred percent sure that this friend won’t repeat what you said and quote you.

Being online is being public. Being connected is being part of the public. I am not saying you can’t live without it, I’m just saying that chances are you are friends with someone who is online, and that means that a part of you, belongs to your friend, and is probably already online in a way. I think it’s valuable to gain control over your online presence. People can tag you in a photo even if you are not on Facebook or not connected to them. When you are, and the photo didn’t come out nice, you can remove your tag. If you are on Facebook and you want to see what people can see about you – use this tool. What ever is there – is available because you put it there.

The big commotion in the recent days concerns Facebook sharing your preferences and interests with advertisers, which are 3rd parties. The loss of control can justly freak us all out. Even though you are not obliged to fill out all this information – your preferences, favorites, activities and hobbies – many choose to do it, as a way of declaring their identities to their online friends, some of which don’t really know them closely. The only upside I see about the transfer of this information is that I might actually get to see some targeted advertising, and not irrelevant sometime offensive ads. If I chose to publish my interest to my hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Facebook friends, I see no problem in advertisers using this data. As long as they don’t get my personal data such as phone numbers or email or private address. There I would definitely draw the line, or start using fake data, which would back fire to Facebook.

The other thing is the Facebook “like” button populating other sites. Clicking it shows on this site, to your friends, that you liked the site or the post, and it shows on your profile too. The only difference from the previous share option is that the site may present its likers too. As a blog owner I want to use it too. Unfortunately, wordpress.com don’t enable this yet, and so I have to settle for the lesser version of “getsociallive” and present my likers on their servers.

The Young Problem

The main problem with online presence really concerns kids. Officially Facebook meets the COPPA laws by limiting the age of registered users to 14 and up. Practically, the average user age is dropping every day. Kids lie about their age without a blink, not thinking about it twice, and consider Facebook their own environment.

They connect with classmates, sometimes with older kids, sometimes with younger kids, but they also connect to their parents, or teachers, or guides, or friends of their parents, or older friends of the older sister… I hardly know any kids on Facebook who is not connected to adults.

The connection itself is OK. Sometimes even blessed. It leads to better relationship between youth and adults and opens a sort of a back channel of communications. But many of those kids, sometimes “friends collectors” aren’t fully aware of the face that each status may reach many circles. It’s pretty complicated for a child to manage his connections into groups and then choose each time who gets to see what.

In addition, when they submit information about themselves they often use humor and exaggeration, and not necessarily their true interests, which in turn might lead to exactly the wrong type of ads for them.
Facebook is ignoring this problem. Officially they have no data relating to kids. But at some point they will have to create a young Facebook, to enable safe and legal usage of Facebook by kids.

It’s Kidsville!

It’s kidsville time!!

I admit it.  I gave in to my youngest child and let him get an account on Facebook. Farmville was the trigger, and though he is apparently the first among his 2nd grade classmates to play it I am not convinced he is the first one to have a Facebook account. He started by playing Farmville with his brother (6th grader) and sister (10th grader). But his network of neighboring farms is expanding to include their friends and more distant family members.

CNN titled it “Social networks and kids: How young is too young?”
They mention, among other things, Susan Greenfield who was quoted on “The Mail”, an article which I already covered in my February post. How young really? My daughter joined on 8th grade. My son at the beginning of his 5th grade. And then my youngest at the beginning of his 2nd grade. That’s probably as young as possible for a text based network.

But here are two new facts to consider:

First, the PEW report published a day after the CNN item. It’s titled “Social Isolation and New Technology” which “finds that Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. People’s use of the mobile phone and the Internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – Internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks.”

The second is this item, published on National Geographic about 2 weeks earlier, titled “Googling Fights Dementia, Study Suggests”.

So let’s stop and think for a moment.

What do kids find in social networks?

I think that … big surprise, the same as adults: Accessibility. Of people, of course. Why is it OK for me to use social networks to connect with colleagues who I never met and may never meet face to face in my life, from other parts of the planet, but it’s dangerous for kids to use social networks to connect to classmates or school mates or soccer team members who they cannot meet on a daily basis after school hours?

Well I am no fool. Some people jump at this question with the dangers theme. There are many dangers lurking around the cyber corner and these are more meaningful to innocent young kids then they are to adults with some life experience or to teens with some networking experience.

Yes, some teens are more network savvy then some adults I have met. They understand what details one never reveals, what information to present or not to present in the first place, how to block unwanted communications… They know the network’s right and wrong as well as they know the streets’ right and wrong and sometimes even better. Those streets that bear dangers to innocent young kids too – so what’s the difference?

The difference is that we know the streets, we feel that we can see the streets and imagine we can anticipate street behavior. However the network is perceived as not visible and unpredictable. Personally I might be a different mom. I fear I cannot see what is happening with my kids on their way home from school. It’s about 300 meters walk, through a path between trees, and it’s scarier in my view, then the time they spend online – either chatting or on social networks.

The Internet, as I see it, is a channel of communications which is here to stay. The question we are facing now is not how young is too young, or how to control the younger generation’s use of the network, but rather – how do we make it more visible and more predictable to us, their parents.

I keep remembering this “House on the Prairie” episode “Cross Connections” where they introduced the telephone and switchboard in the town. There will always be those who abuse the innovation, but can you imagine our world without a telephone connection??

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Mars, Venus and the Social Networks

I’ll start by saying this is good news. But Pete Cashmore on Mashable wants an explanation. “Are women just more social in general, or is there some other explanation? ” he asks, in response to the “Chicks Rule” new statistics published on Information is Beautiful.
To sum it: equal numbers of men and women use sites like LinkedIn, YouTube and DeviantArt. However in more social websites it looks like men are outnumbered. These are sites like Twitter, Facebook, Ning, Myspace, Friendfeed, Flickr, Bebo and more. In fact, of the leading social web sites, Digg is the only male dominated.

The thing that surprised me when I read this was how I rarely use Digg as opposed to most of the other web sites.

Had to dig into those networks to try and figure it out. With some I am already familiar. I am a heavy user of facebook, linkedin, twitter and ning.
Some of them I know but am not using very frequently. Some required new registration. After looking deeper into more of them I got the “Digg” answer.

But first I took out an old book of mine. I never read it through. I sort of got the gist of it from the first 20 pages. This is the famous “Men are from mars, Women are from Venus”, by John Gray. Reading only the chapter titles might produce the explanation Cashmore is looking for.

Chapter 2: Mr. Fix-it and the Home Improvement Committee
Chapter 3: Men go to the caves and Woman talk

Now think social networking: Really, if we apply the Venus-Mars motto, Social Networking is clearly a feminine phenomena.

First of all it’s talk. Away with the caves! Gray didn’t use the term “gossip” – because he referred to the different methods-of-unburdening that men and women use. Still, gossip is one way to do it. And social networks are institutionalized sharing and gossip establishments. Interesting enough, lots of men who use social networks actually use it to talk out, release frustrations and – going back to chapter 2 – try and fix things. Like opinions. However the feminine “home improvement committee” is a lot more dominant in social networking than the “fix-it” and the conversation between the two approaches improves communications by both men and women.

Going back to the Digg website I find the answer. Sorry folks, not enough conversation, not enough communications, not enough interaction nor socializing. It’s mainly a digging place for me, and less a fishing place. More a cave then an invitation to talk.

Ready to step out of the box and into online reality?

It was a strange call from reality. The whole time I have been planning my startup and working on its development I felt a little protected from reality. That big wide world I will eventually embark on, in a quest to turn my plans into a real business. But that call last week was a much needed shake.

Sivan Biran, a young and vibrant entrepreneur and the founder of her own company – Sergata – told me about the Internet-startup reality-style competition they will be running – exit09. For 4 weeks the general public will choose their favorite startup idea. The public will eventually choose 4 finalists, and a team of judges will choose their 4 finalist, and 2 of the 8 finalist will win a week work on the development of whatever you can develop in a week. The two developments will compete on the final prize – 100,000 dollars plus hardware to start it up.

I must admit, I might be a competitive person, but I am not the competitions person. I am even less a reality shows fan than I am a competition person. I wish the daring competitors all the luck and success they deserve. Of course I can’t help wondering what would have come out of twitter, for example, if it had to go through a popularity competition to justify its launch. How many votes from the public would it have received? I am not even sure about the judges votes.

It’s pretty scary out of the box. There are things there which we do not completely comprehend. Not to mention expect. I mean Twitter, again. I’d expect all the contest’ judges to have an account there. How can they judge a competition of Internet ventures if they are not ON the Internet?

No names, but here is a quick research, excluding Sivan.  Judge 1 – cannot be found on either twitter or FaceBook. Too private? Judge no. 2 has a FaceBook account with a nice photo and exactly 4 friends, and no twitter presence. Judge 3 is a lot more web active, still couldn’t find a twitter reference. Judge 4 is on Twitter, yey! Private twittering though. FaceBook page doesn’t reveal number of friends. Judge 5 has a FaceBook account, with more friends than judge 2 but a lot less then judge 3 and no twitter. Judge 6 is a mystery. Judge 7 is probably the wildest web animal of them all.

Now to the general public. Do they even know what’s a browser?

Going back to my roots I am examining the communications strategies. Reality shows communications strategies are very simple: they work like the basic popularity contests, much like in high school. They are great when you want to be a pop star. I’d even go for it when you want to market a pop product. But is the general public ready to step out of the box and into the online reality?

Platform or a service? That is the question

Do you go to a barber or to a hairstylist? Do you get a haircut or a hair design? Trends and fashion surely impacted the use of terminology in many industries over the years. The hi-tech arena is not different. The only thing we can say to its defense is that in many cases the evolution in terminology is accompanied by real technological developments, not just perception changes.

Think of how the web, “just web”, left the prime stage for the sake of web 2.0. Or the distance from the original LinkedIn concept to Twits. It’s just an example, of course.

And now, is “platform” the new trend pushing “web services” aside?

I’ve asked this question around for the past couple of weeks. It looks like the “platform” concept is very popular. Many developers of web services have decided to dress their companies with the air of “platform”. Isn’t offering a platform for buying and selling a lot more impressive than suggesting an online shop?

Similarly, venture capitalists say, many developers of various software solutions present their software as “an engine”. Having a software that performs isn’t impressive enough. But offer an engine – now you’re talking!

The investors are not that impressed with the new terminology. Although some treat is as “semantics only” and ignore the choice of word, others prefer it if the entrepreneurs would call their child with its proper name. That would lead to the correct market strategy, from research to penetration and management of competition.

So what is really the difference between a web service and that glorified platform?

Platform

A web service usually offers an actual solution to end users.
A web platform, however, offers a basis for the creation, by others, of services or solutions, which are then offered to end users. A platform is a basis on which you can build new things.

“The web is a platform”, claimed Tim O’reilly in his article from 2005 “What Is Web 2.0”. But some ventures have taken this concept too far. For instance- “The Meretz USA weblog is a platform for discussion of issues related to Israel and the American Jewish community…” – why not simply a forum?

In many cases it’s simply a confusion, where the usage of the term “platform” is correct – language wise, even if not venture-wise. “ParagonEX Trader is an advanced online trading platform for the Forex market”. “Erayo is the world’s first online wholesale platform for boutiques and independent retailers.” “BlogTV is a well recognized platform that has won several awards”. Qoof widget is “The Most Advanced Video Platform on the World Wide Web”.

Qoof executive chairman and founder Richard Kligman explained: “I think we just started a few years ago with the term Platform and so that is what stuck. Even though SASS (Software as a Service) may be a better fit for us now, platform is still more understood when talking to clients and investors. If I remember correctly we looked at what Brightcove called themselves and since we are the best solution for video as a selling tool, as opposed to an entertainment tool like Brightcove, we decided to go with that. I think SAAS is on its way up and will be more common in the next 12-24 months, but for now Platform is the one you need to explain less.”

On the other side there are companies who could use the sexy term, but elegantly avoided the trend:
Fring™ is a mobile internet community and communication service that allows friends to connect…” but “Fring provides an Open API, providing 3rd party developers with the building blocks to create mobile web apps and leverage Fring community & hardware capabilities” which actually adds a platform to the service.

Things are very clear in the eyes of entrepreneur Yossi Taguri (Nuconomy). “A platform is something you build on, a service is something you give out of the box…For instance: Windows is a platform, hotmail is a service. Google app engine is a platform, Google apps for domains is a service.” Yet on the company’s web site “NuConomy helps companies better assess and understand website and social marketing performance with its free, next generation web analytics and optimization platform.” Taguri clarifies: “we have an analytics service and an advertising platform”.

You can get a hint on the perceived importance of ‘platform’ from a sentence Jeff Pulver wrote on one of his blog posts “…Facebook’s opening of it’s platform with the APIs … transformed FaceBook from a social networking application to a social networking operating system”.

So my guess is, we should be looking at the development of a lot more platforms in the next couple of years. And probably a process of separation between services or SAAS and platforms.

Facebook Therapy for Teens

I have a privilege. I am connected to so many young people, my kids age, around the world, and basically invited to peek into their lives. I am not involved. I dare not speak. But I look and listen and try to grasp their reality. I have an opportunity my parents never had.

So, first of all, I am flattered, of being trusted enough. Now comes the observation. What are they talking about? What is the mood? What impresses them or occupies them? How much of their social life is managed online, and how much is offline?

And when I am looking for the answer to this question, I wonder about the difference between online and offline socializing. What does online give, that offline can’t (there’s been enough talk about the other way around…).

There has been so much criticism about the online social life. About kids clinging to their facebook-myspace pages for hours a day. Fears regarding net-safety and cyber bullying. Scares about the re-wiring of these young brains. Talks about their physical shape, changed by the growing number of sitting hours that they spend each day.

But I would like to point out some really great things that the online socializing does and might be overlooked.

I don’t know if anyone ever bothered to run a statistics about the percentage of teens who kept a diary or expressed themselves in various forms of writing 10 or 20 years ago. But I do know they percentage of teens who do it nowadays is extremely high. According to a recent publication from PewInternet.org 93% of teens ages 12-17 use the Internet. 64% of teens are content creators. Writers.

What does it mean? And why is it of significance? I am thinking writing and biblio-therapy here. Venting.

I remember what it was to be a teen. Flooded with extreme emotions. Living a daily drama. Struggling to gain my independence, discover and re-shape my self. Wanting to do well at my studies, yet stay alive socially. I used to write a diary. I also wrote hundreds of poems. That was my way of venting. However, I didn’t have too many sharing options, and at times, the feeling you are alone, was the toughest. This sort of writing was more “for the drawer”. Looking at my kids I see something else.

What social networks give them is the opportunity for a natural support group. The discovery that they are not alone. This is a great social achievement.

So once we take a break from criticizing teens’ “inappropriate” online behavior, let’s talk about the cultivation of a new type of teen empathy. It might be difficult for them to note in the classroom that one of the students is ‘depressed’, but once he wrote it on his FaceBook status it generates a flood of comments. Suddenly the depressed is not alone, they “joined a club”. There is a kind of comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone. That’s the start of therapy.
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So I am watching with wonder and see the budding of empathy, caring, humor and intellect of the next generation. I am also seeing how different this blossom is, from any previous generations.

Beware the Social Networks!

About 12 hours ago “The Mail Online” has published an article titled: “Social websites harm children’s brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist“.

The top neuroscientist quoted is Lady Susan Greenfield. She is an amazing 59 year old woman and a specialist on the physiology of the brain, a professor at the department of pharmacology at Oxford university in the UK.  A serious, serious academic.

I am dedicating this post to her achievements and to the Ada Lovelace day, and to this pledge.

I had to read the article several times to try and understand what she is saying. After all, she is a top neuroscientist. You can’t simply dismiss what she says. Being a mother of 3 children – I want to know.

I am already poisoning my kids with un-organic food, we live in a polluted city, there are cellular antennas in the neighborhood, not to mention their personal mobile phones. Am I doing some more damage to their brains by letting them have a Facebook account??

Anxiously I was looking for scientific hints in the article. The research conducted… the methods and subjects… anything to learn a little more. But the most scientific reference I found was: she “believes repeated exposure could effectively ‘rewire’ the brain”.

OK.

The article quotes her saying “Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centered” and then adds the quote “My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.”

Last month, the same lady, who is a member of the house of lords said “I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitized and easier screen dialogues…, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,” arguing that exposure to computer games, instant messaging, chat rooms and social networking sites “could leave a generation with poor attention spans”.

Well, hello and welcome to E V O L U T I O N.

Indeed not all evolutions do well for the specie. Think Mammoth for instance. Perhaps we are doomed.

But, does this mean we have to exclude all new media and stick with the old ways? Is preserving the current wiring of the brain more important than developing and arriving at new, yet unknown, places?

Here is something to think of. My 9th grader told me about her new History text book. Text books are rarely noted or gaining any sort of comment from a teenager. But she actually pointed out that this is a rather good book to study from. The book’s uniqueness is by adding several different fields of information into each page. Allowing the students to follow the main text while absorbing other types of information, some are minor others are accented.

When I encountered this fantastic presentation by Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbins – things fit. I already wrote about it here.

I am not a scientist. But I believe that Lady Susan Greenfield is right. The young brains do go through some re-wiring. Sarah Robbins is right too. Students today are capable of handling a lot more information then students in the past. Call it “poor attention spans” if you like. I actually think it’s rich attention span.

I know that my Kids find it easier to absorb and process several sensory and information sources at once. They are certainly more successful at it than most adults I know and I believe they are better at it then I was as a student. Excuse me for not crediting social networking or penguin club with these achievements. I give most of the credit to the environment they are growing into and the future they are naturally preparing for.

Some of the many comments made to the article on “The Mail” try to dismiss everything as an oldie attacking the younger generation. Which makes you wonder really, about how society related to various media changes in the past century, or better yet – from print, through phones, to mass and digital media.

Still one question remains: can we really fight it, or should we find a way to use it to society’s advantage?

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