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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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Web 2.0

Reply: Why Index believes Israel is about to have its moment

I read the GIGAOM article titled “Why Index believes Israel is about to have its moment” by Bobbie Johnson yesterday and started to write my comment, when I realized it’s pretty long and should be posted on my own site too. So…

It’s true. Israel is about to have its moment.
It does not have a deep culture of UI and design and is traditionally technology lead. So much so, that if you are not offering a big tech invention (preferably the scope of the wheel…) people hardly perceive you as an entrepreneur, and would be skeptical about investing. Well, at least that was the case until recently.
Almost a decade too late concepts and web ventures have started to gain some acknowledgement, but as mentioned in the GIGAOM article, web entrepreneurs have had to move to the US to build their company.
Sad and a bit strange too, considering the development in communications and access. One of the things Saul Klein of Index Ventures said at a recent conference in Tel Aviv is that entrepreneurs don’t have to think relocation so quickly, and if they do, then a midway – like the UK – can sometimes be better than all the way to the US, especially if you intend to go global, beyond the US market. He also mentioned a CEO who traveled to the US once a month, if I remember correctly, and people in the US west coast he met with regularly were not even aware of the fact that he wasn’t based in the US.
What??? Really?
Yes. After all there are phones, email, Skype…
Still, there are challenges in running an international web venture from our small country, 7-hour time-zones apart from the east coast. I know. I am facing those challenges daily, though thankfully I have a NY based partner. That does not prevent the question from popping at every meeting “so, are you planning to relocate?”.

But Israel is about to have its moment, I say. It is. People won’t have to relocate to run their businesses. Companies will always need local marketing people at every market they’re penetrating, but there is no real excuse for managements to relocate into those markets.

As for the question “Can a home market of just 7 million people ever be big enough to support multinational internet businesses? Is Israel, which exists in its own political and geographical bubble, able to play host to all this?” – Israel can play host but not because of its 7 million people market, nor location, obviously. It’s the state of mind that provides the nurturing environment entrepreneurs need to grow a multinational internet business. It’s the spirit that has always existed here, and is now gradually shaking off the 7-million-people & geographical-constraints thanks to open and thick worldwide communications and social media.

A couple of years ago I attempted to establish an elementary school for entrepreneurship in Israel. I believe in entrepreneurship as a state of mind. I believe that directing kids at thinking entrepreneurship can prevent violence and bullying and promote creativity, learning and happiness, as in being self content. Looking around me there are so many broken systems, in Israel, in its neighboring countries and around the world. Only entrepreneurs can really make a difference, create the change. Being an entrepreneur you take responsibility over your own destiny, you give birth to ideas and do what it takes to execute them. You learn to collaborate and appreciate others, and the diversity around you. I promise you I am not taking it too far when I say that I believe entrepreneurship can bring peace. And so, yep, Israel is about to have its moment.

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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.

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?

Friends Under Online Fire

Some people say you can see who your true friends are at a time of crisis. Well, I never put it to test. But strangely enough, the current situation has created some odd tests. Me getting whole hearted birthday congratulations from teenagers I have never met is just an example.

If we could run all of the fighting online – it would be great. First of all, no life casualties. Second – reading and writing is one of the best ways to manage a dialog: You get to finish a sentence. Believing in the true power of web 2.0 – the power of reason should win, since moderate tones are the ones we are generally comfortable with. While some bloggers like to annoy and provoke, even them don’t like to be annoyed or provoked. And anyone can choose what to read or what to say and how.

So here we are, 12 days into the current IDF operation in Gaza, and the online war gets warmer by the minute. Unlike in previous wars, this time the many Israeli Internet experts, ages 12 years and up, have joined in the effort to bring the Israeli message to the world and fight off the criticism.

The effort runs on various levels. Social media marketing professionals monitor media all over the world and assign comment tasks. Media experts are busy creating media files and uploading them to the various networks, such as YouTube. Kids and teens are writing blogs and taking photos to document their lives. Everyone with an email can chip in by distributing links that deliver a message, to friends, family or colleagues, spread all over the world. It’s a kind of effort Israel hasn’t experienced before, surprisingly enough. Even official Israeli entities are using social media tools, like twitter, to deliver a message and converse with the public.

While the delivery of messages and participation in discussions is legitimate and even blessed, some criminal activity is also happening online, in the name of the war. It started when Muslim hackers broke into Israeli servers, hacked Israeli web pages and “stole” Israeli domains, directing these web sites to their own pro-Palestinian pages. This is another arena of the online war, requiring the assistance of Israeli web security professionals.

Early on I have decided not to voice an opinion on a “right and wrong” on this war. I am not a judge. However when my country is under attack, and most of the community I live and work with is busy in this online war effort, it’s slightly problematic to keep ignoring messages and threads. A couple of days ago I decided to reply to one specific post. I thought this one is someone I can talk with. I developed a conversation and though we sort of “agreed on not agreeing” it was still a very civil discussion, where I remain appreciating her feelings and thoughts, and she could see the humanity of the other side too. That’s fine by me.

I also accepted a request to help translating to English blog posts, written in Hebrew by kids under missiles. Those amazing kids thought they could actually change things, affect all adults, by inviting Palestinian kids under fire to write with them. The invitation was rejected by the contact person, who shortly explained they will be risking their life if they cooperate with anything from the other side. Any thoughts of creating a bi-national group of mothers were canceled for similar reasons. I certainly wouldn’t like to put anyone at any extra risk now.

Sadly, the fighting goes on as I write these lines. I keep wishing we could keep it online. Still waiting for the fighting to be over, so I can truly celebrate my birthday.

Can the network do it? Peace on Earth?

I recently joined a social network called mepeace.org. This network, built on my favorite NING platform, suggests a platform for peace making in the Middle East. Let’s start by communicating, says Eyal Raviv, a relatively new immigrant from New-York and a former Yeshiva student who established this network about a year ago. The network now has 843 registered members to date and a nice regular rate of page hits a day.

Communicating is indeed one of the key factors of peace making. Without it there is no way for one party to understand the hopes, fears and constraints of the other side, both of which form the agreement environment.

Peace is a good, solid agenda. Not to mention sexy. In fact, world peace, and the Middle-East peace specifically, are so attractive that there are about a million web sites who offer various platforms for connecting Israelis, Palestinians and others for an open dialogue of some sort or method, aimed at reaching understanding or cooperation, which will lead to a peace agreement. Some of the sites offer online conversations while others only raise money and awareness online, but manage the dialogues in conferences, lunches and events, preferably further away from Sderot or Gaza.

Here are some examples randomly picked from the Google search results:

“The Middle East Peace Dialogue Network Inc” is a company founded by Richard C. Goodwin who was born in Philadelphia and lives in Snowmass Village, Colorado. His business is building, but he founded the organization, that according to their site  supports over 65 Israeli and Palestinian groups to promote peace.

“Scholars for Peace in the Middle East” is another Pennsylvania based organization with an interesting board of directors.

The Carter Center offers “conflict resolution” programs all over the world, including the Middle East. “One Voice” is an organization offering a little more content online. You can read about it here . Unlike other organizations they state: we are not a dialogue group. We are action oriented.

“Search For Common Grounds” was established in 1982 and aims at various conflicts resolution around the world. They have an office in Jerusalem. They have been active in the area from 1991 and increased their actions since 2000, especially through development of independent media solutions. Read here.

Facebook offers hundreds of groups dedicated to peace making in the Middle East. Some link to other sites like the pro-pro-pro group, with its 1739 members linking to http://www.btvshalom.org/, an organization with chapters in America, but not in the Middle East. Some are simpler groups like “This group supports peace between Israel and Palestine” with its discussion board open for its 850 members. There are groups who have thousands, tens of thousands and even more than 177 thousand members, all using the peace as an anchor.

Other groups who use peace as their key words are the hate groups. When you search Facebook for peace related groups you encounter many of those. No dialogue invitation there. A one sided collection of hate declarations and calls for violence, killing and destruction – and that’s it. The amount of hate promoted on Facebook questions this specific medium as a peace promoting environment.

Back to Mepeace. On their homepage you can find a calendar of peace related events in Israel, Palestine and the US. Following is the list of forum discussions started by members, called here “peacemakers”, who try to keep an optimistic air, in spite of difficult events that take place daily.

mepeace homepage

Of the recent forum discussions I especially like that little bit naïve, but so straight forward discussion  started by Marwa Yassine. She is a 22 year old student from Canada, who was born in Iraq, raised in Lebanon, never was in Israel or Palestine, and yet has a complete Palestinian identity based on the fact that her grandparents used to live in Haifa. This open communications, revealing thoughts and feelings of “the other side” does reach. I am not a political person. Can’t define a specific line of views. But communicating with Marwa and her friends makes a point: It’s time the Israeli and Jewish recognize the “Palestinian Zionism”. It’s exactly the same emotion that brought my ancestors from Poland, Russia and Germany to Israel at the beginning of the 20th century, after 20 centuries of exile. It doesn’t go away.

The big question is, can web 2.0  really contribute to advance a solution? Or are we aiming at web 21?

Socially yours…

I love social networking. Online and offline, virtual and real world networking. Over the past couple of weeks I have participated in several real life social networking events and enjoyed every minute of them. Reports will follow.

Here is an observation: social networking has always existed. In my life it has always played a major role. After all, I began my journalistic career at the age of 16, and what do journalists do? Network!

So what’s the big deal? Why do the 20-something walk around proudly as if their generation has invented social networking?

Well, the fact is they didn’t invent social networking, but social networking has been re-invented. First of all, it is not profession-dependent any more. You don’t need to be a journalist to network. Come to think of it, you don’t need to be a journalist to write…

Then, you do need the double channel for networking today. The online-offline go hand in hand. Online can allow a certain reach. Offline extends and enhances networking.

And here enter the 20-something. I started to type my stories, news and reports on a PC in 1990. That’s only 18 years ago. The 20-something were just about to start school. They started their reading and writing with the computer already present in their lives. Computer games, which were never present in my childhood, took a major bite in their childhood. If my better hours of childhood afternoons were socializing around the neighborhood, some of their better hours were already dedicated to solitary relationship with the computer. And yes, I know, you can socialize with friend around the PC too. I have a 10 year old son. Let me tell you something – it is not the same type of socializing, nor networking.

This generation was in the most desperate need for social networking. So when social networking finally arrived (did we mention web 2.0?), they claimed ownership, naturally.

Being a 40-something doesn’t mean I can’t benefit or I fit less. Au contraire! With my real-world social networking experience, the online-offline game is a true pleasure.

Next: Web 3.0 – semantic web, who is going to claim ownership for that??

Ninges

I am increasingly ninging. That is, I am a member of more and more networks which are built on the Ning platform. I feel like a teenager browsing through a street full of clubs, each one more inviting and exciting than the neighboring club.

Following my previous post I joined Fireside Learning, which is a network of educators, who are seeking answers in their way to integrate the web into the education process.I also joined some neighboring networks. I am a member of Edureshet, a Hebrew speaking sister of the Fireside learning network. I joined Teachers 2.0 and the French-English “Hors les Murs” (Outside the walls), Mr. Caro’s Teachers and Students, International Teachers, Passionate Teachers, Classroom 2.0, Classroom 3.0, Connected Classroom, Flat Classroom, and these in addition to the Hi-Tech oriented networks I am a member of like GaragGeeks, TheCoils, iDrink and more.

Working alone in my study, I begin by checking email at 07:00AM. Then, after sending the kids off to school, I go back to the study and I am there for 5 hours or so. Five very short hours. I sometimes go through them without getting up, for any sort of biological need… And the strange thing: I don’t feel alone or get a chance to be bored or tired. I manage numerous conversations, sometimes with several people at the same time, with friends from all over the globe, using the various networks or IM systems. Those conversations help me gather information for my business and learn the industry I am about to embark, and also strangely enough, fill some social need. I am not alone.

Ning

One example to this not-alone situation is the incredible help I received this week from a woman I have only met online. She is the tech teacher at the Maaganim elementary school, at Maagan-Michael. Her name is Susan and she established, on ning of course, two networks – Edureshet, mentioned above – for teachers seeking to integrate the web into the education systems, and inhebrew.ning.com, where she offers help to those who want to translate the ning platform to Hebrew. Susan provides the basic translation files and the style sheet which turns the page to right-to-left.

I needed those files because, another network friend, from somewhere in the United States, have encouraged me to take the ning platform and experience it on the local kids. He has done it with his students, ages 12-15. So I have established a social network, in Hebrew, aimed at the graduators of the 8th grade in the Ramat-Gan elementary school my kids go to. And hopefully I will be able to report back on the development in this network soon.

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