From Web 2.0 to World Wide EveryWhere

Thoughts on Sir Tim Berners-Lee, mobility and beyond at the Web 2.0 Summit 2009

Tim Berners-Lee at the Web 2.0 Summit - "We didn't call it World-Wide Web for nothing"

Tim Berners-Lee at the Web 2.0 Summit - "We didn't call it 'World-Wide' Web for nothing"

London schoolboy Tim Berners-Lee was just 14 when two computers talked to each other for the very first time 40 years ago via ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet. It’s safe to say this turned out to be a bigger deal than anyone knew at the time (except maybe young Tim).

When he first conceived of the World Wide Web 20 years later (in 1989), Berners-Lee knew it had to be a fully open, public-domain platform. As he explained in conversation with Tim O’Reilly at the Web 2.0 Summit last week in San Francisco, “otherwise it would not have worked.” The system had to be really flexible, without proprietary formats and constraints, “a very creative read-write space, like a sandbox — a group collaborative thing,” to enable it to spread its usefulness across the whole world as he had conceived it.  “It had to be — we didn’t call it ‘World-Wide’ Web for nothing.”

One score, the change of a millennium, and the “versioning” of WWW to “Web 2.0” later, the Web is still trying to fulfill that promise. Berners-Lee acknowledges that Web platforms and blogs and wikis have approached that collaborative vision, but in an awesome perspective in his session which closed the conference, he reminded us that “only 20-25 percent of humanity actually uses the Web at all.”

While this begs the question how and whether the Web should extend to blanket the other three-quarters of the world, if you turn it around you can see that Web 2.0, now a kindergartner at five years old, is ready to be and continues to be itself disrupted through its reach — and hopefully by those who will need it the most.

The most recent, most potent disruptions are happening in the mobile, realtime, and local spaces and hence into the “everywheres and everyones” through the corners of the Earth. This year’s Summit did not disappoint along those lines both in terms of real news, cutting-edge developments, and a little bit of whimsey along the way.

On the local, realtime front, with a big kick in the pants by Twitter, the major search players are paying a lot of attention to the “everywhere, everyone, AND all at once” phenomenon (read Jeremiah Owyang’s good wrap from a business perspective on the related Google / Microsoft announcements). But one thing that was almost lost in the hype — almost buried in Marissa Mayer’s surprise announcement of  Google Social Search — is the local aspect.  Through the years we’ve witnessed the evolution of “finding things” from Browse (Yahoo) –> to Search (Google) –> to Share (Facebook) — and now we approach the next phase: all of the above, then add “Where” — and then EveryWhere.

Take a good look at the demo: first the Twitter-dare-I-say-Google-open-social-graph announcement has to do with bringing the particular GeoLocation of New Zealand closer to home, via your social circle.  But toward the end of the demo Google solidifies the geo/local aspect. Says Mayer, “You can see how analyzing these social networks can really improve the overall relevance, comprehensiveness, and quality of the results. And one of the biggest pockets we’ve seen where this can really enhance your search experience is on local information. Has one of your friends already seen that play? Have they been to that restaurant or have they been to that hotel?”

This is important because local may literally be “the last mile”  (thanks @donambridge…) of the three-quarters-of-the-rest-of-the-world for Web search, which starts to look more and more “old-school” the more people’s blogs are visited because of Twitter instead of because of Google.

Add the mobile component to realtime+local, and you have the game-changing combination.  Mobile is the “incremental driver of Internet user / usage growth” according to the always-excellent Morgan Stanley’s Mary Meeker session (PDF). “Next generation platforms (social networking + mobile) are driving unprecedented change in communications and commerce.”

Via mobile, the native intelligence of your (social) presence is flipping the “reaching beyond 25% of the world” question sideways — so that it’s not (just) about the fact that mobile reaches further, but mobile allows us to change the reach entirely.

Path Intelligence: Mapping the audience

Path Intelligence: Mapping the audience

Cell phone signals render humans as sensors (watch the amazing inventions on this panel), via multiple sensors in your iPhones, via where you are when, and via what you are sharing — explicitly or implicitly — about it when you are there.  From the “implicit crowdsourcing” that provides traffic and route information via maps and real-time feeds of Waze, to the entertaining audience statistics (and more) that Path Intelligence could glean by our (cell-phone-enabled) presence, to tagged, geocoded images that help you find invasive plants, to the incredible concept of “telemicroscopy for disease disease diagnosis” (CellScope), to the portal ultrasound gadget that GE’s Jeff Immelt brought with him to more… Needless to say, there is a huge wealth of innovation happening in the realtime mobile sphere.

Beyond mobile (since mobile infrastructure is not yet everywhere), we also saw some amazing satellite innovations at the Summit. Walter Scott of DigitalGlobe stopped by to give us a demo and some intriguing ideas about satellite imagery that we can now refresh two to three times a day. Perhaps Arthur C. Clarke did not even visualize this!

Aaron Koblin -- Visualizing Amsterdam SMS messages

Aaron Koblin -- Visualizing Amsterdam SMS messages

And speaking of visualization, some of the innovations coming out of the piles of data we get through all these mobile, real-time, world-wide sensors can be very, very beautiful.   Aaron Koblin, an artist specializing in data visualization who introduced  GAFFTA (Grey Area Foundation for the Arts) while at the Summit, has an amazing sandbox of visualizations.

So while only one in four people have ever touched the World Wide Web at all, both the Web and these people are going further than ever before. Tim Berners-Lee advises us to concentrate on the emergent trends of GeoLocation and a move from Web pages to mobile and apps, as well as the upcoming standard of HTML5. And one key takeaway from him is that we need to “make sure the Web is designed appropriately for other cultures as well.”

And while we’re at it, let’s make sure we’re listening to those other cultures and watching for the beauty in the great big pile of data, because “the other 75%” of everywhere has at least as big a chance of disrupting the Web as the Web has of disrupting it.

Twitter, TechCrunch, and Hacker Croll: No Sacred Clouds?

TechCrunch: Twitter Confidential

Twitter Confidential: Image from TechCrunch

This week, while a fascinating story plays out in the cloud between cloud-based Twitter, journalists on TechCrunch, and a hacker named Hacker Croll, I ponder the future. A password can be usably convenient if easy to remember, but can also be easily hacked — which apparently kicks off this whole story, which led to TechCrunch publishing sensitive Twitter information including revenue forecasts and downright inspirational business plans.

As a result, I not only ponder, but dream about a truly fictional fantasy future in which all business plans are open-sourced, nobody has any reason to hide in secrecy and fear, and competition-of-the-fittest has evolved into a new kind of collaboration in general.

Ah, but then I wake up. In the meantime, I recount this story in three phases (each phase has its own particular set of idosyncracies), then frame what I think are some highly relevant resultant questions below.

Part I: Breach — Hackers: So understood, they’re almost rendered blameless?

April 29: Hacker Croll boasts how he/she hacked Twitter on an online forum

April 30: Twitter reports unauthorized access and talks about updated security

May 1: PC World reports on this and first names Hacker Croll:

Hacker Croll claimed to have accessed Goldman’s Twitter password by first gaining access to his Yahoo account. “One of the admins has a yahoo account, i’ve reset the password by answering to the secret question. Then, in the mailbox, i have found her [sic] twitter password,” Hacker Croll said Wednesday in a posting to an online discussion forum. “I’ve used social engineering only, no exploit, no xss vulnerability, no backdoor, np sql injection.”

Part II: Publication — A question of ethics?

July 14: TechCrunch gets into the game with a report on the hacking. As Twitter co-founder Evan reported to TechCrunch:

Some notes:
– He did not actually gain access to my @ev Twitter account (or any Twitter accounts) nor any administrative functions of the site.
– There is also no evidence that he gained access to my email. There was one administrative employee who’s email was compromised, as was my wife’s Gmail account, which is where he got access to some of my credit cards and other information.
– He also successfully targeted a couple other employees personal accounts (Amazon, AT&T, Paypal…)

July 14: TechCrunch Michael Arrington discloses that Hacker Croll has sent them the stolen information. Seemingly finding himself in a dilemma, he admits spending most of the evening reading through the various docs – including personal emails, business plans, and floorplans, and apparently trying to figure out whether it’s ethical to publish them.

Despite his apparent dilemma, he decides:

There is clearly an ethical line here that we don’t want to cross, and the vast majority of these documents aren’t going to be published, at least by us. But a few of the documents have so much news value that we think it’s appropriate to publish them.

July 14: TechCrunch publishes its first expose, unveiling plans for a Twitter Reality TV Show

The whole pitch deck is published, with Arrington dismissing his ethical dilemma thusly:

I can’t imagine even Twitter cares that we’re posting this pitch deck from Through Eyes Productions that outlines the idea for a reality television show called Final Tweet.

July 15: TechCrunch publishes the big bomb: Twitter’s financial forecast including revenue and growth. Twitter (of course) and the rest of the blogosphere goes wild with the news.

Arrington opens this post apparently in concert with Twitter’s lawyers:

Our negotiations with Twitter (or rather Twitter’s lawyers) over our intention to publish a small subset of the 310 hacked confidential documents continue. We published the first document, a pitch for a reality television show called Final Tweet, earlier this morning.

July 15: TechCrunch dings Twitter for using an obviously guessed password (“password”).

The author deduces that this is an indication of Twitter’s lax security in general:

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, responding to our email, said “this bug allowed access to the search product interface only. No personally identifiable user information is accessible on that site.” Although no user accounts were compromised or accessible, the vulnerability speaks to a greater culture of lax security at the startup, and may be indicative of how earlier breaches possibly occurred.

Part III: Aftermath — What really happened here? Where do we go next?

July 15: Arrington reacts to the rapidly trending response.

Calling it “Ethics 101,” the rationale goes like this:

Let’s put aside the highly sensitive documents that we aren’t going to publish, but which will likely end up on the Internet anyway. We’re not going to post that information whether we have the legal right to or not. No discussion is needed.

Other key and intriguing excerpts :

We publish confidential information almost every day on TechCrunch. This is stuff that is also “stolen,” usually leaked by an employee or someone else close to the company, and the company is very much opposed to its publication. In the past we’ve received comments that this is unethical. And it certainly was unethical, or at least illegal or tortious, for the person who gave us the information and violated confidentiality and/or nondisclosure agreements. But on our end, it’s simply news.

It’s not our fault that Google has a ridiculously easy way to get access to accounts via their password recovery question. It’s not our fault that Twitter stored all of these documents and sensitive information in the cloud and had easy-to-guess passwords and recovery questions. We’ve been sitting in the office for eight hours now debating what the right thing to do is in this situation. We’ve spoken with our lawyers. We’ve spoken with Twitter. And we’ve heard what our readers have to say. All of that factors in to our decision on what to post or not to post.

Arrington’s bottom line:

Hopefully the embarrassing and sensitive stuff about individual employees will never see the light of day. And hopefully this situation will encourage Google and Google users to consider more robust data security policies in the future.

July 15: Word from Twitter: “Twitter, Even More Open Than We Wanted.”

From Twitter’s side of the story:

This attack had nothing to do with any vulnerability in Google Apps which we continue to use. This is more about Twitter being in enough of a spotlight that folks who work here can become targets. In fact, around the same time, Evan’s wife’s personal email was hacked and from there, the hacker was able to gain access to some of Evan’s personal accounts such as Amazon and PayPal but not email. This isn’t about any flaw in web apps, it speaks to the importance of following good personal security guidelines such as choosing strong passwords.

And finally, though hardly the last word in this story, two from today, July 16:  TechCrunch: Twitter’s Internal Strategy Laid Bare: To Be “The Pulse Of The Planet” – in which the story gets really interesting and the business plan sees some startling, and even inspiring — despite its origins — light of day, and from Twitter: Someone Call Security, in which Twitter once again reiterates how this happened and talks about their commitment to security.

Most important in the aftermath is the opportunity for questions — and for addressing these questions — this has offered us. This bears a lot of relevance for any kind of online interaction (and thus rapidly just about any business model) going forward. Among the questions in my mind, none of which are clearly settled, about which I welcome your opinions:

  • What does it mean for the cloud?
    I’d address this first with a sub-question: Does the cloud actually have the most to do with this? Yes, Twitter is hosted on the Amazon cloud. But I’ve also heard a lot about the Google cloud in this and I wonder what exactly people mean when talking about the two. As far as I understand, no Amazon cloud-based services were breached in this scenario. Passwords were guessed, and then subsequently stolen via hacking into a Yahoo (and later a Google) email account. Does this indicate a security issue specifically with Twitter, and furthermore, with the cloud?
  • What does it mean for ethics and rule of law on the Internet?
    I was tempted at least at first glance to frame this as the more important question. Is it as simple as this? Private information was at least violated – and perhaps “stolen.” If you come across stolen goods, do you resell them? Is that what TechCrunch did?
  • What does it mean for Internet identity?
    This is the greater overriding theme, I think. This is how it started out, in my understanding. Let’s just say for fun that I lived on Sesame Street growing up. When I sign up for a Yahoo email account, I choose a password and congratulate myself for not being so risky as using my childhood street name (or the name of my dog, my goldfish, or my mother’s maiden name) as my password. However, I get to answer a security question in case I forget my password – and what do I perhaps use as the answer to my security question? Sesame Street. More importantly, is that answer easily ascertainable on the Web, via clever Internet searching? Probably yes, if I ever blogged about where I grew up.  There’s the rub.

So what’s the bottom line? Do we need to all be more careful and not choose “easy” passwords and security answers (in other words, those we can possibly remember – which are also therefore easily guessed)? Or do we need to rethink passwords, online IDs, and, at the least, password recovery systems to respect privacy in a different way? Or should we never use something like Twitter “seriously”? Or all, neither, or something else entirely?

Or is there reality in my dream world, moving forward, of a totally transparent world through likewise transparent, cooperative and open clouds?

One clear answer: in any case, these are questions we’ll need to address going forward.

Wrapping the Web 2.0 Expo 2009: Web Comes to its Senses

My series on the Web 2.0 Expo 2009 is complete and all published over on the SAP Community Network. I point to each piece here and invite you to check out my favorite quotes and highlights below:

Web 2.0 Expo 2009 – Web comes to its senses

“Web 2.0 was in its infancy 5 years ago,” said Tim O’Reilly in his opening keynote at the recent Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. What has Web 2.0 grown into since its inception, and how has it gotten there? Is the Web getting any smarter?

  • How has the Web evolved the best? Start small, with a simple idea – then let it evolve
  • “We cast information shadows on the Web & sometimes there is no global identifier – but that doesn’t mean we can’t make sense of them”
  • WE create the meaning in all of these cases: we provide the combined sensory overload via the personal, mobile, local, governing, and community components that matter
  • The answer to Tim O’Reilly’s question “Is the Web getting any smarter?” depends entirely on us

Part 1: Sense of self

  • “We all used to play and tell stories,” began Nancy Duarte in her session “Tools for Visual Storytelling.” Somehow along the way we lost the knack of storytelling
  • “There are no visual business communication classes”
  • The key to overcoming presentation doldrums lies in “becoming a student of corporate story”
  • The importance of telling your own story is one big key to Web 2.0
  • “Those who tell the best stories visually are the companies that are going to win right now”

Part 2: Sense of presence

  • Mobile devices and your real-time presence make all the difference on the Web
  • “We are going to bring the net to everybody at every time everywhere.
    It is *all* about location – social location”
  • “The device, combined with service, combined with software on the device – all rolled together is key”
  • “These devices will become our agents and friends, support us with advice, be our friends”
  • Status is ubiquitous, but in fact chained to a specific moment in time”
  • Build something small, they’ve learned; listen in to tons of data; let it evolve
  • New integration technologies now connect sensor networks with enterprise applications to enable more responsive monitoring, reporting, and tracking of physical assets – carts, forklifts, palettes, computers, tools, mobile machinery, and even people – near real-time”
  • “What we’re most excited about is the thing that surprises us most: the Twitter mashups – what are people talking about?”
  • Who bears more and more of the key data to running the business — at this moment?  You hold this future in your hands right now: presently

Part 3: Sense of place

  • Exploring the profundities of “going local” on our shopping habits, our applications, and ultimately our very livelihood
  • “This weekend, you’re likely going to spend money, and you don’t know where it’s going to go yet. You’re at the beginning of the local search / sales experience”
  • “We get paid by Nordstrom for all the people we drive into the store”
  • Most of the search sites find only biggest stores. Search engines need to modify so small businesses can prosper
  • “If you’ve got your mobile phone, you’re out and about and ready to shop and buy, and you want it NOW”
  • You’re still looking for products, but you are in fact looking for nearest store to buy them in
  • Big Data is great, but the Web is personal

Part 4: Sense of governance

(Also cross-posted by request at MyVenturePad and GoverningPeople)

  • Government 2.0 — arguably the newest hottest Web 2.0 trend capable of touching all the online applications we use and design
  • The notions of open government data, crowdsourcing government, and turning government into an (actually!) innovative platform itself make it clear this is the part of the next biggest “Web 2.0 thing”
  • “Increasingly, it’s also about applying the principles of Web 2.0 to governing”
  • Open Government Data Principles created by a collection of open government advocates (including Lawrence Lessig): These principles “mean to government what open source meant to software”
  • Making data public is a political act in the first place
  • “Grab our data at Sunlight Labs and do something interesting with it”
  • Open data is not the only way the Web is opening up to “Government 2.0.” Government is also opening up to the use of the Web itself like never before
  • Flipsides to watch out for while using and designing for all of this open data include such topics as privacy, security, credibility, and not least — message control
  • “We’ve always been better at managing data than innovating with data”

Part 5: Sense of community

  • Community pulls it all together. Bridge the on- and offline in a great “embryonic mass movement for change”
  • Community managers — keys to success of online communities
  • “Groups are both part of identity as well as part of conversation”
  • “Social objects are the reason people connect — with each particular other and not something else”
  • “Knowing there is a community manager around keeps your community alive”
  • “People want to find each other and talk to each other. It’s really that simple. Support that. Start there, with conversation”
  • “Launch the smallest simplest thing, then measure whether the community asks for something else”
  • “Making people less afraid of social media is critical to your success”
  • “Social media is an ‘add on’ — not a replacement for but a complement to traditional press releases”
  • How can you tell if you have online community? Answer “yes” to “If this brand was a person, I’d be friends with it”
  • “Passion is one of the only reasons community happens”
  • “Managing large number of volunteers can be hard,” and the solution is to empower your audience and create ownership
  • WE together create the meaning in all of these cases: we embody the personal, mobile, local, governing, and community components that taken together represent the mass movements. And that, in the end, “is a prospect that invites our close attention and dedicated participation as technologists, businesspeople and — most of all — as citizens”

Web 2.0 2004-2009: from embryo to “mass movement for change”