The Consumerisation of facial recognition: excitement and dread

This isn’t particularly new and Viewdle have some fancier videos on their Website. But I think its better to actually see a live demo of it in action.

Viewdle is all about building “interesting [social networking] applications based on who is standing in front of the camera”. Or if we distill it further – its the consumerisation of facial recognition. This idea is likely to create mixed feelings of excitement and dread.

So far these interesting applications include apps for Facebook to auto-tag your ‘friends’ and an AR role playing game is coming:

Use your camera to recognize enemies and find real-world items. The battle is nearing!

Hmm… Personally I’d like to see what we would get if they opened it up to the hacking community.

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Color’s Dynamic Network

So, Color (or Colour, if you prefer) is a new photo-based social networking app.

Techcrunch have a good write up on the background of the start up and what I found most interesting was the idea of a Dynamic Network:

“All of your contacts are presented in a list of thumbnails ordered by how strong your connection is to that user. Whenever Color detects that you’re physically near another user (in other words, that you’re hanging out), your bond on the app gets a little stronger. So when you fire up the app and jump to your list of contacts, you’ll probably see your close friends and family members listed first. But if you don’t see a friend for a long time, they’ll gradually flow down the list, and eventually their photos will fade from color to black-and-white.”

The missing link in making social networks useful in the workplace

Despite the possibilities for collaboration, a Design News survey reveals engineers are avoiding social networks due to concerns around security and irrelevant information overload… Even joining engineering-specific groups on LinkedIn or Facebook resulted in a whole lot of noise and useless chatter, respondents reported, as opposed to serving up focused, practical solutions to real-world engineering problems. “It turns out a lot of the discussions turn esoteric or
philosophical and are not really things I found to be useful in the day-to-day
functioning of the business or my day-to-day engineering efforts,” says survey
respondent David Willis, PMP, engineering group manager for Agile Engineering
Inc., a manufacturer of precision electromechanical systems. “Even though I was
in focused areas, there was no focus.”

Design News is a journal for engineers and engineering managers who build real world products. Apparently many are disappointed with their experience of using social networks for collaboration. Not surprisingly, they want collaboration embedded in their work processes. Traditional forums and instant messaging appear to be more immediately useful.

Honestly, I’m not surprised. If you are going to apply social technologies to a situation without considering the specific needs of the people involved, what do you really expect?

This build it and they will come mentality also underplays the importance of a range of different skills needed to run a successful community of practice or virtual team. Sure, they’ll come but they won’t hang around for long if they don’t get value from participation.

Hat tip to Bertrand.

Its not just Australian retailers that need to get online: Large Co. Australia’s failure to innovate

What might be a bigger challenge for Australia’s retailers is that they generally haven’t been able to make the internet work efficiently for themselves yet. Established retailers are fumbling around much like newspaper publishers trying to work out the mix between print and internet. I’ve just checked the Harvey Norman site – as far as I can work out, I can’t buy anything on it. Gerry Harvey tried the web and found it didn’t work for him as a direct channel, so the site just exists to try to drive traffic to local stores.

This is from a column in the Sydney Morning Herald, weighing into the debate about demands from large old school retailers in Australia to charge consumers sales tax (GST) on goods bought online from overseas.

In a follow up article, they quote the Australian Retailers Association who say:

many large companies had been slow to embrace the internet. By contrast, small retailers were using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote their wares.

”Small retailers are getting very savvy,” he said. ”Retailers are going to need to look at various forms of retailing to engage with their customers.”

Actually, I think this should be a wake up call for all large companies in all sectors in Australia. Over the last decade they haven’t just been slow to adopt online retailing but have been slow to adopt Web technologies for many aspects of how they do business. This includes government and the non-profit sectors too. This failure cuts across how companies deal with their customers to how they enable their own staff to collaborate.

I used to think it was just the Australian pragmatic character that didn’t buy into the technology hype in business. Now, I just wonder if its more a mix of arrogance and a lack of imagination that results in this failure to innovate?

It reminds me of a large Australian insurance company I dealt with recently online – when I encountered a bug, they told me that their Website wasn’t designed for the latest Web browsers and instead I should have been using Netscape Navigator or IE 5.5. WTF!

Large Australian companies don’t just need to start selling online, they have a decade of technology development to catch up on.

Using LinkedIn groups for online engagement

The White House is claiming success in using its LinkedIn social media group as a forum for a public policy discussion on reforming the financial services industry.

The Wall Street conversation has generated 296 comments from members of the White House’s LinkedIn group in 12 days. The discussion is being led by Jen Psaki, deputy communications director at the White House and one of the group’s three leaders.

This example is from the government sector, but across the board – commercial and non-commercial – I think there is good reason to consider LinkedIn as a place to host a discussion with stakeholders or customers.

The main benefit of using LinkedIn over either hosting your own discussion or using the ‘default’ strategies of Facebook or Twitter is that you have a ready made community of mainly professional users that you can engage with – if done right – through a platform they already have some level of familiarity with.

It does help that LinkedIn finally rolled out some improvements to how groups work a few months ago. To be honest, I had almost given up participating in any LinkedIn groups because the user experience was so bad. That now looks like it is improving, which is why I think LinkedIn is now worth a second look.

Of course, all the functionality in the world doesn’t make up for poor community management, which in most cases is the root cause of a bad LinkedIn group. The signs of poor community management are often quite obvious – too much spam, a hands off moderation style, no content curation, lack of community focus and endless questions from people to lazy to research an issue for themselves. There is nothing new here, but as with many community orientated Web 2.0 technologies I find that access to collaboration tools doesn’t immediately equate to quality of collaboration.

Learn more about group functionality, in LinkedIn’s online help. There is also a case study on how uses Phillips’ marketing use their Innovations in Health group.

The 2010 Social Business Software Power Map

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From my colleague, Dion Hinchcliffe:

“The Social Business Power Map, presented above, is an attempt to identify the major social media trends, how they can be mapped generally along consumer/enterprise axes, and where they are in terms of their overall maturity level today”

Dion provides a more detailed breakdown of each technology in his post and also makes this comment about social networks, which he places in the mature state:

“Social networking is now expected to surpass the top used application online, Internet search, in the near future. There is little likelihood that social networking will be disrupted in the near term though certainly most businesses have not yet adopted them internally and many current block their use from inside the firewall. Unfortunately, the number of businesses blocking access to social networks is going up, not down as they continue to get a handle on managing the perceived risks of social networking. See my discussions on CoIT and how workers are increasingly using their own IT to route around excessive control of their channels of communication.”

Clearvale, BroadVision’s new Elgg-based social-network-as-a-service

Old skool portal and e-commerce vendor, BroadVision (remember them?), has caused a bit of a stir with the launch of its new social-network-as-a-service, Clearvale. You can use Clearvale to create closed (intranet), restricted (extranet) or open (Internet) networks.

I created a free Clearvale account so I could take a look and was immediately greeted by what is a reasonably customised, but instantly recognisable, as an Elgg site. Actually, this was a pleasant surprise!

Clearvale

Unfortunately, while ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch were off comparing Clearvale to Socialtext, Jive, Ning, Salesforce Chatter, and Status.net neither of them quite joined the dots on this one! It would be nice to see some analysis of what this means for the Elgg platform itself.

Headshift has used Elgg on a number of projects, both here in Australia and also in the UK. If you aren’t familiar with Elgg, from a software architecture point of view it is a really interesting and very sophisticated people-centric (rather than being document- or content-centric) platform. The out-of-the-box Elgg interface is really a special set of plugins that run over the core Elgg engine – so in theory you can take the Elgg engine and build an entirely customised application running off it. It also comes with an API (although RWW say Clearvale are building an API, which may mean they are in fact customising it for their implementation of Elgg). However, most people work with the engine and the default front end. At this level, you customise Elgg using plugins that hook into different functions, views and a widget framework – this makes it very modular. Heavy or deap customisation of Elgg can actually get complicated, because its not a case of simply hacking PHP code – you actually have to understand how Elgg works.

So with that in mind, and without fully testing the Clearvale customisations, on first look it does appear they have done a good job of selecting and integrating a number of customisations to create a good set of core tools for people to use. This includes supporting some basic theming options, which isn’t something Elgg offers fresh out of the box – so you can add your own company logo and pick from a selection of colour themes. However, unlike hosting your own Elgg you can’t add your own plugins or theme plugins (although there is a hint from TechCrunch that they might create a kind of ‘app store’, which might provide a controlled method for doing this following the Apple model). This also limits your ability to change the overall information architecture, to suit the needs of your project or organisation. One thing I did notice is that site doesn’t automatically default to HTTPS, even if you choose to create a closed network, but it does appear to work over a secure connection.

Incidentally, Clearvale aren’t the only people playing in this space. Elgg themselves also have a hosted service, currently in beta that might also be worth looking at.