In a world where being able to connect with old friends, family, co-workers, and connections is now the “norm” it surprises me when we start to see backlash as we are with Facebook recently. Especially when these are FREE services. However, everyone in the Internet age has been foregoing bits and pieces of their privacy for the convenience of connecting with each other and interacting in a social way online.
The thing is that when we interact online we are always leaving a little digital signature of who we are, where we came from, what we did, etc. Part of this is an aspect of the Web in general through cookies and GPS coordinates. Another part is just by virtue of how the Web works and how analytics are tracking site behavior. While Web sites may not know who you are specifically (unless you log in), they will certainly get a good idea of what you like and deliver better content next time.
Free sites have to make money. Running Web servers, development costs, etc all costs money and no investor or venture capitalist is going to invest in a company without the potential to get their money back. So for companies like Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, (insert name of cool website with free service), they all have the same issue; how will they make money? For many, it will be in online advertising. Google does this with most of its products from Google Search to Gmail to YouTube. Facebook does it with ads and virtual gifts. Even LinkedIn does it with their online recruiting (job board), research arm, and advertisements. However, nobody really seems to care about it when it is advertising because most often it is what keeps the service free to use. Do you remember when Google first rolled out ads that were contextual to your search, or your email messages? Everyone was outraged, yet millions of people still use those services. When you go onto Amazon and you see products that are based on your behavior, your information you have shared and more. No matter what we do online, the more we want convenience of personalized information and use of free services we will have to give up a piece of our privacy. When you check-in at a restaurant using Yelp, Foursquare or Gowalla, you are sending out your location over the web. “I’m here!”
The easiest way that Facebook, and other social networks, are integrating your personal information is via their authentication tools. In Facebook?s world this is Facebook Connect. It allows you, the user, to log into another website with your Facebook credentials. In some cases, like a registration for a site, you can populate certain fields and share your activity with this new site with your Facebook friends. This is where everyone is getting their arms up air over this privacy invasion. But if you want the convenience of not having to remember dozens of usernames and passwords, using one, like what you use for Facebook becomes convenient.
The other big discussion is around Facebook?s social widgets. These are actually less intrusive as one might think. They are what we call iframes, which means the ?Like? button that they just rolled out is actually a page within a page. The Web site that the ?Like? button is on actually doesn?t get any information about that person. So for me, I have the ?Like? button on this blog post. If you see other people who ?like? this post, I get none of that data. It doesn?t go into a database of mine, or into an email to me. Zip. Nada. What makes them attractive to Web site administrators, like me, is that it provides a level of personalization that I couldn?t achieve otherwise. And because Facebook is 500M strong, the chances are of that personalization working on my Web site is pretty good. The same goes for CNN and thousands of other sites which have integrated these new features into them.
The next time you think about your privacy and where your information is being shared, or even sold, think about he conveniences you have online when you use Web sites. You are giving up your privacy every day, but you are also willing to do so. In fact, if you really want to know who else is using your personal information just look into the fine print of the following:
- Your Bank
- Your Credit Cards
- Your Loyalty Cards (Grocer, Movie Rental, Book Store)
- Google Account (Oh, how quickly we forget about them)
- Professional Association or Trade Association
You may be surprised on what you read.
I’ve looked into they eye of the beast, and what I saw was glorious. I get the opportunity every few years to go visit a technology company through work with one of our Standing Committees. This year we took a trip out to Palo Alto, California to visit Facebook. Facebook has been a hot topic in the legal profession for a while, mostly circling their privacy changes. We didn’t get a chance to debate those issues on this trip, but we did get to discuss how brands are using Facebook and how lawyers and law firms can take advantage of the platform.
While I’m not going to get into all the details of this visit here (that will come out in other posts) I am going to quickly talk about work culture. I’ve visited three major technology companies over the last few years: Microsoft, Google, and now Facebook. Each experience was different and I think that has to do with when they were started, what their focus is on, and how they execute their product.
New School vs. Old School. I think there are clear differences between old school vs. new school companies. Old school is hierarchical with office space, titles and corporate environment. They have high-walled cubes and offices with doors. Microsoft is old school. When I visited Microsoft you didn’t feel the innovation happening. Maybe that was because it was in a different building than the one I was in. When I visited Google and Facebook the environment was much different. They have open spaces, collaboration areas, appropriate levels of distractions (like FB has a Guitar Hero room and ping pong tables). You could feel the magic happening. You could tell there were smart people in the room coding ideas, sharing thoughts, working towards common goals. It was energizing to be around and just observe. People were excited to be at work and working on their projects. It could also have been the fact that people were in jeans, walking around with Macs, working on 40″ monitors, etc.
Location, Location, Location. Maybe it is just being in Silicon Valley that is the biggest difference. Both Google and Facebook are miles away from each other. In fact, Facebook is practically in the middle of a residential district just outside of Standford University. However I’d be willing to bet that HP, which is around the corner and was in the building Facebook now occupies, is a little more old school. Microsoft, on the other hand, has a campus that has a highway that runs right down the middle outside of Seattle. Impressive, yes, but still corporate in nature for sure. However, it may not be your location. I’ve also visited Total Attorney’s offices in Chicago and their set up is very similar to Google and Facebook, so maybe the Valley isn’t as critical as one might think.
Focus. While Google and Facebook haven’t been around for a decade yet, I think that is actually one of their prime reasons they are as successful as they are. They are focused. Every employee who works there knows how their project fits into the grand scheme of their company. These companies have a focus (beyond profits), and that is something their employees embrace and motivates them. They want to be the best, breaking new ground in their industry, and setting trends, not fads. Google lets their employees work on pet projects for 20% of their time. This is how products like GMail, Google Talk emerged. Those have then taken Google into directions they initially didn’t assume they would get into — office tools. Facebook has a focus on transforming itself from a social network to a profile management and communication tool. Products like their lists which help you categorize your friends helps you manage who sees what and what you communicate to whom. It has opened a whole new door to the Social Graph for them — and how we communicate and share information.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is very diverse in their product lines. They have several divisions: Search, Gaming, Office, etc. and from a conglomerate standpoint, the act and operate like a big corporation — each division responsible for their own bottom line. While Google has several product lines as well, their delivery vehicle is the same — the Web.
Photos from Facebook HQ
Photos from Google Visit
So while one may wear a tie to work and the other scoots around on a skateboard, think about how your company works. Is it effective in producing your products and services? Does every employee know how their project fits within the overall strategy of the organization? What changes could you make that would allow for better work product, focus, and commitment from your employees? Maybe business casual is OK everyday. It may depend on the profession you are in. It may depend on experience and longevity of your management team. My biggest take away from these visits is that your work environment and culture is very critical to the success of your company.
I will have some thoughts on this and other Facebook stuff soon.
This article originally was published in the May 2007 issue of LLRX.
You have worked for a large firm for many years and you have made the decision to either go solo or start a small firm. You were used to having access to all your information via an Intranet, file server, and your desktop. You could practice law and let the IT department worry about when the printer jammed or if you got a virus. Now that you are solo, you are the one that has to deal with all those problems as well as practice law.
As of 1:00 today FeedBurner was officially acquired by Google. I had a quick chat to day with Rick Klau today regarding setting up an account with them and was double checking about the Terms of Service when he mentioned that they would be updated at around 1:00 today. So the rumors were true! Yes, it seems they were.
I’m excited to see where this all goes. Google just continues to get bigger, but they are making strategic buys too. I mean just think what the JotSpot acquisition will do for them if they integrate it into Google Apps. RSS is the future of content distribution, and now advertising opportunities too. I believe that RSS subscribers are more targeted than regular website pageviews and traffic. FeedBurner has a great model and it will serve Google well.
Congrats to FeedBurner. They have long been a company I’ve admired, wished I could have worked for (and now you see why!). You can read more about the acquisition at the Burning Questions blog.
Update: Google’s Announcement
Chicago Tribune Story (Free Reg. Req.)