Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beal and Strauss: "Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online"

Authors: Andy Beal, Dr. Judy Strauss, with Foreword by Robert Scoble

Title: “Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online

Publication: 2008, Wiley, ISBN 978-0-470-19082-1, 378 pages, paper, indexed, 3 parts, 15 chapters., Amazon link.

The authors define the term “radically transparent” on p xxiv of the Introduction, to mean “being open and honest online, admitting mistakes, engaging stakeholders in discussions about you and your brands, and even revealing your internal processes.”

Now, wait a minute: my first pause. “Online reputation” (as characterized by companies like Michael Fertik's Reputation Defender) has become a “personal property” or attribute, an element of our lives that has developed quietly and insidiously over the past decade or so (actually, even longer). [Note well: the word "Reputations" in the book substitle is plural!] But the focus of this book is the presumed situation that “you” already have your career and professional goals defined, and that you are interfacing with the public through your job, using and managing your company’s or organization’s resources, representing their best interests before your own. Indeed, even a dozen or so years ago every major company (almost) had a public website that it put effort into (my employer, ING/ReliaStar had “I Hate Financial Planning”), but it tended to be done “at work”: “those were the days my friend” (“I thought they would never end”) of Web 1.0, before “Blogumentary” (a documentary film), and social networking sites, when Mark Zuckerberg was still in prep school. There was a presume separation, for most people (particularly in information technology, where I worked as an “individual contributor”) between “work” and “private life”. In the early days of the Web, people “sort of” understood that what you wrote online was yours, not your boss’s (until Heather Armstrong came along – we all know what it means to get dooced now).

But think of the “job” of an insurance agent, or a trial lawyer, or a surgeon, or any professional who interfaces with the public to get and serve consumers, in some relationship with larger companies. Now (especially since about 2005 or so as social media became important), he needs to deal with the idea that consumers will find him online, and grade him on the web, too. Yup, it’s an asymmetric world: in some cases, what one blogger writes about you (or your company, as the authors show with Dell) can seriously disrupt your business. (Some physicians, at least, have been making patients sign "gag order" contracts that they will not complain online; the asymmetry, some professionals say, of unsupervised complaint sights can destroy their practices or businesses. But you don't have to be a surgeon for others to talk about you online!)

So, I guess, my “second pause”. Generally, most professionals are in some particular “place” in their career situation, and now the practical reality is that they have to use the online world to support their business reputation, not to express their own personal views or engage debate, as I did (and I’ll get to that). So going online and networking is indeed a practical necessity, a skill everyone must master. As individuals, we all need to develop our own “brands” online, for ourselves as well as our employers.

On p 58, the authors have a gray-font “FAQ’s about online reputation management for individuals”. They tend to downplay the serious risks of litigation (for libel, copyright infringement, etc) and of being fired for personal online behavior (although later the authors mention the doocing problem again, particularly the young woman who lost a teaching career over a “drunken pirate” Facebook picture). The authors also present writing and media savvy as something that used not to be expected of many professionals in the workplace the way it is now, and they’re right (oops, not “write”) about this!

My circumstance, to be honest (as I reach my “third pause”) is the inverse of what the authors describe. I got onto the web early (around 1996, as Hometown AOL was coming into being), first with desktop publishing (and book self-publishing) out of a desire to project my own voice on a particular issue, gays in the military (and “don’t ask don’t tell” – which certainly, by the way, presents issues for “online reputation” for servicemembers). The issue, in an existential manner, became the focus of all kind of other issues that revolved around it, just outside an event horizon, which I in turn took up, “connecting the dots”. So I developed a quick way to present the news, with a bit of a “Chicken Little” flavor, a sense of warning of so many other things that can go wrong, and an idea that so many perils can be prevented. I was very much against the “herd mentality” (not “nerd herd” of Chuck!) that seems to drive people like lemmings into catastrophe (like the mortgage meltdown). That worked wonderfully in the early days of Web 1.0, but after 9/11 things seemed to change. Once social networking sites became a staple of life, it seemed as though online behavior could become a demonstration of “fitting in” and taking on “social responsibility” (particularly readiness for family responsibility) as compared to my original paradigm of becoming an individual voice of libertarian-oriented constructive criticism of everything going on.

One of my motives was not to depend on the collective voice of “organizations” whose positions, sometimes based on a faulty sense of victimization, might eventually reinforce a sense of shame. Nevertheless, someone who expresses his own political opinions visibly online could run into issues in the workplace if he has direct reports or makes underwriting decisions about others, a problem I have already covered on my blogs. Taking on such responsibilities in the workplace could mean removing a lot of personal materials, but once they’re out in cyberspace, digital copies exist forever, part of what we have come to see as the “online reputation” problem. On the other hand, as the authors point out, most people approach the Internet with specific career-related goals already laid out for them to be supported. So someone in my position is left with the “inverse” problem of making my online innovation into a viable news or media business, perhaps with film. From a legal perspective, when dealing with the “implicit content” problem (and fending off charges of gratuitous “recreational outrage” in some “conflict of interest” problems), one might need a viable business plan to maintain one’s legacy place online.

One of the caveats that come with social networking (especially as Mark Zuckerberg says he envisions it as he grows Facebook) is that in a moral sense, a person has only one "identity", one "soul". So we come back to a more personal meaning for "radical transparency": personal life and professional life merge into one mass. It's a new world of "do ask, do tell".

The authors give “how to” and handbook advice on all kinds of Internet-use matter, such as email. The suggest that people not use aol, msn, or hotmail accounts for business email or job searches, as, according to them, these domains suggest amateurism and spam; I’ve had AOL since 1994 and not run into that attitude at all. (For some reason, Verizon email addresses sound better for reputation.)

The authors do discuss blogging, and the various tones of writing that are appropriate in blogs as compared to formal white papers and (particularly academic) books.

See also, trademark blog (Nov 18), “BillBoushka” blog (Nov. 19), IT blog (Nov. 19 and 22).

(Note: I bought the paperback; the image shown is for a slightly different version; Check Amazon for all versions).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Amazon pulls "objectionable" Kindle book; a slippery slope?

Should Amazon have “given in” to public “recreational outrage” over a Kindle Book title by Phillip Greaves II, which had been self-published in late October, 2010? Fox News has a story on the disabling here. Apparently in two weeks the e-book had risen to sales rank 65 among Kindle books.

The “book” (rather more like a leaflet) dealt with disturbing subject matter, to say the least, and had a title that most would find offensive (so I won’t reproduce the title here, for practical reasons). Quotes from the book show some egregious and obvious spelling errors.

As of Thursday morning (Nov. 11), pricing information on the e-book was not available, and the individual URL for the book does not come up. However late Wednesday night I saw several angry comments threatening to boycott Amazon, and one of the comments said that other comments had been removed. (It's not absolutely clear if Amazon or Greaves did the removal.)

Greaves has other entries on Amazon that continue to work.

Although the book had been available for almost two weeks, outrage erupted late Wednesday when Anderson Cooper covered the issue on his AC360 program (in his “keeping them honest” ® series). Dr, Phil appeared, and then Jeffrey Toobin, legal advisor, indicated that the book probably would not be found obscene or in violation of child pornography statutes because it contained only text and no images. (That is not necessarily the case overseas, even in Canada.)

Fox notes that Amazon has been criticized before, and once removed a violent video game, but also allowed another book about underage interest to stay despite threats of suits from a conservative group.

Amazon reportedly said “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”

But critics noted that Amazon was inconsistent because it does not sell (visual) pornography.

Toobin described Amazon’s issues as purely business ones, not legal.

Anderson Cooper’s 360 blog entry is here (updated).  The entry even reports an urban legend that the book is an FBI sting (like a former Dateline series!)

The incident could make “public outrage” a more sensitive issue for Amazon (and BN) since some people are offended by a number of topics (such as abortion). It could cause them to become more wary of accepting self-published books.

I have reviewed one or two books that I think could have inspired boycotts. I have one such review Jan. 21, 2009, and I hid the objectionable nature of the book title with a blog posting title (“Women and children first”) that expressed the “spirit” of the title in a less “offensive” way.

Back in 2005, a couple staff members at a Fairfax County high school where I substitute taught were “very offended” by the presence of a screenplay on my own website about a similar subject matter after I mentioned (to one teaching intern) the fact that I had a website in response to a newspaper story regarding the First Amendment. The incident is covered on the “BillBoushka” blog July 27, 2007.

There have been a few cases of litigation and prosecution around websites with intention similar to Greaves’s book.

AOL has a detailed story about the incident here.

NBC affiliate 9News in Denver has this story about the Pueblo author (including a brief interview with the author, as well as with lawyers and prosecutors):

My own concern: rule of the mob, and possibility we could sink back to "Fahrenheit 451" or book burnings. You don't have to buy the book.  Amazon's Discussion Page about the book is still available here, and many of the comments look pretty responsible and balanced.

It sounds appropriate to say that the company won't sell knowingly anything that gives instructions on illegal conduct, and that logic would apply, for example, for weapons making. But in the past it could have applied to all gay conduct, even with adults.  Most of us don't know exactly what the ebook says, but there's a good chance that, despite Greaves's assertions, a lot of it would be illegal in most or all states (let alone harmful).

I remember the controversy over "Hit Man", from Paladin Press ("Rex Feral"), resulting in a lawsuit. It's still n Amazon, and very expensive.

Update: Dec. 21

NBC and Kerry Sanders on the Today show report that the Polk County FL sheriff set up a "sting" to buy the book through the mail and then sent sherrif's deputies to Colorado to arrest Greaves on obscenity charges.  The sheriff used the word "manifesto" in discussing the case in this video. It sounds like it will be hard to get past the First Amendment in court. I thought one had to use US Marshalls for such an arrest, but apparently not.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Lawrence E. Joseph: "Apocalypse 2012": Beaucoup "coronal mass ejections" from the Sun coming?

Author: Lawrence E. Joseph

Title: "Aftermath: A Guide for Preparing for and Surviving Apocalypse 2012"

Publication: Broadway Books, 2010, ISBN 978-0-76793078-9, 272 pages, hardcover; 4 sections, 11 Chapters, Introduction and Epilogue.

Amazon link.

Let me start with a personal anecdote. Back in October 1962, I was a patient in a psychiatric ward at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. (Readers of my blogs and books know the background.) I was the only person who left the “campus” to go to college, at George Washington University, at night. So I heard JFK’s speech about the Cuban Missile Crisis while having supper in the Student Union. I was the only “patient” who knew what was going on. I don’t think that much of the staff paid attention. Now, I had been bullied as a kid, but I’m afraid that I turned the tables a bit in the “group therapy” and “unit government” sessions. I would say that a post-catastrophe world would have no use or tolerance for non-adapted (maybe even “parasitic”) people like “us”, who had failed to perform certain social duties imposed from without for the good of everyone besides our own selves. I’ve always felt this way about survivalism; I have become dependent on a stable, technological world where I, as an individual person, have considerable reach regardless of ability to function in a conventional social hierarchy. Take that away, and you have a world with no place for me.  The author, toward the end, even admits that while living in LA (Beverly Hills) he may not be able to fully live up to his own moral precepts. I’ll come back to this, but now for the book.

The author (who in 2007 wrote “Apocalypse 2012: An Investigation into Civilization’s End”) presents his material in quixotic fashion. In fact, only the last Section deals with how to survive; the rest of the book makes his choppy case. His presentation is punctuated by sidebars on gray pages where he sketches some fictitious, movie-like scenarios. Nevertheless, his thesis and many of his points are interesting, even compelling. He does provide his own take on the Mayan Dec 21, 2012 date early, and it is more wrinkled than you expect.

By now, the word has gotten around. NASA (and the National Academy of Sciences) put out a report in early 2009 to the effect that the Earth might experience unusually strong “coronal mass ejections” from the Sun at the height of the sunspot cycle in 2012. Joseph makes the case that the outbreak could be somewhat prolonged, for some number of months toward the end of the year; and one or more of them really might hit the Earth in orbit. He paints a scenario of many large power blackouts taking weeks or months to repair, possibly throwing the US back into the early 19th Century.

There is some history here. There was a sequence of huge CME’s in 1859, and another in 1921; a “smaller” one in 1989 knocked out Quebec for a few days. He also shows that a grid based on alternating current (which he says developed in the US partly after blizzards and storms showed that DC networks were too vulnerable because of the need for more generators and wires) is more at risk to CME damage than a DC one (as in Europe). He shows that it is easier to “harden” satellites than transformers on the ground, and easier to protect satellite telephone networks than conventional cell networks. He also argues that terrorists or anarchists could try to take advantage of natural catastrophes. Ironically, he gives no discussion to the threat of a terrorist EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) blast from a small nuclear weapon (at high altitude) or even from certain microwave jamming weapons widely used by the military in deployed areas (like Iraq) but not normally in civilian possession. Ironically, Popular Science had discussed such possibilities in September 2001, just before 9/11.

He properly argues that the world (especially the US) is much more vulnerable to prolonged disruption today than it was in 1859 or 1921, and hints that the smart grid (monitored by the Internet), as proposed by Friedman and probably the Gore-Clinton-Obama crowd, could make it even more vulnerable. That point is debatable, however. If every home (or at least neighborhood) could generate its own wind and solar power and even maintain (and perhaps harden with Faraday-like protections) its own Internet connections, the country might be much more secure because of decentralization.

He also provides some nuance to the debate on climate change (such as explanations of ice ages and discussion of ocean currents and the risks of methane hydrates).

What’s more interesting is his venturing into spiritualism and social psychology toward the end of the book. He talks about his travels to Siberia and meeting shamans, who he says teach us the value of ancestors and of connection to lineage.

His discussion of who would survive a global cataclysm or “The Purification” and how is quite sobering. Basically, it seems, his prescription is that if you want to live, well, you have to really want to live and function as a very social creature. Street smarts count a lot more than book smarts (which amount to zero or worse) – although he notes, that at least in the case of Lebanon, individually-based arts made a rebirth in a very stripped down world. Using the specific example of the novel and film “Sophie’s Choice”, Joseph talks about the need for one to find a “protector”, almost in the sense that the Mafia or a street gang would use the term. As I’ve noted, a world like that has no use for me. Yet a soul of conscious-unit seems as much an element of the universe as anything, and perhaps cannot be destroyed. Perhaps the soul is the tunnel or wormhole between universes, and one day physics (and thermodynamics) will prove that. So someone who was “spoiled” by civilization and leaves with bad karma will awaken in poverty on another planet around another star in another universe. He’ll have to learn to connect.

YouTube lecture from Lawrence Joseph (26 min) here.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Adam Hamilton: "Enough": Christians, stewardship, and financial planning

Author: Adam Hamilton

Title: "Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity"

Publication: Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2010; 110 pages, paper. ISBN 978-1-426-70233-4

The Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington has been selling this little book for a stewardship class, and in the fall most congregations hear a lot about stewardship. That’s been especially true since the financial collapse of 2008.

It’s not hard to imagine the arguments against consumerism and materialism. The author goes into a few of the “seven deadly sins”. And there’s no question that the Financial Crisis was fueled in some part by the gullibility of many consumers, who, following a herd mentality, were duped by unregulated banks into believing they could get a lot of house for nothing.

But this book doesn’t repeat Suze Orman’s lessons on financial discipline (valuable as they are). It is also prescriptive against careless consumption even by those not in particular financial trouble or debt (either credit cards or mortgage).

It maintains that a financial plan starts with a tithe first. I once (in the 1980s) heard Rev. Don Eastman at the old MCC Dallas (before the Cathedral of Hope) answer a question about before or after –tax tithe: “Do you want a before tax or after tax blessing?”

But consumerism is a relative thing. For some people, consumption of media or technology related items or even entertainment gets turned in to income (think about people who write Facebook applications and make a good living at it, or think about professional musicians). Many such individuals have to deal with the whole issue of gadgetry vs. family time, too.

Picture: From Jon Stewart's Rally: