Archive for the ‘The Internet’ Category

Dear Friends: I need your help and ask your advice. The product we’ve been building is a new way to approach travel. It’s got a simple interface which looks and works like a book. It’s a little like Myst, if you’re old enough to remember Myst, it has linking books. It has no scroll bars. It’s not quite a game, but it’s really a nice way to deal with information online. Anyway, we all felt that the right name for this product was Place Book. It is a book of places. It is for booking trips. It feels like a book. Your Place Book sits amongst other connected volumes: your Photo Book, Travel Book, Fitness Book, Eco Book and so on… the newest logos we came up with looked like this:

We felt the logo could give it a vaguely international flavor – it was for facilitating travel and exploration, after all. But there’s an issue of whether this name infringes on another companies trademark, and whether it would dilute the value of theirs and/or potentially confuse the public. I have heard the arguments, and I have my opinions; I think this is a cool and unique name and would be distinct – I also feel it is an “apt descriptor” as they say, of what we are.

But I’m too close to this matter, and the product we’re making is for the public –anyone who was reasonably frustrated with researching vacations, and booking trips online. I don’t want this name stuff to get in the way of the product, which is really all that matters.

So I want to know what you think. Should I drop the name? Do you think it infringes on other brand names?  Post or email your comments. I really want to know. Thanks.

For as long as I can remember, the Internet provided an odd kind of shroud: it was frequently possible to have a sort of alter ego online. This 1993 New Yorker cartoon articulated this beautifully, and for more than a decade it was the posterchild, literally, of the Internet. MySpace, in its role pioneering the “social network” didn’t do much to change our relationship to the web; it was common for people to have multiple identities there, a range of personas, allowing people to socialize “differently” as different people. Facebook’s not-often-discussed power was always that everyone was a “real person.” You couldn’t hide your real name- and you could only have one account. The earthshaking difference here cannot be overstated. This position was antithetical to the entire way the Internet had evolved. In 2005 I recall it as being novel and refreshing. Before that social networks felt frivolous and stupid. Facebook felt “real.”

By having real people being themselves, other real human dynamics naturally flowed in, and among those were exhibitionism and voyeurism. A lot of people liked living in the open, and even more people enjoyed poking around and getting a glimpse into other people’s lives. Truth is always so much more interesting than fiction. You can’t make that stuff up…

I’m reminded of a wonderful documentary I saw at Sundance ’91 about Coney Island; director Ric Burns went into detail about the success of the Steeplechase – it wasn’t how much fun the ride was, but that people gathered to watch the riders tumble off at the end – it became a spectator sport. This is the nature of “the social web” in general, and Facebook in particular. The addition of “location” into the social web pushes this even further toward an extreme that, while conferring a number of wonderful advantages, also introduces discomfort.

As I said, It used to be that you could have a number of personalities online (which, I propose is not always nefarious and often pragmatic – we are arguably different people with our workmates, our college buddies and our families – and pretending we could maintain a single persona is probably unrealistic.) It also used to be that we could work from anywhere, that we could be location-less on the Internet. I remember the moment I realized that with a laptop and a cell phone, I could be “at work” anywhere I happened to sit down, and that this wasn’t deceptive so much as utterly empowering. In that case, I had left California and was sitting in my brother’s office in Santa Fe, New Mexico… but as far as every single person I interacted with in my workday, nothing was different, nor should it have been. This continues to be true, of course, but now that location information can be tied to my online activities, my relationship with the social-web is changed, in many cases, for the worst.

But “geo” is a modern marvel; it’s only the connecting it to social and, particularly, my “real” identity on Facebook, that sends up warning flares. As has been pointed out by journalists with wonderful clarity, it’s not that I want to be deceptive, but there are times when broadcasting my location will be awkward. And turning off the tracking when I want to be stealth is sometimes just as bad, creating a conspicuous absence that demands attention, and looking all the world like the 18.5 minute gap in the Nixon Watergate tapes…

Maybe the problem is that on Facebook we tend to have hundreds of friends, most of which are only loosely “friends” – more like acquaintances than anything else (didn’t someone prove that we can only truly manage 3 or 4 “close” friends, and only a few dozen more that are anything like “real” friends?) This change in the definition of friends and conflating that with fans begins to alter the bedrock of transparency that makes social networks fun and useful. And not just that we have more people “watching” than we ever used to, in increasingly undefined kinds of relationships, but that by sheer number, the work it takes to manage “who sees what” increases beyond the point of practicality. We just toss up our hands and say “f*ck it – if they care what I had for breakfast, it won’t bother me” but that rationale breaks down with location. Where I happen to be and where I go is far more personal than what I think.  What I think and have to say is in the “No one knows you’re a dog” category; but where I am turns the internet into an intimacy lens, forcing me to make decisions I don’t want to make — “do i want them to know where i am?” Really? I am expected to answer that question with frequency? I don’t want to.

We don’t want to throw the baby out with this particular rejection of bathwater: the geo data itself isn’t the problem, just the platforms where it resides. Personally, I think we have a better way…

For a range of reasons, the question has come up around here of what defines a social network. Wikipedia gives this broad statement (which i have slightly edited for length):

A social network is a social structure made of individuals which are connected by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.

I think that’s pretty good, but I thought i could add to it. To me, a social network at its core is a system that functions on the principles of a “network effect” — that is: as more people join the network, increasing value is conferred to the members. In other words, a social network has no value for one member, and has a lot more value for two… and as the number increases, the value increases faster. That’s a network effect. No network effect and it’s not a social network.

I thought at first that the activity of “sharing” information between an individual and others might be a defining attribute of a social network. I think that you might need to utilize a social network to share information (phone, email, etc.) but I no longer believe this is meaningful as a defining attribute. I can share a post from my blog, but my blog is not a social network.

No, I think that the foundation of a network effect is what defines a network, and the “social” part distinguishes the network as one for socializing, for meeting and connecting to people. As we spend our days building features and defining what PlaceBook is, we continue to find it useful to understand what we are not: we’re not a social network. We are enormously useful for one member, or millions. We are a safe and comprehensive service to manage your location information, and give it back to you with simple tools and powerful applications.

You’re right: it will be better when we can just show you…

This has been fun. We’re starting to talk to people about what we’re doing, and everyone seems interested. We had over a thousand beta requests just over night, and it looks like around 1700 people watched (at least some) of Scoble’s interview here. Tonight we offer some more organized information, our first PlaceBook press release. Jon Pincus, the conference chair at the CFP event, was nice enough to not only be excited about what we were up to, but to give us a quotation for the release.

Here’s the PDF.

btw: I’m not sure there really is a “getting ready” for a conference like this. I believe you go and see what people are talking about, and when appropriate, offer some opinion. Or am I just rationalizing procrastination…


PlaceBook: A Holistic Location Service Focuses on Consumer Privacy
(San Jose, CA) – June 15, 2010 – At the opening of the ACM Conference on Computers,
Freedom & Privacy today, PublicEarth, Inc. announced the launch of a new consumer
website: PlaceBook, “your life, by location.” Using a user’s location data along with other
geographically-oriented content, the site safely aggregates the information and gives it back
to that consumer through a range of applications.
“We continue to be concerned that websites and products that utilize a person’s GPS data
do so in a pretty cavalier manner,” said Michael Rubin, CEO of PublicEarth. “All our work
has shown us that a person’s location information, particularly as GPS technology becomes
more accurate and more pervasive, is perhaps the most private of all an individual’s data; in
some ways more private than financial and medical data.” Rubin is speaking on a panel
Thursday at 1:30pm, along with leaders in the consumer privacy space.
PlaceBook collects member’s location data, and stores it in a personal data vault where it is
managed in secure layers and though various degrees of encryption. Says CTO Tom
DiGrazia, formerly of eBay; “Our commitment is to make location-related data useful to
consumers in a host of fantastic ways while still protecting individual privacy.”
When the site opens later this summer the initial applications will begin to demonstrate the
utility in personal GPS data with tools for weight loss and fitness, healthier living, and trip
planning. In addition to practical tools, the user experience will provide a novel way to
manage and organize map-based information. “Location is a hot segment online today, but
it’s mostly being treated as a game, or social data,” Says Rubin. “The buzzword has been
“Social-Geo,” but geo is not really the same as social. PlaceBook establishes a foundation
that is both secure and private; social is just one use-case in a larger landscape.”
Adds Rubin: “It’s not a secret that many popular websites that collect this data have proven
themselves somewhat unworthy stewards of personal privacy. We want to see this space
grow, and cannot imagine it doing so without first managing the privacy issue. This is
where PlaceBook comes in.”
CFP Conference Chair Jon Pincus added: “One of our goals bringing CFP to Silicon Valley
this year is to engage with the companies like PlaceBook that are on the cutting edge of
technology. There’s no substitute for building privacy protections in from the beginning.” is currently preparing to launch in private beta and then will increasingly
open the site to larger number of users throughout the summer.


It goes on for 30 minutes. I have nothing to add.