Revise Your Goals

Beth Kanter had a great post a while back that rounds up a number of bits and pieces of advice for nonprofits interested in using social media.

My favorite graf:

The economic crisis has changed the external environment. So, it is important to think about that as part of considering how you need to revise your goals. The tools are changing, so if you’ve settled into one way of using a particular social media tool or set of tools, don’t set yourself on automatic pilot. Are you using the social media tools most efficiently and effectively given the environment, the changes in the tools, and your goals?

What a thought . . . fine tune strategy as you go.

How often do we really do that?

Tweet Guy Jason DeRusha, A Co-Creator

There are insurgent personalities throughout media, pushing and prodding it ahead to the future. WCCO’s Jason DeRusha is one of them.

In this interview, he discusses an important aspect of what people’s relationships with institutions are becoming:

I’ve been experimenting with posting my good questions on my blog and inviting people to answer them, to share their thoughts and help me tell the story before it goes on TV. The old model is to put stuff up after it was on TV and get comments on it. But to me, that’s no good—I need people’s help before I do the story on the air.

This turns the newsanchor-viewer relationship both on its head and inside-out.

First of all, the most important person here is the viewer, who is giving material to the news reporter. (In traditional models, after the reporter has “newsgathered,” his main job is to tell people what he or she knows.)

Second of all, and more important, this model has different people involved. The news reporter and the viewer are co-creators. They both come up with what is going to count as “news.”

Read the whole interview, which is very cool. And you may want to take a peek at his blog to see how it works in practice.

Location, Location, Object

Through one of my Twitter contacts, I ran across an interesting article by Jyri Engeström about why some social networks work and others don’t. It has to do with the presence — or lack — of an “object.” In this case, that means a reason to connect with others.

One example is Flickr, which has made photographs a reason to interact.

The fancy name for this is “object-centered sociality.” It provides a good way to think about what new social network applications might look like, and what might enable them.

For instance, Engeström says:

Take the notion of place, for example. Annotating places is a new practice for which there is clearly a need, but for which there is no successful service at the moment because the technology for capturing one’s location is not quite yet cheap enough, reliable enough, and easy enough to use. In other words, to get a ‘Flickr for maps‘ we first need a ‘digital camera for location.’ Approaching sociality as object-centered is to suggest that when it becomes easy to create digital instances of the object, the online services for networking on, through, and around that object will emerge too.

My new Blackberry Storm has GPS, and I would be very interested in a social networking service that uses location to identify nearby friends. But GPS is too much of a battery-suck and too few of my actual friends use it on a routine basis.

Notwithstanding that, I am definitely not alone in watching location as a possible Next Big Thing.

It is interesting to note that the article dates from 2005 — yet is still current.

My PJTV Segment: It's Like The Sopranos!

These are my notes from yesterday’s Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. If you check this page, you can see the video. I’m slated to be on again this Friday, October 24, at 6:00 pm Eastern.

It’s easy to pick on the Garden State of New Jersey, almost too easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Former Democratic state senator Wayne Bryant, who is embroiled in a corruption trial, has asked the state elections authority for permission to use his $640,000 campaign war chest for his legal bills. The authority said no and yesterday a state appeals court heard arguments on the issue.

Bryant is accused of conspiring with the dean of a medical school to steer state money to the university in return for a no-show job that would boost his pension from $36,000 to $81,000. I’m telling you, it’s like The Sopranos! Only there’s more. Stay tuned . . . .

* * * * *

Bryant is not the only New Jersey state official using campaign money to pay for corruption defense. Former state Sen. and Newark Mayor Sharpe James (D-Essex) and former Sen. Joseph Coniglio (D-Bergen) used their campaign money for their legal fights – only they didn’t ask permission first.

Coniglio used $90,000 leftover in his war chest when Feds were looking into whether he took money from Hackensack University Medical Center in return for steering money to the hospital. He was indicted on that in in February. And former mayor James spent $50,000 of campaign money for his defense against conspiracy and fraud charges. He was convicted in April and is serving 27 months in prison and had to pay a $100,000 fine.

What’s incredible is that, in fact, New Jersey’s rules are stricter than the federal election commission’s when it comes to using campaign money – on the federal level, battling corruption charges is deemed to be an expense “relating to the duties of a federal office holder.”

So there’s something to think about next time you whip out your check book to support a candidate – might this guy end up using the money to defend against being a crook?

Pakistan, Take My Data, Please

These are my notes from my latest Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. I don’t yet have a link to the Flash (free) version, but if you check this page, you can see the video as soon as they have posted the free version. (I am not sure they are going to keep on posting free versions; it is meant to be a paid service.)

I’m slated to be on again today and this Friday, October 24, at 6:00 pm Eastern.


Personal identity crisis continues. What will it take for companies to take this as seriously as they should? First, there’s a report from Georgia Tech that with cell phones getting more complicated and more connected, it turns out they are perfect targets for hackers. Just imagine a horde of cell phones being programmed to periodically dial toll numbers. They’ve even got a name: “zombie phones.”

But even more scary, officials have found small devices in European point of sale card swipe machines that send selected transaction information to Pakistan. These are the card machines you use at the grocery store — totally plain vanilla. The devices appear to be untraceable and are inserted in some made-in-China MasterCard boxes. The best way to find out if a store has been infected is to literally weigh their card swipe machines. Bad machines weigh four ounces more than good ones.

This is affecting large, chain stores, including a British unit of Wal*Mart and Tesco.

It is not isolated or off the beaten path. And it really is diabolical. The machines can be set, evidently, to just send a few transactions, say like every tenth Visa Platinum transaction, once a day. They can also get new instructions when they send their take — so their work is quite hidden. Add that up over time.

What happens to the information once it goes to Pakistan? It gets used, of course. Bank withdrawals are made, plane tickets and other merchandise get purchased. So far, the estimates are between $50 and $100 million. The motivation appears not to be a espionage, but plain old theft. Authorities are watching, though, in case there is a terrorism link, the destination being in Pakistan and all.

What can companies do? That’s a tough question and it may be one of those things where the bad guys are always one step ahead of the good guys. But the good guys can get a little more serious about this. Yes, they will say they have security experts and yes, they will say that such piracy hurts them as much as it hurts, say, Joe The Plumber. “Security is our top priority.”

Nevada has instituted new rules that companies must encrypt the information they keep. But this may not be enough. The whole data chain needs to be protected, just like the food chain.

I think I am going to start paying cash for everything I can!

My PJTV Segment: McCain Getting Slimed

These are my notes from my latest Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. I don’t yet have a link to the Flash (free) version, but if you check this page, you can see the video as soon as they have posted the free version. (I am not sure they are going to keep on posting free versions; it is meant to be a paid service.)

I’m slated to be on again this Friday, Octopber 17, at 6:00 pm Eastern.

Even as he unveils a new stump speech in which he pointedly avoids personal attacks on his opponent, John McCain is getting slimed in cyberspace by a chain email that is making the rounds. This should not be a surprise; there are a number of similar emails out in the wild about Barack Obama and, more recently, Governor Sarah Palin. But this appears to be the first chain email about McCain. (There have been a few spurious emails, but they are nowhere near the level of vitriol that is aimed at Obama.)

(And see here for my friend Richard Harwood’s take on when hate wins.)

The person who appears to be the author claims that the Washington Post is working on a story about this. About a week ago, she said to expect it in about a week.

The email has the left-leaning blogosphere in a bit of a tizzy. To their credit, they are trying to fact check it.

This new email about McCain purports to be a description of one writer’s vacation encounter with the Senator in Turtle Island in Fiji, shortly before the 2000 election season. The writer says that she spent a week sharing meals and conversation with the Senator, and came away disgusted.

The McCain in the email comes across as a hilarious caricature, obsessively quoting from Faulkner night after night, referring to his adopted Bangladeshi child as a “black thing,” telling a fellow guest named Amy that she needs to lose weight, and saying that if he was in charge he would “nuke Iraq to teach them a lesson.”

Originally there was a name attached to the email, a professor at University of California Santa Cruz, but this professor has categorically denied writing the email. She says she received it and forwarded it on September 16, but not under her name.

But some left-wing bloggers have been pushing to find out who wrote the original email and the name that’s come up is Anasuya Dubey, who in 2005 was a bay-area psychology student. An Australian blogger has spoken to someone who says she is Ana and has published an email from her that claims that Michael Leahy of the Washington Post is working on a story.

My PJTV Segment: Chinese Skype May Spy On Users

Friends, I was on yesterday’s “The Whip” segment of PJTV, which is a segment where they invite their guests to talk about what the “mainstream media” is not covering, is missing, or is just not paying enough attention to. While PJTV is a subscription-based service, this link ought to take you to my segment for free (I am the second guest).

I am slated to be on PJTV on Monday and Friday next week, October 13 and October 17, at about 6pm Eastern.

Here are my notes from yesterday’s segment:

The Chinese version of Skype evidently spies on users. This was discovered by a University of Toronto researcher in relatively simple fashion — by checking out what happened when he used the f-word in a message.

(To be clear, this is a joint venture between a Chinese communications company, TOM, and Skype.)

It turns out that not only are messages being filtered, and not only are they being logged, but it was being kept on an insecure server that was easily accessed through the cyber version of guessing that someone might keep their housekey in the flowerpot.

Skype says they are very concerned about the fact that these messages were insecurely stored — which is sort of like an adulterer saying he’s sorry he got caught. As for the whole message-interception thing, they say that’s just the requirement of the Chinese government and they don’t have any say. And their past public statements about the issue have been contradictory.

This is not at all the first time there have been well-founded worries about what happens when US companies bump up against China — Google has had to promise they won’t house personal info on Chinese soil. Yahoo’s CEO had to publicly apologize to the family of someone who was jailed as a result of their disclosures to the government.

This sounds like it’s all far away — but it matters close to home too.

In the first place, the monitoring is possible not only for users of the TOM/Skype — but also domestic users who interact with the people on the Chinese system.

Secondly, it brings up the issue of what large — and rightly trusted — organizations do about their partners. This affects anyone who has ever purchased anything — point of sale data is typically handled by a contractor, for example. You might trust, say, Best Buy — but you also need to know you can trust their contractors not to lose your personal data. The untold story of the last couple of years has been the rise in inadevertent data breaches. Many millions of records have been divulged, and it’s not just because government workers accidentally take home laptops — according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, since January 2005 there have been more than 245,000,000 individual records divulged accidentally or as a result of malicious hacking.

Yes, 245 million.

I am not saying there ought to be a law — but I am saying that large companies need to get ahead of this issue. Yes it will cost money. It is money well spent.

Expensive Money

As I recall, it was a Thursday and I needed to eat. While gainfully employed in a student job, my check wasn’t due for another week or two. I had nothing in my bank account. The slate clouds threatened that cool, morning drizzle northern California is known for.

After a night of debauchery, I was unsteady. In my book bag was a high-end personal CD player, a gift from my parents. Before me was a shop window backed by metal bars. Above the doorway was that ancient symbol: three golden balls. I screwed up my nerve and entered.

I walked out with a pair of twenty dollar bills in my pocket. Far less than I’d hoped. This had to last me. You know how the story ends: By Sunday, I had not much more than lint in my pocket and was digging for some other funding source. I honestly don’t remember how I made it until my paycheck. But I did; here I am, my financial ship basically righted.

Thank God I had not met a “payday loan” operation. They did not yet exist.

Here’s how a payday loan operation works. Say I need $200, but payday is nine days away. I go to a payday loan outfit, and if I can prove I have a job by showing a pay stub, they will give me the two C’s in return for a check post-dated two weeks from now, for $230. Between now and then, I need to pay off the loan at $230, or they cash the check. No money in my account? In some states, no worries: I can “flip” the loan, buying another two weeks for another $30. (In some states this is illegal.)

That adds up to about a 390% annual interest rate on the loan.

Most folks pay back the money. Indeed, payday loan operations serve in many ways as a de facto banking system for the poor. That’s how they bill themselves, helping working Americans just make ends meet and handle unforeseen emergencies.

But, of course, that’s not where they make their money. They rake in the dough from poor saps like I was, in that pawn shop: desperate, feeling out of options. People in that state will often do anything. Indeed, I can bet that, had there been a payday loan shop available, I would have jumped inside in a shot. And two weeks later, I would have been hoping to flip that loan.

Payday loan companies comprise a $28 billion industry in terms of loan volume — roughly comparable to the gross domestic product of Jordan. They make their money the same way loan sharks do, by squeezing people who don’t pay their debts on time.

Lots of people get taken in, driven by desperation. The problem was big enough that the defense department pushed for a law capping the interest rate payday lenders can charge. The Pentagon said that service members were paying, on average, $827 on a $339 loan.

On October 1, payday lenders won’t be able to charge more than 36% to service members. They are getting out of that business, saying that rate of return just doesn’t make them enough to justify the work.

Other places are trying to do away with these loan sharks, too. Washington, DC just voted to cap rates at the 48 payday shops in that city. Georgia banned them in 2004. Word is that Ohio may be next on the agenda.

Some see this as a liberal-vs.-conservative issue. Those bleeding hearts are out to coddle the poor. But to me, it’s a moral issue that has nothing to do with that. We’ve already agreed, as a society, that it’s wrong. Since Old Testament times, people have agreed it is wrong to charge exorbitant interest. And here on American shores, there were interest rate caps between four and seven percent in the colonies of the New World. Loan sharks, who charge in the neighborhood of 125% interest, are prosecuted under RICO laws.

And, there are other, far less exploitive, options for people who really just need a bit extra to cover an emergency, from bona fide advances from their employer to working out payment plans with legitimate creditors.

No, it’s not that pawnshop’s fault I had burned through all my money back in college; it was my own. We all have a responsibility to live within our means.

But we also have a responsibility not to prey on the weak. An industry that can only survive on poor decisions made in desperation doesn’t deserve a place in our colonies.

That Golden Ring And The Alamo Of Truth

When forced to come clean in public life, we often pretty up our deceits in flowery language and clever rhetoric, admitting that we may not have been “accurate” or might not have been “forthcoming.”

We admit to a “misjudgment” or regret that we may have created the “appearance of impropriety.” Language like this is the bread-and-butter of contrite yet pugnacious statements by men and women in the public eye who are caught lying and must confess.

It’s enough to raise the blood pressure. Confronted by truth, those at home get responses that seem to belittle their intelligence, to assume they are too stupid to see what is happening — or that they just couldn’t see clearly in the first place.

Even after his guilty plea, former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, at the center of the Duke lacrosse rape scandal, would only go so far as to say his “statements were not factually true” at his sentencing hearing. Nifong’s words mean, evidently, that there was some other kind of truth, truth beyond just facts, that his “statements” did not match. Bill Clinton, addressing the grand jury in 1998, mounted an existential argument about the status of being itself when he said “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” when asked to square the fact that he had earlier said “there’s nothing going on between” he and a White House intern.

But it is the flat-out denials, in the face of damning evidence, that are the most brazen. They are the last ditch attempt. In a bit about being caught by his wife with another woman, Richard Pryor famously denied and evoked Chico Marx in Duck Soup, asking her, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

This is the gambit of desperation, the Alamo of truth.

Inexplicably, I feel for the deniers. Who among us has not felt the gut-punch of being caught, and felt the urge to deny? To make it go away with sheer force of will?

This weekend, Senator Larry Craig said he will step down from the United States Senate. In June, he had pled guilty to soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. This came to light recently, and events quickly led to his resignation.

The reactions to these events have been predictable. Many partisans (of both stripes) have sought political gain. Commentators have pointed out the wide gulf between the conduct he admitted to (soliciting sex in a men’s room) and his public actions (he is a long-time and outspoken “family values” supporter). Some have pointed out that he did not actually do anything that much different from what goes on in singles bars: he sent signals to indicate he was interested in a hook-up.

Others counter that this did not happen at a bar, but in a public restroom — where many reasonably expect that they will be able to relieve themselves without being harassed — and that he was caught in a sting that was put into place due to complaints of exactly this kind of behavior.

Craig’s statements as this drama unfolded seem a textbook case of trusting in the power of denial. Many have pounced on his claim “I’m not gay. I never have been gay,” and ask how this claim can be so, given what has happened?

Reading the transcript of his arrest interview with the Minneapolis police sergeant who snared him, I felt a certain compassion for Craig. Sure, he is panicky and bombastic. He by turns tries to weasel out of the situation and just cut to the chase asking what he has to do to get out of there and make his flight. We probably all know people who behave that way when caught. Maybe we’ve behaved that way ourselves.

But, there is a moment in this interview where Senator Craig’s soul seems laid bare, his remorse out there on his sleeve.

Most of America knows by now that according to police, Craig had nudged the foot of the undercover sergeant, who was in the other stall, and then slid his hand along the underside of the stall partition. Craig said at the time he was reaching for a piece of toilet paper. Up to this point, reading the transcript is a bit like watching the interrogation of the perp in a police drama. The officer leads him along, stepping through each action, bit by bit, the case closing in around him.

The sergeant then says he could clearly see the gold wedding ring on Craig’s hand as he ran his hand along the underside of the stall. Craig seems to lose it, at that point. They engage in a long battle over whether he was using his right or his left hand. It seems important to Craig that he convince the sergeant that he was using his right hand, not his left. But the sergeant says he saw what he saw: the glint of his wedding ring.

Ultimately, and pathetically, Craig can do little more than repeatedly deny he used his left hand.

That wedding ring flashes like a beacon. I imagine this man, confessing his guilt, suddenly faced with just how deep his transgression — transgressions, perhaps — may be. Some would see a delicious irony in the fact that this conservative cultural warrior’s confession of adultery turns on his wedding ring. But the detail instead makes me empathetic. Suddenly, Craig seems almost childish, trapped, exposed, panicked.

This small episode contains the seeds of what could be a moment of clarity, where the depth of what is being risked, the stakes of the division between public and secret life, are clear to see. People can grow and heal from places like that.

But they can also refuse to see what is plain to all. You can hear it in Craig’s protestations. The wedding ring, a symbol of a sacred bond, is the focal point around which the real energy of the police interview revolves. Even while admitting guilt, Craig tries vainly to keep that ring out of the picture.

Lies are corrosive threads that shoot through the fabric of our days. Public life is filled with them but private life is, too. They suffocate us, they mount and build and kill our souls.

Larry Craig, on June 11, made a last stand at his own Alamo of truth. I hope he can use his remorse to reach for something better for himself. His lies are testament that, like all of us, he has demons to face.

But listening to his press conference over the weekend, I worry the remorse of June has faded. He speaks in flowery yet bureaucratic language of not being able to “devote 100% of his time” to his beloved Idahoans, because he must “pursue [his] legal options.”

He asks, it seems, that we choose whom to believe — the Senator or our collective, lying eyes.