I have a lot to be thankful for during this holiday season. Just watching the evening news for five minutes gives me the perspective that my worst days or problems pale in comparison to the struggles and pain of so many people in this world. Yet in that same news, I am also reminded that there is hope. Alongside the stories of atrocities, there are stories of triumph; stories of people, businesses and countries changing course and making a difference.
Being a glass half-full person, I find myseslf feeling optimistic about the possibilities. Why? Because I know we have the capacity and tools to make more and more of these positive changes. We have the newtork. And the network can help everyone and everything it connects maximize their potential.
It is bringing people together in ways never before possible, reinvigorating businesses, connecting people to their civic responsibilities, enhancing our general understanding of the world we live in, and creating opportunity and change on a global scale. It is able to create connections and develop communities that span all ages, races, beliefs and experiences.
These communities can be engaged in meaningful ways to make a real difference in this world. Using the connective tissue of the network we can do amazing things, from <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5GryIDl0qY">cleaning up a country</a>, to <a href="http://www.kiva.org">supporting the economic prospects </a> of fledgling entrepreneurs, to tackling <a href="http://www.webmd.com/">health</a>, <a href="http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/research/rice/overview.do">hunger</a> and <a href="http://laptop.org/en/">educational</a> issues, to generally <a href="http://www.globalteer.org/projects/">inspiring people </a>to <a href="http://www.oprah.com/entity/angelnetwork">take an interest and make a difference</a>.
"Activate" - it's a term I first associated with the network when I heard it during a panel at the <a href="http://www.californiawomen.org/">Women's Conference </a> on "Changing the world through the Web," but I think it captures the potential of the network. When leveraged to its best advantage the network can be used to connect people and resources to issues or problems that can be collectively tackled and hopefully solved.
The worry is that in this connected world, it is increasingly easy to retreat to the virtual world and not connect back to the physical one. There is a danger that we could rely too heavily on the network for our social interactions. When this happens, it is easy to be interested in everything but invested in nothing and the network's ability to create real change is diminished. People, places and causes must be personal if it is to lead to real world action; so the power lies in the network's ability to enhance life in the physical world, not replace it.
The network can help us reduce consumtion and improve efficiencies, strengthen our relationships with friends and family, increase our personal and professional development and opportunities, and help our fellow man whether they live next door or on the next continent. When it does these things, the possibilities are limitless and for that I am thankful.
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, MySpace - these are all great social media services that enable people to stay connected. They create a space on the network that give people an opportunity to explore, share and discuss virtually anything.
As I discuss in my book, social media can be used to communicate, listen, research, entertain and create a community. And when activated, these communities can band together to make great changes - generating awareness, raising money, creating pressure and rallying support around critical issues, disasters and injustices.
Social media tools and services are only increasing in importance to us as we integrate them into almost every aspect of our work, personal and civic lives. But, as more and more people adopt these tools to help them reach out and stay connected, the question becomes are they being used in a way that truly enhances all of our relationships? Are they sustainable?
My own opinion is that it's too early for us to declare victory. There are too many questions that still need to be answered before we can leverage all these social media services and applications to their full advantage.
For starters, we need to better understand the implications associated with playing out more and more of our lives online. What does it do to our relationships? <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/internetlife/2009-09-04-facebook-etiquette_N.htm">What type of information should and shouldn't be shared, how frequently and with whom</a>? Where are the boundaries between our work and personal lives - to what extent should someone's job be impacted by their actions/posts/opinions on their personal social networking sites? (<a href="http://careeradvice.suite101.com/article.cfm/social_networking_and_your_professional_future">We have seen people hired through social networking connections and fired for their posts</a>.)
But while these sociological and etiquette issues are important to understand and fine tune, in my mind, the main caveats to social media revolve around security and privacy concerns. Most people use these tools without really understanding exactly what they are doing, revealing information that can be used in ways they never intended, which can be quite damaging.
It's one reason the U.S. government has banned solidiers from using Web 2.0 tools. Despite all the good they can enable, they are afraid that a soldier's security could be compromised because they know enemy's are watching and using social media tools to try to get an edge. The military issued a report warning "<a href="http://www.speakmediablog.com/2009/08/us-marine-corps-bans-soldiers-from.html">that terrorists could use Twitter via their cell phones to send and receive messages and to locate fellow cell members through links to Google Maps</a>."
It's another reason why security experts are predicting that social media services will increasingly be a <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/whitepaper/download/showPDF.jhtml?id=110300006&site_id=300001&profileCreated=">target for hackers</a> - all the personal information contained within these sites represents a huge bullseye, so to speak, for identity theives and fraudsters. We have already seen attack activity <a href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2009/11/spike_in_social_media_malware.html">go up</a> - beyond the recent Denial of Service attack on <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,537653,00.html">Twitter, there has been a host of <a href="http://blog.twitter.com/2009/01/gone-phishing.html">phishing</a> scams trying to get users to reveal personal information (usernames, passwords, account or credit card numbers)? And once attackers have access to your computer (through malware you may have unwittingly loaded onto your computer when you clicked on a link or opened an attachment) and have your information, they can do anything with it. They already are - just check out the <a href="http://www.fdic.gov/news/news/SpecialAlert/2009/sa09147.html">Federal Deposit Insurance Corporations Special Alert </a>on the increase they have seen in fraudulent electronic funds transfers over the past year.
But attackers aren't the only ones interested in the wealth of personal information being revealed through these sites. Marketers are enticed by the rich databases they can build to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their consumer targeting. Is it <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114163862">beneficial or an invasion of privacy </a>when these marketing companies pull together all of the personal information they can find from a variety of sources to try to determine what you want and how to get you to buy it from them? Would it be a service or an intrusion if a local restaurant advertisement were to pop onto your screen after you "Tweeted" you wanted to go grab a bite to eat?
Its for these reasons that regulatory agencies are struggling with creating guidelines that adequately balance an individual's privacy with a company or industry's ability to improve the relevancy of their dialogue and offerings. But we can't wait too long because that too has consequences. For example, the FDA has yet to come up with social media guidelines for drugmakers, which has left a gaping hole in the information available online relating to potential medical treatments. (There's a great BusinessWeek article "<a href="http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_48/b4157064827269.htm">Why Drugmakers Don't Twitter</a>" that goes into the nebulous social media state of drugmakers - who are not sure whether they have a right or responsibility to correct erroneous information online or reach out to their patients in mediums that they are most likely using - YouTube, Twitter, etc.)
All of these issues - security, privacy, regulatory - are holding back social media tools from truly sustaining positive relationships and change. We need to address them quickly so we can appropriately and responsibly use these tools to their full advantage. When we do - great things can happen.
I would like to take a moment to recognize this year's <a href="http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/">Nobel Prize winners in physics </a>and highlight the role they played in advancing the sustainable network. Americans Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith were all instrumental in progressing the network, which has turned into one of the most powerful tools we have available to create change around the world.
Kao was honored for discovering how to transmit light signals long distances through hair-thin glass fibers. If you have fiber cables delivering the services from your telephone switch directly to your home or building then you have benefited from this discovery. You are enjoying a high bandwidth connection that allows you to take advantage of all the network has to offer.
To date, <a href="http://www.pyr.com/downloads.htm?id=1&sc=LR020909_FBR">only 6% of all households </a>worldwide have access to fiber cables (primarily in the Asia-Pacific region). Investment in fiber will need to continue as it represents one of the best options we have to date to handle the future bandwidth requirements of home users - there are predictions we could need as much as 30 Gbit/s per household, in 2030, due to all the video, voice, gaming and data we will be consuming (check out <a href="http://www.ftthcouncil.org/">Fiber to the Home Council</a>).
Boyle and Smith received the prize for opening the door to digital cameras by inventing a sensor that turns light into electrical signals. This breakthrough has enabled the digitization of much of the world's resources and has truly revolutionized how we consume, manipulate and store digital images. It's what allows us to zip mass amounts of digital images all around the world - personalizing events and creating new connections in virtual real-time. It's one of the drivers repsonsible for the <a href="http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/white_paper_c11-481360_ns827_Networking_Solutions_White_Paper.html">doubling </a>of Internet traffic every 18 months...
Both of these inventions have been instrumental in fueling the growth and utility of the network, which in turn fuels it's relevancy and spurs ongoing innovation. I call this in my book the Sustainable Network Law: The more broadband made available to network users, the faster sustainable network innovation occurs. It's a virtuous cycle.
So, which innovations will be next on the Nobel Prize list? Perhaps it will be a new way to make sense of all this digitized information (see interesting story in the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/technology/12data.html?_r=1&th&emc=th">NY Times</a> - is there such a thing as too much information?). Maybe it will take the form of a new way to access the network or <a href="http://solar.calfinder.com/blog/news/solar-cell-phone-towers-hold-promise-for-rural-customers/">power</a> it? Which will be game changers that drive new and better ways for the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/08/business/08count.html">network</a> to connect the world's people and resources? Only time will tell, but with all the world connected and working on it, imagine the possibilities.
We all know the network is everywhere. It's pervasiveness is what makes it the most endearing platform we have to address many of the issues we face today.
Thanks to the convergence of increasingly affordable, powerful and mobile devices, access to the network has spread out and infiltrated parts of the globe that have typically remained impervious to previous technology advancements. And once present, the network has an uncanny ability to create opportunities, deliver efficiencies, and spur innnovations that leave us all craving more. It connects people, thoughts and things in new ways that, in turn, drive additional connections, uses and overall network adoption. It's a virtuous cycle that we witness every day as the network grows, morphs (and moves - given its increasingly mobility), and then grows some more.
There are some interesting numbers that I've heard recently that I wanted to highlight to articulate the scale and scope of today's network. (See <a href="http://www.morganstanley.com/institutional/techresearch/internet_ad_trends102009.html">Mary Meeker's Web 2.0 Presentation</a> for a bevy of interesting stats.) Let's start with the fact there are close to 1.7 billion Internet users in the world (the actual number can be found<a href="http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm"> here</a>) - representing almost one quarter of the world's population.
Who are they and what are they doing? They could be one of the 445 million YouTube users, who watch one billion videos each day and publish more than 20 hours of video each minute. Or they could be one of the users responsible for the 5000 "tweets" sent every minute via Twitter to individuals, Web sites and news feeds across the network on anything and everything. Or they could be one of the 200,000 entrepreneurs around the world who have benefited from loans funded by more than 550,000 people that have logged into Kiva.org to make a difference through microfinancing (according to Kiva's Premal Shah at the <a href="http://www.californiawomen.org/">Women's Conference</a>). Or they may be one of the many that are going online to engage in <a href="http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1328/online-political-civic-engagement-activity">political discussions </a> (1 in five of American Internet users), <a href="http://www.bazaarvoice.com/resources/stats">ask a friend's advice on their next purchase</a>, or search for health and medical information (<a href="http://www.pewinternet.org/Press-Releases/2009/The-Social-Life-of-Health-Information.aspx">61% of American adults</a>). The possibilities are limitless.
The fact is that more and more individuals, businesses and governments rely on the network to facilitate more and more of their daily activities. A trend that will continue and likely accelerate, particularly as smartphones and mobile devices make it easier and easier to access the network from wherever you are, whenever you need it. Meeker laid out the prediction that global IP mobile traffic is likely to grow 66 times by 2013 and mobile data users will triple to 1 billion by 2013.
However, the rapid adoption of all the devices the network connects and all the applications (particularly video and rich-media services) the network supports has also caused some predictions of an inevitable crash - a "network driven" apocalypse as <a href="http://www.web2summit.com/web2009/public/schedule/detail/9259">Juniper Networks CEO</a> joked in the middle of his Web 2.0 presentation. But in all seriousness, this other side of the network equation can be worrying. In his presentation, Juniper's CEO asserted the economics of the Internet could break in 2015. Analyst firm Nemertes has predicted <a href="http://www.nemertes.com/networking_telecommunications">that network demand is on a path to outstrip capacity by 2012</a>, if not sooner. We have already seen <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/03/technology/companies/03att.html?_r=1&ref=technology">capacity strains</a> on certain networks. Then the are the numbers surrounding <a href="http://www.oecd.org/document/16/0,3343,en_2649_34223_42276816_1_1_1_1,00.html">malware</a> and the increasingly sophisticated network attacks that can cripple individuals, businesses and governments (remember <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/government/security/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=219400248">Georgia</a>?).
Without appropriate investment in secure, infrastructure build outs the adoption, innovation and ability of the network to sustain change are threatened. The good news is that these are not new threats to the network - network providers have been dealing with a doubling of traffic every 18 -24 months (check out <a href="http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/qa_c67-482177.html">Cisco's Visual Networking Index</a>) and security vendors have been focused on keeping hackers and at bay (see <a href="http://www.cert.org/stats/">CERT</a>) for the past decade. What's different today is the scale.
Due to it's pervasiveness, the possibilities and threats to the network are at a level we have never seen before. Will we be able to rise to the challenges and ensure the network's numbers equal ongoing opportunities? Only time will tell. But consider us all on notice.
I attended the <a href="http://www.womensconference.org">Women's Conference 2009 </a> today in Long Beach and listened in admiration to the many tales of triumph and hope that I heard throughout the day. There are so many phenomenal women doing it all - literally - from <a href="http://www.janegoodall.org/">Jane Goodall</a> and <a href="http://www.somaly.org/?gclid=CKnYxriK350CFRHxDAodpwifNQ">SomalyMam</a>, to <a href="http://www.fdic.gov/about/learn/board/board.html">Shelia Bair</a> and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katie_Couric">Katie Couric</a>, to the women who sat at my table and next to me in the break out sessions. These are all women who are making positive choices and taking on causes that strive to improve the lives of people within their families, communities, companies and even countries. These are women who have or are overcoming hardships, breaking down barriers, questioning status quos and are unaccepting of "no" or "can't" as answers. They are managing the chaos and finding meaning and goodness in seemingly impossible situations. They are truly inspiring.
One thing that weaved its way through the day for me was how much the world has and is continuing to change. One panel with <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_Albright">Madeleine Albright</a>, <a href="http://www.cnn.com/CNN/anchors_reporters/holmes.amy.html">Amy Holmes</a>, <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/staff/valerie-jarrett/">Valarie Jarrett </a>and <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=126398&page=1&page=1">Claire Shipman</a>, moderated by <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3688588/">David Gregory</a>, discussed "How a Women's Nation Changes Everything." It drew on statistics from the <a href="http://awomansnation.com/execSum.php">Shriver Report, </a>which covers the social transformation currently taking place as the result of women comprising half the workforce and being the primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of American households. The discussion centered around the implications of these statistical truths not only in business, but in government and for the family unit. Questions around potential corporate support infrastructures, management styles, spousal negotiations and the evolving role that both men and women would need to play in this new work and home reality all emerged.
And the network too played its role. It was not a surprise to me when Madeleine Albright pointed out that with all the new enabling technologies available to us today, the old paradigm of punching a time clock no longer need apply. Mothers, who used to have to choose between their career or being a stay-at-home mom can now make a more integrated decision - one that allows them to contribute in a variety of ways to a variety of constituents. They really can be architects of change - and create the life they want to lead.
People can work from anywhere at anytime, giving them greater flexibility and an ongoing lifeline to both their work and personal lives. By the way, telecommuting has also been shown to increase productivity by up to 30%; so not only are companies able to attract, retain and harness the value that working mothers bring to the table, they are also able to increase the proficiency of those employees.
The mobile phone, blackberry and facebook have replaced the microwave and vacuum cleaner as the most essential technological devices for any mom, allowing them to stay connected to work, friends and family as they go about their daily activities and obligations. There are social media services, from mom's groups to consortiums, that are being used to create support networks that provide valuable resources, tips and efficiencies for women trying to juggle it all.
The newtork is also lowering the barriers of entry into markets, helping women with the entreprenuerial spirit blaze their own trail. Business owners can cost-effectively attain customers through viral (word of mouth) marketing efforts and serve a global audience through their online presence. They can bring their own unique perspectives to the market and deliver goods and services that customer needs on their own terms, generating opportunity and potential prosperity in the process.
The world is certainly changing. And as women evolve their role, the network will continue to play its supporting part to help them find balance, take control and follow their dreams.