Extending the use of computing devices is critical if we are to create more sustainable consumption. We can divert waste from landfill and reduce the energy it takes to extract materials and build new devices, if we can lengthen the life of the devices we already have or find new ways to use its components.
I think most of us try to recycle our devices and are happy to pass along those that have outgrown our needs. But what if its reuse poses a risk to you? Hard drives can pose such a risk and, as such, often have their lives and usefulness cut short.
What do you do with your hard drive, which often houses all of your intellectual property and sensitive information, when you are done with it? How do you make sure your information isn't found and used by someone else? Just deleting the information off of it doesn't mean it's gone, it is not too difficult to get the data back. (Something I am often thankful for when I delete a file by accident, but which opens up a huge risk when you really want to get rid of the information.) Even when your hard disk is corrupted or physically damaged, all is not lost (just do a quick search on hard disk recovery and you will find a whole host of sites and solutions that will help you recover the information).
But wouldn't it be more sustainable if we could extend the life of that device? What if there was a reliable way to permanently erase the data on it without having to shred the device? Just because the model is no longer of use to you, it is very likely it would suit the needs of someone else. We could divert that device from landfill for a little while longer. Then, because we have a way to erase the data, we could explore recycling and reusing the components to further reduce waste.
This is something that has been done with cell phones and copiers; they often receive an extended life in the hands of those who find an older model perfectly suitable. (I know I have donated my cell phone in the past; it's easy to <a href="http://charityguide.org/volunteer/fifteen/cell-phone-recycling.htm">search </a>to find organizations in your area who have needs.) But is this safe to do now?
In the past, phones were only used for voice calls - the data potentially exposed consisted of your phone book. Remove your SIM card and you could be fairly sure that future users would not find anything personal left on your phone. Today's smart phones have the computing power of many desktops; they are being used to conduct our business and personal lives. Ever search the Web? Take a photo? Check your bank account? Pay a bill? Read your email? Download a file? Think of all the data that is potentially on your smart phone stored on the hard drive that now sits on that phone... how do you make sure that it is gone when you are done with the phone? Does this mean we are back to destroying the device? Again, it would be great to know that we can reliably erase the data, so the device can be used by someone else.
Same thing with photocopiers; over the past five to seven years, most copiers are networked to a variety of computing devices and each have a hard drive that records all the information that is copied, printed, faxed or scanned. Since most organizations don't want to spend the capital to buy a copier they lease it from a provider (which also enables them to offloading the repairs and maintenance). When the lease is up, the copier provider will come, delete the data, and send it off to another customer. But we have already mentioned that simply deleting data doesn't mean it is gone. So these copiers can provide a wealth of information to those who know to look for it. Again, this doesn't make it a sustainable solution.
So what can you do? As an organization, you
Once the hard drive no longer poses a risk, it can be reused. The goal is to promote a more sustainable way to use technology, so we can reduce our impact and drive change on a global scale.
I believe strongly in the potential of the network - heck, I wrote a book about it - however, I also understand the same connections that can be used for good can also be used for bad. And the reality is they can be downright dangerous for our children, who can be bullied, stalked and targeted online.
How prevalent is it? The statistics are alarming. One in five teenagers in the US have received an unwanted sexual solicitation online acorrding to the Crimes Against Children Research Center Child pornography is one of the fastest growing businesses online. The National Crime Prevention Council suggests that more than half of American teens are exposed to some sort of <a href="http://www.cyberbullyalert.com/blog/2008/08/cyber-bullying-statistics-that-may-shock-you">cyberbullying</a> and the Kids Helpline found as many as 70% were harassed online.
Unfortunately, these statistics became more personal for me when I learned of a recent incident in our local middle school. And if you are thinking, "Well that's there, it's not happening in our school district," you may want to check with your city's police or even just search your local news; you will find these crimes can and are taking place everywhere. So what can you do?
As a parent, it's natural to want to remove the threats and simply shut down your children's access to the Internet. But are you really prepared to not only cut off access to their computer, but also their cell phone, digital camera, iTouch, video game consoles (Wii or PlayStation), etc.? Let's face it, we live in a digital age and the network is embedded in almost everything we do; so rather than ban it, we need to teach our children how to use it safely and effectively.
I think the following three principles are a good start. Every parent should make sure their kids:
And of course, the most important thing that our children need to know is that they can come to us, no matter what, and we will help them. As in the physical world, there is no substitute for being involved in their lives and that goes for their online activities. Make sure they know you are there and that should anything uncomfortable or threatening arise, you will support them.
F.C.C. Plans Have Potential to Accelerate the Roll Out of the Sustainable Network
Tomorrow, the F.C.C. is putting forth to Congress a 10-year plan focused on developing high-speed Internet access as the dominant communications network. Up for debate includes a recommendation for a subsidy for Internet providers to wire rural parts of the country, an auction of broadcast spectrum for wireless spectrum (the goal is to free up roughly 500 megahertz of spectrum, much of which would come from TV broadcasters, for future mobile broadband uses), and the development of a new universal set-top box that connects to the Internet and cable service.
The proposal includes reforms to the Universal Service Fund to focus on broadband access and affordability. It also call for a "digital literacy corps" to help unwired Americans learn online skills, and a recommendation for $12 billion to $16 billion for a nationwide public safety network that would connect police, fire departments and other first responders.
It strives to put a stake in the ground for standard broadband speeds, with the promise that the F.C.C. will begin assessing the speeds and costs of consumer broadband service. In conjunction, consumers will be encouraged to test the speed of their home Internet access through a new suite of online and mobile phone applications that will be released by the F.C.C. to see if they are getting the promised speeds for which they are paying.
This move by the F.C.C. comes on the heels of Google, who announced they would offer ultrahigh-speed Internet access in a few communities to showcase what's possible with faster broadband networks. This move by Google was seen as a prod in the direction now being taken by the F.C.C. to make sure that high-speed networks are truly available nationwide.
What this will do to the industry of network providers who are currently trying to carve out their place and create business models that will enable them justify the investments that need to be made to create this high-speed network reality is yet to be determined. But it is clear, this move by the F.C.C. will have an affect on public policy for years to come and definitely puts pressure on the network offerings of existing providers. Stay tuned. It is going to be an interesting journey; one that has the potential to bring the best platform we have for sustainable progress, change and action to us all.
This week, I spent some time at <a href="http://www.rsaconference.com/index.htm">RSA</a>, an event where security vendors and professionals connect. As I have mentioned in past <a href="http://broadcast.oreilly.com/2009/08/security-paramount-to-the-sust.html">blogs</a>, security is paramount to the sustainability of the network. If we are to leverage the network as a powerful tool for change, we need to be able to trust that the information and resources on it are secure.
As recent headlines have demonstrated, attacks on the network are ever-present; 2009 saw <a href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009_3-10454870-83.html">malware and social networking attacks surge</a> (spam carrying malware was averaging 3 billion each day by the end of the year) and <a href="http://securitywatch.eweek.com/mobile_malware/sexy_new_mobile_botnet_on_the_move.html">increasingly sophisticated mobile attacks </a>emerge. Just as in the physical world, there are individuals motivated by greed, power and personal gain (the <a href="http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/news/article/0,289142,sid14_gci1389667,00.html">rise </a>and <a href="http://www.federalnewsradio.com/?sid=1891919&nid=19">co-opting </a>of the <a href="http://www.krebsonsecurity.com/2010/02/zeus-attack-spoofs-nsa-targets-gov-and-mil/">Zeus attacks</a>, which originally targeted financial institutions, is just one example - to date it has infected about 74,000 PCs, and that's just one attack), and there are those who are looking to achieve <a href="http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/Strange-News/Mahmoud-Ahmadinejad-Iranian-Presidents-Website-Hacked-With-Message-Mentioning-Michael-Jackson/Article/201001115514791">political</a> or ideological ends.
But, as the show floor and conference discusssions demonstrated, there are a lot of technologies out there designed to help organizations combat and mitigate against all these attacks. There are literally thousands of companies, focused on everything from user and data authentication to spyware and cloud security. So why is it that even though there is an answer or feature out there for almost every threat or need, organizations are still struggling to protect the network? I think it's because security is more of a control and data management problem than a feature-set issue.
I heard Palo Alto Networks talk about controlling exactly what should and should not be allowed on the network, based on the user and their role, the application and exactly what they are trying to do. This approach makes sense because with a focus on control, you can eliminate a lot of the risks right off the bat. You can restrict peer to peer traffic and file sharing applications that can be used by attackers to gain access to the network (through malware/trojans) and all its resources. The key is to have this level of control over every aspect of your network, from the edge to the core and within the hosts themselves, and then, for what is allowed, look for threats and mitigate attacks within that "allowed" traffic.
This gets us to the data management problem; a typical network's security infrastructure contains multiple different devices, each with different management consoles, each producing a lot of logs that can contain thousands of pieces of information. Linking all this data and making sense of it all requires a lot of manpower and expertise. Oh, and don't forget that physical security measures, which can also provide clues and contain indicators of risks, are kept almost entirely separate from the network security activities (typically they are run by two different groups with very little connection, though I did see a <a href="http://www.alertenterprise.com/">company</a> that was trying bridge that gap).
I think it is telling that it took Google and a host of other companies targeted by attackers originitating in China <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jMvzWYB0BvmRgL2ZI0Y4b9I-vBOg">MONTHS</a> to figure out exactly what happened (in fact, I believe the investigation is still going on now). So, under the cover of the data deluge that network administrators are under from all these different security devices, attackers can infiltrate a network and operate undetected.
All of the calls to better manage business information and increase the value derived from insights and analysis of that information (take a look at last week's Economist's special report) need to be applied to network security. Organizations need a singular, meaningful view into the network that helps them identify in real-time what is going on and any threats to that network. To date, I haven't seen big advances on this front, sure there are the large, generic platforms offered by the likes of HP and IBM and security-specific management platforms from folks such as ArcSight. I would love to hear from you if you have seen promise in this area. Right now, I think we need more innovation; we need truly comprehensive visibility and the ability to easily and actively control and manage of the network. The security and ultimate sustainability of the network as a platform for change is reliant on it.
Information is more accessible than ever, and more content is being created on a daily basis than existed in the world 100 years ago. In fact, three years ago, IBM predicted that by 2010 the amount of digital information on the Internet would be doubling every 11 hours! I am not sure if we are there yet, but that milestone is likely not that far off.
As recent as the middle of last century it was reasonable to assume that a scientist or doctor was generally knowledgeable about any type of science or medicine; they could stay apprised of new discoveries, theories or applications in all different fields of study through regular reading of scientific or medical journals. Now, due to the sheer volume of information and advances occurring around the world, scientists and doctors are only able to keep up with their area of study or specialization, and it is unreasonable to think they would have a level of depth and greater understanding in all areas outside of their particular field.
<div style="border-top: thin gray solid; border-bottom: thin gray solid; padding: 20px; margin: 20px 2px; width: 46em;"><a href="http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596157036/"><img style="float: left; border: none;padding-right: 10px;" src="http://cdn.oreilly.com/oreilly/promos/9780596157036thumb.jpg" /></a>Sarah Sorensen is the author of <a href="http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596157036/">The Sustainable Network: The Accidental Answer for a Troubled Planet</a>.<br /><br />The Sustainable Network demonstrates how we can tackle challenges, ranging from energy conservation to economic and social innovation, using the global network -- of which the public Internet is just one piece. This book demystifies the power of the network, and issues a strong call to action.<br /><br clear="left"></div>
So, how do we navigate this digital information world? How do we try to maintain a real-time understanding of all the things that are important to us? Well, this is where the services and news feeds offered by the Twitters, and Facebooks, and Googles of the world come into play. Through short bursts of information, we are able to stay up to date on our friends and family, local and global communities, activities of interest, etc. Through innovative use of technology and the myriad of applications and services that are delivered by the network, we are constantly finding new and useful ways to search, synthesize and package information, distribute it to interested parties and foster a dialogue that can be global in scope.
But is this enough? As we struggle to stay on top of everything that crosses our paths, are we missing opportunities to get more out of the information? Are we becoming too much of a "right now" society? Are we able to delve into an issue at length or stick with a topic that doesn't have a quick pithy answer?
My fear is that in our quest for quick information, we may be losing a vital tool in books that have helped us for generations formulate new thoughts, prod and poke at existing conventions, think through the universe's toughest questions and open our eyes to the possibilities. The book is one of the few written word formats that enables topics to be explored and expanded upon in hundreds of pages. As the journalist Edward P. Morgan said, "A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy."
But, it seems its value in this Digital Age is diminished, as the reading of books has been been on a steady decline for decades. Back in 1998, <a href="http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:FEoN1mMBvCcJ:news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/talking_point/newsid_82000/82321.asp+reading+is+dead&cd=6&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us">surveysin the U.K.</a> showed that "more than one in seven adults had not read a book in the last year and more than one in three has never visited their local library." A survey in 2007, found <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-08-21-reading_N.htm">one in four people read no books during a year</a>. Folks like Steve Jobs have even been <a href="http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/15/the-passion-of-steve-jobs/#more-829">quoted</a> as saying "people don't read anymore."
But, as I previously noted, the amount of content that is created and consumed on a daily basis online continues to grow at an astronomical rate. So perhaps it is the format that is dead? Perhaps the book as we know it is too antiquated, explaining why it's not drawing our attention as it once did. There are simply too many types of information competing for our time. (Fortune had an interesting cover article on the Future of Reading that's worth checking out.)
This is one reason why the iPad has excited my attention - it could be a road back to the written word of books. As an author, I am interested in the idea that extra features or updates to <a href="http://techbus.safaribooksonline.com/9780596806699">my book </a> could keep the content current and readers engaged on the topic. It can go beyond the search and bookmarking features (which are very cool by the way) offered for smaller form factors, such as the iPhone, and really start to create a more dynamic and interactive book reading experience.
We have seen news sites incorporate video and other rich media applicaitons into their reporting and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/education/23tufts.html?th&emc=th">students embed video clips </a>into their college application submissions, so it's not a stretch to think that we will soon be seeing commentary from the author or <a href="http://www.safaribooksonline.com/events/2010/SustainableNetwork.html">upcoming webcasts or talks</a> on topics that relate to the book. I can imagine playing games or taking polls or viewing movie clips for the stories we are reading (though in my mind the movie version is often a shadow of what the imagination can conjure.)
I am for anything that will help us reinvent books and inspire a love of reading. Because without books, there is the fear that everyone will know just a little about everything, and have a good understanding about nothing; we will be experts in our lives, but leave thoughts, opinions and worlds outside our immediate needs unexplored.
With new technologies, such as the iPad, I see that the future of books can be relevant and interactive, helping us once again get lost in a good story or cut through all the quick snippets of information to delve into something in a meaningful way. It has to be, because the content of books is what will help us sustain the deep thinking and in-depth analysis that is required to achieve those "aha" moments that revolutionize the way we live and are needed to solve our biggest problems.
Super Bowl in the Digital Age
The revelry and rituals of Super Bowl Sunday seem to grow each year. The game takes on a life of its own, bringing unlikely viewers together on the couch to eat, commiserate and cheer for several hours.
It's because the Super Bowl is more than a game; even if you are not a sports fan there's the pregame show, national anthem, halftime show and let's not forget the advertisements that keep people watching.This year, a record number of people - Neilsen Co estimated 106.5 million - tuned in to watch the game from around the world. There are a lot of theories as to why it made viewership history (you can check out the <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/02/08/why-did-super-bowl-2010-become-the-most-watched-tv-program-ever/">Wall Street Journal's take</a>), but I would like to suggest the expanded reach and interest in the game is due, in part, to the many ways in which it is integrated into our digital lives.
Technology is playing a critical role in sports, both improving the experience and extending the life of any particular event. In football (American), the players, teams and league use a broad array of technology to enhance the game. Fans can connect with their favorite teams through their online communities; they can play digital games as their favorite players and participate in Fantasy Football leagues with people from around the globe. All of which serve to increase the interest and affinity viewers have for the game, creating ties to players, organizations and the league that fuel multibillion dollar apparel and merchandising industries.
In addition, technology can be found throughout football's operations, from the scouting teams to the post-game analysis. Just think of the wealth of information these players and coaches have at their fingertips that can be linked and analyzed a hundred different ways to try to increase competitiveness and gain a mental edge in the game. There are even sensors embedded in the helmets that wirelessly transmit impact data on hits to the head (up to 2000 a year for some players!) to the sidelines to help team doctors monitor the players as they run up and down the field. The list goes on...
Then there is the Super Bowl - the crowning jewel of the season - it dominates all types of conversations for weeks if you count all the before and after game/event analysis, and the reality is that many of those dialogues are taking place online. The rich media experiences that are now an integral part of the event create opportunities for businesses and brands to connect and develop relationships with their target audiences. It's the online chatter and buzz, with friends and fans sharing the information and resources that are most relevant to their groups, that are driving sustainable revenue opportunities and mindshare.
In case you missed anything during the game, you can easily go online and get play-by-play coverage, as well as play-by-play commentary. You can watch and review virtually everything to do with the game, from the amazing catches to the half time show. You can <a href="http://www.forbes.com/2010/02/06/super-bowl-ads-2010-watch-vote-embed.html">vote for your favorite commercials </a>, as fan favorites get a viral marketing life that helps support the business case for spending millions for a 30 second TV spot.
Some advertisers are<a href="http://www.nesn.com/2010/02/is-social-media-to-blame-for-mediocre-super-bowl-ads-.html"> skipping the TV </a>altogether, going straight for interactive social media campaigns. This year, Pepsi, a traditionally stalwart Super Bowl advertiser (spending $142 million on 10 Super Bowl spots over the last 10 years), opted out in favor of using Facebook, Twitter, Ustream and iPhone apps to reach out and try to engage customers with their <a href="http://www.facebook.com/refresheverything?v=app_4949752878">"Refresh Everything"</a> campaign. A strategy that seems to be working for them - Neilsen Co reported that PepsiCo got 21.6 percent of the chatter about Super Bowl advertisers over the last two months - way more than their rival, Coca-Cola, received.
And don't forget the money games around the big game </a>- namely the <a href="http://www.esquire.com/the-side/feature/super-bowl-prop-bets-2010">betting industry </a>that pulls in big bucks by enticing people to bet on virtually anything, and I do mean anything, related to the game. What influence will technology have? Well, soon, if <a href="http://www.cantorgaming.com/">Cantor Gaming </a>has its way, gamblers won't be relegated to sitting at the sports book to place bets, they will be able to do it from anywhere on the casino's premise and will have access to real-time odds. (Actually, if they had their way, you would be able to do it from your mobile phone!)
There is also the money around merchandising for the big game, which has taken on many new dimensions, as retailers scour blogs, chat rooms and Google searches to try to identify where fan loyalties lie and then use the Internet to reach out to those fans to sell them team merchandise and memorabilia (<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/08/business/media/08link.html?th&emc=th">check out an interesting article in the New York Times</a>), filling a gap and extending the reach of typically regional retail coverage.
So, while I watched the game yesterday, I was also watching all the activity around the game and thinking about what the future will bring. CBS didn't get its way and the NFL didn't allow <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/article/163440/cbs_pushes_nfl_to_stream_super_bowl_2010_online.html">thegame to be streamed live in its entirety</a>online, but it is inevitable. And when that happens, it will add yet another dimension to the game. In short, we are just starting to tap into the opportunities presented by the big game and can expect entertainment events, such as the Super Bowl, in the digital age to get bigger and the reach broader year after year.
Why is Simple Soooo Not Simple?
I have been disconnected, without a working computer for a day and a half! You are probably wondering, "how did that happen?" "how did you survive?" "what did you do?" and honestly, I hardly know. It's been a blur. But one thing is crystal clear - a simple upgrade is ANYTHING but simple!
Based on the recommendation of a couple of friends, who had just gotten new computers and were talking up some of the useability features of the Windows 7 operating system, I sat down at my computer and decided I would do the upgrade from XP. The upgrade packet had been sitting on my desk for the last couple weeks and I decided it was time to commit.
Little did I know what I was committing to! Like many a blind date, where you hold out hope for Mr. Right, but open the door to a guy wearing too tight pants and smelling slightly of dirty socks, I found myself facing a situation fraught with mind-numbing discourse and disappointment. I had tried to do everything right - I had backed up all my files, I had all the software ready to load, I had all the product keys in hand - I was feeling good, maybe even a little cocky! Then I opened the DVD drive, and just like opening the door for that blind date, it was all downhill from there.
Time stood still - only it didn't and I lost a day and a half of productivity! That's a lot for anyone. The Strategy Group conducted a study a couple years ago where more than 32% of respondents (representing companies with 100 or more employees) stated they had zero tolerance for network downtime. They estimated the average cost incurred when something went wrong with the network was $3 million per day, with 10% of the group estimating it would likely cost them more than $10 million in damages and lost revenue per day. Infonetics Research estimated that large businesses lose an average of 3.6 percent in annual revenue due to network downtime each year.
On my own small scale I could relate - I felt the pain. If Windows 7 buys me an extra 10 minutes a day of productivity, due to it's ease of use, I am going to still need 72 business days to get that time back! So what did I do wrong?
I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person. I am fairly technically conversant - I have even passed a few IT/networking certification courses. I can follow instructions and have basic common sense. (I feel a need to include these last attributes to ease the minds of the support folks who asked me questions like "are you sure it's turned on?" or "are any of the lights blinking?") So, why couldn't I get my computer,applications and network up and running in a reasonable amount of time?
I am not trying to shift blame, but I don't think it is me. And I don't think it's specific to any one particular OS. I think it is the overarching complexity associated with all the software and hardware that we increasingly relying on to run our lives, businesses and governments. Think of all the different vendors that make up our extended technology ecosystem - oh, and don't forget the open source folks. Then think of all the different products each one offers and all the different versions of each of those products that exist out there. One change to one of those things is enough to throw everything else out of whack. It's enough to make your head spin and start some serious finger pointing.
Specifically, I heard, "sorry, it's not the hardware, that's a software issue," "those applications are compatible, but not those versions," "yes, we sold you that package and it did include that application, but we can't do anything (unless you want to pay us $$$), so you will have to talk to the individual application vendor to get a specific solution..."
Each individual application or services is working on being "simple to use," but when you put them all together they don't always play nice. Anyone in IT will tell you that while everything is "interoperable" it doesn't mean its going to work together, at least right away. Which explains, why 70% of IT's time is spent on simply keeping things going; simply keeping up with the changes that occur during regular course of business, along with necessary patches and security upgrades, to make sure everything is working. There has to be an easier way!
Is it a pie in the sky dream to wish that vendors would come together and truly provide solutions with a simple evolution path that makes it easy for anyone, including me, to upgrade my system? Are there simply too many vendors? Or is it that things are changing too quickly? Will it be something else entirely that will bring us simplicity? Should we be focused on using hosted or managed services in the cloud to take much of the complexity out of the hands of end users? What are your thoughts? I would love to know.
I have faith that simplicity is on the horizon because it has to be... It's the only way we will get what we need from our technological resources to sustain innovation, efficiencies and meaningful change on a worldwide scale. It has to be simple for everyone, so everyone can use the resources and take part. The alternatives, like Mr. Wrong, are just not palatable.
Obama's Year in Technology
As President Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union speech after a year in office, I thought it would be a good time to look back on the Administration's technology agenda. As I mention in my <a href="http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596157036/">book</a>, Presidential Candidate Obama was really the first to leverage technology in a meaningful way during his campaign, giving us glimpses into how the political process can be engaged and enabled by a savvy social media and online strategy. So, when the Obama Administration took office, it was natural to assume that it would be bringing the White House into the Digital Age.
After all, Obama was a candidate who got it - he understood that the foundation for improving the prospects of our children and strengthening our long term economic prosperity lay in our access to and use of technology. As he said in a <a href="http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/issues/technology/Fact_Sheet_Innovation_and_Technology.pdf">campaign speech</a>:
"Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and let's invest in scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America."
However, we saw glimmers of how difficult a transition into the Digital Age could be. Right off the bat there were discussions around whether a <a href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-10148329-38.html?tag=mncol;txt">U.S. President could use a Blackberry </a>to stay in touch. This singular issue was a clear indicator of how far behind the White House actually was in its use of technology (and how vulnerable our mobile devices and digital infrastructure are).
I think the extent of the task was captured in a <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/21/AR2009012104249.html">Washington Post </a> article that described what it was like for the Obama Administration when they took their offices in the White House - can you imagine walking into your office and having to try to connect your landline??? So, considering the starting point, I think the Administration can feel confident they have made significant progress.
There have been some monumental firsts, such as the first U.S. Chief Technology Officer (CTO) - Aneesh Chopra - and the first U.S. Chief Information Officer (CIO) - Vivek Kundra. There was the <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/OpenForQuestions">First Presidential Online Chat </a> and the first foray into greater transparency with a <a href="http://it.usaspending.gov/">U.S. Federal IT dashboard</a>, which started to provide visibility into where the money in the government's budget goes. (Note, this dashboard was launched in just 6 weeks showing that even big government can get things done, particularly when using technology well!) Government agencies started using social media sites, <a href="http://www.govtech.com/gt/579338">such as Twitter</a>, to help people stay up to date on events and emergency situations.
There have been investments designed to extend broadband access to more people and places. <a href="http://www.ibls.com/internet_law_news_portal_view.aspx?s=sa&id=1816">A total of $7.2 billion pledged through the Recovery Act broadband program </a>will enable more people to connect to the resources and information of the network to improve their opportunities and participate in the global economy.
But there have also been some snafus. For instance, we have seen how hard it is to walk the line of security and transparency. Remember the <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/massive-tsa-security-breach-agency-secrets/story?id=9280503">TSA Security Breach </a>that posted all the airport screening procedures, otherwise known as a good "how to" manual for terrorists?
And there have been some downright scares that remind us of the vulnerabilities of our networks. A <a href="http://www.securityfocus.com/news/11554">denial of service attack </a>took down the U.S. government's Department of Homeland Security, Federal Trade Commission, and Treasury Department's web sites; and, of course, there is the <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/security/vulnerabilities/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=222400552&cid=nl_IW_daily_2010-01-26_h">recent hacker activity on Google </a>and other prominent companies. These incidents serve as a reminder that the Administration needs to balance preserving individual rights in the digital world, with increasing the overall security of the connections. We have seen U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak out against online censorship and can assume the just appointed Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt will be leading the Adminstration's stand on cybersecurity.
It's important to remember that some of the activities the Administration has tackled this year are purely housekeeping, laying the fundamental groundwork that will help the government move forward more effectively in the future. For instance, there are the mundane, but very important projects of ensuring <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/government/info-management/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=222301693&cid=nl_IW_daily_html">White House e-mails </a>are appropriately catalogued, archived and backed-up. (The goal is to also ensure there is an auditable record of all e-mail activity and measures in place to ensure only authorized individuals can access the database and alerts are raised when someone tries to delete anything.) Or <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/government/enterprise-architecture/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=217400505">developing a plan </a>that will help standardize and provide a common information technology infrastructure for government that can reduce costs and ensure greater consistency, visibility and security long term.
But it has been encouraging to see the government innovate and try new things, such as moving into the <a href="http://fcw.com/Articles/2009/12/10/Open-government-cloud-computing.aspx">cloud</a>. If the <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/government/cloud-saas/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=222400161&cid=nl_IW_daily_html">lumberingCensus process </a>can benefit from the efficiencies of the Cloud, chances are there are many other applications and benefits.
The use of all these technologies can foster opportunities, innovation, and long-term economic viability; it can pave the way for more effective service delivery and greater transparency to increase the dialogue and strengthen the relationships citizens have with their government. I think the Administration, while it has a long way to go, is definitely on the right track when it comes to technology.
"A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake." Confucius, Chinese teacher, philosopher and political theorist, 551-479 BC
Time and time again, China has tested the digital world, trying to stifle its free information flow and control the resources that are open to its people. There are a long list of methods China has employed to clamp down on access. They have used a variety of technological tricks, some of which we know about and many of which we never will, and some good old-fashioned coercion measures (from fines to imprisonment) designed to pressure content owners to keep content in line with what they deem acceptable. For example, in 2008, the year the summer Olympics took place in China, it was discovered that China had been monitoring Skype communications and a handful of bloggers whose commentary was unfavorable to China during the Olympics were detained. (Probably not so coincidentally, they were released and their blog postings removed only a little while later.)
China employs thousands of government workers in these efforts, and, to date, have been fairly successful in achieving the results they desire. It seems when faced with the potential entices of the Chinese market, businesses have found themselves in some precarious positions and made some, in my opinion, dubious calls, in efforts to comply with Chinese requirements.
For instance, when Google opened up shop in China, they agreed to censor some of their search results. Yahoo was questioned by Congress, in 2007, for turning over e-mails that led to the imprisonment of Chinese dissidents. In 2008, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/19/AR2008051902661.html">Cisco Systems was also questioned by Congress </a> after it was suggested, due to a Cisco sales presentation that surfaced, that they were potentially helping the Chinese government modify their networking equipment to block and censor Internet traffic (it should be noted it was an accusation they Cisco vehemently denied). YouTube has found its service shut down several times; presumably to avoid any glimpses of content that China deemed unacceptable. (Probably not surprising, the last shut down lasted through the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, along with the blocking of Twitter.)
In 2009, the Chinese government issued a directive that would have required the installation of filtering software, nicknamed <a href="http://opennet.net/chinas-green-dam-the-implications-government-control-encroaching-home-pc">"Green Dam," </a>on every personal computer (PC) sold in the Chinese market. Almost comically, they proposed this requirement under the auspices of protecting children from harmful Internet content. It was sharply criticized by governments around the world on a variety of fronts, from free speech impingement to potential security compromises to free-trade violations. This is due to the reality that if loaded onto every PC, it would give the Chinese government unprecedented control over an individual's personal computing use. While <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/technology/01china.html?_r=3&partner=rss&emc=rss">China backed-off of its deadline</a> (July 1, 2009) for implementation, in the face of pressure from Chinese computer users, computer manufacturers, and governments, it's evident they have not been rethinking their overall objectives - to control their citizen's online access.
But it seems the proverbial straw that broke the camels back occurred last week for Google. Taken from the <a href="http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html">blog </a>of Google SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond</a>, they had identified a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google." After further investigation they found it was part of a wider attack designed to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. (An good disection of the attacks can be found <a href="http://cnettv.cnet.com/china-attack-google-explained/9742-1_53-50082324.html">here</a>)They have since "discovered that the accounts of dozens of US-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties," which goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech."
As of right now, there is no international standard, nor universal agreement on what is acceptable or not in terms of free speech in the digital world; we are all treading in un-chartered waters. There's the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was drafted in 1948 and provides a basic framework, but little practical guidance in this Digital Information Age. And declarations, such as <a href="http://www.globalnetworkinitiative.org/">The Global Network Initiative (GNI), </a>while noble in intent, have provided very few specifics and virtually no repurcussions for abuses.
But the threat to freedom of speech in the digital world is very real. As I have mentioned in <a href="http://broadcast.oreilly.com/2009/08/censorship-is-a-potential-thre.html">previous blogs</a>, questionable restrictions on the network can lead to potential fettering of its possibilities and major encroachments on individual personal freedoms. It's a very slippery slope.
So, I want to applaud Google for making a stand and drawing a line. They announced, "We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."
While we still have to see what will come of this proclamation, but the fact they have said they are willing to walk away represents a clear departure from trying to conduct business as usual. The Obama administration has since issued a statement of support for Google and reiterated Internet freedom as a priority. So, while we may not see a huge sea change right away, this represents a step in the right direction and has reignited a much needed debate around personal freedoms. It sends a message that it is not okay to simply work within the confines of China's increasingly restrictive rules and hopefully it will improve the willingness of China and other governments to work more with foreign companies and governments on these issues.
Everyone should be able to participate and be heard; the right of free speech is an ideal we need to fight for in the digital world, and it starts with everyone having the right to freely connect to the unfettered information of the network. This latest attack should serve as a wake up call for companies, policy makers and governments around the world to be more bold and work to protect and improve the rights and opportunities of citizens everywhere.
The loss of life and destruction in Haiti is just devastating. I, who love words, find myself speechless when I see the pictures of people wading through the rubble of their lives. It's hard to make sense of any of it. But, I have seen one bright spot - I have found hope in the outpouring of support originating from around the world. People of all races, religions and backgrounds are coming together to help.
And the network, it turns out, is facilitating a lot of it. It has helped quickly spread information, solicit help and provided a lifeline between those in and outside of Haiti. For starters, it's enabling people to donate what they can to organizations that are directly impacting the relief and support activities on the ground in Haiti. The White House suggests donating to the <a href="http://www.redcross.org/?adid=011310_midweeknewsletter_messagetheredcross">Red Cross</a>, which you can do online. You can also easily donate $10 by sending the text message "Haiti" to 90999 and the donation will be automatically added to your cell phone bill. (As of yesterday, more than $1 million had been raised this way by texters using all different wireless companies.)
The network has also been a key witness and participant in the event itself - within minutes, and I mean literally minutes, photos and news of the devastation were posted online; maps of the area and scientific explanations of the fault-lines involved were linked to real-time views from witnesses and first-hand accounts of the quake. Simultaneously, calls for aid went out and philanthropic organizations began mobilizing the response. Again, within minutes, organizations were sending out information to first responders and aid workers to coordinate their efforts.
Facebook and Twitter were serving as main sources of information. They were providing critical links to family and friends around the world, who were/are frantically trying to get information on the safety and well-being of those they know in the area. Note, users primarily connected via satellite because phone and landline connections were down or unpredictable. (The satellite Internet connectivity is similar to what was availalble during Katrina, until hastily erected cell towers were able to provide connectivity to many on the ground.) A <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/internetlife/2010-01-13-haitisocial_N.htm">USA Today article </a>reported that "there have been more than 1,500 Facebook status updates per minute containing the word "Haiti" since the quake, according to Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes." Blogs are being used as online <a href="livesayhaiti.blogspot.com">bulletin boards </a>providing information and acting as a resource on those who are missing.
A quick visit to the Red Cross site (and those of other similar organizations) shows you how they are mobilizing volunteers, centralizing information about how and where to give blood, and helping connect people to pertinent information regarding a specific event or need, etc. Of course, this is nothing new. Relief and aid organizations have been using online sites to <a href="http://www.globalgiving.com">link people </a>to humanitarian needs for years, but the use of social media to mobilize and activate groups is certainly becoming more and more sophisticated and effective.
If you think back just ten years ago, the flow of information and the ability to solicit and receive timely support was much different. And this is the promise and hope of the network - if it can help people band together and get involved, even in small ways, there's the opportunity to ultimately make a big difference or solve big problems. Of course, in Haiti, the personal devastation and loss of life will always be irreparable, but as the other needs in Haiti evolve I am hopefully that we have the connections we need to make a difference and help them rebuild their lives. My thoughts are with them.
Sarah Sorensen is the author of The Sustainable Network: The Accidental Answer for a Troubled Planet. The Sustainable Network demonstrates how we can tackle challenges, ranging from energy conservation to economic and social innovation, using the global network -- of which the public Internet is just one piece. This book demystifies the power of the network, and issues a strong call to action.