Thursday, August 21, 2014

Trading social media privacy for job security?

Without a doubt, technology is the biggest factor transforming the workplace. It is driving the continued evolution of connectivity and productivity of workers.

Therefore it’s not surprising that an emerging trend, being championed by human resource (HR) departments, is the practice of utilizing personal data from an employee’s social media accounts to understand what motivates the workforce.

A comprehensive study by PwC has researched this movement and has found that online monitoring by employers will rise in the next decade. “By 2020, people currently aged 18-32 will form half of the global workforce, bringing with them different attitudes to technology and personal data.”

Apparently, younger people are more open to sharing their personal data with their employers; whereas only 36% of Generation Y workers say they would be happy to do so. They also believe it is only acceptable if it is related to more job security. 

Previously, HR and recruitment staff would ‘snoop around’ a candidate’s social media account to know more about that person’s suitability to be hired. In fact, LinkedIn partly exists for the purpose of providing recruiters with glorified online CVs.

But now, and in a move towards transparency in the age of ‘personal information protection’, it appears that companies want permission from their staff to monitor their social media interactions, and they claim it is for their own good. 

HR specialists believe that what you do on Facebook could provide signals to why you move jobs and could present HR professionals with an understanding of how to improve your wellbeing. 

If you think that sounds appalling, you’re not alone. Nearly two-thirds of the 10,000 employees surveyed by PwC in several countries don’t like this idea. However, they’re probably powerless to do anything about it. After all, social media profiles are accessible to the public, which is the case with LinkedIn and Twitter, and are exposed to friends and co-workers, in the cases of Facebook, Instagram and others.

In fact, the majority of the five hundred HR professionals surveyed by the PwC study say that social media content monitoring is ‘inevitable’. 

To justify this, it is being compared to the way advertisers and retailers use customer data and track online and social media activity to tailor their shopping experience.
So, according to this somewhat frightening logic, employers can utilize a workers' personal data to measure and anticipate performance and retention issues. 

It’s like watching the movie ‘Minority Report’! For example, disguised as a process aimed at your own good, companies will be able to reduce your days of sick leave by ‘real-time monitoring and advising you regarding your health-related activities.’ That should make you hesitate before sharing information about your latest workout, or lack of workouts.

The HR community is now buzzing with the possibilities that ‘consensual social media monitoring’ provides. They’re working on developing measures to build trust with employees regarding this process while instituting the benchmarks for the data analysis process. Obviously, there must be clear rules about how data is acquired, used and shared.

There are, of course, those who object to this trend in the psychiatric community, saying that such monitoring would inhibit employee interactions on social media channels, and could therefore defeat the whole purpose.

What’s more, agreeing to such monitoring could actually reduce one’s job security as employers misinterpret their findings regarding an employee’s personal life. Certain pre-set ideals or prejudices that are held by a company’s management regarding an employee’s personal choices may actually have no bearing on his/her performance at work. 

Imagine this ridiculous situation, quoting the misplaced enthusiasm of some HR specialists, whereby you are expected to “adhere to a standard of ensuring that your personal life does not conflict with company policies, and that your actions-even in your personal life- reinforce you engagement with business objectives”. 
It all sounds a bit too creepy, and a wide ranging discussion is required regarding what to do with the realities of technology in the work place. 

For now, it seems like this is another price we all pay for the over-exposure of our personal and professional lives in the digital age. If you put the information about yourself out there, then it’s difficult to complain that someone is using it to analyze your character and your potential as an employee. Live with it, or delete it.

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Thursday, May 01, 2014

The business of ‘blocking’

Have you been too generous in accepting new connections on LinkedIn? Have you mixed your real friends with business acquaintances on Facebook? Do you follow many business people on Twitter who you no longer wish to be associated with in your career?

If the answer to all, or some, of the above is yes, then it’s time to clean up your ‘professional online existence’.

Why? Well, because there will be situations when you realize you’ve connected with a spammer. Some of your ‘friends’ and connections may treat their LinkedIn email accounts, or Facebook chat services, as a promotional channels to bombard you with business offers or unwanted information.  

Another major concern is the possibility of business-related disagreements or conflicts you will face in your off-line life with some people who having a direct ‘harassment’ and ‘stalking’ channel with you!

These are the main reasons why the world’s biggest social network for business professionals, LinkedIn, introduced the long-requested ‘Member Blocking Function’.

It’s a simple tool to block spammers who clutter you LinkedIn inbox with annoying requests and messages. 

In some ways, it is like erasing your previous business relationship with a person, because any ‘endorsements and recommendations’ from that member will be removed from your profile; and neither of you will ever be recommended to one another again as connections.

On the LinkedIn blog, a post says that “there are a variety of other tools for users interested in better protecting their privacy, including tools to disconnect from existing connections, tools to control your activity broadcasts, plus profile and photo visibility settings.”

Of course, the need to block someone does not stop at LinkedIn. You may also do it on Facebook, but there are a whole set of options including ‘Limited View’ of your profile and posts, blocking, reporting and unfriending. 

Apart from people you’ve hastily added as friends and wish to block, there are also various businesses which create a Facebook account. 

Why would you accept a friend request from a user called ‘Something Store’, ‘Something Restaurant’ or any other name of a company? You can’t complain afterwards about being spammed with messages, tagged posts on your timeline and more. At least in this case, ‘Unfriending’ or ‘Blocking’ is not followed by personal issues. 

Then, there’s the matter of blocking an irritating or abusive user from your business Fan Page, to maintain your ‘happy community of fans’ and basically protect your business! This person is not your friend on Facebook, but is a ‘Liker’ of your fan page and you may need to dispose of him or her.

There are clear instructions on Facebook on all these options, and they seem effective. 

On Twitter, tweets including your ‘twitter name’ or retweets of your tweets with added comments may become a source of embarrassment. That’s why Twitter provides various options including ‘block user’, ‘report user’ and ‘turn off retweets’. 

Another social network that’s not mentioned much in a business context is Google+, but it also offers the ability to block someone in your Circles and Hangouts. 

Even on Instagram, which is also now being used as a business channel, you can ‘unfollow’ or ‘block’. Again, the user won’t know when you’ve done it but will find out if he/she searches for your content in the Instagram newsfeed and can’t find it.

That’s why an argument is emerging regarding whether you should ‘Unfriend’ or ‘Block’. These two options may seem similar, but they’re not. When you block people, they will not see it happening. But if they later on search for you or your posts, then they’ll figure out they’ve been blocked. So, basically, you’re postponing the ‘angry reaction’. However, when you ‘Block’ you can discretely change your mind and ‘Unblock’ anytime. But, when you ‘Unfriend’ ‘Disconnect’, you can’t connect again with that user without a new Friend or Connection Request.

Something else you may wish to consider is the old saying, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”. If you need to keep an eye on your supposed enemy, it doesn’t get closer than constant monitoring on social media channels! So, that could be a reason to keep a foe as a ‘friend’ or a ‘connection’. 
Clearly, social media opens us up to the possibilities of too much communication and too wide a circle of contacts, both as professionals or businesses.

In our part of the world, the concept of separating your professional and personal lives is not common. It may even be considered rude not to accept a business acquaintance as a friend on Facebook, or not to accept a connection request on LinkedIn from someone you just met.

The result of this culture is that you’ll end up having to terminate or limit your online relationship with some people at some point. Those people will figure out what you’ve done and you will have to accept whatever ‘real world’ reaction you will get.

On social networks, mixing business with pleasure will, undoubtedly, end up in some form of ‘displeasure’. It’s really just another one of the headaches of our digital existence in the 21st century.

Twiter: @zeidnasser

Zeid Nasser is a tech and media writer and commentator since the 1990s. 
He is also the founder of various local and regional media projects.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

The ‘Social’ Enterprise is here

We live in the age of ‘social’ software and ‘smart’ devices, which could make you cynical when you hear terms like ‘social-this’ or ‘social-that’. However, sometimes the use of ‘social’ as a prefix is indeed merited.
An excellent example is the maturing field of social-style interaction incorporated into enterprise software, to create what is being considered a ‘Social Business’, or ‘Enterprise 2.0’.
Basically, it is an additional layer of communication and sharing capabilities that is added to already existing online software which enables employees, customers and suppliers to collaborate and organize information, using web and mobile platforms.
Software as a Service (SaaS) has been a prevalent model in modern organizations for a few years now. Every major software vendor now enables company staff to work from anywhere by incorporating core business functions of the organization into an interface accessible from any device.
What was missing, though, was the adoption of some of the best ideas and functions available through social media from the consumer side. Chatting and messaging, posting on forums or user groups and collaborating on shared content are all clear examples of what can be taken into the organization for its benefit.
Analysts and consultants call this the ‘consumerization of business’; but to keep it simple, it’s just businesses being smart and capitalizing on the changing nature of the typical employee.
People want the same communication experience they enjoy in their personal lives, to be available in their professional life; to share data with co-workers, and seamlessly communicate through messaging instead of just using email. If this increases their productivity and happiness, companies should realize its impact on the bottom line.
With the entrance of millennials into the work place – those born between the early-eighties and the turn of the century- it has become imperative to adopt such communication and collaboration abilities to retain younger employees.
That’s why the biggest players in enterprise software are getting in on the act.
In 2012, Microsoft acquired Yammer, a private social network, which puts people, conversations, content, and business data on one platform. At the time, more than 200,000 companies worldwide were already using Yammer to collaborate with employees. It was an example of businesses seeking out a solution, even from a small vendor, if the bigger software companies weren’t providing it.
So, Microsoft jumped at this opportunity demonstrating that social media in the enterprise is much more than a fad. Yammer is now part of Microsoft’s Office division, and is major part of its Office 365 strategy, within the SharePoint Online service.
Oracle, another major player in enterprise software, has recently purchased Involver, to create what it calls ‘a cloud-based social platform across marketing, sales and service touch-points’. Oracle is now presenting an expanded social platform using Involver's SML (Social Markup Language). The result will be a more comprehensive, and consumerized, experience.
The enterprise software specialist SAP has also launched “Jam” which is a secure, social collaboration solution that extends across SAP’s entire technology landscape to give social capabilities.
IBM already has a Social Business division, and its aims in this field are well articulated.  IBM says it wants to “connect employees and customers to share their best ideas and new processes’.
It would appear that the customer is now, finally, in control! Enterprises will also reap the benefits of enhanced feedback for the purposes of product and service development.
This is an ‘open’ age of information. So, enterprises are going to have to open up too.
There are, of course, software security challenges involved. But that’s part of this evolution, whereby the benefits truly outweigh the potential concerns, which can be tackled.
Empowering employees and communicating better with consumers must be every company’s goal. Positive experiences create satisfied customers, and more revenues. That’s the optimal goal that corporate IT departments aim to achieve.
For decades, businesses have claimed to be ‘at the service of the customer’. Now, such claims are being truly tested as technology weeds-out those who cannot deliver on that promise. Beware the rise of the ‘social enterprise’, you have been warned.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Encrypting everything, enshrine privacy

It is possibly the biggest story of the year and it continues to evolve. Amidst the harsh reality that digital data has been completely vulnerable to governmental monitoring and analysis for many years, there is growing optimism that privacy can be regained and maintained

Data encryption is the technological answer immediately available, while the creation of international laws to respect user privacy could be the legal answer in the long term.

This explains a wave of data security announcements by companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and others.
For example, Twitter recently announced its adoption of Perfect Forward Secrecy, which takes the privacy and safety provided by secure sockets layer-based connections (SSL) and raises it a notch to ensure that those who do break through the encryption have less of a means to see what you've been up to. This is precisely designed to stop the technologies utilized by the US government’s National Security Agency (NSA) for online surveillance. Facebook already started using Perfect Forward Secrecy in June and, apparently, it works.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, has also promised that all data moving between Yahoo! company servers would be encrypted with 2048-bit SSL, by the end of March 2014. Users would have the option of encrypting all data sent between Yahoo! servers and their computer, while the Yahoo! mail service would be switching to default SSL encryption.

Accordingly, Eric Schmit, executive chairman of Google, has recently made the grand statement that ‘online surveillance will end soon’. This is particularly interesting, coming from him, as Google actually sits on both sides of this issue; being accused of cooperating with the spying agencies and claiming to be violated at the same time. He goes on to say that “the solution to government surveillance is to encrypt everyone. With sufficiently long keys and changing the keys all the time, it turns out that it's very, very difficult for an interloper of any kind to go in."
Even co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, has said that the online encyclopedia will begin encrypting communications with its users all over the world, so that people cannot be spied on as they access information. Imagine that, governments could be spying on your general knowledge habits too!
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, weighed in on this debate saying "the web and social media are increasingly spurring people to organize, take action and try to expose wrongdoing in every region of the world. But some governments are threatened by this, and a growing tide of surveillance and censorship now threatens the future of democracy". And therein lays the exact reason for all this surveillance.

Makers of operating system have to also got in on the push towards privacy, as Microsoft has already included automatic encryption of your hard drive contents in Windows 8.1.
It’s important to remember that in addition to governmental monitoring, there’s the danger posed by criminal organizations. That’s why users end up caught between two parties watching them for entirely different reasons, but both invading their privacy to a grossly unacceptable level.

For the perspective of governments and intelligence agencies, certain suspicious online activities or specific ‘red flags’ should probably be a trigger for surveillance, but not the all encompassing, massive, pre-emptive surveillance of everything that appears to be the common practice today.

As we make our leap into cloud computing, many are voicing concerns that matters could get worse. However, the response from the specialists is that cloud servers are actually safer as the data resides at the server center, not on the user’s PC, which protects any data beyond the limited information directly accessible at any point in time. Most importantly, data center servers are only accessible to authorized agents whose identity is verified using biometric measures like fingerprints and retina scans. These facts coupled with data encryption software and regular security audits by third-parties provide some comfort that maybe our future in the cloud could be secure.

Something good may come out of this global surveillance scandal, as Tim Berners-Lee confidently predicts that the outcome will be to enshrine users' rights in the longer-term.
We can hope that is true, but one can’t help but think the cat and mouse chase will continue. It has to. There can’t be a utopia, not even in the cyberworld and we have to pay a price for the convenience we get from technology. That’s why, for IT managers and the rest of us in business, 2014 will most likely be the ‘data encryption’ year.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wearable technology: How ‘smart’ do you need to be?

You’ve got one on your desk, you’ve got one in your living room, there’s one in your bag or in your pocket. So, do you really need another ‘smart’ device on your wrist too?

That’s the big question in the recent onslaught of wearable technology with smart watches, smart bracelets, augmented reality glasses and more tech-fashion that’s coming your way.

To begin with, any of these products can be exciting and appealing to tech fans, gadget geeks and early adopters. But for smart watches in particular to go mainstream and to start to replace our so-called dumb watches, consumers need some basics to be covered.

The first is great functionality that can improve our lives; then there’s practicality that keeps things simple- like reasonable size, good battery life and reliability; and of course it has to be good value for money.

Smart watches are currently being produced by many companies, with various options and price points available to consumers. There’s the Samsung Galaxy Gear, the QUALCOMM Toq, the Sony Smartwatch, Apple’s rumored iWatch and even a car manufacturer, Nissan, is working on a smart watch! Surely one of them can get all the requirements right? So far, that’s not the case.

The biggest obstacle preventing mass adoption of wearable technologies, in general, and smart watches in particular is battery life.

The Samsung Gear can only last a day with 'regular use' and the battery empties faster than that if you’re fiddling with it! It is clear that the ‘battery life challenge that afflicts tablets and mobiles will affect wearable technology. But, really, would you be happy with a watch that needs daily charging? You would have to take it off to charge it, sometimes more than once a day. Imagine that. Being without your watch in the middle of the day because it’s charging!

Clearly, there’s a need for innovation in battery technology to obtain, at least, a much more reasonable two-full-days-per-charge.

Next up is the question of what unique value added a smart watch provides. For now, its screen is too small for any Internet browsing or productivity and the resolution quality seems poor. If you’ve got a smartphone, why would you reduce the quality of your user experience? So far, the most obvious benefit is that it gives you ‘alerts’, so you can keep your phone in your pocket or on your desk and just look at your wrist for quick information or messages. But, is that worth $300?

Having said, not every wearable device lacks value, and sometimes when a ‘category-creating’ product like Google Glass arrives it is expected that all common sense could be abandoned. For example, Google Glass allows first-person video shooting and augmented reality viewing. 

That’s a unique value and could be worth the $1,500 price tag for millions of consumers, but still battery life is said to be under ten hours.

Then consider the Nike Fuel Band, at $150, and the Fitbit Flex, at $99, which are smart bracelets that monitor your personal health information, connect to your phone apps and are both light and well designed. These products clearly offer a new and unique experience for users.

That why, for now, it seems that certain types of devices in wearable tech are worth owning, but the smart watch hasn’t yet made it into the must-have list.

Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, has his own ideas on how this product category will succeed saying, “I want the entire smartphone, the entire Internet, on my wrist. I want a larger display than they're starting with - the size of an ordinary watch of the past. I think we've got to get a little beyond this watch of the past."

Well, that may sound extreme today but who’s to say what the watch of the future should look like or how big it should be? Did any of us think that people would put a huge 5.5 inch screen mobile phone on their ear to talk or would somehow find a pocket to fit it into?

It seems convenience can be sacrificed for utility and what previously seemed silly actually becomes acceptable and trendy when everyone agrees that it’s ‘useful’.

So until smart watches can deliver that level of functionality and provide the unique features I want on my wrist instead of on my phone, I’ll be keeping my old fashioned watch thank you!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

BYOD: Business, pleasure or both?

It’s amazing how much tech jargon and abbreviations there are nowadays. Here’s one you’ll be hearing a lot about within organizations: BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

It’s self-explanatory and is another sign of the digital times we live in, whereby an organization’s staff already have smart phones, tablets and laptops that can efficiently perform organizational tasks.

Up till around four or five years ago, IT departments would have to ‘upgrade’ or ‘migrate’ staff phones to Blackberrys and provide them with a standard specification laptop PC for work on-the-move. But today, with the revolution in mobility coupled with open systems and standardized ‘software protocols’, any employee with a device running the latest Android, iOS, Windows or Blackberry system can just bring it into the office, gain network access, and just start working.

This means that the era of tight network security is over and, as you would expect, many companies surveyed in studies have reported some sort of data breach or loss due to BYOD. Unauthorized network access by family or friends of the staff, data or device loss and other issues are emerging. It’s also lowered network defenses against hackers and cyber-criminals.

So, clearly, this trend is somewhat of a nightmare for IT heads and a challenge for finance departments due too to the additional costs of security and compliance. So, why then are we adopting BYOD? Simply, you can't block this trend, but it requires a delicate balance between productivity and security.
BYOD helps employees be more productive. It improves their morale and job satisfaction, making the company seem a ‘more flexible and attractive’ place to work. It therefore helps attract and retain talented ‘digital age workers’, and therefore resembles another by-product of having to deal with Generation Y workers. It’s a cultural and technological shift.

Surprisingly, we in the Middle East are leading in this ‘shift’. Various studies reveal that our region has ‘the highest occurrence of BYOD worldwide at 80%’. I suppose that means we’ve also got the hardest job organizing the use of such devices!

What’s more, when formulating a BYOD policy, organizations need to think of how it could affect staff.

Apparently, there is a ‘dark side’ to BYOD from the perspective of employees.

Think about it for a minute. If it’s your personal and work phone (or tablet), there’s a chance you’ll go through the unpleasant experience of your company one seizing it one day along with your ‘personal data’!

That’s why organizations now have policies to enable quitting staff to keep their devices, if they’ve had them for a minimum duration of time (usually two to three years) or to allow staff to buy the device at a depreciated rate. Otherwise, a full erase of all data is the standard practice upon handing it back.

However, there are situations whereby the data on your device is required to solve a business or legal problem. In such a case, you must hand over your device for third party examination. If and when that happens, information exposed could include the history of the websites you’ve visited, songs and movies downloaded, some financial transactions or statements, various social media accounts and more. So, beware!

That’s why there’s an ongoing discussion regarding solutions that serve both companies and employees.

From the perspective of an IT manager, solutions can start with the simple matter of establishing clear policies regarding devices and can go all the way up to applying Virtualization, in which no corporate data resides on the employee’s device as everything is happening inside the IT data center upon logging in and stays there after logging out. It’s really a shift to human-centric IT services.

Continued growth in BYOD means many things to the technology industry as a whole. It means the PC is no longer the main business device and it means that big enterprise software is being ‘consumerized’ through web-based access and mobile applications. Therefore, such software solutions should be redeveloped to work well across all these devices and operating systems, with attention to security considerations and much more.

That’s why industry analysts believe that BYOD will change the face of IT in 2013. The only question remaining is: Will you BYOD or not?

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Big data, big brother and big issues

So everyone is now openly discussing what we already all knew, but chose to ignore: Governments utilize your personal online data for ‘security purposes’.

Getting past the outrage of the last few weeks, and looking at this matter with sobriety, one must ask a question. What did you expect?

Did you think all the convenience of being connected 24/7; reaching out to business colleagues and personal friends at any time; sharing your thoughts and ‘personal content’ was not going to have any side effects?

Despite what may be said about the importance of ‘privacy’ in the digital age, the reality is that Google reads your Gmail and web searches to serve you suitable advertising, Facebook stores personal information and interests to do the same, Twitter is still figuring out how to do it and What’s App stores your messages for reasons that will be revealed soon! It’s the price you pay for free services and an ‘always on lifestyle’, and governments can tap into all this information.

The intelligence community and Silicon Valley's top technology firms are basically in the same business of collecting information on people. Google wasn’t planning to build a surveillance system, but that’s what it has become.

As big online players claim their innocence, and that they can’t do anything about this, it appears there could even be an unholy alliance. Skype, for example, is said to have a secret programme to make it easier for US surveillance agencies to access customers' information. The National Security Agency (NSA) in the US is offering technology transfer to private companies like Google to assist in obtaining “cutting-edge machine learning technologies” - why would they do that? Well, because Google has received a court order to comply with demands of government agencies for customer data.

This ongoing discussion in the US and Europe may seem to exclude our region, but the reality is that governments all over the world are connected and will ‘tap into’ online content for surveillance.
And it’s not just governments that you should be worried about. Think of your employer, partner or business acquaintance who will check out your Facebook profile before or after you meet, and imagine how much he/she will know about you from one page!

There’s enough information on social networks for anyone to harass you, and if you’ve taken some ‘liberties’ there could also be enough information to blackmail you.

It goes even deeper. Your comments on a news item reveal your political and social ‘leanings’ which may or may not be acceptable to various people you are working with. You could stereo-type yourself with one, anger-fueled comment or tweet. Also, as part of the bigger picture, comments on news sites are considered to be a key indicator of the national mood in any country and are therefore monitored.

Clearly, online snooping is the new reality. Even worse, it’s a historic record!

Try thinking of that next time you’re about to post a comment, tweet, change your Facebook status or connect with a someone you’re not supposed to on LinkedIn.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Revolution 2.0 is actually Awakening 1.0

It’s being called Revolution 2.0. It was facilitated by Facebook pages that brought young Tunisians and Egyptians together, starting a national conversation and taking action. It was driven by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Twitter updates, which attracted the attention of the world to an evolution of a revolution.

This movement has been building up for years and you have to look at it as a step-by-step process of empowerment.

The Internet has been available in the Arab countries for nearly 15 years, but its penetration levels to almost every segment and social class only started a few years ago. With that Internet access came knowledge and communication, coinciding with the introduction of social media platforms- like Facebook, YouTube and others. It then took some time for Facebook to be Arabized, but a flood of Arabs joined immediately. The number of Facebook users in Arab countries is currently around 20 million. However, to this day, Twitter users in the Arab World are estimated to be less than 100,000, so it can’t be seriously considered a high-impact media on the populous, but what it can do is reach and mobilize the media and technology savvy Arab youth, a now highly influential segment.

For a few years, there was a lot ‘training’ and ‘testing’ involved; finding out how governments and authorities would react to opposition on the Internet. Censorship, website blocks and even turning off the Internet became expected responses, but those driving change kept raising the stakes and pushing up the levels of freedom of expression.

My friend, Wael Ghonim, played an important role in these events by starting the Facebook page ‘We are all Khalid Saeed’ – the young man brutally beaten and killed last year. Wael became a face of this revolution when he was kidnapped and jailed, and became a hero when he was released.

For all of us, who knew Wael as a regular guy, a tech and media professional like us, his disappearance caused an outrage. A massive online movement built-up online to search for him and demand his release. Tweets and Facebook updates about him were saturating social networks. Websites and blogs across the world picked them up, followed by global news organizations and then a whole wave of ‘where is Wael’ emerged that made the headline news in every country in the world. His employer, Google could no longer remain silent and had to provide comment. His release was also heavily covered.

The members of the Middle East technology and media community who ‘connected’ over the past few years through meetings at conferences or doing business together, realized that they could do so much more when ‘one of their own’ needed help.
And, every one of Wael’s Facebook and Twitter friends felt they had played their small part in the Egyptian uprising.

But, the real heroes were not the people sitting behind a keyboard tweeting! They were those who responded to the digital call for action, but reacted in the real world and put their lives in danger and got real injuries. In the end, it became clear technology, as it always has been, was nothing more than a tool in the hands of a willing people. There are no digital replacements for human sentiments and causes.

On New Year’s Eve, I was interviewed by Al Jazeera, who also spoke to other guests on a panel regarding the topic of technology and economy in the Middle East in 2011. A couple of the guests were older - and old fashioned- people who said they had lost faith in Arab youth, saying they were too busy paying attention to ‘trivial matters’.

My response was that there was already clear and encouraging movement, across the Middle East, by young entrepreneurs and activists who were driving economic and social change, creating new jobs and building a new, better future for Arab youth using tools and knowledge that previous generations did not have access to. It was probably the last thing on any of our minds that this Arab youth would be creating new political systems too!

The media can call it whatever they want: Revolution 2.0, the Digital Uprising or whatever. The reality is that millions of Arabs are thrilled, not because of the technology involved, but because it feels like ‘Awakening 1.0’.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

int@j announce MENA ICT Forum 2010

It’s back. Jordan’s premier information technology event, has been announced and will be held on 10 October, 2010. It has been re-named the MENA ICT Forum.

Organized by the Information Technology Association of Jordan (int@j) for the 5th
time, the event will be held under the patronage of His Excellency Mr. Marwan Juma, Minister of ICT, previously head of int@j and well-known for his hard work for Jordan’s ICT sector.

At the event announcement, His Excellency said: “The MENA ICT Forum aims at establishing a leading position for Jordan to serve as a regional ICT hub and an internationally recognized exporter of ICT products and services.

Ayman Mazahreh, president of int@j and a long serving int@j board member, said that: “The MENA ICT Forum is the venue of choice for high-level decision makers from both the private and public sectors on local, regional and international levels.”
MENA ICT Forum will be supported by the USAID and Jordan Economic Development Program (SABEQ).

Laith Al Qasem, Chief of Party, said that “Jordan has a golden opportunity to enter the world of outsourcing due to the huge natural potential that lies within it. On both the public and private sector levels Jordan has launched its new campaign “Turn to Jordan…Your Smart Shore Destination”.

Having attended every ICT Forum in the past, I look forward to seeing what’s on offer this time round, especially with the more regional approach adopted.

The general program sounds good. The opening session will discuss Jordan’s journey and key accomplishments since 2000, followed by the “MENA at a glance” session with real life case studies and the current status of Arabic online content. The event will conclude by an interactive and informative session that articulates recommended practical steps to capitalize on various opportunities guided by investment incentives and legislative environments.

There is also a possibility that we, Jordan’s Internet entrepreneurs, may be contributing to the ICT Forum this year through the efforts of the newly founded Internet Cooperation Council (ICC) which aims to assist the country’s tech start-ups and investors and to build on Jordan’s reputation as a hot-bed of technology creativity and success. We’ll be telling you more about that soon.

In the meantime, we should all wish int@j the best of luck and we should all contribute through feedback, participation and spreading the good word about Jordan’s potential as a global ICT center.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

It’s official: PCs have been replaced by personal gadgets

You are probably tired by now from hearing about Apple. But for industry watchers like us- writers and analysts who have followed computing for three decades- we cannot ignore the milestones being crossed and the turning points being witnessed in this era!

Here’s the latest milestone, that sheds some light on the reality of the growth in mobile computing versus desktop/laptop computing.

Newsweek has reported that, within six months, Apple's revenues from the iPhone and iPad will be more than double its revenues from the entire Macintosh computer product line. Imagine how a company founded in the late seventies to produce personal computers, then going through a cycle of ups and downs, has completely re-invented itself as a producer of slim mobile gadgets, which are now the new form of computers.

After all, what does a personal computer do nowadays? It’s an Internet-connected machine we use for email, telephony, information, social networking, gaming and some light business applications. What if you could add options like a size that fits into your pocket or a small handbag, including a music player and 5 megapixel camera. How can a desktop or laptop computer compete with that for personal use?

Don’t get me wrong. Fully-featured PCs with wide screens, expansion slots, peripherals and big keyboards are still needed for both business and entertainment; but the majority of people today seem to be doing just fine utilizing touch-screens or mini keyboards on smaller devices. As a result, many are ditching their computers.

Combine the impact of of the recent efforts of Apple, Blackberry, Nokia and others and you begin to see the convergence of computing, telephony and photography is complete.

In the poorer countries of the world, smart phones- which we are mobile computing gadgets- are the more widely available computing platform, are cheaper and therefore help bridge the digital divide. Just look at the number of mobile phone subscribers in Africa, compared to home or office broadband Internet subscribers. Clearly, a shift is happening in the way ‘we compute’.

For now, I cannot yet comfortably write and lay out this column on a smart phone, but I could probably do it with an iPad equipped with the right software: A complete device the size of a book, thinner than my monitor and without the need for a separate keyboard, mouse or cumbersome computer case. Amazing!

People keep saying change is coming. Well, it has already arrived. Let’s learn to deal with it!

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Quit Facebook Day ...

Monday May 31st was designated as 'Quit Facebook Day' by a movement championed by two ex-Facebook users from Toronto, Joseph Dee and Matthew Milan, who insist that Facebook doesn't have the user's best intentions at heart and does not offer fair choices.

They built a website ( to inform people about their movement and managed to get commitments from approximately 27,000 users to quit Facebook.

They have also attracted media attention, as the hot topic of the past few weeks has been the changes that Facebook introduced to its privacy settings, which are ‘opt-out’ based. This means the new privacy settings are the default for all users, and you actually need to go through a series of steps to opt-out of them.

A group of computer enthusiasts from Califorinia say that there as many as “170 options and 50 clicks to actually lock down your Facebook profile."

As a result there is a growing general consensus that Facebook management seeks to serve advertisers worldwide with little regard for its users’ wishes.

The new settings enable marketers to get more information on the Internet habits of Facebook users, and provide even more sophisticated targeting of these users.

Clearly, millions of well-informed users across the world would be concerned regarding this ‘sharing’ of their personal information and interests, and it’s up to them to decide whether or not to use Facebook.

According to a recent poll in the U.K. regarding privacy concerns, 30 percent of users said they were "highly likely" to quit Facebook, while another 30 percent said it was "possible" they would quit and 16 percent said they have already stopped using Facebook!

But, is this just a ‘storm in a tea cup’? Are 27,000 users far too few compared to some 400 million using the service? Facebook seems to think so. Officials said that more than 10 million people have joined since the privacy settings were changed last year, and half of all of Facebook’s users have adjusted their settings.

So what’s next in the ‘Facebook Privacy Battle’? Quit Facebook Day has passed, but the debate is not going away any time soon. Surely, Facebook needs to consider valid points like making it’s new setting opt-in - permission based- by default rather than opt-out.

And, although Facebook is a company and it provides us with a valuable service, it should introduce less intrusive revenue generation technologies, or at least run wide-ranging tests and focus groups before it unleashes service updates that leave millions of users worried, and stirring up such a fuss.

If Facebook is everyone’s new home page, or even our new operating system, then Facebook management should accept that we all have a say in the direction it takes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Google 'Petra Logo' on occassion of Jordan's independance day

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Apple blocks Adobe technologies, a war ensues

It’s the main technology story in the news: Apple refuses to open up its iPhone/iPad platform to Adobe Flash and related technologies.

Upon first hearing this fact, you tend to feel that Apple is bullying Adobe for no apparent reason. After all, Adobe provides all sorts of tools that improve the experience of web users. Without Flash, we couldn’t watch YouTube videos, and without it we can’t see the wonderful animations and sounds that grace websites and have turned web design and development into an art.

Without Adobe technologies, we cannot use one of its latest products, Air, which enables real-time communication and updates that are best demonstrated through TweetDeck (for Twitter desktop management).

So. Why on earth would Apple block Adobe technologies?

The answer comes from Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, as follows: “Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy. Whenever a Mac crashes, more often than not, it’s because of Flash. No one will be using Flash. The world is moving to HTML5.”

Some people agree with the point he’s making about Adobe needing to refine its technology and fix some problems, but the general consensus is that Adobe technologies are useful and web services are better because of them, till a replacement becomes available.

So, the question is whether or not HTML5 is the answer. It is an open standard not created or owned by any company.

For now, it’s not an encouraging prospect. Web-TV-streaming giant claims that HTML5 isn't ready for coding and broadcasting video on the web. Hulu released the latest version of its player built using Adobe Systems' ActionScript, saying that HTML5 is “not ready for prime time”.

The issue that interests industry analysts and consumers is that Apple, the warm brand that used to resemble all that is creative and challenged the cold corporate big boys like IBM and Microsoft, has now become just as cut-throat!
Adobe has responded with a ‘declaration of love’ for Apple, in which it cheekily states that it admires Apple for its great products, but does not admire Apple’s crackdown on consumer choice. Ouch!

Apple is now being cast as ‘the big bad wolf’.

I wonder how the millions of holier-than-thou Apple fanatics will respond!

Here's Adobe's Letter:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Digital distractions and learning

Nowadays, attend any conference or event, and you will note that several people have their laptops open in front of them, as if it were acceptable to stare into a screen, while a speaker presents on stage.

People busy fiddling with their mobile phones at any business meeting you attend seems to have become acceptable too!

This resembles a cultural shift in social behaviour, and frankly it seems appears that our attention is divided, while the people seeking our attention are being offended.

As a culture, the human race are now at a crossroads, and new rules emerging from universities in the United States and Europe demonstrate a realization that there’s a problem. Professors are now demanding that their students turn off their devices and put away the laptops.

In fact, some universities have decided to turn off the internet access in classrooms!

As it it turns out, the PC as an educational tool has now become a distraction. Different people will have different levels of discipline and attention. You simply can’t count on the majority of students to stick to academic uses of their computers and smartphones in a classroom.

A professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, knew her students weren't all paying attention in class. She carried out a quick study, simply by comparing the grades of students who used laptops in class with those of the students who didn't. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education in the United States, she informed the students after their first exam that they scored 11 percent lower than their counterparts without laptops.

It is absolutely understandable that teachers now have no tolerance for students surfing the Web or playing games in class. And maybe a ban should be extended to business meetings, training workshops and seminars. As for conferences, well, maybe they can be an exception if they’re all day affairs.

But schools, universities and training centers should go back to being places of focused learning.

Honestly, if you had a PC in front of you in a lecture, wouldn’t you be distracted by all the MSN chat, Gmail, Skype, TweetDeck alerts? Of course you would. Will you learn anything if you don’t pay attention? You probably won’t. Turn every digital device off, and turn on your brain. It’s the only device you’ll really need!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jordan ranks 44th in global ICT readiness report

The Global Information Technology Report for 2009/2010 by the World Economic Forum is now available. It is based on a Networked Readiness Index (NRI), and it’s worth reading to see how prepared countries around the world are to use ICT effectively.
Apart from all the analysis, covering business, regulatory and infrastructure environment for ICT, the most interesting part is the ranking of countries in terms of ICT readiness, which sums up the report.

And, it is my pleasure to inform you that several Arab countries enjoy a respectable ranking.

The UAE, in particular, comes in at number 23, just before Ireland at 24 which is considered a very advanced technology economy!

And, to be honest, it is also a pleasure to see at least one Arab country ranking ahead of Israel, which came in at number 28.

So, what about Jordan? For all our good work in ICT over the past decade, Jordan makes it into the top fifty, coming in at number 44.

Not too bad in a list ranking 133 countries- which means we’re in the top third- but only reasonably impressive within a regional context as Bahrain and Qatar come in at 29 and 30 respectively, and Saudi Arabia coming in at 38 completes the group of four Arab countries ahead of us in the report.

The top three Arab countries get a special mention by a senior economist and co-editor of the report, who says "UAE, Bahrain and Qatar's superior capacity to leverage ICT as an enabler of sustainable, long-term economic growth in the Middle East region is a direct result of the focus placed by governments on knowledge-based economies with particular emphasis on education, innovation, as well as ICT access and diffusion."

We’re doing that in Jordan too, but maybe the extent of investment and the size of our economy relative to those Gulf countries puts us at a disadvantage.
As far as ‘ICT readiness’ is concerned, we’ve made strides in empowering the key stakeholder groups to use and benefit from ICT, and we will be climbing up the list.

For now, the most ‘networked’ Arab country is the UAE, and the least networked are Kuwait at number 76 and Syria at 105. So, Jordan sits in the leading group of Arab countries, but must and probably will do better in the near future.

Access the full report here:

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hundreds of Millions worth of free publicity: iPad hysteria!

Hysteria is the only suitable word to describe the iPad launch, on Saturday 3 April, preceded by heightened speculation since it’s ‘unveiling’ by Steve Jobs on January 27, which in turn came after years of speculation and teasing by Apple.

It’s a masterpiece of a product and a masterstroke of marketing, which encourages analysts and industry experts to believe that maybe someone will finally crack the tablet market, following several attempts from Microsoft, HP and others.
As was the case with iPod, Apple was not necessarily the first to introduce such a device, but it was the best to understand the ‘comprehensive, high utility, software-hardware integration’ approach needed. With iPod, Apple re-introduced the digital music player category, and controls more than three quarters of that market since.

The iPhone then followed, broke the stronghold of Nokia, Motorola and other established players and did what they could not do: introduce a whole new pocket computing platform, that also happens to be a phone; thanks to popularity of iTunes and the App Store.

So, the next natural step was to build a ‘bigger computer’ that utilized this now massively popular platform, and that’s what the iPad is. Or is it actually more?

News organizations and websites are all clamoring to evaluate the iPad’s features, with ‘exclusive reviews’, and the results are ranging from ‘pleased’ to ‘raving ecstasy’.

Engadget, the world’s top blog for gadgets and a definitive resource, has already declared that it’s a legendary device saying the iPad is “more than a product, it's a statement, an idea, and potentially a prime mover in the world of consumer electronics, but what was little more than rumor and speculation for nearly ten years is now very much a reality.”

Newsweek’s cover provides its verdict too saying: “What’s so great about the iPad...... everything!” We shall find out if that is indeed true.

As of yet, no launch date for the Middle East has been set, but hysteria is building up here too. A study by YouGov showed that 58% of respondents in the Middle East were likely to buy the iPad, which was more than the percentages reported in the UK and the USA.

Either YouGov have a strange sampling methodology, or we’re just Apple iPad crazy in the Middle East.

Soon, we’ll all be able to decide for ourselves!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

iPad arrives in Apple US stores amid huge demand

Apple’s new iPad became available in all 221 US Apple retail stores and most Best Buy stores on Saturday, April 3. Starting at just $499, iPad lets users browse the web, read and send email, share photos, watch HD videos, listen to music, play games, read ebooks and much more, all using iPad’s revolutionary Multi-Touch™ user interface. iPad is just 0.5 inches thick and weighs just 1.5 pounds—thinner and lighter than any laptop or netbook—and delivers up to 10 hours of battery life.

“iPad connects users with their apps and content in a far more intimate and fun way than ever before,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We can’t wait for users to get their hands and fingers on it this weekend.”

Apple retail stores will offer a free Personal Setup service to every customer who buys an iPad at the store, helping them customize their new iPad by setting up their email, loading their favorite apps from the App Store, and more. Also beginning Saturday, Apple retail stores will host special iPad workshops to help customers learn more about it.

iPad is available in Wi-Fi models on for a suggested retail price of $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB. The Wi-Fi + 3G models will be available in late April for a retail price of $629 for 16GB, $729 for 32GB and $829 for 64GB. iPad will be sold in the US through the Apple Store.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jordanians: Proud Geeky-techies, acquiring other skills fast!

Attending any regional conference provides insights into Middle Eastern trends, but one of the most striking facts at ArabNet in Beirut last week was that Jordanians made up 40 percent of attendees - it actually looked like more than that- and made up the majority of start-up entries in the event competitions.

It’s not a surprise to us, but it is indeed another affirmation to the whole region that there’s something special about Jordan. It cannot just be a coincidence that category leading regional arab digital businesses like Maktoob, Jeeran, Info2Cell and so many others happen to come out of Jordan!

People always ask me: “What is it about Jordan that makes it a fertile ground for technology and web entrepreneurs?”

My answer has evolved over the years, and until recently it was the following: “Well, we have a good education system, people have to find ways to ‘make it in life’ and the open market economy atmosphere for several decades has helped!”.

Now, I am adding to it an annex as follows: “Also, the rise of private-public sector initiatives and NGOs to boost entreprenuership, coupled with the efforts of many generous and forward thinking mentors is making Jordan the place to be as an entrepreneur.”

Let’s all thank these organizations (Queen Rania Fund for Entrepreneurship, Endeavor Jordan, PSUT Incubator, YEA and others) and people (Fadi Ghandour, Maher Qadoura, Fawaz AlZoubi and others). The biggest contribution they make is to invest/incubate and provide skill-sets, such as management and marketing support.

On another note, I also feel success can be due to national characteristics and stereo-types which contribute to directions youth take in building businesses.

Our typically ‘serious’, ‘detail oriented’ and ‘stubborn’ characters means we are ideally suited to be ‘geeky techies’; and when our tech-media start-up has the potential for regional success, we usually need the help of our ‘more flexible’ Arab brethren to market it!

These stereo-types are changing, of course, as the region becomes a ‘common market’, and all Arabs are professionally trained to excel in various fields; but don’t underestimate our special talents, coupled with Jordan’s social stability, economic openness and our hunger to succeed.

Some say we’ve got the makings of ‘Silicon Valley Arabia’, I agree but feel we need to do more to truly earn that reputation and hold on to it by ‘breeding’, ‘retaining’ and ‘rewarding’ the talented Jordanians who drive it. Let’s capitalize on this organic success and truly become a powerhouse.