Why countries should innovate

Two recent examples of why, as a country, you should always try to take the lead on technological innovation.

The first comes from the recent ICANN decision on allowing “.anything” domain names. A US organization decides what is possible or not for the internet, puts a process in place that will force all the world’s companies to bid for their own names at the price of 185’000$ a pop. Most countries must be wishing they had more input on the way the internet’s address system is working.

 The organization that governs the Domain Name System, ICANN, voted this week to launch the new application process for an unlimited number of new top-level domains, despite lingering doubts and objections from trademark owners and others. This has been controversial, first, because many believe that ICANN has failed to justify the need for new top-level domains; second, because some fear that an explosion of new registries will threaten internet security; and third, because of the vast headaches it will cause brand owners who will face increased costs of monitoring and dealing with cybersquatting. ICANN‘s press release calls the development “historic” and “one of the biggest changes ever to the Internet’s Domain Name System.”

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The second example comes from the list of content removal requests from governments Google received over the past semester. LeMonde has interesting facts on the rate of approval these requests receive.

 The US dominate the rankings, with 4061 requests of which 94% received a response. Brazil is second, with 1804 requests of which 76% received a partial or complete answer, followed by India with 1699 requests (79% of response), UK (1162 requests, 72% response) and France (1021 requests, 56% responses).

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If Google was French, would the government have more success on its requests, from 56% up to what the US get (94%)? Probably.

This shows again that for governments, it is critical to understand the impact of technology much faster, because these tools inevitably end up having an effect on our daily lives. Innovating is the only way to “control” progress. It reminds me of the old law of online conversation: you can’t control it, so improve it. Become a better voice to become the voice that will be in charge tomorrow. Let’s hope this important lesson of the first phase of the digital revolution will be learned.

The invisible rule of proportionate attention in online communication (and why social technologies are not magical)

4027006557_983abab28e_o.jpegI send a lot of emails. I post a lot of messages on my blog or on Facebook.

One thing I have noticed over the years: there is an invisible rule that seems to reign on the online world, regardless of the medium: the more care you put in a message, the more chance there is it generates an answer (email) or interaction (social networks).

Take email. When you send a newsletter, if you get 50% of people opening your message (as we do at Lift) you can be pretty satisfied. The industry standard is more around 20%. That is what you get for sending messages that have not been specifically written for the recipient. They feel that, and have no pressure to answer whatsoever as it has been sent to thousands of people.

In a typical one to one communication, answer rate is probably closer to 95% as long as you write to people you know, and who are at the same “level” than you.

Now for my editorial job at Lift, I get to invite pretty busy people as we try to convince them to join us for the conference. We don’t always succeed in having them, but at least I get around 80% of answers to my messages, positive or negative. I get this answering rate by carefully crafting my messages to make the recipient feel I value him or her, as I invest a lot of my time in reaching out. If I send a quick message, it is likely I will not get an answer. If I take time to research the person I am contacting, find out what their recent projects are, add a few personal sentences about the city they live in, the chances for a response get much higher.

My point here is that it seems that electronic communication is not totally deprived of context. When you talk to someone, your body language gives hints of how you feel, and influences the answers you get. In electronic form, these implicit messages can also be conveyed. I care about the discussion we’re having, I’m willing to invest time in reaching out to you. That matters.

I noticed the same happens on my blog and on Facebook. On the blog, articles where I simply pass a link (as I often do to set them aside for my personal archive) receive little feedback, while longer and more personal articles generate more comments. On Facebook, I have an even more tangible proof. For a long time, the Lift page was managed manually. I would replicate each article carefully, adding a custom message different from the title of the news I was pushing to the community. As soon as we installed an automatic app (RSS graffiti) to republish articles automatically, the number of interactions almost halved. It was the same content, but our followers felt we were not putting as much energy in the process of pushing the information to them. They felt less engaged, maybe less cared for, and the number of interactions dropped.

That’s why social technologies will never be magical. They promise us more personalized interactions with followers, as we know who they are. Truth is, mass updates will always have a different feeling from a message written specifically for a recipient. Nobody can escape the time consuming task of writing personal messages. And if you have 10’000 fans, that will take a while.

Radio interviews: social networks and cyber democracy

I was invited by the national radio to discuss social media (with Yan Luong) and cyber democracy (with Jean-Christophe Schwaab). Both interviews are in French:

Comment les réseaux changent l’info
Des sites internet proposent une information à la carte, basée sur les flux des réseaux sociaux. Une alternative aux médias “traditionnels”? Ceux-ci veulent investir les réseaux, mais la concurrence est rude…

Avec Yann Luong, responsable des relations en ligne pour la RTS, Laurent Haug, fondateur des Conférences Lift sur les implications sociales des changements technologiques, et Sylvain Lafrance, vice-président de Radio-Canada.

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Forum: Sécurité informatique
Elle y a travaillé pendant près de trois ans et demi, la Chancellerie fédérale a enfin sorti son rapport sur la cyberdémocratie et la cyberparticipation. Un document de 40 pages sensé donner au Conseil fédéral une vision claire de l’Internet d’aujourd’hui et l’aider à utiliser, à prendre en compte les outils web d’aujourd’hui. L’analyse de Magali Philip. Débat avec Jean-Christophe Schwab, secrétaire central USS député socialiste vaudois et Laurent Haug, fondateur des conférences LIFT.

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Generation Y vs Baby boomers

The tradition of western societies is that older generations always deny younger generation the right to their own culture and behaviors, in the name of things like “we worked harder than you ever will, our times were much harder”. Now what happens if things go the other way around, if the older generation leaves the younger folks with a world close to bankrupcy? Which way will the blame go?

Check this op-ed by David Brooks in the NYT, he nails it, and reflects on the challenges facing those graduating this year:

But, especially this year, one is conscious of the many ways in which this year’s graduating class has been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job market, the hangover from decades of excessive borrowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt.

More important, their lives have been perversely structured. This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.

Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured.

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