I’ve been a keen user of social tools for a while now, over 4 years if memory serves me, and if I’m honest I’d have to say that whilst they’ve been extremely useful for my personal life they’ve really done nothing for me professionally. Sure Facebook and Twitter helped get this blog out of the doldrums of it seeing an average 1 page view a day (rocketing it to a whopping 10 per day, woo!) but apart from a single piece of software to review I haven’t really furthered my career or future prospects for wealth through using these channels. I could put that down to a major lack of trying however since my career has done pretty well without me having to rely on my social network.
I guess I’m just lucky that I’m in an industry that’s mostly meritocratic.
However recently I’ve started to get noticed by people who’ve found me through my social networking exploits, mostly through LinkedIn. Now the profile I have up there is pretty rudimentary with the only updates I’ve done to it over the past few years being to update my current job location and put a profile picture on there. Still the past 2 months has had me receive multiple phone calls, connection requests and emails all originating from LinkedIn. All of them are recruiters either eager to put me in a position they have or to build their social networks so they have a bigger candidate database, neither of which I’m particularly interested in at this current time.
You see whilst my profile might be public for everyone to see I’m not one of those people who makes connections on there for connections sake. It’s like any other social network to me, if I friend you on Facebook I consider you a friend, if I follow you on Twitter it means I’m interested in what you have to say. A connection on LinkedIn means I’ve worked with you in some capacity in the past or I see potential value in maintaining a business style relationship with you. An unsolicited request from a recruiter matches none of these rules and only serves to dilute the network of people that I’ve curated and only creates value for the recruiter. Sure its flattering that they consider me a valuable enough person on face value to want to connect with me but they’ve also done that with hundreds of other people so it means a lot less than they think it does.
For the most part though the requests are pretty harmless. I’ll get a single email asking to join my network and simply ignore it since I have no idea who they are and since I’m not currently in the market for a new job have no interest in establishing a relationship with them. However there was one persistent bugger who not only sent me multiple connection requests but also decided to email me several times and drudged up my phone number from an old resume he’d pilfered from a previous employer. I thought he would’ve got the hint after me not responding to him for 2 weeks but I guess I underestimated just how desperate some of these people can get.
You know how most of the recruiters I talk to got past the initial barrier? They offered to come see me in person and have a chat about what my needs might be. If you’re not willing to get past the barrier of doing a simple half hour meeting with me then I’m not going to be interested in giving you the recruiting bonuses and recurring commissions that one of my contracts will get you. Sure it’s a small thing but it shows me that you’re not just interested in fleshing out your candidate database and, more importantly, it gives me a chance to see if you’ll provide more value than just pimping me out to job agencies. Market knowledge is as important to me as is your ability to find jobs when I need them.
Could this all be solved by simply taking my LinkedIn profile Down? Sure, but since I’m a massive control freak I’d like the ability to have control over the presence I have on the web and with many people now googling potential employees that presence counts for a lot. I may have to deal with the odd obnoxious recruiter and may never realize any real value from it but I feel it’s still far better to have it than not. Well at least until this blog hits the number 1 spot in google for David Klemke, which it can’t be far off doing now.
Now I love me a good piece of Apple information just like the next guy, they’re just too hard to resist as they’re some damn fine blog fodder. Still for the most part I steer clear of product speculation and rumours simply because I’m not really interested in writing on fluff and my posts would be lost in the deluge of other blogs parroting the same “facts”. Still every so often I come across a bit of Apple news that deserves reporting on, like how people were getting the whole Antennagate thing wrong, and yesterday brought across another piece of news that had all the tech bloggers in a tizzy.
Yet again I feel they’ve all got it wrong.
What I’m talking about is the the iOS location fiasco that’s currently winding itself up in the media today. In essence its been shown that iOS devices have a log of all your location data from the day you first turned on your phone. The file in question resides on your phone but is copied across to your PC when you sync with iTunes. If you’ve selected to encrypt your backups the file will be encrypted but it is stored in plain text on your phone. People are crying foul over how Big Brother Apple is tracking them and how this is a major breach in privacy and you’d be forgiven for thinking that if you didn’t bother going beneath the surface of these stories.
Now I was considering writing about this yesterday (instead choosing to post some inane dribble, sorry) but I had really no desire to comment on something that seemed like a non-issue. Whilst I’m not keen for someone to follow my every move I was pretty sure that the location database that people were mucking around with was more than likely a cache of previous location data, most likely used in future GPS calculations to improve accuracy. Additionally there was absolutely no evidence that this database had ever made its way to Apple or anyone else for that matter and the only program that has the demonstrated ability to read those files can only do so if its unencrypted and not on your iPhone.
The privacy issue is a different beast however but in reality no one would try to use something like that location cache to track you. Whilst sites like Please Rob Me might provide insight into how such data could be used for nefarious purposes the thing is that most crime will still be committed the old fashion way, by going up to your house and seeing if anyone is there. Hiding all your location information from online sources won’t help combat this problem and the only way this database file could be used against you was if someone had direct access to your phone or PC, the former which indicates your phone has been stolen (got a pin code on that buddy?) and the latter that they’re already in your house (got a password on your PC?).
Of course in doing my research for this post today I came across a few other posts detailing my exact predictions of what the problem might be. People familiar with the matter investigated the Android platform to see if something similar was being done on their end and sure enough there was. The difference between the Apple and Android was that Android had a hard limit set on the number of records whereas the iPhone had no such limit. More than likely Apple will set an upper limit on the number of location records that are kept in the log files in the next iOS update so that people don’t get all butthurt about it again, even though there was nothing wrong in the first place.
Apple products seem to have the uncanny ability of drumming up a PR storm no matter what minor thing happens with them. Whilst this particular ability is primarily positive for Apple it seems even the Apple opposition falls prey to going hyperbolic on any little flaw in the iOS platform, creating fiascos out of what are merely features of the platform. This is why I steer clear of many Apple related articles, there’s simply too much group think on either side of the fence for there to be any proper discussion. So hopefully my little blog here has helped clarify that big brother isn’t watching you and we can all go back to our normal lives and not have to worry about Big Brother Apple watching us in our sleep.
You can still wear the tinfoil hat though, it’s sexy.
Over the past couple months I’ve taken upon myself to get more familiar with the broader world of technological startups, mostly because I’m always on the lookout for new APIs that I can aggregate into Geon. More recently however I’ve started to notice that there’s a big trend towards making any application location aware and there’s an increasing amount of social networking applications that use places and locations as their main selling point. The current hot thing appears to be apps that let you “check-in” at locations, say your local coffee shop or cinema, and give you rewards based on that. It fits in quite well with the formula I came up with for successful social networks (sense of belonging + wanting to share with community + competition element = win) so whilst I can’t see myself using the service I can understand why they’re becoming more popular. Of course with so many of the services starting to come out of the wood works some obvious duplication efforts become apparent, namely that they all roll their own location databases.
Now from both a business and technical point of view this makes quite a lot of sense. Whilst it’s nice to rely on other people’s services to provide you with data it also poses a risk, especially if that service is made available to you free of charge. Usually you’ll be on the rough end of the stick in terms of usage agreements and they’ll absolve themselves of any responsibility should the service go down. With bigger players though you can usually count on them being fairly reliable (I consider most Google services as 6 Sigma, for example) but when your core business relies on services provided by others you have to ensure that you have strict service level agreements with them or you put yourself at quite a large risk. Keeping the service internal, whilst increasing your own risk profile, at least grants you control so that any outages can be dealt with more effectively.
Still any engineer will see duplicative systems as wasteful if they’re not specifically being used for redundancy. The recent explosion in location aware applications hasn’t gone un-noticed and the duplicative efforts managed to catch the eye of one journalist:
Here is the problem: These efforts at creating an underlying database of places are duplicative, and any competitive advantage any single company gets from being more comprehensive than the rest will be short-lived at best. It is time for an open database of places which all companies and developers can both contribute to and borrow from. But in order for such a database to be useful, the biggest and fastest-growing Geo companies need to contribute to it.
I put this suggestion to Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley the other night at a party, and he was enthusiastic about the idea. Foursquare is building up its own comprehensive database of places, which it calls “venues,” through its users who add places they want to check into, if they don’t already exist. Foursquare matches their GPS lat/long coordinates to its database of venues (businesses, points of interest, even people’s homes). Later I followed up by email and asked Crowley, “Isn’t the quality of your places directory, built by your users, a competitive advantage?
He makes a good point, it would be quite advantageous for many location aware applications (mine not so much) if there was an open database that contained a list of places worldwide. Whilst I’m not aware of a similar call for geolocation services (translating co-ordinates into names) the service GeoNames seems to embody the exact idea Schonfeld is talking about, albeit for a different kind of service. For anyone looking to use such services GeoNames provides a very quick way of integrating them into your project and if I hadn’t run into them earlier I may well have ended up spending a fair chunk of cash to get the same functionality (or signed my life away to Bing Map Services, which I’ve already done in part). Still the guys over GeoNames have been repeatedly bitten by those looking to make use of the service and I can’t help but feel the same thing would end up happening to those who would build the database of places. They’d provide a service we’d all love and enjoy, but they wouldn’t be getting a lot of tangible benefits as a result.
Schonfeld makes the point that any small advantage of a place database that has an edge over their competition doesn’t really give a company any advantage. To a point that’s true, since most of the legwork has already been done and it wouldn’t take a dedicated programmer more than a few weeks to replicate a similar database. Still anyone who goes ahead and makes this open database wears all the implementation and operational costs as well. They do gain a decent amount of power by being a central authority for something (which screams Google to me) but it will all come down to whether people co-operate or not. The trend towards an open web makes me think that they probably would, but it’s still a risk.
Right now I don’t envisage Geon actually requiring such a database, mostly because it’s focused on information + location and not so much if that happens to be from a bar or convention center. If such a thing would be implemented I’m sure I could augment the data stream with some place information to give the information a bit more context but it’s currently in the same bucket as the weather for a given location. It’s another cool thing to add on but the audience that I’m targeting probably won’t need it (and it will just add to the noise).
It’s really just a modern version of the tragedy of the commons and the solution is not much different than it was back then. I’m sure everyone would cry foul if the first such implementation came with a price tag for access but unless a large company wants to play the good patron to the rest of the world such central resources will be slow to come about, if ever. Any startup making use of such data hasn’t seemed to have any trouble coming up with their own dataset and it appears that will be the situation for a long time to come.