From the category archives:


So many of my early adopter friends have embraced certain kinds of location-based services [LBS] such as FourSquare, Gowalla and BrightKite. I have not joined them. I do not enjoy their frequent location updates to my Twitter stream and I have been saying for a long time, I see safety and privacy issues that should not be overlooked.

Apparently, I am not alone, at least not anymore.

There has been an increasingly frequent  string of blog posts by people who were LBS

enthusiasts who are now opting out. Ray Wang [l], wrote a  thoughtful and damning piece a few days ago. He told of a neighbor who saw an LBS post that said Ray was away from home, then he stole his newspaper on the driveway, then he went on to examine larger issues of privacy and pointed to several other posts. Additionally,   Andrew Hyde posted that he now realized he had “opted in on getting stalked.” Les James announced last night that  that he was leaving Foursquare and Gowalla because he wasn’t getting “a reasonable return” on his time investment.

his is certainly not sufficient evidence to declare the bloom is off the LBS rose. This is a hot category.  According to Ray, four percent of Americans use LBS and those users will spend over $10 billion a year by 2013, unless the trends start reversing or slowing.

And it needs to be noted that  the category is actually bigger than these tell-a-friend services in the center of the spotlight. Yelp, TripIt and Google Navigator are all location-based services. There are controversies with these other services as well, but they are reasonably safe to use or so it seems to me.

But more people are stopping to think about the downside of keeping the world posted as to where you are and where you are not. If you are out for the night, instead a neighbor filching your paper a burglar could be visiting your home through a back door.

As the noise rachets up a click, I wondered if there is any evidence of a trend away from the meteoric rise of the Foursquare-type services. So I did what I often do, I turned to Twitter and I asked.

The answer is, maybe.

I received 17 responses in 12 hours. By previous experience, this is a relatively modest response showing no great passion on the issue at this time. I average about 25 response when I ask twitterville a question. Recently, an inquiry about Wikileaks generated 120 responses in two hours.

But still a growing number of people are voicing concerns that seem to me to be very real. A few folk shared with me some disturbing stories, ones that may not be all that unique.

My friend Jesse Luna [r] got a very unpleasant phone call after he posted on FourSquare where he was located. They would later call him at home as well. He eventually uncovered a band of LBS stalkers who were targeting people and talking trash. nasty words on a phone are bad, but it takes no great leap of imagination to see how the same location information could do far greater damage.

With these thoughts in mind, several women–particularly mothers–have opted out recently.  ”I determined that the safety of my kids was more important that social game play. I felt I was playing with my kids safety and that’s no game,” Samantha Fein told me.

Another aspect a couple of tweet friends told me is that locations responses, particularly on Gowalla, come out very prominently on both Google and Bing searches. “I just didn’t want any potential employer,” to determine that I was spending all my time hanging out in coffee shops and home improvement stores,” a job-seeking professional told me.

After privacy, the second largest reason to opt out was that after a while the services just become boring. “No one cares where I am unless it’s somewhere special. Then I can tweet it,” I was told. “Besides, many of my friends were getting pissed off with all my Foursquare tweets.

In defense, users can opt to send messages to smaller circles of trusted friends and that may be useful to some people some of the time. In reality these location-based services are not going to crumble and blow away any time soon.

But what is becoming clear is that there are some very real privacy issues related to these services. I think with some thought, the service providers can resolve them, but that would reduce their numbers and all companies love the biggest possible numbers they can garner.

Where is all this going? That remains to be seen.

On one of the busiest travel days of the year, as protesters vow to  challenge screening and pat-down procedures by TSA security officers, the US has announced it is reconsidering whether or not all this delaying, annoying, scanning and touching is actually necessary.

A great many people have reported embarrassing or frustrating experiences. TSA gathered and stored 35,000 photos that were supposed to never have been taken. Statisticians have pointed out that your odds of getting cancer from the scans– one-in-35 million– were the same as getting blown to smithereens by an airplane bomber.

It is frequently pointed out that almost all our security procedures are designed to prevent the last assault. We are warned to not carry packages from strangers. Our shoes–and now our underwear–is being scrutinized because of how thwarted bombers smuggled explosives. We cannot bring open water or liquid containers through security because of an attempt at Heathrow.

All this stuff sucks. In fact going to airports itself has come to suck. Flying, once glamorous is now an issue of bad food, uncomfortable seats, callous airline staff and now tightened security feels like a straw breaking a collective camel’s back.

I hate the same stuff as you do. I do not enjoy security. It seems that every time TSA gets systems running smoothly, another step gets inserted in the process.

But personally, I support all these steps and am grateful that they have been instituted. I for one, would rather be frisked and scanned, than bombed and dead and I think that is the real choice.

The odds may be even right now between getting cancer from excessive scanning as from the person sitting next to you having ignitable material in his/her under-garments.

But if we stop searching, scanning and patting, you can bet that the offs of getting blown up will rapidly increase. Every time there is an attempt, successful or unsuccessful, security adjusts to eliminate that attempt. If TSA did not adjust, that attempt would be tried again and again and our odds of getting blown up while flying would dramatically increase.

This may be inconvenient and annoying. It may also sometimes be humiliating or intrusive. I have never had a bad experience with a TSA guard, but there are lots of them and perhaps some have behaved inappropriately.

But the same can be said about cops, teachers or priests.

I for one am grateful for airport security. And when I list reasons for gratitude tomorrow, I will note that I have flown over 1.5 million miles, without once encountering a terrorist assault.

The lines and delays seem like a small price to have paid for that fact, at least they do to me.

[ Billy Nair. Former Robben Island Prisoner. Now a tour guide. Photo              by Shel]

Everyone I meet in So. Africa seems to hold Nelson Mandela in high esteem. “He is Tata,” Marian Pike told me, the nation’s grandfather. Yet most people who live here in Capetown seem to dismiss the ferry ride and tour to Robben Island  where Mandela was  detained for 17 years to be something for tourists and not for locals.

Maybe so, but I considered it to be a pilgrimage–a visit to an almost holy place, where someone was treated so harshly for so long and emerged with the wisdom to preach equality over vengeance. To me, Mandala is in that very small cluster of humans that include Ghandi and King  who led people to become the best that they could be as a society –at least for a while.

I’d rather be called a traveler than a tourist. Be that as it may, I jammed myself onto the ferry, where I heard people say they were from Norway, New Jersey and Nepal.

Perhaps the only person who paid from Cape Town who paid to make the trip was Matt Visser, the 28-year-old local who is making a decent business of helping rock groups have a social and digital presence. He is also a speaker at the WTF Media Conference where I keynote tomorrow. Matt told me that he had been to the Island four times before but only as a school kid, where the big deal was not Mandela, it was being out of school.

He readily admitted he had accepted Marian’s invite to join me so that he could spend time hanging out with me and the island was simply a venue. I think he was disappointed when I whipped out my notebook and started taking notes, the moment the instructional video came on during the ferry ride.

But in the end, I think Matt was as touched by the visit as I was. We saw the lime pits, which Mandela and the other black freedom political leaders were assigned to mine. The glare of sunlight on the white stone damaged Mandela’s eyesight. He organized a protest that would eventually equip the prisoners with sunglasses, but it was too late for him. Despite eye operations, he suffered permanent damage.

The heart of the tour came for just about everyone in our group when Billy Nair, who served seven years on Robben Island for “sabotage” as an ANC operative escorted us through the  compound where the prisoners were held in a series of Sections. Nair was released in the early 90s & held several jobs, including with the Military Police, but he didn’t seem to find a place where he belonged.

He came back to Robben Island about five years ago. “This,” he said gesturing to his tour group, ” is my therapy.”

Nair showed us his former cell which he shared with 29 fellow inmates, then took us to D Section where Mandela resided with other African political leaders. Each had a private cell of about 6×9 feet. They had a floor mat for a bed and a bucket for a toilet. Mandela was there for 17 of his 28 years in prison. He became friends with one of his warders.

Inmates called the prison “the university,” Nair told us, not just because they earned the right to have books, but because of what they learned from each other. Many graduates of this university are now officers in the South African government.

One of the most painful ironies is that Robben Island is a place of great beauty. It is a shade over a half-mile offshore from Cape Town. From its shore you can see the glistening Cape Coast and the dramatic range of six jagged mountains, whose cloud formations steadily and sometime dramatically change their look and color. Penguins frolic on the island.

In the 400 year period that Robben Island served mostly as either a prison or a quarantined leper colony extremely few people ever successfully escaped to shore. The swim is relatively short but there are two formidable barriers: a current that carries you sideways rather than shoreward and sharks that consider swimmers a nice aperitif.

The prisoners were all nonwhite. Apartheid was meticulous in classifying humans as “colored” “Islamic” and “African.” In this white supremacist system the lowest caste was the darkest skinned. prisoners were all convicted of awful sounding crimes, but it seemed to me that the universal crime is that they had fought for equality.

But in this injustice, power grew. The world eventually noticed what was being done on this island and why. Robben Island became an enduring symbol of racial discrimination and a touchstone for social action.

It is a place where Mandela and an entire team of people did not just endure. They would eventually prevail.

I took pictures while I was on Robben Island. I think they tell you more about what life there was like than I possibly can. I do hope you’ll go take a look.

One last thought tat has lingered with me. Mandela and the ANC used traditional media well to turn world opinion into pressure against Apartheid. I just cannot help to wonder how social media may have brought the revolution to fruition faster than the 85 years of the ANC struggle before victory came.

My first thought is that Cape Town is a dramatically beautiful place, a glistening thriving city cloistered between dramatic mountains and two oceans, one green, and the other blue. My second thought is that it most certainly is not a place without problems including crime and poverty.

I landed about 24 hours ago, it seems like a week. My first step on African soil brought me through the usual customs queue and passport stamping rituals and into the bluest of days. I met my host Marian Pike, a journalism and communications lecturer at Cape Penninsula University of Technology [CPUT]. She is the producer of the WTF Media Conference, where I am to be the first American keynote speaker.

Marian is also serving it seems as my personal hand-holder and, so far, she has done an excellent job of it.  I arrived haggard after double redeye flights in coach aboard British Airways, an airline that actually got me to miss United. On landing, Marian brought me to the pleasant Garden Court Hotel, where I had 90 minutes to shower, breakfast, call my wife and regroup for a tour of the breathtaking Cape Town Coastline out to the southernmost point on the continent.

We stopped to chat with Marian’s sister and brother-in-law at the Emerald-colored Fish Hoek Beach, where we strolled on kelp-strewn African sands being splashed by the Indian Ocean. The only thing that stopped this from being the perfect beach is that along with surfers, swimmers and kayakers, the area is a playground for great white sharks. There are shark-spotters stationed up on a steep hill who call down warnings when one is sighted.

There are also “shark shockers.”  They are a string of orange buoys, like you often sea at ocean beaches. Only these are designed to attract sharks and then give them a serious electrical jolt. There are doubters, but still I was told, there have been no shark attacks since they were recently installed.

We also stopped at Boulder Beach, a major attraction because a school of penguin had inexplicably migrated there from fro an outer island. Unfortunately the school was out–at the other end of the beach so I only saw them from a distance and had to take Marian’s word that these were actually penguins and not tall, well-clad pigeons.

At a brief  visit to  statue of a very Great Dane, where we stumbled on a quintet of Africans rehearsing songs that sounded very much like the back up group on Paul Simon’s Diamonds and Rust album.

On the side of the road, were two baboons, lovingly picking lice out of each other’s coats.  This was the high point for me. There we were driving down a major road and there were baboons just sitting there. Marian was nonplused. In So. Africa they are considered large pests who rob from gardens and wherever they can get  pilfer food.

We didn’t stop. There was no pull- off area available. Besides, Marian promised, absolutely promised, there would be lots more baboons. This, of course, would be the closest I would get to the baboons. Perhaps they were off somewhere having lunch with the penguins.

The view is so robust that it is sometimes overwhelming. Dramatic mountain shapes converge with jade, aqua and deep blue ocean scapes. I was reminded in different spots of a great many of the most beautiful places I have visited: Maui, the Amalfi and California Coasts, the Sea of Cortez, Provincetown, Mass and even Southern Spain.

But amid all that beauty there are these awful blemishes, some of the worst slums, I have ever seen: rotting, tin-roofed hovels that I was told, often sleep six. They have no water, but most seem to have electricity fed in. Often nearby are more modern, clean, safe-looking public housing, often with satellite TV dishes. I am told this is the sort of housing started by the ANC when Mandela was president and before corruption syphoned off massive dollars into the pockets of politicians who have since replaced him.

Marian and I drove out to Cape Point, the southernmost tip of African soil that forms the western side of the Cape Good Hope, where the Atlantic meets the Indian Oceans, and the site of many shipwrecks over enturies of nautical navigation.

We toured on, but the two nights of napping in BA coach seats was overtaking me. Marian, sympathetically took me back to the Garden Court, where I slept in three shifts until 5:30 this morning.

I then went for a pleasant 30-minutes of running thru De waal and Company Parks, then walked back to the hotel taking a few more photos which you can see here.

This afternoon, I’m joining another #WTF speaker and taking the boat out to Robben Island where the great Mandela was incarcerated for many of his 27 years for the crime of believing in racial equality.

I will be taking a double red eye to South Africa to speak at a conference called WTF at the University of Technology, Capetown campus.  Yes, the letters stand for what you think they stand for.

I will be just one of 40 speakers, but I am the first American that they have flown in for the annual WTF. It will be the first time I have set foot on African soil. Attendees will include business and social media community members, but there will probably be more students than I have previously addressed.

I’ve read a great deal about So. Africa’s painful and inspirational history. What is is that these students are among the first South Africans to have been born and raised after the ugliness that was Apartheid ended.

I’ve asked the producers for insights and suggestions about attendees. I want to know what I can say that will be useful, interesting and memorable. I’ve received the same instructions as the other 39 speakers:

“Say whatever you want. Just wow them.”

At first that seemed like a daunting task. As a business speaker, just keeping them awake has been sufficient in many cases. But Wowwing is an entirely different thing.

Then in dawned on me: I’m a story teller. And social media is filled with stories that wow people every day. Social media is much bigger than the business stories I often limit myself to.

So, I’ve been looking at some of the stories I’ve gathered over the last five years and there’s an abundance. A few I’m sure I will tell:

  • Isaac Mao, China’s first blogger who has been followed, banned from leaving the country and otherwise frustrated. He produces and annual event that the government keeps moving further from blogger centers. This year the event was held in a large cave. It was well-attended and I’m told everyone had a ball.
  • Laurel Papworth and Australian who went to Saudi Arabia to help a group of Muslim women start a social network.
  • Janis Krums the kid who was taking a Ferry from Manhattan to New Jersey when a jet plane skidded onto the river he was crossing and he took the most memorable twitpic in history before joining rescue efforts on the freezing river.

So, I’m confident that I can wow folk with drama and world-changing events of social media. I’ll note that there is a wow factor that an immigrant factory worker’s son, could wind up speaking on a dais in South Africa because of social media. I’ll also talk about the wow factor that everyday people everywhere are using social media to talk with each other all over the world, and in so doing, they are bypassing bosses and governments, media and assorted gatekeepers to talk with each other and discover how much they share in common with people who look and speak differently.

But there is more and that’s where you come in. So far, all I have to talk about is what Wows me.

I want to share with them what wows other people about social media. Please tell me your favorite story. Please send me stats that amaze you. Tell me about an incident that changed you or your work.

What wows me also is the help I get from friends on social media.

Please leave a comment here, or email me. You can usually find me hanging out on Twitter, where I continue to get wowwed left and right.

I thought I was having a senior moment this week, when NASA announced the "first tweet from outer space this week," by astronaut TJ Creamer, who declared:

"Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International
Space Station — the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your

Lots of press picked this up and declared this an historic moment.

Just like they declared it an historic moment on May 13, 2009, when Astronaut Mike Massimo stepped out of his spacecraft to repair a telescope. When he returned, as many of us reported, he tweeted:

"My spacewalk was amazing. We had some tough problems, but through them all, the view of our precious planet was beautiful."

The event got enough notice that @astro_mike now has over 1.3 million followers.

I recalled this instantly when I started seeing reports this week on Creamer's first tweet because I reported on the incident in Twitterville. What is remarkable is that a great many newspapers who reported Massimo's first tweet last year, reported Creamer's first tweet this week with seemingly no recollection of their own reports of eight months ago.

What about NASA? Well the may have some wiggle room, although I have my doubts. Last year, the question was raised on just how the first first tweet was actually sent. After all, there is no broadband in outer space. It turned out, that Massimo had relayed his message to a coworker who had the astronaut's twitter user ID and password. So the post actually came Florida, which is sometimes strange but always terrestrial.

So was Creamers the first space tweet that did not involved just a little bit of a cheat?

Not sure, because there still isn't anyway that's been explained on how you post a tweet from outer space.

I would ask NASA, but I have tried to interview them three times and all three times they ignored my requests and there's just so much rejection an earthling can take.

On Christmas Day 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, a son of one of Nigeria's richest families was preparing to board a flight to Detroit from Schiphol Airport, in Amsterdam one of the world's busiest. He probably slipped into a restroom, where he taped a large quantity of PEDT to the inside front of his underwear.

PEDT is a chemical explosive, and this was a new strain of it, designed to get past airport security. It worked, and simultaneously airport security failed. Umar was on an international terror watch list and he was holding a one-way ticket to the US.

As Northwest Air Flight 258 began it's descent into Detroit, Umar took out a syringe containing clear liquid. Lots of people carry syringes containing clear liquid onto planes. We are diabetics. Umar's however, contained a chemical accelerant that was supposed to make the PEDT blow a huge hole into the planes said and thus kill 278 people.

Instead, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab succeeded only in incinerating his own penis. If he had died and been rewarded his 100 virgins, as his Al Qaeda mentors may have promised, that would have been a very big loss for him.

Security learned that the bad guys had a new form of explosive and they would have to adjust yet again. It's a tough job, in my view. On one hand we just hate the scrutiny as they queue into airport lines. On the other hand we demand that this system of screening millions of people per hour all over the world be absolutely foolproof.

The fact of the matter is that it is very difficult to catch a criminal who is willing and often motivated to die to reach his or her goal. It is difficult and painful to stave off a culture who raises children to be suicide bombers. It is very hard to tell the difference between a student and a terrorist posing as a student.

So do we want security to do really? Do we now think airport security agents should pat everyone's crotches before they are allowed to fly? How about diabetics with insulin and syringes? No, we cannot put it in checked luggage for a few reasons. We can get doctor notes, but so can the terrorists.

President Obama is right that we just had a "systemic failure." A known bad guy got  onto a plane. But those who pay attention to system failures will tell you that nearly all large scale complex systems fail, sooner or later, particularly when something new and unanticipated gets inserted into the system.

Yet, right now, everyone is freaking out. TSA, the US airline security people tried to subpoena bloggers; Obama is taking his eye off of healthcare to address public concerns over security. Taiwan Air has unilaterally tightened security on flights into the US.

And so it goes.

I see what just happened from a different perspective than from most of those who I've heard or read. I look back to Sept. 11, 2001, and remember a spectacular horror. One that required coordination and collaboration between more than 100 people at least. One that required financial resources and talent.

On 9/11 the whole world was terrorized. In the following months we shuddered when people dear to us flew, or drive over bridges or go to an event attended by many people. We feared for our children and our landmarks.

Al Qaeda had made its signature large and spectacular acts of terrorism. Multiple coordinated assaults killing large numbers of people. Coordinated bombs in US embassies; hitting the USS Cole bombing a disco in Bali.

This is the way to foment terror. Hit anywhere at anytime. Kill people randomly and in big numbers. Make huge craters where building used to stand.

Compare that with a disturbed young man burning his penis off over Detroit.

It isn't that I don't take this event seriously, because I do. But I wonder if the world has not already seen Al Qaeda's best shot and we have survived and retaliated.

Look at a couple of other facts:

  • After 9/11, Osama bin Laden, taunted the Western World on a video tape. He appeared healthy and happy. Now, if he's alive at all, he is living a miserable life in dank  mountain caves. Even the Taliban who embraced them have stepped back. Being friends with Al Qaeda is just too much trouble.

  • The Islamic Republic of Iran in 2001 was the inspiration for the future of  fundamentalism. They financed and inspired young Muslim schools where suicides for Allah were seeded into young trusting minds. Now young Muslims are seeing what we see in Islam, a gaggle of old men willing to kill their nations students so that they can hold power in the name f Allah over a nation that wishes them to be gone.

I think it will be a long, long time before there is no need for a war on terrorism. I also think it is important to realize that it seems to be on the wane right now and its strength is waning from inside its ranks as well as from Western efforts to contain and destroy it.

But the purpose of terrorist acts is to provoke terror in those who survive the actual act. Let us not be more terrified than the fcts merit we should be.