The Cyber Trough of Disillusionment

I’ll call the moment: the cyber security field is now past its giddy buzzword peak.

Gartner is well known for preparing “hype cycle” analysis of technology sectors, as in their recent publication of the 2009 “Hype Cycle for Social Software.” That report got a lot of attention on Twitter and in blogs, naturally; social medians are nothing if not self-reflective regarding their community. I thought an interesting take was by an IBM developer, who compared the 2008 version against the new one, measuring the changes in predicted “time to maturity” for individual technologies, and thereby coming up with something like a measure of acceleration. By that measure, individual blogging and social search made the most rapid gains.

But I notice something missing on the full list of 79 Gartner hype cycle reports: there’s not one about “cyber security.”

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A Face in the Crowd

GovFreshGovFresh is a great new web service which aggregates live feeds of official news from U.S. Government Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, RSS feeds, Facebook pages, Flickr photostreams and more, all in one place. It is one of a new class of interactive Government 2.0 services, portals, and tools – many of them just launching in 2009 – which have the potential of revolutionizing the way citizens get and share information about their government.  (I mention several others below.)

At a time when the Iranian people are battling to keep their access open to Twitter, Facebook, and even phone lines in order to mobilize their anti-dictatorial protests, it is heartening that individuals in the United States and many other corners of the world find their governments increasingly willing to share information widely.

Luke Fretwell is GovFresh’s founder, and he’s becoming a welcome new voice in the debates around government technology policy. Luke recently wrote a blog post arguing “Why Gov 2.0 means the U.S. Government must centralize its Web operations.” A heated debate arose in the comments, including my own strenuous disagreement, and yet I became a fast admirer of Luke, his entrepreneurial energy, and the site’s information value.

GovFresh has been running a great series of profile-interviews in its blog section of leading individuals in the “Gov 2.0” movement, and today I was the chosen subject. The article has the unfortunately exaggerated title (in my case): “Gov 2.0 Hero Lewis Shepherd.”  Here’s an excerpt:

What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception?

Can’t tell you because we’re building it in the lab right now, ha! Seriously, the killer app may be something big and powerful, from an enterprise perspective, though I’d put the odds on something less obvious, but more pervasive. Here’s what I mean. I think often about the roots of the original Progressive movement at the dawn of the 20th Century, and their advocacy of direct-vote referendums, championed by Hiram Johnson and the like. Those give the people a direct say over particular issues, but the downside is that “the people” don’t always exercise informed judgment, and popular opinion can be manipulated and swayed by malevolent interests. So I’m looking to Gov 2.0 capabilities that maintain the representative aspect (the elected official, exercising his or her judgment) while incorporating real-time, structured, unfiltered but managed visualizations of popular opinion and advice. I’m intrigued by new services along these lines like www.you2gov.com, www.govfresh.com, www.govtwit.com, and the like, but I’m also a big proponent of semantic computing – called Web 3.0 by some – and that should lead the worlds of crowdsourcing, prediction markets, and open government data movements to unfold in dramatic, previously unexpected ways. We’re working on cool stuff like that.

At the end of the full interview, I observed that “You can’t watch what’s gone on with social software use in Egypt’s Facebook Revolution, our own 2008 campaign, or Iran’s election protests, without feeling that Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson would have been prolific twitterers with awesome blogs.”

In the spirit of empowering the people, instead of lauding one person, I’d like to thank GovFresh for the Hero honor but share the title with those I have worked with in the past few years, and with everyone else around the world engaged in the Gov 2.0 movement – whether they realize that’s what they’re doing or not.

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Three cool new projects in Microsoft Research

[April Fool’s Edition]   I haven’t blogged in a little while – been a little busy – so I’ll make up for it with a burst of three cool new things coming out of the inventive lab work at Microsoft Research – improving Twitter, computer performance, and mobile phones.

MegaNano: New High-End Camera for Cellphones

Many people are dissatisfied with the fuzzy quality of photos taken with their built-in cellphone cameras. So Microsoft will be rolling out this summer the most advanced built-in mobile phone-cam on the market, based on a fantastic prototype now in final user testing at Microsoft Research’s Beijing lab.

MegaNanoDubbed the “MegaNano,” the sylish but diminutive camera boasts 72 megapixel resolution and a shutter-speed setting range from 0.003 seconds all the way up to seven hours.

The itty-bitty MegaNano will be launched simultaneously with the new Microsoft Mobile Apps Store, bundled with a nice selection of jackets and outerware with specially reinforced pouch-pockets and backpacks designed to hold the tiny device. 

I know you’ll want one. One beta-tester says, “It’s so small yet so powerful!  I have to remind myself sometimes that the weight on my shoulders is actually a tiny camera!”

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Way Ahead and Far Behind

Today’s Washington Post has a story on its front page: “Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages.”

Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.”

“What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking.”  -Washington Post

Some say that whoever has been responsible for information technology in the White House itself should be fired — but then perhaps the change of Administration just took care of that  🙂 

Overall, this situation is familiar to anyone who has worked in what I call “Big-G  IT” or the information technology of a federal government agency. I’ve argued about its challenges and sub-optimality before: see my previous pieces on “Roadmap for Innovation: From the Center to the Edge,” and more specifically “Puncturing Circles of Bureaucracy.”  In that latter piece back in March of 2008, I wrote about the “the defensive perimeters of overwhelming bureaucratic torpor,” and the frustrating reality within much of Big Government: “Federal employees have an entire complex of bizarrely-incented practices and career motivations, which make progress on technology innovation very difficult, not to mention general business-practice transformation as a whole.”

Here’s the truly frustrating, mind-bending part: it isn’t always true!  Other elements of the White House have cutting-edge, world-class technologies operating day in, day out.

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2.0 View of President Obama’s Inaugural Speech

obama-inaugural-word-cloud

A word-cloud produced (quickly) by the Los Angeles Times.  Befiitting the social-media aspect, the paper published it on Twitter immediately; don’t know if it will even be published as a graphic in the day-old “newspaper” printed and distributed tomorrow.  The New York Times, meanwhile, has the same for every previous presidential inaugural address as well – interesting to scroll back and forth to notice trends in presidential intentions.

Which lines was I most struck by? Because of my national-security interests, I was taken by the strong, even muscular statement to terrorist foes: “You cannot outlast us and we will defeat you.”  That followed on his opening with a declarative statement that ““Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.”

Information Week has already this afternoon called it the “First Web 2.0 Inauguration,” arguing that “Web 2.0technologies offered plenty of new experiences and communications tools for those witnessing the historic event.”

Some of the best set of mashups using cutting-edge technology, to my mind, are the photographs from media and members of the crowd on the Mall, being synthed into 3D Photosynth virtual models. Really cool!inaugural-photosynth

 

Twitter and other social-media services and channels appeared to hold up well under the crush of traffic. I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of Microsoft’s official streaming of the entire ceremony for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, using Silverlight (same technology was used really nicely for global streaming of the Summer Olympics last year).  In fact, the online streaming was markedly smoother than the ability of the TV networks to speak to reporters reliably down on the Mall – it appeared that network and cellular traffic was constantly cutting out on remote video and microphones.

A moving day, brought to more people than ever before through technology.

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Stretching collaboration with Embodied Social Proxies

My wife and I are spending Christmas this year at home in Montross, and I’m sad that we’re not visiting with family in North Carolina or California.  But I’ve been looking at some new Microsoft research efforts on how to keep in touch with people in more natural ways, particularly valuable for teams working across geographic distances, which is how our Microsoft Institute works.

The question of how distributed teams can work collaboratively is only going to get more challenging, with out-sourcing and crowd-sourcing. Last week the Institute had a great visitor to our Reston digs: Tony Hey, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of External Research.  Tony’s bio on Wikipedia mentions his thirty years as a leading European academic (particle physics was his game), along with the excellent books he’s authored: Einstein’s Mirror, and Feynman and Computation.

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Several new Microsoft advanced technologies

Fact: As reported in TechCrunch and other sites today, “Microsoft’s Live Labs has just released Thumbtack, a web clipping service that allows users to compile links, media, and text snippets into online storage bins for future reference. Users can also share their Thumbtack collections with their peers, allowing them to collaborate by adding new clips and notations… The service works fine on IE7 and Firefox, and isn’t OS dependent. Each of these clippings can be sorted into folders called ‘Collections’, which can be published to the web via RSS, embedded in blogs, opened to friends for collaboration, or kept private for safe keeping.”  [There’s also a good Ars Technica review of Thumbtack here.]

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Hot Election Results Here, and Here, and Here

Political junkies are drumming their fingers mid-day this Tuesday.  They’ve likely already voted, but have no access to exit-poll results until early evening.  Mashup maps of results from sites like Twitter, essentially self-selected and self-reported exit polls like this one at SetFive, or this one mapping general Twitter election buzz, are fun but wildly inaccurate as election tracks.

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Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments

Channel 10 podcast

Channel 10 podcast

I’m a big fan of the cool site Channel 10 and its podcasts and blogs (“a place for enthusiasts with a passion for technology. Through a world-wide network of contributors, Channel 10 covers the latest news in music, mobility, photography, videography, gaming, and new PC hardware and software”).

So I was chuffed when the ubiquitous Jon Udell interviewed me a week ago for Channel 10 (“Lewis Shepherd discusses the Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments“).

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Click on My Head and You’re Classified 2.0

Fact: According to the latest McKinsey Global Survey report, “Building the Web 2.0 Enterprise,” many companies find themselves actually changing organizationally, both internally and externally, as a result of adopting Web 2.0 tools and practices. 

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