Jaron Lanier on the Human Side of Technology

July 26, 2011

“I’m disappointed with the way the Internet has gone in the past ten years.  . . . I’ve always felt that the human-centered approach to computer science leads to more interesting, more exotic, more wild, and more heroic adventures than the machine-supremacy approach, where information is the highest goal.

“At the South by Southwest Interactive conference, in Austin, in March of 2010, Lanier gave a talk, before which he asked his audience not to blog, text, or tweet while he was speaking.  He later wrote that his message to the crowd had been:  “If you listen first, and write later, then whatever you write will have had time to filter through your brain, and you’ll be in what you say.  This is what makes you exist.  If you are only a reflector of information, are you really there?”‘

— From a profile of Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not A Gadget and one of the pioneers of virtual reality technology, in Jennifer Kahn, “The Visionary,” The New Yorker, July 11 & 18, 2011, pp.46-53.


Excerpt: The Spark for Groupon

July 12, 2011

The following excerpt is from “Groupon Therapy” by Lauren Etter in the August 2011 issue of Vanity Fair (available on newsstands now), in which Groupon co-founder and CEO Andrew Mason shares how his work in developing an earlier social action website called the Point, the cost of which had been underwritten by investor Eric Lefkofsky, evolved into Groupon, which is considered by many to be the leading group discount buying site on the Web, after:

“I’d always thought with the Point that I’m going for the big win and changing the world,” Mason says. . . . But the socially conscious efforts didn’t attract enough subscribers, and they fizzled.   By October 2008, the Point was on the verge of being shut down.

“Eric [Lefkofsky] was pressuring me to think radically differently and figure out a way to monetize the site,” Mason recalls. 

Mason had noticed that the most popular campaigns on the Point involved group buying.  He decided to set up a sub-business dedicated to commerce rather than ideals.  At first, Mason say, he thought the new business would just be a way to pay the bills.  His friend and co-worker Aaron With came up with the name Groupon — a fusion of the words “group” and “coupon.”

Mason credits Lefkofsky for the shift in his focus:   “He just created a splinter for me.  It was that agitation that he created that ultimately led to the formation of Groupon.”


MMA Releases Update to Mobile Marketing Best Practices

May 24, 2011

The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), a mobile industry trade group representing over 750 companies, recently released its latest update (version 6.1) of its “U.S. Consumer Best Practices Guidelines,” which provides a compilation of mobile industry best practices, policies and regulatory guidance in connection with marketing matters using mobile technology.  The document  focuses on consumer protection and privacy to ensure that mobile users have a good user experience on the theory that what is good for the consumer is good for the industry. 

While at first glance the document may appear to be technical in nature, it actually breaks down recommended practices and wireless carrier policies in a methodical and straightforward manner that makes the Guidelines quite useful as a reference point in preparing or fine tuning marketing programs and related legal terms and conditions.

PDF of Guidelines:  MMA Consumer Best Practices (Version 6.1)


Social Media and Debt Collectors

May 23, 2011

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), debt collectors are restricted in the manner in which they may seek to collect a debt.  Among those restrictions are strict limits on communications with debtors and avoiding deception in those communications.   An article on the use of social media by debt collectors that I read last week in the American Banker (article access may require a subscription), which does a pretty good job covering technology issues related to the financial and payments industry, focused my attention on this topic as an example of how business practices involving social media raise questions on what should be allowed. 

If we think of social media applications as simply variations of other communications tool, there should not be much difficulty in analyzing whether the FDCPA rules apply to social media when used by debt collectors  — generally speaking, the rules should apply.  Yet, the extent to which the FDCPA limits social media use by debt collectors is an open issue in some circles.  So, much so that as the American Banker article mentioned above reports that a court in Florida recently issued an order restraining a debt collector from contacting a debtor via Facebook.  As another example, see a story on The Consumerist website reports a particularly interesting and extensive use of Facebook by a debt collection agency to friend unsuspecting debtors and thereby collect information that might otherwise not be available to the collectors.   

Expect the states and the FTC to step into what appears to be something of a void — putting aside whether it should even be regarded as that.  On April 28, the FTC held a day-long public workshop entitled “Debt Collection 2.0:  Protecting Consumers As Technologies Change”, for which the period to submit additional public comments runs through May 27.   Given all this, it is likely that the FTC will either recommend a regulatory framework or step up its own enforcement actions based on its authority to investigate unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Graphics Credit: Terinea IT Support on Flickr