Less Robots! More Humans – A friend’s presentation at SXSW

One of my friends and ex-coworker at CCS, Jon Spenceley, was recently on a panel at SXSW about new generation of call centre along with social media. He currently works for Freshbooks in Toronto as one of the lead customer support agents.

He led a panel of support executives from RIM, Comcast and Rackspace. Although they have varying stories and experience, they all explained their different ways of eliminating old call-centre metrics and how each one of them has increased customer support satisfaction through different methods of support.

The main theme of the panel is #lessrobots and #morehumans. Although some of their principals and procedures may only work in specific environments. Perhaps some of these ways will be implemented to many more companies in the future and help transform the negative views when calling a company’s support line for help.

If you’re interested in any form of customer service whether it be through social media or a traditional call centre, I’d recommend you listen to what they have to say!

SXSW – Kill your call centre! Bring your support home!

If you’d like to download an MP3 version to listen while on the go, Right-click here and save target as!

Why I think Twitter is more useful than Facebook

Before saying no to Twitter, do you understand how it can be more useful to your life than Facebook?

I’ve been on Facebook since mid-2006. Since then, the social networking giant has dramatically changed many of its policies on how people share their lives online. Over the years I’ve began to disagree with some of their methods. Thus, I’ve started removing much of my information from the social networking giant.

On the flip-side, I’ve been on Twitter since March of 2009 and I have found that Twitter is far more useful than Facebook and offers a better sense of security.

I’ve had this argument with friends many times, so I figured it was about time I’d write something about it to get a little debate going. From my perspective, most of us are no stranger to Facebook. It is true to say that most of my friends are on Facebook and they use Twitter much less.

I believe people misunderstand the usefulness of Twitter and I also believe that there are many Facebook users who would benefit from joining Twitter. This post has been written from my perspective and states my observations of the two social networking platforms. Feel free to leave comments and start up a debate.

The purpose of Facebook

The present day purpose of Facebook is to allow you to connect with friends, family and co-workers online. It allows you to share pictures and links, message one another, and share personal information such as your birth date, sexual orientation, relationship status… etc.

Becoming friends on Facebook is a mutual, two-way process. Someone needs to request the friendship and then the opposite party has to confirm it. For the most part, unless you micromanage your privacy settings, the default settings of your basic information on Facebook are open to anyone on the social networking site to view. Many users are unaware of what information about themselves can be displayed to prying eyes. After becoming a Facebook friend, friends are now able to view photos of each other as well as comment on each other posts.

The problem with Facebook

Being a Facebook friend with another user gives you the opportunity to do a commonly known term called “Facebook Creep” or “Facebook Stalk’. Today, you can view two other users’ interactions on Facebook with the new Friendship feature. This includes wall messages, pictures, links, and events. It allows a user’s friends to get a feel for what the two users have been up to lately. I personally find this feature creepy and revealing. I think it generates a bit too much information about you. It is scary to think of how much information Facebook is retaining about you.

I think any Facebook user would be naïve to say they have never “Facebook Stalked” one of their friends. People are curious as to what their friends have been up to.

Another issue I have with Facebook is the amount of “crap” that you see with the newsfeed. You get a mix of the following:

  • Photos, comments on photos,
  • Status updates, comments on status updates,
  • Wall updates, comments on wall updates,
  • Links, comments on links,
  • Facebook games (such as Farmville),
  • Events, and
  • Much more random information you don’t care about.

Although some of these updates are important, the majority of the time, many of these things are useless. If you want to amuse yourself with extreme situations of completely useless Facebook status updates. Head over to lamebook.com and enjoy.

Comparing to Twitter

Now some of you are probably thinking…well Twitter must have useless information on it too and I would not disagree. There are users who tweet stupid things…or things that I am not interested in. The difference with Twitter is that you can choose whose status updates you see and whose you don’t see; it does not have to be a mutual agreement between the two users. If you get tired of seeing a particular user, then you can simply un-follow them.

By default, your “tweets” are public and available to anyone who looks up your username. Twitter informs users right away during registration with a simple page that displays all your account information. Your tweets are also searchable with Twitter’s search engine which the world has access to as well.

Twitter’s “news feed” is called the “timeline”.

The timeline is text-only and provides no visual sequences other than the user’s avatar. It’s clean and simple and if the user wishes to share something that can’t be represented by text or within 140 characters, they usually provide a link that users can read further into.

Essentially, Twitter displays news headline and if you are more interested in the topic, you may simply run a search or ask the originating user for more information through a “mention”. Remember, you do not need to be mutual friends for this to happen.

The Purpose of Twitter

A 140 character restriction is something you must adhere to! You have to cram a message, link to a website, or photo into this restriction. Each “tweet” is time-stamped and broadcasted online.

Twitter users are generally aware that their tweets are visible to the world unless they’ve made them private. I find this gives their tweets a different character than Facebook status updates. Tweets are often more to-the-point and are much more difficult to stalk. It is possible to view tweets between two users but it is not as easy as Facebook’s friendship feature. Twitter users must line up timelines and match time-stamps. It can get quite tedius.

Twitter’s greatest asset

In my opinion, the best feature of Twitter is the ability to use tweets to crowdsource. Crowdsourcing is the use of information from a large group of people to gather information about a particular task or event. Since Twitter has 190 million users who send 95 million tweets a day, it is very easy to find out instant information about a particular event happening in real time. News agencies now monitor Twitter to report breaking news around the world.

There are multiple ways to perform a search using Twitter. You may simply go to www.twitter.com and do a quick search or click a trending topic. Another website which shows common keywords on the “twitter sphere”, as I like to call it, is Twitscoop.

My favourite website for performing Twitter searches is Tweetgrid. This site provides you different layouts which provide a specific number of search queries. You can query multiple terms and have them be displayed in real-time, all within the same window.

Here are a few examples of using Twitter for searching:

As a Vancouver Canucks fan, I am sometimes curious to see what other users are thinking about the game. By using Tweetgrid, I usually search the hashtag for the team we are playing against. For example, on December 1st, 2010, the Vancouver Canucks played the Calgary Flames. I fired up Tweetgrid and searched #canucks and #flames in separate boxes. This allowed me to see what other users are tweeting about during the game. Here is the direct link to my search.

Transit is a prime example of using Twitter to access more information about a particular event. Pedestrians taking public transit do not have access to a FM/AM radio in order to receive traffic updates. Many turn to Twitter to become aware of issues during their commute. In Vancouver, BC., TransLink, the governing body of transit in the Greater Vancouver Area, launched a pilot project to use Twitter (@translink) to inform users of bus and train conditions, as well as a method for users to ask them about service issues or file complaints. Generally, you can also follow other users in Vancouver reporting on issues with transit with the #translink hashtag.

Keep in mind that this is my perspective on why I like using twitter. I’m curious to hear what you think. Leave a comment or tweet me at (@hestonk).

Further Reading:

There are some interesting posts regarding the debate between the two social giants.

@stevethorton wrote this article in January, 2009. He compares Twitter to Google and Facebook to Yahoo – Facebook VS Twitter

A more recent article by Damian Koblintz, Nov 22nd 2010 compares the meaning behind Facebook status updates and Twitter. Twitter vs Facebook – the final reckoning | Vertical Leap Blog

Laptop Data & Identity Theft

The use of laptop computers is great! It gives us the portability and freedom to work and surf the Internet: a true benefit for consumers and corporate users. Unfortunately, laptops expose individuals and organizations to an inherent risk of data theft which may lead to fraud, and identity theft. Although it is also true that smartphones are widely used and deployed, laptop theft is considered the second most common security concern after malware.

According to 224 IT professionals surveyed earlier this year by Check Point, a security company, less than 30 percent use data encryption and only 47 percent of users have access to a VPN that connects to the main office. These numbers are dangerously low: making it easy for data to end up in the wrong hands. IT professionals should make it one of their top goals to prevent data leaks within their company and to brief everyone within their organization some information about the use of corporate machines outside of the organization’s office.

Although this post’s main objective is to pin-point the blame on businesses’ IT departments for not having encryption and contingency policies in place, consumers should also be aware of these issues.

Data Leakage

Data leakage can be defined in multiple ways; i.e., an employee transferring files using a USB device or emailing files home to a personal account. For the purposes of this blog post, I am referring to data leakage as the loss of data through a laptop computer.

Few are aware of how easy it is to extract data from a laptop whose hard drives have been left unencrypted. I’m not talking about photos and videos from your latest trip to Mexico (although some may want to hide those for other reasons).

An unencrypted hard drive gives the ability for a computer user to do some of the following:

  • Extract cookies, Internet history, browser preferences such as auto-login passwords which could lead to access to websites like (Facebook, Gmail),
  • View locally stored email cache,
  • View word and excel documents,
  • Connect to your Virtual Private Network (or VPN),
  • Misc. computer configurations, and
  • Personal information.

It doesn’t take a sophisticated user to do some of these things. However, if your machine were to end up in the hands of a black hat hacker, the amount of data they could harvest from your machine could be extensive.

Most thieves aren’t black hat hackers.

A thief can steal a laptop during a home robbery or when your bag or laptop is left unattended, even for a second. Since laptops are portable, they’re an easy target for thieves to run off with. You are unlikely to see your machine and its data again unless you have some preventive mechanisms installed. Absolute Software’s Lo-jack software offers a subscription based service capable of aiding law enforcement to finding your lost or stolen laptop.

Although it is usually up to the end user to keep his or her device secure, whose responsibility would it be if your laptop had access to civilian tax records that was stored on the network drive of the machine? Surely, you weren’t aware that you had so much confidential information on your machine. What now?

IT’s Responsibility & Data Encryption

It is up to your IT department to help protect you, your company and your customers from having crucial information exposed by a lost or stolen laptop. Tools have been developed for many years which offer ways to hide sensitive data by disk encryption. Disk encryption makes it nearly impossible for a simple computer user or even a black-hat hacker to read the content of the drive. All the data on the drives are encoded with a specific key which is only accessible by authorized users and specific laptops. The key is unique for each laptop and is usually stored on a Trusted Platform Management (TMP) chip which is only extracted once an authorized fingerprint is swiped, or when a special hard-drive boot-password is entered before the computer boots up. This also prevents other portable boot-disk utilities from booting up and running tools such as password crackers or Linux live discs from reading the contents of the drive. Hard–drive encryption would prevent these easy-to-use software which can be downloaded online by anyone.

Historically, setting up hard drive encryption has been a pain. Today, with Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise editions, BitLocker is an embedded extension to the operating system. It offers IT professionals a fast and easy way to monitor, manage and deploy drive encryption to their machines, at a low cost too. There is little excuse for not implementing encryption.

Legal Issues

I did some digging for some stats on corporate laptop theft and legal ramifications. According to a report done by the Ponemon Institute [PDF] for Dell Computers in 2008, approximately 12,000 business laptops are lost per week. If 30 percent of IT departments have hard-disk encryption implemented, only 3,600 laptops will be protected. This leaves a staggering 8,400 laptops and their companies vulnerable to data leakage and threats.

During my work-stint with NBC Olympics, I learned some shocking information from one of my full-time NBC colleagues in regards to corporate laptop data. My colleague mentioned that California state law requires companies to notify all parties involved and publically announce exactly what happened when a laptop is stolen or lost. Organizations may also be required to protect stolen or lost identities and compensate victims. The California government can also take your company to court for failing to provide adequate protection of its citizens. It doesn’t matter where your company is based or if your company conducts business in the state, the California government can and will prosecute you as long as you are within the USA.

A website called Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (privacyrights.org) keeps an online database of data breaches and other issues regarding identity theft of US citizens. Ironically, the company is located in San Diego, California. It’s amazing how many instances are reported week.

Given proper IT policies and guidelines, corporate data leakage can be minimized. If only 30 percent of organizations have methods of preventing data leaks from laptop theft, should we be worried about what sort of data companies are storing about us and whose hands this data can be in?

Further Reading: