Not a Good Day to Be Joshua Ross
October 2, 2009 – 10:23 am | No Comment

Today my name  appeared in a blog post from my friend and mentor David Burk as “Josh Ross” — and while I was happy for the mention, and David does know me as “Josh” – I have been trying to move to my full name, Joshua-Michéle Ross, for a few years.


I wrote about it in more detail in a previous post – but the bottom line is that with the rise of the Social Web, there are just too many Joshua Rosses clamoring for air-time.  And for some reason there are a lot of felons who share my name.   I have a Google Alert that keeps me up to date on the comings and goings of anyone going by the name Joshua Ross – This one just came in.  I have an alibi – and I can’t be in two places at once… but I prefer to be known as Joshua-Michéle Ross just in case.

(Update – David changed it to my full name after seeing this post and now I feel guilty for whining)


Maximizing Privacy while Minimizing Offense on Facebook
October 1, 2009 – 4:47 pm | One Comment

This is the latest video in my Social Sense and Sensibility series on Forbes.  This video is a bit more like a tutorial – answering the question: “How do you filter Facebook to cause the least amount of offense and maximize privacy.”

Enhanced Transcript:
Just like the human brain – most people only use Facebook to about 10% of its capacity. Facebook has a lot of features that allow you to filter information that, as you say, maximizes privacy while minimizing offense. Let me give you a couple of tips here and a link to a lot more information.

Create a few categories of friends. You do this by clicking on your Friends tab and then selecting “All Friends.”  Once there you will see “Create New List”


Personally, I have created three types of “friends” – Family, Professional and Social. I don’t really want anything more complicated than that.
Next, go to your settings tab in they upper right. Once there select privacy.


Friend Lists can have specific privacy policies applied to them.   Most of the functions you want will reside in your Profile.  This is where you can control what others see and where you can ensure photos from your “private” life won’t be visible to your  professional colleagues (see big disclaimer at the bottom of this).
If you want to have more personal relationships only on Facebook – it is simple to remove yourself from search results. FB_Privacy

This may help avoid the dreaded request that comes from your boss…

All of this being said, almost every change you make will not be visible to the other party – meaning you are not going to offend anyone.
How you set up your Facebook account has a lot to do with how you use it and how much privacy you need – Just remember, there is no substitute for exercising discrtion and never posting things that you don’t want to go public. You never know….

Here are a few links to some great tutorials on how to achieve this and more (in total they are a bit redundant):
How to Use Facebook Privacy Settings

10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

Group Privacy Settings on Facebook

Should You Use Facebook to Post Work Requests?
September 22, 2009 – 5:35 pm | 3 Comments

Here is another in my ongoing Forbes series, Social Sense and Sensibility. The idea is to help organizations understand how to properly leverage social tools for business use.
If you have any questions you would like answered please leave them in the comments, email me, or use Twitter. Rough transcript appears below the video.

Should you post work-related requests in your Facebook update?

Well that all depends on what your social network looks like inside of Facebook. If you are connecting with business partners, colleagues and customers – then I would say in that context it is fine since those requests will be reaching people who might care – or be able to support you.
Personally I use LinkedIn for all work related material. For the rest of my Life – there’s Facebook. So in my case – putting out work requests in Facebook wouldn’t make any sense unless I think my 20 year old sister in-law can give me advice on finding the right CRM application.
I use LinkedIn for a few reasons. First, LinkedIn is explicitly about business – so there is no confusion. Secondly – LinkedIn has a set of business-specific tools (answers, profiles that are structured around my resumé etc.) that help you make those work related requests.
If you are using Facebook for work consider creating a Friends list titled “professional” or “work” – that way you can gain a small semblance of distinction between these two aspects of your life.

Finally while we are on the topic of mixing work and Facebook let me sneak in one of my pet peeves, Don’t “friend” subordinates at work. This often puts them in an awkward position of being asked to expose personal parts of their lives. After all, you may not really have any professional interest what Joe in Accounting looks like after 12 beers and a losing game of strip poker…

Open Beats Closed: Netflix Announces $1M Dollar Prizewinner
September 21, 2009 – 3:37 pm | No Comment

Open beats Closed states a rather obvious law of doing business on the Internetwork:  There is more talent outside your company than within it.  Companies that harness the power of relationships using networks to tap that outside talent will win over those that don’t.

In another Open Beats Closed story, Netflix just announced the winner of its one million dollar contest to improve its ratings system.

Ratings and recommendations are a critical piece of Netflix’ infrastructure.  If Netflix can do a better job than anyone else deducing from your behavior what movies you will enjoy next, Netflix will enjoy an enormous amount of advantage in terms of customer loyalty and increased movie consumption.

Yet recommendation systems are based on  extremely complex and proprietary algorithms involving heavy math and some deep thinking to set up and test assumptions about behavior.   Employing a team of these people in-house for this work is difficult at best.  How do you assess their talent?  My guess is that 99% of Netflix couldn’t even understand the math involved… How will you build a team?  How long will that take?  How will you know if you have made the right bet once your team is hired?

An Open Beats Closed approach allows you to engage a myriad of already-assembled (or self-organizing) teams in competition to deliver an algorithm that demonstrates success.   How is the Open Beats Closed approach working for Netflix?  They are so happy with the results that they have announced another, more nuanced contest to further improve their recommendation system.    What I find interesting about this revised contest is that they are allocating the rewards over time to the teams that are providing sustained, proven results.  Smart.

From the article:

The new challenge focuses on predicting the movie preferences of people who rarely or never rate the movies they rent. This will be deduced from more than 100 million data points, including information about renters’ ages, genders, ZIP codes, genre ratings and previously chosen movies.

Instead of a single $1 million prize, this new challenge will be split into one $500,000 award to the team judged to be leading after six months and an additional $500,000 to the team in the lead at the 18-month mark, when the contest is wrapped up.


Productivity Paradox In The Age of Social Networks
September 19, 2009 – 8:57 am | One Comment

When I wrote “A Corporate Guide for Social Media”  for my Forbes column this single statement drew the most attention:

Build your policies around job performance, not fuzzy concerns about productivity.

If your employees are using Facebook at work, they are also likely checking work e-mail after dinner or at odd hours of the day. Don’t ask them to give up the former if you expect them to continue the latter. If you have good performance measurements, playing the “lost productivity” card is a canard.

It even landed me an interview from the CBS Evening News.   In the meantime I have had a lot of opportunity to consider whether my points hold up over time: (1) that social technologies don’t represent anything fundamentally new in terms of distractions, (2) that the issue of productivity is a misplaced suspicion that could be cured by properly defining and measuring job performance -(3) that employers rarely consider that they are asking employees to stay checked-in after work hours.     For the most part I think that these arguments do hold up.

While it is true that “information overload” is a defining feature of the modern workplace it is also true that business workplace productivity has increased year over year despite these challenges.     How is it that individual studies proclaim the costs of distraction (25 minutes to return to tasks after an email interruption!) while labor studies show increased overall productivity?

Paradoxically I would suggest that the same tools that we complain about in terms of lost productivity and distraction at an individual level are precisely the tools that are increasing overall workplace productivity.

How Organizations Become Institutions – How Institutions Die
September 17, 2009 – 4:51 pm | One Comment

I recently wrote a Radar post that generated a fair amount of discussion titled, “Stop Giving Newspapers Your Advice.  They Don’t Need It.” The point in that post was that we should stop doling out our advice to the newspapers because:

the news industry doesn’t suffer from a shortage of ideas or possible revenue models, it suffers from a different but more acute malady: being an institution during a time of disruptive change.

While we have all been busy telling the newspaper institution what they should do differently we have missed one big point: Institutions are structured to precisely NOT do much of anything different.

As part of the writing exercise  I wrote out my imaginary timeline of how a group of entrepreneurs becomes an “institution.”

  • An entrepreneur or small team of leaders blaze a trail – set the tone and culture of an organization – Think of the small geek-team for Microsoft in the early 80s.


  • The initial company flourishes as an informal organization of people that know each other intimately.
  • In order to perform at scale, interpersonal agreements are codified into process, procedural and policy documents, and legal contracts governing relationships.
  • New employees are given orientation on “how things get done around here”
  • A layer of middle management is put in place to promote efficiency, enforce policy and mitigate risk.
  • Individuals, normally guided by self-interest, quickly become rule-followers committed to preservation of the codified norms of the institution. In this regard, institutions become a force unto themselves. They protect themselves  from the individual interests of their constituents. Institutions generally demand conformance and reject difference.
  • The true decoupling of human intent and institutional intent occurs when the institution becomes publicly traded. At this stage the institution answers to an amorphous mass of “shareholders” whose only basis for judgment lies in quarterly growth figures.
  • If institutions gain enough mass – such as the Auto Industry since the 50s or Microsoft in the 90s they disappear entirely from the “free market” that brought them into being.  They bully through lobbying, threats of job relocations and boards of interlocking directorates that stifle competition.

When an institution encounters disruptive change it will either die (music, newspapers  in the face of the Internet) or, if large enough, kill off the source of change (auto industry in the face of electric cars).    If an institution’s capacity for adaptation does not exceed the rate of environmental change for a sustained period of time – extinction follows.

I have been wondering a lot if there is a middle path where organizations can actually learn at scale and respond to disruptive change in a positive manner.

How to Balance Personal and Professional on Twitter
September 16, 2009 – 2:42 pm | 3 Comments

Answering the question: What percentage of tweets should be personal/professional interests?

Loose Transcript
I find this question fascinating because with social technologies business IS personal so that line is very blurry. – Think about some great business leaders that use these tools – GM’s
Bob Lutz on the Fastlane blog where he really shows his passion for cars, Tim O’Reilly on Twitter where it isn’t just about tech books but about big ideas, Murphy Goode Winery on Facebook – where it isn’t about cases shipped – but about wine country lifestyle. In their own ways each of these people is staying professional while letting the personal show.

That balance of personal and professional is important in a social medium – whether on a blog, a social network like Facebook or Twitter. You just need to remember – social tools follow social rules and one social rule is that talking about work all the time is boring. In following people I tend to err on the side of those that show their personality more than strictly their profession. I am more interested in what they are reading, what they find interesting rather that just hearing about their business. So I would say about 60/40 in favor of personal information. I am not saying you need to tell us about your star sign and the fact that you look good in Fall colors here…

Here is my advice on achieving balance beyond a formula: think about your company’s mission – or the larger reason that your business exists – then speak to that. In the example before it is easy to see that wine is about more than a beverage – it is about pleasure, leisure, the good life etc. and so Murphy Goode is able to cover these areas while still having a quote unquote “professional” presence. Ultimately my advice is to find themes that resonate with the aspiration of your business and that you care about personally and Tweet about that. Do that – and I will be following you along with lots of others.

Bathing in Statistics – Shift Happens Video
September 16, 2009 – 1:35 pm | 2 Comments

I always appreciate the “Did You Know” series of videos produced by the Shift Happens folks.   It is a form of infotainment to sit back and have a wide array of statistics -some are profound, some are disturbing and some are both – wash over you while some bubbly electronica plays on…

When All News Is Breaking News – Everything Gets Broken
September 15, 2009 – 4:46 pm | One Comment

The headlong rush into the real-time web means yet another acceleration of the news cycle.   At a certain point (some may say the daily paper, others the hourly blog or yet others, the 15 second refresh on Twitter) we crossed a threshold where all news become “breaking news” and the rush to pump it out exceeds the human capacity to filter on factors such as accuracy, suitability or value.

This is what happened when Terry Moran used Twitter to bit-cast Obama’s interview.  Apparently Obama, off-the-record, called Kanye West a jackass.  While this statement is basically an objective truth after West’s mic-hogging episode at the VMA Awards, it was still “off the record”.     Moran tweeted it – then regretted it.   He pulled his Tweet but too late…. Rule one on the Internet:  Past is Present – there is no erasing your record.

Tweeting from an interview is breaking news – but not the way we usually use the phrase.  I mean it literally.    How long now before any interviews conducted with anyone of note will include a ban on using any real time tools like Twitter?


Kudos to Current for capturing the image for posterity.

The Failure of Newspapers and What it Means to the Rest of the World
September 15, 2009 – 3:46 pm | 3 Comments

This is a cross-post from Radar.

Speculation about the demise of the news business and advice about what they should do about it is everywhere. It makes for great, self-congratulatory sport but it won’t help the news industry.


Because the news industry doesn’t suffer from a shortage of ideas or possible revenue models, it suffers from a different but more acute malady: being an institution during a time of disruptive change.

While we have all been busy telling the newspaper institution what they should do differently we have missed one big point: Institutions are structured to precisely NOT do much of anything different.

The number one thing that ails newspapers? 70% of all costs lie in physical distribution and printing while readership and revenues have dramatically moved away from paper. This leads to a simple-minded but commonsense conclusion (and my superfluous piece of advice): maximize your online presence, build your online community, concentrate on journalistic talent, and jettison all costs associated with print; stop the presses.

Even if I you think I am wrong, just play along with me for a moment and, for the purpose of this exercise, assume I am right. If you can’t go that far substitute your own radical therapy (you know you have one!) in place of mine and answer the next question. Which major newspaper could have gone to its board anytime before 2009 and successfully proposed such a radical solution? The answer if you have ever worked in a large, “institutionalized” organization is zero. The scenario is so horrific, involves pains so great, outcomes so unknown and certain near-term revenue loss such that no institutional body would be capable of acting on it – much less restructuring around so medieval a remedy.

The failure of newspapers is not a failure of imagination or foresight nor is it a failure of individuals. This kind of failure is the hallmark of all institutions in the face of tectonic disruption. Institutions are a set of agreements that perpetuate a social order beyond individual intention or tenure. Changing those agreements is costly and time-consuming. So when the rate of change accelerates beyond the institution’s adaptive capacity – extinction follows.

The question is not “what should newspapers do?” but “how can a large institution effectively organize in response to disruptive change?” Taken thus, it is not only the fundamental question to ask of newspapers – but to ask of ourselves in relation to a host of big-ticket game-changers such as peak oil, environmental collapse and climate change that simultaneously require and defy our capacity for institutional response.

The stakes are much bigger than news. Let’s put our mind to that question instead of making more to-do lists.   I would like to ask for historical examples of institutions that have effectively responded to disruption? What are the lessons that we can draw from them?