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German Spies Eye Metadata

January 13, 2015

Germany’s foreign intelligence arm (BND) refuses to be outdone by our NSA. The World Socialist Web Site reports, “German Foreign Intelligence Service Plans Real-Time Surveillance of Social Networks.” The agency plans to invest €300 million by 2020 to catch up to the (Snowden-revealed) capabilities of U.S. and U.K. agencies. The stated goal is to thwart terrorism, of course, but reporter Sven Heymann is certain the initiative has more to do with tracking political dissidents who oppose the austerity policies of recent years.

Whatever the motivation, the BND has turned its attention to the wealth of information to be found in metadata. Smart spies. Heymann writes:

“While previously, there was mass surveillance of emails, telephone calls and faxes, now the intelligence agency intends to focus on the analysis of so-called metadata. This means the recording of details on the sender, receiver, subject line, and date and time of millions of messages, without reading their content.

“As the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported, BND representatives are apparently cynically attempting to present this to parliamentary deputies as the strengthening of citizens’ rights and freedoms in order to sell the proposal to the public.”

“In fact, the analysis of metadata makes it possible to identify details about a target person’s contacts. The BND is to be put in a position to know who is communicating with whom, when, and by what means. As is already known, the US sometimes conducts its lethal and illegal drone attacks purely on the basis of metadata.”

The article tells us the BND is also looking into the exploitation of newly revealed security weaknesses in common software, as well as tools to falsify biometric-security images (like fingerprints or iris scans). Though Germany’s intelligence agents are prohibited by law from spying on their own people, Heymann has little confidence that rule will be upheld. After all, so is the NSA.

Cynthia Murrell, January 13, 2015

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Delve, Social, and Other SharePoint Highlights of 2014

December 16, 2014

It is that time of year again – time for year-in-review articles regarding the tech that we know and love. And so it is for SharePoint. Lots of changes have been made and there are plenty of assumptions about the future. So CMS Wire tackles the overview in their article, “The SharePoint Landscape from 30,000 Feet.”

The author begins:

“With the end of the year around the corner, it’s a good time to take a 30,000-foot view of the lay of the SharePoint land and see what’s in store for 2015. While SharePoint may not be perfect, the technology is something many enterprises count on. We’ve seen great growth and energy in SharePoint over the past year and there are some events and developments that will be driving the technology next year.”

The author then goes on to discuss Delve and social projects, including apps. But experts caution that privacy will experience a resurgence in coming months, and the pendulum will swing back the other way, with enterprises concerned about keeping a tight reign on information. To stay on top of all of the latest developments in the new year, stay tuned in to Stephen E. Arnold at He has made a career out of parsing all things search, and his SharePoint feed is extremely helpful for all levels of users.

Emily Rae Aldridge, December 16, 2014

Xoogler Provides Google Plus Analysis

December 1, 2014

I don’t use Google Plus. I think an account was created when we set up Google Mail, but I am not sure. Furthermore, I am not sufficiently motivated to find out more.

But someone cares a lot about Google Plus. You can get a fairly interesting look at some of Google Plus’s “issues” by reading “Thoughts on Google+”: I F**ked Up. So Has Google.”

Google’s efforts, meanwhile, seem disjointed and confused, despite significant improvements to their settings and security features. If Google+ was intended to serve as Google’s “social backbone”, it should be the locus of control and access over the kind of information I’ve described above. And yet… it’s not. Far from it, in fact.

One of the factoids in the write up was that 3,000 people work on Google Plus. How many work on the Google Search Appliance? Two, six, seven?

Keep in mind the author of the analysis likes Google’s Loon balloons.

Stephen E Arnold, December 1, 2014


Remember That Twitter Search System?

November 26, 2014

I read “New Twitter Search API Won’t Be Available to Third-Party Clients.” The write up says:

Twitter doesn’t have the guts to just end them outright, so they’re just gradually inflicting passive-aggressive wounds over time to quietly shove them into the sunset.

The notion that unlimited, free access to the Twitter content resource is one with which I cannot relate. There are useful items tucked into Twitter, and the company is likely to become increasingly restrictive in the access to and use of the Twitter content objects and attendant metadata.

Stephen E Arnold, November 26, 2014

Watson Does Mail and Analytics to Complement Inventing Recipes

November 19, 2014

IBM is beating the drum for Watson. “IBM Brings Watson Tinged Analytics to New Mail and Social Platform” reports about “an enterprise social collaboration platform with built in analytics.”

When I read the article, I thought of Semandex. My recollection is that this New Jersey-based company has a similar system. Perhaps the IBM collaboration function will be different from what Semandex offers.

My reaction to the flow of Watson “news” is that IBM is going to have to shift into high gear in order to generate $1 billion in revenue from scripts and open source software. With the $10 billion target looming 60 months out, I would suggest that IBM needs to make big sales to high profile clients quickly and in a serial fashion.

Right now Watson is enriching public relations and marketing types. IBM needs big, high margin sales. We have identified 36 companies providing more advanced functions than Watson. Time may be running out, particularly if an IBM competitor snaps up two or three of the outfits on our watch list.

Stephen E Arnold, November 19, 2014

Microsoft Turns SharePoint Points Users to Yammer

November 11, 2014

SharePoint is a longstanding leader in enterprise search, but it continues to morph and shift in response to the latest technology and emerging needs. As the move toward social becomes more important, Microsoft is dropping outdated features and shifting its focus toward social components. Read more in the GCN article, “Microsoft Pushes Yammer as it Trims SharePoint Features.”

The article begins:

“Microsoft quietly retired some features from SharePoint Online while it enhanced mobile apps, email integration and collaboration tools of Yammer, the company’s cloud-based enterprise social networking platform. Microsoft MVP and SharePoint expert Vlad Catrinescu posted that the company was removing the Tasks menu option, and the Sync to Outlook button will also be removed. Additionally, SharePoint Online Notes and Tags were deprecated last month.”

Stephen E. Arnold is a longtime leader in search. He keeps a close eye on SharePoint, reporting his findings on The article hints that Microsoft is leaning toward moving to Yammer all the way, meaning that additional features are likely to be retired and collapsed into the new infrastructure. To keep up with all the changes, including the latest tips and tricks, stay tuned to Arnold’s specific SharePoint feed.

Emily Rae Aldridge, November 11, 2014

Twitter Bots Abound

September 23, 2014

Quartz grabs our attention with its headline, “Twitter Admits That as Many as 23 Million of Its Active Users Are Automated.” These accounts, which automatically request updates and may or may not also auto-post, include “users” like third-party data-display apps. Reporter Zachary M. Seward writes:

“The new disclosure was an attempt to clarify an earlier statement (pdf) that 14% of MAUs access the service outside of the official website and mobile apps, by using Twitter’s API. Twitter’s update today specifies that the 14% figure ‘included certain users who accessed Twitter through owned and operated applications.’ Those are likely TweetDeck and Twitter for Mac, which are favored by power tweeters but, for technical reasons, aren’t counted in many of the company’s official statistics. The company said only 11% of MAUs accessed Twitter from applications that the company doesn’t own, like Tweetbot or Flipboard.

“To be clear, automated accounts aren’t necessarily spam accounts, which according to Twitter make up less than 5% of MAUs. Bots can be useful, even essential, accounts for many Twitter users. But once they’re set up, they don’t usually have any humans behind them, which matters greatly to advertisers who are interested in reaching potential customers.”

Seward maintains that Twitter should be concerned for its advertisers (itself included), who may feel they are pouring ad dollars down a black hole. I’m sure they can work out some equitable fee structure(s). We wonder, though, what the implications are for high-value content that attracts interested readers.

Cynthia Murrell, September 23, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Behind the Faster Place Search at Pinterest

July 23, 2014

One of the engineers over at Pinterest gets into the nitty-gritty of the site’s place search in, “Introducing a Faster Place Search” at the blog Making Pinterest. Last fall, the invitation-only image hoarding site launched Place Pins. Designed with aspiring travelers in mind, the tool allows users to link pictures to a map that indicates where they were taken. Since then, the Place Pins team has continued to tweak the software. Engineer Jon Parise writes:

“We launched Place Pins a little over six months ago, and in that time we’ve been gathering feedback from Pinners and making product updates along the way, such as adding thumbnails of the place image on maps and the ability to filter searches by Place Boards. The newest feature is a faster, smarter search for Web and iOS that makes it easier to add a Place Pin to the map. There are now more than one billion travel Pins on Pinterest, more than 300 unique countries and territories are represented in the system, and more than four million Place Boards have been created by Pinners. Here’s the story of how the Place Pins team built the latest search update.”

See the article for Parise’s breakdown of challenges and how the team addressed them. One example: Users familiar with a single search box weren’t fond of the original two-box configuration—one for subject and one for place. The seemingly simple fix, combining both terms into one box, required the algorithm to break the query into two parts and identify any geographic names that appear. For that adjustment, the engineers turned to open-source geocoder Twofishes for assistance.

The post concludes with a note that more improvements are on the way. The updated place search has been incorporated into the iOS app, with inclusion in the Android app on the way “soon.”

Cynthia Murrell, July 23, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Introverted Brin Happier Tinkering in Proverbial Garage

July 14, 2014

Well, maybe this was the problem. We learn that one of the creators of social media dud Google+, who also happens to be a Google co-founder, is actually not so social in’s, “Brin: I Am Too Weird for Google+.” The very brief write-up explains:

“Google co-founder Sergey Brin said that it was probably a silly move for him to have worked on the social networking arm Google+. Speaking at Recode’s Code Conference Brin said he’s ‘not a very social person’ and does not like people much. According to the Verge, Brin called himself ‘kind of a weirdo’ and said that he only used Google+ to post pictures of his kids to his family. He now thinks that any previous professional focus on the social network was misguided. ‘It was probably a mistake,’ he said, ‘for me to be working on anything tangentially related to social to begin with.’”

The shy exec now works in what the article calls the company’s “semi-secret skunkworks group,” Google X. The research department is working on such fun and social-free projects as glucose-measuring contact lenses, self-driving cars, and (of course) Google Glass.

Cynthia Murrell, July 14, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Social Silliness: Search, Collaboration, Fear

July 5, 2014

I am not able to recall which conference featured a speaker who said, “Social search is the future of search.” At this same event, social was the solution to cost control, competitive intelligence, and silos of information. I napped through the first day’s events, delivered a keynote on the second day, and disappeared as quickly as my fat, flat feet could carry me. That was in 2005 or 2006.

Between World Cup games, I read a classic IDG “real” news story with the fetching headline “Many Employees Won’t Mingle with Enterprise Social Software.” My immediate reaction was, “Is this reporter just figuring this out?”

The write up wends its way across four pages of page view goodness. Here are the diamond like insights that I noted. But you need to read the article yourself. You may have a different view because you are unaware of the value of tracking and processing each and every social network click, mouse movement, and dwell time, among dozens and dozens of useful user activities.

Wow, Real Value

Here’s the quote:

Implemented properly, ESN [employee social networks] can be beneficial, analysts say. “It’s great for breaking down geographical barriers and harnessing collective action,” said Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester Research analyst. “Their value can be astronomical.” The siren song of ESN is hard to resist. Spending on this type of software is expected to grow from US$4.77 billion this year to $8.14 billion in 2019, according to MarketsandMarkets.

I wonder how those social networks at the azure chip (lower tier) consulting firms are working. Well, no word on that. And the market size estimate? Just about any crazy number is okay. The notion of accurate market forecasts are essentially irrelevant in the world of a publishing company which puts its employees’ names on other people’s information.

Oh, Oh, Advisory Firms See Problems Ahead

Another quote from the article. (I wonder if I am reading an Onion parody.)

Gartner predicts that through 2015, 80 percent of social business efforts will not achieve their intended benefits due to inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology, she [another expert] said. Charlene Li, an Altimeter Group analyst, shares a similar view. “It’s not a situation where if you build it, they will come. That’s not how it works at all,” she said. “Adoption definitely continues to be a problem.”

Yep, fear does that I assume.

Training to the Rescue

Here’s a roasted chestnut:

It’s also important to provide proper training to show employees how they can switch some — or many — email and IM interactions over to the ESN software, and be more productive and efficient. It’s also key for managers and top company executives to endorse the use of the ESN software and lead by example through their own participation. Experts also say it helps when the ESN software is integrated at a technology level with the other tools employees use on a daily basis to do their jobs, whether its their email and calendaring client, their CRM and ERP suites or their office productivity applications.

Yep, let’s train workers to use the company’s social network. No problemo.

GE Is So Well Managed

When I worked at Booz, Allen & Hamilton, I had the experience of meeting Neutron Jack. Well, the management slickness was not evident that day. I recall he threw papers at my boss who was trying to get Neutron Jack to pay an invoice. Let’s say the meeting was a bit like the 4th of July. Here’s the IDG take:

All that can be done in a way that works as intended. GE, which has made use of many of these best practices when rolling out ESN software in recent years, achieved success where other companies have stumbled. GE has a primary ESN suite that’s available to all 300,000 employees globally and that’s known internally as GE Colab, and it has other ESN tools in place for specific teams and departments.

That sounds a lot like GE public relations. Why interview any GE users? Why ask if the social network activity is part of the employee review process? Why ask about the intersection of info on the network and GE security? Too much hassle I suppose. Hey, a case is needed and GE is a gold mine of just so special business cases.

Ah, Deep Integration

I found this quote fascinating:

For Alan Lepofsky, a Constellation Research analyst, the meshing of ESNs with business processes is essential. “If an ESN is not integrated with tools like file-sharing, CRM, marketing automation, support tracking or project management, then it becomes just another tool, and that is where adoption issues begin,” he said via email. Organizations need to ensure that ESNs are woven deeply in to their core business processes in areas such as sales, marketing and engineering, according to Lepofsky.

I have a headache.

Net Net

I am not sure about every US company, but the one with which I am familiar are not particularly well organized. The notion that electronic systems can create a cohesive work force does not match my experience. What makes employees do stuff is the employee’s executive compensation plan tied to specific actions. What creates organization is informed management, experienced middle managers who know their jobs and the customers, and consistency.

Most companies today are looking for silver bullets. Search vendors promise customer relationship management miracles and business intelligence magic. Senior managers are desperate, often fearful, sometimes clueless, and looking for a bigger payday. One crazy software or technical trend follows on another. As companies struggle to make sales and control costs, problems like ignition switches to shaving funds from investors are characteristics of many businesses.

Let’s not confuse cost control and the shift to contract workers with technology that delivers management miracles.

More to the point, let’s have “real” news sources present information that is not blather, glittering generalities, and MBA baloney.

Does IDG need a Neutron Jack? Pat McGovern left quite a legacy. Is fear an under rated management technique?

Stephen E Arnold, July 5, 2014

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