The New Facebook, Security and You

On Friday night I appeared in a very short segment on KARE11 — the local NBC affiliate — to discuss the most recent Facebook changes – most specifically ‘The Timeline’. It’s funny because that was the second time this week Clockworkers made the news for Facebook, and the third time total (Netflix made for some interesting chatter this week too. But that’s another story). We sure are grateful to our friends at KARE11 for looking to us for some commentary about Facebook.

And it got me to thinking. The reason Facebook changes keep making the news is because Facebook has managed to work its way into the most fundamental elements of our culture: it’s become a primary way in which we connect with other people. We conduct whole parts of our life online now, and Facebook is really trying to capture that. That’s what this Timeline thing is all about really—it’s allowing us to tell our “whole” life story as we see it.

But then that gets broadcast to a pretty broad channel of consumers, while all the details of the story (data, really) are being aggregated to tell new stories about us to brands and marketers. I’ve read that this has been Mark Zuckerberg’s vision all along: as people share more and more data about themselves online, Facebook grows in value. It makes perfect sense that his strategy would also include forcing people to share more—however intentionally or unintentionally—by making our privacy options around each piece of data less obvious. Because that’s really what happened here, right? People are freaking out because instead of being able to specify, in a very general way, what (like photos and status updates, etc.) we share with whom, now it seems like we have to specify who we’re sharing with every single time we update our status or share anything.

As infuriating as it is, it’s sort of genius isn’t it? Influence how we behave and then mess with the most subtle aspects of that behavior to get more information from us. Genius. Because the assumption has to be that the majority of us are too lazy to spend any time figuring it out. And there’s such an overwhelming amount of information that even if we aren’t too lazy—we won’t know what’s real and what isn’t anyway.

How can we possibly protect ourselves?
A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Advance IT Minnesota and Saint Paul College hosted a cyber security awareness forum focusing on online safety and security. I was fortunate enough to be part of a panel along with Dr. Christophe Veltsos, Faculty member in the Department of Computer Information Science at Minnesota State University, Mankato and president of PrudentSecurity LLC, an information security and privacy consulting company and Tim Fraser, Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Stop. Think. Connect.TM campaign. (There will be video available from this forum and I’ll be sure to post it when that happens.)

You may or may not know that October is National Cyber Security Month.
President Obama called Cyber Security a critical issue and “Stop. Think. Connect.” is an important message and informational campaign presented by the Department of Homeland Security and sponsored by a large coalition of companies and brands hoping to contribute to increased awareness and education of cyber safety in America.

My contribution to the forum was really around behavior and the psychology of online behavior. We (and I’m using the collective we—a pretty broad generalization, but I’m comfortable with it) have this tendency to act victimized by what happens online. We have this weird sense of entitlement around how our information should be handled. And because of the technology layer—or, what I like to call, the layer of mysticism—we seem to want to believe it’s too complicated and the real responsibility belongs to the owners of the technology.

But our information is so widely distributed (think about how many sites on which you have profiles or where you’ve made purchases or connected with friends) and the web and online communication is so imbedded in how we function that we can no longer really think like that. We have to be less complacent and see ourselves not as victims—but as proactive citizens of digital space. The web has been mainstream for over 15 years, and still I hear people acting as if it just showed up yesterday and it is impossible to figure out. The thing is, it’s not going to slow down. We’re not going to revert back to the way things were. We can’t just throw our hands in the air and leave technology and social tools to our children, or take the word of so many “experts” to heart. Most of those “experts” are just there because they are rolling their sleeves up and diving in—not because they have any body of knowledge unavailable to the rest of us. Experts are people that play around with and think about technology and these tools. That’s all. And it’s something we all can do.

Back to Facebook
You might be asking yourself how all of this relates to the recent uproar over Facebook’s latest changes. Well, it relates plenty. See, complaining isn’t doing us any good. Facebook has proven time and time again that we are low on the list of priorities when they make changes to how the tool works. Yes it started out being a social network for the people, but our interest and willingness to share our information made the business opportunity for Facebook so much bigger than us, the users. And we’re not paying for the service. In this capitalistic society everybody knows a business needs a business model, and this one is grounded in our willingness to share information about ourselves in order for marketers to talk to us about things that are of relevance—to us.

It’s one-to-one marketing: they present us with products and services that matter to us. And they know they matter because we’ve said so, in roundabout ways. By the pictures we post, the brands we “like,” the people we associate with, the activities we enjoy, the causes we’re into. Alone these are just bits and bytes. But together they become a very rich profile—a whole story. A life story that is constantly changing.

The biggest threat to our privacy and our security is not Facebook, or viruses or hackers or any of that. The biggest threat to our privacy and security online is us. It’s how we react to all of this and everything that’s still coming at us. And the bottom line is this: if we have concerns about what we’re sharing or how our information is being used, then we owe it to ourselves to get as smart as we can about how we’re using Facebook, or any service, really. Think of it as agency instead of victimization. Then own it. I said that in the KARE11 piece and I stand by it.

On the surface the Timeline feature that Facebook is preparing to roll out is really cool. It’ll let you customize the story that you tell about yourself in ways you haven’t been able to before. A bigger, richer more expressive image can be seen on your profile page. It’s sounding like the data you share will include the things you update today and tomorrow, in addition to the pieces of your story that happened before Facebook even existed. What’s more, it’s looking like you’ll be able to share content from other networks and applications to which you subscribe. If you integrate your Hulu account and your Spotify account and your Goodreads account (there’s not a lot of information about exactly what additional apps/integrations will be available once the new Timeline launches, so I’m guessing here), then your story will include the TV shows you watch, the music you listen to and the books you read. Add your internet radio stations, your photosharing sites, your recipe exchanges and so forth and over time you’ve got an interesting story.

What will this look like?
If you do what Facebook hopes you’ll do, you’ll get your whole life working for them.

There’s Bob! He was born in 1977. He went to Catholic school. He hated his uniform. He played high school football. He went to this university. He majored in philosophy and art history. These are his friends. These are his girlfriends. Bob volunteers for this really awesome nonprofit. Bob teaches at this really amazing school. Bob married this fantastic lady. Bob reads nonfiction mostly. Bob likes ESPN and comedy central. Bob like action films. Are you with me here? Bob is more of a whole person. He reads something and maybe his friends will read it too. If Bob is into a cause and he elevates it on his Timeline, it’s likely that a few people that subscribe to Bob’s life will contribute money or volunteer themselves. Bob, this complicated, multi-dimensional guy isn’t just connecting with friends any more. Bob is now influencing people within his immediate community. But then, depending on how his privacy settings work, Bob’s sphere of influence might be bigger than even he’s aware. Beyond that though, Facebook advertisers are able to customize Bob’s ad experience so the ads speak to Bob. Furthermore, that sphere of influence that Bob may or may not be aware of interact with the info that they are privy to and that interaction turns into data points in their stories.

Get it? If they like something about Bob’s story, whether they know him or not, they are saying something about themselves. It’s a crazy, viral cycle of behavior. Or maybe it’s just physics. The law of physics on the social web—for every action there is an equal and/or opposite reaction. As cool as this is, remember: Facebook isn’t forcing you to add any information you’re not comfortable sharing.

Take back your cyberspace
What are some of the changes and what can you do?

Third-party apps
Knowledge and awareness are power. What can you do right now to ensure your Facebook experience is controlled by you? First of all, Facebook can’t force you to add information about your life prior to when you started to update your daily status in the network. That is purely voluntary. The network is also incapable of forcing you to integrate any other networks or apps—they must ask your permission. That means you do not have to approve your friends being able to see your Hulu or Spotify or Goodreads activity. You can avoid integrating third party sites and apps altogether. And you can go into your settings right now and deactivate apps that you’ve already allowed to interact with Facebook.

Be mindful of what you click on. “Read” doesn’t just mean “read” any more. You could be broadcasting information passively because you’ve given prior permission to tell the world every time you listen to or watch or read something. But again—you have to authorize these social apps before they can say anything about you. But once you do—be aware.

Everyone is futzing about the changes Facebook made to lists. Oddly, very few people ever really used them before because they were hard to find and pretty unclear. Now’s your chance. If you used them before and Facebook messed with your lists—it’s do-over time. Take advantage. If you never used lists before—welcome! Facebook wants you to use them and they’ve made them more obvious to encourage you to do it. Lists are one real way you have to control who sees what information that you share. It feels like a daunting task to start categorizing your contacts—but, honestly, it’s now or never. You might as well dive in and do it. Once you’ve segmented your friends list you can actually just share something with your family and no one else will see it. But remember—you need to specify how you share every single status update.

There’s a little fuss about the fact that you can see who “unfriends” you. I’ve got news for you: we’ve always been able to do this. Just not through Facebook. But there were a couple of third-party apps that already allowed this functionality. My advice: get over it. Honestly, if someone dumps you, that’s called life. If you dump someone, be prepared to deal with the reaction. Nine times out of ten there will be no reaction. But for that one time when someone might actually confront you, that’s called human interaction and you can choose not to talk about it. Or save them from themselves and tell them they are posting too many pics of their awesome hair. Or whatever.

Sharing Your Friends’ Comments/Likes
People seem bothered by the idea that when they Like something on a friend’s wall or worse, if they make a comment on a friend’s post, that will get shared with or seen by people they do not know.  This is true.  This can happen.  But I’m going back to my point about being proactive and encouraging Facebook users to find out how their friends share information.  I have my privacy settings set to only share my friends’ comments and Likes with my friends.  Not with everyone.  If that’s not good enough for you – then do not comment on other people’s posts.  Of course, that’s half the fun of Facebook.  And honestly, most comments are so benign, as yourself if it really matters  if they are shared.  If it does – then talk to the people who’s walls you interact with the most and ask them to get specific about who gets to see that kind of information.

Tracking your every move
There’ve been some articles about how Facebook will be able to track you when you are not on their website. Welcome to the internet. There are a couple of things to be aware of here, the first—and most obvious—is think before you sign into other websites with your Facebook login. When you do that, not only are they tracking your behavior outside of their website, but they are probably broadcasting back to all of your friends. There’s also concern that Facebook can track your activity on other sites when you are not even logged in to Facebook. Again, a lot of websites can, and probably are doing that. There is data that is collected in your browser that can track how you behave in lots of ways. But it’s not totally personal, it doesn’t necessarily identify you the individual. But let’s say Facebook can. Maybe you want to consider using another browser for your social media activity. Instead of being married to Internet Explorer, try downloading Google Chrome or Firefox or Safari and use this secondary browser for things like browsing the web, shopping and reading interesting articles. One browser cannot communicate your activity to another and that keeps your Facebook experience totally isolated and somewhat more secure.

And on and on
There is a lot more going on. And perhaps we’ll talk about more of the privacy options and concerns in the days and weeks to come. There are ways to manage your privacy. But it requires more engagement, not less. Deactivating your Facebook profile may not be the right answer. Here’s why: a couple of years back Mark Zuckerberg talked about his vision for this network of his and described Facebook as a global “utility.” What he wanted was for this social space to be as necessary as your telephone or the electricity that powers your business. With 750 Million users connecting to each other and brands and business and other cultures via Facebook, he is definitely making that vision a reality. I don’t know, and I don’t care, if Facebook will be around in 5 years. But right now there’s no denying there is a certain dependence on the network. We (again the collective ‘we’) might actually *need* it to feel connected.

Where Zuckerberg might be failing is in not recognizing the power of a network that really is for the people. But hey, maybe that’s a future roll out. And by “future” I mean next week.

Let’s celebrate National Cyber Security Month by thinking and learning about Facebook and online security, not complaining. Celebrate by taking action and being empowered, not detaching. You’ll benefit from it, we will all benefit from it. Then we go back to happily sharing photos and posts!

Podcast #38: The Private Island That Exists Only In Our Minds

After one final summer trip to the lovely Geek Girls private island, this week’s podcast focuses on ways to customize your online world for privacy or for fun. 


Pregnant but haven’t told the fam yet?: Turn your Facebook wall off so your dad doesn’t find out about his first grandchild via the son-in-law that he doesn’t really like posting a picture of Harley Davidson baby clothes.

On a friend’s computer and stumble upon a long article about some body abnormality that you’d rather not discuss?: Set up a Google+ circle with no friends, co-workers or relatives so you can share things with yourself for later. (Depending on what you search for, you might want to delete the browser’s history after you’ve successfully posted it to your page.) 

There are plenty of small ways to think outside the box when it comes to social media sites. Any other quick and easy suggestions for customizing your social media spaces?

We also prove, yet again, that despite our geeky status we have no idea what we’re doing when it comes to audio. NANCY IS VERY LOUD IN THIS POST DESPITE OUR ATTEMPTS TO FIX IT IN POST-PRODUCTION. You’ve been warned.

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Podcast #37: A Digital Walk Down Memory Lane

Have you heard?! Facebook is taking all of your contact numbers from your phone, posting them all over the internet and selling them to terrorist organizations around the world! Okay, so that’s not entirely true, but with all of the posts on Facebook the past few weeks, you’d think Gaddafi was about to call everyone in your phone to see if he could crash with them for a few days until things settle down at home while Mark Zuckerberg laughs maniacally in his giant bed that’s stuffed with $100 bills. (Psst, it’s not that big of a deal.) In this week’s podcast, we give you the lowdown on the newest wave of Facebook panic and try to calm your nerves a bit.

We also discuss a few ways to back up your Facebook profile and Memolane, a site that aggregates your social activity into a timeline.

Also, we sing.

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Links & Related Info

We referenced a lot of stuff this time around! We’ve tried to put links and videos in the order that we mentioned them.

  • The reason for this clip will make way more sense after you listen to the podcast. But, it’s a classic.

  • Geek Girls Guide Books!: We’ve got ’em! Soon, you can buy ’em. Totally up to you if you bother reading ’em.
  • She’s Geeky MSP:Sign up for a super awesome unconference for geeky women in Minnesota.
  • The Social Network. It’s a movie. In case you hadn’t heard. Also, it’s FICTION.
  • Mark Zuckerberg at Web2.0 2010. Long, but a really great (and interesting) interview. Also, it’s NON-FICTION:

Podcast #36: Big News and Google+ Redux

It’s the music episode and the request line is open, so give us a call and dedicate a song to that special someone in your life.

Now that everyone (including commoners like Nancy) has access to G+, we look at it again to see what benefits it could have (who wants to meet us at a G+ Hangout?! Anyone? …Hello?).

We also have an announcement that we, uh, already announced, so it probably won’t come as much of a surprise, but we’re excited anyway so we’re going to announce it again. You have to listen to find out though, because we’re not going to type it here. Pretty sneaky, huh? 

As usual, we meander through a bunch of other topics including the iPhone photo app Instagram, Foursquare, and the fact that were are not, in fact, life partners. To each other.

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Big News!

So, uh, we’re writing a book.

Of course, Jon and Whitney made a video to mark the occasion:

Wait, what? How the…?

You might be asking yourself how the hell this happened. We certainly are.

After our MinneWebCon keynote in April, we were approached by Michael Nolan, an editor with Peachpit/New Riders. We talk a bit more about that whole experience in our latest podcast (#36), but let’s say this: it’s CRAZY EXCITING and it’s been hard to keep our mouths shut about this over the past few months. Peachpit/New Riders are known for publishing some of the best books by the most respected voices in our industry. Books like Don’t Make Me Think, Designing for Web Standards, Elements of User Experience, and Content Strategy for the Web.

We are unbelievably excited to have the opportunity to count ourselves among them. (And the day that we see our names as authors on Amazon will be a mighty proud moment!)

We also need to give a shout-out to Kris Layon (author of New Riders’ The Web Designer’s Guide to iOS Apps and former MinneWebCon director) who not only offered encouragement and advice, but also orchestrated our meeting with Mr. Nolan in the first place. Thanks, Kris. You’re a fine gent, and we wouldn’t be here without you.

So, what’s this book about?

We’re creating an engaging, straightforward guide to Interactive Project Management and the value it can bring to companies and project teams. It outlines both a process — and a way of thinking. The title is Interactive Project Management: A People-Driven Process.

Why project managment?

As an industry, we have a hard time explaining what we do to non-technologists, but this is a critical requirement in nearly every interactive project. A great project manager creates and fosters a connection between an often non-technical client and the project team.

Interactive projects (like websites, mobile sites, and apps) are different from both traditional media and software projects; we can’t simply adopt print or advertising processes and apply them to the web. Nothing in the industry has been standardized; terminology, processes and team structures are different between agencies, and the technology is changing all the time. And while project management is a critical factor in the success of web projects, no one is talking about how to do it well — so agencies, clients and aspiring project managers are making it up as they go.

Other project management books focus on how to create schedules, manage resources, perform risk assessment, make Gantt charts, write briefs, and test code. They tell you what to do, but are essentially just a collection of tactics. And guess what? Creating a timeline doesn’t mean anything’s actually going to get done.

Who’s it for?

Because the book focuses on how to think strategically, alongside tactical tips, it will help all stakeholders think about their approach to projects, peers and clients. So everyone from executives to students will benefit from really understanding how an interactive project should look from start to finish.

Clients are also a target audience. Knowing how their project may work, and what’s coming next, promotes clarity and collaboration from the beginning.

When can I buy one?

Okay, fine. We know you’re not asking yourself that question quite yet. But, it will be out in April 2012, and it should be available for pre-order in the fall. (ZOMG!)

But wait, there’s more!

We plan to blog, podcast and record some videos along the way — so you can follow our progress (and keep us sane) as we write this, our first book. We’re grateful for all the support we’ve gotten from readers of our blog, listeners to our podcast and people who have seen us speak. Every email, every tweet, every conference feedback form: we listen and appreciate it all.

We’re not fooling ourselves; this book isn’t going to be the next Da Vinci Code. But, it’s about something we believe in and we’re excited to have the opportunity to share what we’ve learned in over a decade of managing and launching software, apps and web sites.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. We can’t wait to see where this goes, and we’re happy to have you with us.

Lastly, a pre-emptive apology to our families: looks like we’re going to be crazier than usual until next Spring. We love you.

Podcast #35: Crying, and Google+

Remember that one time Nancy cried at work? In front of a client? Let’s talk about that.

And, is Google+ our new social media savior or just another place for us to bide our time until the next big thing comes along?

Also, we swear in this one. Be warned. Even more frightening: we sing.

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Links & Related Info

The Double-Bind of Women in Leadership

Note: Meghan misspoke in our podcast, this isn’t a Harvard Business Review article it was a study published by Catalyst.

xkcd’s take on Google+

NY Times article: Upending Anonymity, These Days the Web Unmasks Everyone

Gettin’ Techy

We’re Human. Get Over It.

Recently I learned something really surprising about myself.  I learned that I’m entirely human.  What?  You don’t think this realization warrants a blog post?  Well, friend, stick with me.  There’s more.  

A couple of weeks ago I was having a particularly stressful few days.  It was nothing out of the ordinary, just the regular stuff that makes life such a trip.  None of us are immune to the complexities of being human. We just think we are.  We put ourselves under enormous pressure and we try to balance work and home and hobbies and causes and commitments and kids and romance and taxes and other people.  It’s plate spinning, really.  We do our best to keep as many of them in the air as possible for as long as possible.  But eventually, I don’t care who you are, a plate, or two, comes crashing down.  Let’s face it, it’s never anything really catastrophic.  Although it may feel like it in the moment.  Plates are replaceable.  Even your best china.  But in the moment, life can get a little out of control and even the best of us get emotional. Turns out, I do too. And so, a couple of weeks ago, several weird, high pressure issues converged into the same day and, after losing some sleep over them, and letting my head swim around in it for a while, I had a decidedly human moment – completely out of my control.  

The details around what lead up to this moment aren’t important.  This was two weeks ago.  The problems I had then have long since been solved. And while they felt overwhelming at the time, I’m amazed at the relief and reason a little distance brings.  But on this particular day I came into work after a mostly sleepless night and I tried to just function.  Like you do.  I tried to operate with a business-as-usual attitude and it was probably a mistake.  I had meetings most of the day.  My first one came and went without incident.  But I can’t say I didn’t feel myself getting a little weaker with each passing hour.  And when I say ‘weaker’ I don’t mean so much physically as just energetically.  I was carrying myself through the day but I wasn’t feeling it.  My second meeting was with a client.  Which one is not important.  But let’s just say I like this person very much.  We have an excellent working relationship and I consider her a new friend.  The meeting was tense, but not something I normally couldn’t get through.  There were some unanswered questions that had caused confusion and we were processing through them.  Only right in the middle of our discussion I felt it happening.  That thing. The thing that can never happen at work.  I felt my chest tighten.  My throat followed.  Suddenly I was overcome with emotion and I was desperate to suppress it.  Tears welled up in my eyes and, shocked and sort of terrified of my client seeing tears, I quickly brushed them away.  My head was spinning and I was thinking about how I might escape.  But there was no comfortable way to get out of that room.  And then the tears came.  Rolling down my cheeks as I stared at my client.  Both of us in total disbelief.  She asked me what else was going on.  I responded honestly, ‘Nothing. I don’t know what this is about.’  I really didn’t.  I am not a weeper.  This is not something I do.  Those were the words that were screaming in my head too.  ‘What the hell are you doing?  What is happening.  OMG WHY AM I CRYING?’  I can’t say there wasn’t some momentary relief in those tears.  My client knew me well enough to know that this was a wild and rare occurrence.  I apologized.  We reached the end of our discussion.  My tears long gone, I escorted her out and that was that.  

Only it wasn’t.  The shame spiral that I threw myself into after she left was no less than unreasonable self torture.  I walked into my office, shut the door, and I died of embarrassment.  The tapes playing over and over in my head punished me that much more.  ‘How could I cry in a meeting?  There is nothing worse than crying!  I am weak.  God.  Weak!  Credible, tough business people DO NOT CRY!’  It went on like that for most of the rest of the day.  I called a friend and fellow business owner and confessed to her.  I was looking for redemption.  She was shocked.  But she understood.  Still, I didn’t find the forgiveness for which I was looking.  And I spent the rest of the day swirling in and out of this terrible shame.  

The thing is, I know I’m not alone.  I know other people have cried at work.  I’ve had both men and women come into my office and get emotional.  I’ve seen men and women cry from frustration or overwhelm or mistakes or fear.  I don’t recall ever judging anyone for their tears.  I only remember trying to help them see things clearly again so they could return to their centered selves.  So why was I so hard on myself?  I think it’s because there’s this unspoken (or maybe it’s spoken, loudly and unavoidably) rule in business that to cry makes you weak.  And if you’re a woman it’s a mortal sin.  If you’re a woman it identifies you as being ill equipped to be a leader, or a thinker, or to be rational.  I had committed the unthinkable.  In my mind, those few seconds of tears were negating everything I knew about myself and everything I thought I’d proven about myself over the years.  In MY mind.  My client had probably long since forgiven me.  Maybe even forgotten.  It’s my work, and the work of my cohorts, that proves my mettle in that relationship.  So why wasn’t I letting it go?

Men cry.  We all know it.  Many of us live with them and we work with them or we ARE them and we’ve seen them cry.  Maybe for some it’s rare.  But it does happen.  Men get emotional.  I have worked in a largely male dominated industry for a long time.  I know that men get emotional at work.  It looks like a lot of things.  They shut down.  They get aggressive.  They get mopey.  And, on some occasions, they cry.  But for whatever reason men who cry (and I’m not talking weepers who cry often, I am referring to the occasional tears from a rational person who just feels things) are not necessarily frowned upon.  They get a pass.  We call them ‘sensitive’ and that is an asset in the male of the species.  Those other responses to emotion are equally as forgivable.  Mopey is thoughtful.  Shut down is pensive.  Aggressive is tough.  But when a woman cries it doesn’t even matter what the rest of the world thinks.  Because what we do to ourselves is enough punishment to last a lifetime.  It’s probably the worst thing (in our own minds) we could do.  At work.  The worst thing.  

Well.  It’s two weeks later and I’m here to tell you I lived through it.  I am no less the business person or leader or professional I was three weeks ago.  Do I want to make a habit of it?  No.  Of course not.  But I’m human.  I had a human response to a day.  And I wish I would have forgiven myself.  A lot sooner.  I wish I could have saved that afternoon and just let myself have it.  I wish I didn’t feel like I had to apologize 13 times to that client.  I wish I didn’t feel shame at the very thought of other people EVER finding out.  Because this is who we are.  We are all the same.  We all have bad days.  We all deal with overwhelm.  And, on occasion, we all cry.  

I’ve written this post in the hopes that I can spare someone else the shame I felt.  It’s pointless, wasted energy.  My work and my attitude and my knowledge and my purpose are still all very intact.  My focus is the same.  My interests are the same.  I am the same professional I was before I cried.  Only now, I’ve admitted to the world that I cried in a meeting.  And I lived to tell about it.  And maybe we should all go just a little easier on each other.  Because as work culture changes and communication  changes and our expectations change we’re going to need a little more humanity in the work place.  We’re not making widgets any more.  And we’re not hiring robots for most jobs any time soon.  We’re hiring humans.  And humans are flawed.  All of them.  I ought to know.  I am one.

This post is also featured on the Clockwork Blog because it’s not just a lady issue, it’s an issue we all should be discussing.  

Podcast #34: We’re Baaaaaack

You may have been asking yourself, “Where are Nancy and Meghan? Are they okay? Have they forgotten about us?” It’s been a busy couple of months in the Geek Girls’ world, but we finally had a chance to hop back into the podcast studio and fill you in on what’s been going on in our lives. We’ve been traveling from coast to coast, attending conferences and spotting celebs (well, one celeb and a few Law & Order extras).

Oh, by the way, who could take a home computer set-up and make it sound dirty? Nancy, that’s who.

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Links & Related Info

Girls in Tech MSP Happy Hour

June 29th, Moscow on the Hill

More details & RSVP here.

She’s Geeky MSP
September 23-24, Science Museum of Minnesota

More details coming soon here.

More information about Rebecca McDonald’s speech.

Minnewebcon Keynote

Digitwirl: Mint.com— Show Me The Money!

We first wrote about Mint in 2008; at that time, I was inspired by another blog’s post about Quicken online. Fast foward nearly three years, and Quicken has acquired Mint. Funny how that works.

Since then, the service has gotten better in some ways and worse in others. On the “better” side: it connects with more financial institutions, and does so more reliably, and trend reports have gotten better. On the “worse” side, the interface is starting to show signs of the Intuit acquisition: with more and more options and choices. Choices can be good, but they can also create an overwhelming experience. And part of what really sets Mint apart (or has, in the past) is how simple the interface is, and what a pleasure it is to use.

It will be interesting to see if Mint can maintain their lean, simple approach to finances or if they’ll start to be bogged down by the things that led me to flee from Quicken in the first place.

Regardless, it’s still my favorite go-to place for managing my finances. Not necessarily taking action (you can’t move money or pay bills with the site — you can only view data) but for creating budgets and watching how my earning and spending is trending over time.

Digitwirl: Mint.com – Show Me the Money!

Keeping track of your life is challenging enough, so who can remember when your next credit card payment is due or that your checking account is on life support? But there is a simple way of keeping track of all your finances in one secure place: Mint.com.

With a few simple clicks you can upload your bank account balances, bills, mortgage statements and student loans and Mint will organize them so that you always know exactly what’s going on with your finances. No more searching piles. No more late fees. And, Mint gives you an up-to-the-minute view of all your transactions, analyzes your spending habits and lets you set up a budget. It might just surprise you to see where your cash is going and how you can save money. With the Mint app (available for both iPhone and Android) a quick peek at your bottom line will help you decide whether to purchase, or pass on, that little “me gift” you’ve been eyeing.

Watch this week’s Twirl to learn how you can gather up all your finances into one safe financial manager. Oh, and let us know what you think about Carley’s hat. Yay, or Nay?

Digitwirl is the weekly web show that offers simple solutions to modern day problems.  In 3-minutes, Digitwirl brings busy women the very best time, money, and sanity-saving technology, and then teaches them how to use it, step-by-step.  Digitwirl was created by technology lifestyle expert Carley Knobloch, who uses lots of technology to manage her busy life as mom of two and entrepreneur.  Subscribe to get weekly show alerts and exclusive deals at Digitwirl.com, or follow Digitwirl on Twitter at @digitwirl

Being Smart About ‘The Cloud’

“The Cloud” is something that is coming up for me, and my cohorts, in meetings, planning sessions and hosting discussions more and more all the time.  As we talk about it more I’m noticing some really interesting ways that people respond to the idea of ‘The Cloud.’  This post isn’t about explaining what the cloud actually is because we’ve already done that twice, in a blog post and a podcast.  Instead I’d like to debunk a few of the more common assumptions I’m hearing about the cloud in order to encourage people to be thoughtful about the cloud solutions they consider.

In an effort to keep things simple I’m just going to list some of the most common misperceptions about the cloud and my response to those inaccuracies:

1)  Putting my software or web business in the cloud means I never have to think about it.  

-Not really true.  Yes, it’s true that by tapping into cloud infrastructure you don’t have to invest in hardware and software and infrastructure.  But to think that by abdicating all control to some nameless, faceless entity without making yourself or any part of your organization responsible for some awareness of where things are or how they are managed or by whom and how often is just irresponsible.  You wouldn’t leave a brick and mortar store open and unattended – why would you do it to your digital business?  

2) The cloud never goes down – it is 100% reliable in terms of up-time.  

-This is my favorite assumption.  Cloud services aren’t magic.  They run on the same kind of hardware that has always served as the backbone of the network we call the internet.  Yes it may be more robust and of a much larger scale.  But technology, by it’s very nature is fallible.  It fails.  Anyone who’s been using Gmail for the last year can recall at least one time when it was down for nearly an entire business day.  Gmail is a service in the ‘cloud’ and it is owned and maintained by one of the largest, most magical technology companies on the planet.  And yet – it went down – and in doing so it paralyzed business and panicked it’s users for a period of many hours.  It happens.  Understanding that the cloud is capable of failure going into it will save a lot of headache and disappointment when you’re confronted with that failure.

3) Big businesses trust the cloud and never have to worry — that’s enough for me.

-References are a good thing for any business.  Being able to point to companies or brands that have good experiences with any service is a great way to feel more comfortable choosing a technology provider.  But big companies suffer technology failures too.  Case in point–recently customers (and not just any old customers) using Amazon cloud services experienced some significant down time.  Some of the customers were so big that the outage made the news – both because of the business that was effected and the amount of time the services were down. 

4) Cloud services are more secure than other options.  

-This is probably pretty true – in that it is in the cloud provider’s best interest to significantly invest in securing their networks because protecting their client’s data is probably their single most critical responsibility.  However, criminals think like criminals – and they are constantly exploring ways to exploit weaknesses in technology — which, as I’ve already mentioned, is not infallible.  To assume that any service provider is 100% secure is not the way to consider their offering.  Instead, care about the process they have in place for continued and rigorous evaluation of their security  – do they have 3rd party scanning and audits of their systems to ensure they are always working to prevent exploits?  And find out what the process is in response to a security vulnerability.  If they get hacked – what happens?  What procedures are in place to notify their administrators, and you, and then what happens to re-secure your date and prevent this sort of issue going forward?

5)  Only giant global brands can offer cloud services or software in any sort of meaningful way.  

-This is completely false.  Cloud services can be offered by companies with names that are NOT Amazon or Microsoft and they can be just as reliable and secure.  And, if service and accessibility are important to you – you might actually want to consider a smaller provider.  Because we all know how hard it is to get through to giant, national service providers.  As with any business service – thinking critically and strategically about your needs and expectations and mapping out a plan are the best ways to approach your business requirements.  Think about what is important to you and make a list of those priorities – is it service with a smile?  Is it a 24/7 help line?  Is it price?  Is it security and monitoring?  Create a matrix of products and service guarantees and compare them by price and service level.  In the end you’ll understand more about what it means to use cloud hosting and/or computing services – and you’ll have a better grasp of what it means for your business.   

The important lesson in all of this is – just because the service is attached to a globally recognized brand like, say Verizon, for instance, doesn’t mean that you are without any responsibility and it certainly doesn’t mean the technology itself is flawless.  There is no such thing as fail-proof technology.  What you’re thinking of is magic.