Archive for December, 2007

We are OFF the map

December 25, 2007

Veronica is now filling the applications for PhD programs in North America, and today it was the turn of the University of Toronto. When it came to filling in the academic background info, our attention was drawn to a rather interesting list of universities. First we noticed that there was no single Israeli institution on the list. There were Egyptian, Lebanese, Jordania, and Palestinian institutions on the list, but there was not a single Israeli one. But then I noticed that institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc., are also missing. Not that I am comparing MIT and Ben-Gurion, but it did make me think what this list was about. Was it a list of institutions that generate the main pool of applicants? Or was it a list of institutions from which people have already applied this year? Anyway, there was no explanation on the website and it left both of us wondering…


You can find the complete list here.



My Yiddishe Mama post, or “I told you so”

December 17, 2007

A couple of years ago I participated in a conference titled “Telecoms in Transition”. It was a gathering of (primarily European) telecom industry leaders who were discussing the question of the future of their industry. My talk focused on the “digital divide” and the main point was that the next big wave of users is going to come from the developing world. It seems like this idea is catching up and here is a post on “Information Policy” blog with a link to an article analyzing where the next billion of internet users will come from based on the last Internet Governance Forum.

And no, i am not claiming the authorship, but I think it is important to stress this point once again. I believe that we are at the beginning of a trend in the rhetoric (and probably action) of the telecom industry and it is nice to say “I told you so” :)

Laptop for the children, by the children

December 15, 2007

Here is an interesting interview and examples from a project called “mini laptop club” where 8 and 9 years olds were asked to draw their ultimate laptop. If anybody is listening, next generation of laptops, especially laptops for kids, will have “games” button.

No Pandora outside the US?

December 12, 2007

Just a few month ago I was really disappointed for not being able to listen to Pandora in Canada (and got some really good suggestions for alternatives). Now it seems like it happens elsewhere. I am currently in Israel and am getting the same message: “We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for most listeners located outside of the U.S. …” I wonder if it is now the case anywhere outside the US?

Correcting the mistakes of Beacon

December 7, 2007

It looks like Facebook (FB) is looking for ways of resolving the Beacon issue and this time they decided to use their users. Recently a call for participation in the survey appeared under a nice title “What do you think”?

FB survey

In fact FB doesn’t really care what you think, but it is interested in knowing more about your online shopping behavior. Here is what they got there:

  1. Have you bought anything online in the past three months?
  2. In total, how much have you spent online in the last three months?
  3. In total, how much do you intend to spend online in the next three months?
  4. Thinking about retailers you are loyal to, how important are each of the following in making you a loyal shopper to those retailers? (followed by 14 items that you can rate on a 5 point scale).
  5. Have you done any of these activities while shopping at an ONLINE store in the past three months? (that’s and interesting one, because i think it is clearly aimed at looking for ways of utilizing social network website for advertising). Here are the categories for answer:
    • Sat at the computer with friend(s)
    • Talked to a friend via cell phone
    • Sent a text message to a friend via cell phone/device
    • Received a text message via cell phone/device
    • IMed a friend
    • Emailed a message to a friend
    • Emailed a link to the store to a friend
    • Took a photo and emailed it to a friend
    • Emailed a product photo to a friend
    • Emailed a cool/funny app to a friend
    • Used a general search engine
    • Shared a link with a friend on Facebook
    • None of these
    • I did not shop in an online store in the past three months
  6. In the past three months, approximately how many of your purchases for each type of product were made ONLINE? (followed by 18 items that you can rate on a 5 point scale).
  7. In the NEXT three months, approximately how much money will you spend on each of the following types of products? (followed by 18 items + an open field; for each one you can choose a range of sums you are willing to spend).

Now, it is pretty clear that they are trying to think about new ways of implementing and marketing Beacon. I find it actually a clever and innovative way to start thinking about online marketing (not the use of survey, but the ideas behind this specific one). But there is still somewhat weird about it, especially if you take into account that they are now trying to repair the damaged relations with the users. If you (FB) are asking me to share my opinions in clear attempt to improve your business model (= make more money on me), don’t i deserve some compensation? The least you could do is showing me the results. Otherwise, why would I fill it out?

I view it as yet another expression of arrogance and greediness. On the one hand, FB hold their users as careless enough not to think why they are presented with this survey and just answer it because it is as cool to answer surveys as it is to send a virtual beer. On the other hand, the intention here is to actually feel the $15 billion evaluation with content, but why put money into it if we can just (ab)use our users? (at this point it becomes a cyclical argument :)

Or is there something else? Something that i am missing? Or a cultural gap that i am not managing to bridge?

Something is wrong with the Israeli education system

December 6, 2007

In light of the ongoing strike of the education system in IL, i took a few minutes to browse the recent UNESCO report comparing the school education systems across the globe (the full report in PDF is here).

I have start with a warning that i did not read the 200+ pages. I did glance at the graphs and the numbers, as well as occasional mentions of Israel in the text. That brief glance left me a little bit puzzled. If my understanding of the report is correct, the Israeli numbers are not that bad. They are not that bad both in terms of performance, but more so in terms of investment in education. But something is fundamentally not working.

On the one hand, Israel is far from being at the bottom in terms of the investment in education proportionally to its GDP (22.3% for primary education and 22.7% for secondary in 2005, with 71.7% going to the salaries). This is contrary to the argument of the striking teachers claiming further public investment in the education system. On the other hand, Israel seems to have one of the highest proportions of private investment in education (2.1 of GDP in 2005). This suggests that there is room for further government involvement.

The main question is why with all this investment things seem not to work well? Although the report does not assess the quality of students’ knowledge, the numbers it sites are of people who actually finish school, and that nears 100% in Israel (which is also much higher than what i’ve heard so far). But something is still not working… something is wrong in the system? Or is it me misreading the report?

A couple of interesting facts before i stop. First, when it comes to “Top five destinations (host countries) for outbound mobile students” the numbers are: U.S.A. (3,471), Jordan (1,695), Germany (1,225), United Kingdom (1,122), Italy (1,002). Just to remind you, these number refer to school students. However i am still wondering who are the students studying in Jordan (second largest group) and i was really surprised to see Italy in the top four. Another peculiar issue is that the geographical group for Israel was North America and Western Europe. I understand that it is probably according to the level of development, but still… :)

Fun bubble 2.0 + some thoughts on FB

December 5, 2007

Thanks to Eszter for posting this:

On a different note, i keep on following the buzz about Facebook (FB) criticism due to deployment of Beacon platform.  For those who did not have a chance to follow, recently FB launched a platform that allows them to follow you to third-party websites (anybody said spyware?) and if you make a purchase there, news about it would go to your FB news feed (for your friends to see, follow your opinion leadership, and of course go and buy something from that company).  Of course they do not follow you to any website, but only to those who have an advertising agreement with FB, but nevertheless, this move raised a lot of antagonism and questions of privacy.  It also unleashed a wave of critique of FB and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg.

One of the things i noticed recently is people being surprised by FB non-responsiveness to the PR crisis it is going through.  The assumption is that to manage this wave of negativity, FB has to make substantive changes to the Beacon platform followed by a massive PR campaign.  Although i have my own critique of FB and more so questions about the nature of their business and its long-term sustainability, this later wave, particularly expectations for response, made me thinking.

I wonder if Zuckerberg’s strategy of ignoring the critique is actually the correct one.  I remember about over a year ago, FB introduced the news feed.  Back then it raised a lot of criticism from the privacy advocates and there was, not as strong, but still noticeable, negative buzz about FB.  I don’t remember the company investing as much in PR back then.  What it did was adding a couple of tweaks to make its users feel as if they were in charge of their privacy and in a matter of a couple of months the wave of negativity died and, as we can see today, people are happily using the feed.  In fact, can we imagine FB without the news feed these days?

Now, following the current criticism, FB also added some minor tweaks to the Beacon platform, and is now waiting for the wave of criticism to path.  The main threat to FB when its users would start massively leaving it.  Getting the users angry by exposing their Christmass surprises is indeed a step in that direction.  But in my (unsupported by any kind of evidence) opinion this is not enough.  Simply because most of FB users do not care or do not realize what is going on.  Talking to my friends, for example, i gain further support to an intuition that people don’t really view it as a big deal.  They continue logging into their FB account, poke each other, bite, send virtual gifts and drinks, etc.  and at the end of the day this is all FB needs.

So, from FB point of view,the business is as usual and all they need to do is wait until the critique in mass media and the blogosphere dies out.  After all how long can this be news/blog-worthy?  People will get bored and it will happen sooner than we can think.  Once the wave of negative publicity is no longer there, the advertisers will come back, and the next thing we know Beacon will be a recognized standard in the industry.  Doesn’t it sound as a logic scenario?

I still have a sense that the basic idea behind FB is bubblish (linking back to the video :), but maybe at the end of the day, FB is actually more strategic about how it is handling the current crisis than what it appears in the press and the blogosphere?

Laughing for peace

December 4, 2007

Another positive piece of news i find on the Mideast Youth website – an Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour. They are a rather eclectic group of people – an orthodox Jew, a black Jewish convert, a Palestinian-American, and an American-Israeli. Interestingly, non of them is actually “native” in a sense of being born and spending their lives in a single place with one dominant identity. But they are united in their ability to laugh at themselves and to laugh at the situation. On an optimistic note, who knows… maybe if people can laugh together, they can also talk.

Joining me, CNN…


and a selection of sketches from their DVD:

Here is more about how the show is received in their own words.