Friday, 28 November 2008

Notes on the internet, privacy, and political correctness - part I: social collaboration platforms and Human Resources departments

I have had several discussions and coffee break talks recently about the internet, the personal information people put there, privacy, political correctness etc. In essence they are all about how open and freely we should report from ourselves, e.g. in blogs like this one.

That's an interesting question, for sure. The internet, in particular web 2.0, is changing our lives and the way we communicate and present ourselves. What is good, what is bad? What are the ethics for our virtual lives.

In the coming weeks I will make a couple of posts on this topics. Loosely connected notes with reflections on the internet and the social consequences. Below you find part one. What I can already tell now: My basic thesis goes along the following:
(1) In the internet you find exactly the same patterns of behaviour as in real life, i.e. you have extroverts and introverts, excentrics and conservatives, etc. This is, however, not to say that an excentric in virtual life will necessarily be an exentric in real life, as well; and
(2) The internet and the personal information available in the web create a level of knowledge about individuals similar - but not identical in character - to the information your close neighbourhood has got. People who live virtual lives live in a global village.

Part I: Social collaboration platforms and Human Resources departments

A coffee break discussion the other day. I think it was me who mentioned Facebook. None of my colleagues had a profile in facebook. Some of them were registered in Xing. None of them used LinkedIn. In general, there was high scepticism about social collaboration platforms and about uploading information about oneself to the web.

My point was that it has, for sure, to be a personal and deliberate decision what you publish about yourself and in which way, e.g. have pictures you post visible to the world or to registered members of a platform only or to registered friends of you only. But I believe that this no less true and valid in real life, either.

Now one guy raised the topic that so many young people, to his mind, don't differentiate what they put on the web. But that this uncontrolled sharing of information could have very negative consequences. E.g. when someone applies for a job. Every Human Resources (HR) person can find all information on the web in seconds. And if there are pictures of the applicant lying drunk on a carpet or half naked or whatever this would certainly have negative effects. The conclusion was: too many poeple are not careful enough and don't see how much they can hurt themselves when putting stuff up on the web.

Now, you may already imagine, I did not agree. Not entirely, at least. I don't deny that there might be people - be it in Human Resources departments or wherever - who search the internet for information that compromises a person, in the HR case an applicant. If the HR person is sceptical about a candidate or if a strong selection process needs to be followed this is certainly used as a tool to get rid of some of the applicants - in the same way as the proper handwriting or such things were used in the olden days.

However, I am pretty optimistic that, first, the younger people in HR departments will be as familiar with all kinds of social collaboration platforms as the applicants and will have quite a different attitude towards them and towards using them than the older generation might have.

And secondly, the really good people looking for a job will simply not accept a job offer from a company whose HR department searches around in the web to find something that might shed a less good light on the respective candidate. The really good people will just say 'Sorry, if you use such methods I must be wrong in this company'.

So I am pretty optimistic that this issue will be a non-issue in the medium term. People will live their virtual lives and post information about themselves in some way, some more careful and reserved, others with the full vivacity of their temper. And noone who is clever enough of moving round in the virtual hemispheres will use the information he finds their against others - at least not more than to the extend that people do in real lives and real-life situations, as well.

Friday, 21 November 2008

EU Commission workshop on IPR and ICT standardisation

Last Wednesday the long-announced workshop on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and ICT standardisation, organised by the EU Commission, took place in Brussels. It was a long day with speeches and panels from 9 am in the morning till the 6 pm. And it was a very interesting and inspiring day.

The agenda was extremely well drafted and one session really built on the preceeding one. And the speakers almost covered the full range of opinions. In my mind, the open source community with just one speaker came a bit short; similarly one or more service providers were missing from the panels. The full list of participants as well as all presentations are available on the respective website of DG Enterprise.

In my view the workshop was a success. It showed very clearly that there are several issues on IPR around that impact progress in standardisation. And it showed that there are several good ideas available for how to proceed, how to improve the current systems. Among them are the concept of Soft IP presented by a colleague from IBM and the ideas for how to improve the situation around the traditional FRAND licensing presented by a colleague from Nokia. [FRAND stands for Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory.]

Moreover, remarkable in my mind were in particular the opening address by Director General Heinz Zourek (DG Enterprise) who, among other things, stressed the benefits of Ex ante policies and expressed that to him Ex ante is the future. Secondly, Director Cecilio Madero (DG Competition) was extremely good reconfirming the Commission's position on openness and open standards as well as on the need to be able to follow Ex ante practices. Director Madero thus reconfirmed the positions Commissioner Kroes had given in summer at a meeting organised by the Open Forum Europe (OFE).

What is important now are the next steps - what comes next after this excellent workshop. There was broad agreement that the workshop is only the beginning of a longer process cosisting of further discussions and other follow on work. I agree with that and - as I expressed at the conference - encourage the Commission to go ahead and pursue a specific study on the topic of IPRs in ICT standardisation. There are so many ideas around of how to improve the system, how to make prgress. All of these ideas deserve to be taken up. A study specifically dedicated on the needs and costs of standardisation should neutrally analise the situation and propose some recommendations for actions. This view was also largely shared by the last panel.

The Commission also invited everyone to submit comments on the revision of the commission's policy re IPR. Position papers can still be submitted till end of this month. Please see link below for more details:,

Sunday, 9 November 2008

St. Martin's day

Nov 11 is St. Martin's day. It is dedicated to St. Martin of Tours. The legend goes that he was riding on his horse in winter time when he came past a poor beggar sitting in the snow and freezing. St. Martin did not hesitate but shared his coat with the poor man cutting it in twain with his sword. Some time later Jesus did appear to St. Martin several times wearing exactly this piece of coat.

In Germany, tradition has it that children create some lanterns and on - or around - St. Martin's day take a walk on early evening with their lanterns lighted. Usually someone on a horse clad in the traditional clothes of St. Martin leads the group and everyone sings the traditional songs about St. Martin. And most of the times the destination is a large square with a large open fire.

In the part of Heidelberg where I live this procession was today. Of course we joined - as we have done since our daughter was two and could do a reasonable walk. Now, with 9, she starts feeling bored - but still enjoys the sweetbread every child gets at the end of the procession. Our son, though, is still very enthusiastic about the walk, his lantern, the songs, the bonfire - and the sweetbread.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Paper on the "Momentum of Open Standards" published in ePractice

I have had the pleasure of co-authoring a paper for the journal ePractice on the momentum of open standards which has now been published. It is available online at My fellow-author is Trond-Arne Undheim who used to be in the European Commission and now works for Oracle.

The paper gives an outline why open standards are important, what their benefits are for the businesses and governments as well as for innovation and for society in total. But before I produce a remake of the article here ... just click and download and read.

Relevant link of today

OpenForum Europe Response to Open Parliament Petition Hearing held on 6/11/2008

Heading home from Standards Edge with many good new ideas

I am currently on my way back home from Brussels where I was a speaker at the Standards Edge conference organised by the Bolin Group. It was an extremely good conference. A great programme, excellent speakers and a very high profile audience of about 60 to 70 people.

The topic was "The power of procurement" and much focussed on standards-based procurement of the public sector. Sort of the recurring theme was Open Standards and interoperability are essential for the public sector and that legislation should be adapted in a way to allow more effective standards-based procurement. The conference was live-blogged on where a replay is also available. All the presentations will shortly be available via the conference website.

All in all, there were some very good contributions at the conference and I am happy to take a good many ideas along. Needless to say that such occasions are also always very helpful for meeting people and jointly develop new ideas and do some wild duck thinking.

So at the moment I am on the train crossing Belgium. It is wonderful weather outside. Beautiful autumn sun as we are going past the Ardenne mountains. Some very beautiful places amids colourful trees, small mountains and green hills. Really very nice.

For sure I am looking forward to being back home tonight. If I'm lucky making all my train connections I shall be in time for picking up my son from football training - which he will like a lot. And, of course, on Sunday my son and I will once again cross our fingers for Eintracht Frankfurt who are playing against Stuttgart. That will certainly be fun.