Get Inspired – LuVogt’s Selections from TED 2011

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Last year I created a list of interesting videos from the TED conference. It was such a hit that HuffPo decided to copy me this year! And while they point out many great talks, of course, I have my own take.  So as a way to avoid most of the items on my end-of-the-year to-do list, and of course gain some inspiration for the coming year, I’ve once again spent a few hours over the holidays combing through the TED videos that were posted this year, and picked out a few that I found particularly noteworthy. (You’ll note that only a few overlap with the HuffPo list.)

These first two were so inspiring that I’ve decided to act on both – my first personal 30 day challenge is to smile more (yes, I’ve established specific numerical goals on a per-day basis).  So if you see me smiling a lot this month, don’t be weirded out, just smile back 🙂

Before I jump into the techie stuff, here are a few nice talks from the world of art and design:

Here are a couple that fall into the “self-help” category:

  • On being wrong – Kathryn Schulz – A great reminder to move out of our ever-present bubble of right-eous-ness
  • Doodlers, unite! – Sunni Brown – Exercise that right brain!

Now on to grander things – some “change the world” ideas, literally!

And last, but by no means least, some advances in technology that should leave you gaping:

I could spend a lot of time “getting inspired”, but the new year has begun, and it’s time to act!  One of my resolutions is to publish more to this blog, so you should hear from me again soon.

For a complete list of 2011 TED videos, visit here.

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Keeping your Finger on the Pulse of your Social Feeds

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There’s a really cool Yahoo product out there that I find immensely useful for the average internet user, and I don’t think gets enough love – Yahoo Pulse. *

If I were to describe Pulse to you, you’d probably say, “That sounds a lot like my Facebook News feed.” And you’d be right. In fact, Pulse incorporates your Facebook feed, and your Twitter feed, AND a feed of activity from your friends on Yahoo. All rolled up into one “uber-feed.” Here’s how it works, and why you should use it:

  • Go to http://pulse.yahoo.com and sign in with your Yahoo id (or, you can sign in with your Google id or Facebook id – isn’t that cool?).
  • You should see a couple of links and a message to link your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Do that.
  • Now, when you go to pulse.yahoo.com, you should now see a combined stream of your Facebook and Twitter streams.
  • You should also connect with your friends on Yahoo. You’ll then start getting updates in your Pulse stream about what they are doing on Yahoo sites (like, Buzzing up articles, bookmarking things on Delicious, posting pictures to Flickr, answering questions on Answers, etc. etc.). Just go to the Contacts tab on Pulse, and start inviting folks by importing from your other contact lists.
  • Finally, as always, you should adjust your settings to make sure you’re only sharing the things you want with the people you want. Go to the Settings page and click through all of the links there and set things up in a way you feel comfortable – and do this again later after you’ve used the product a little while and have a better understanding of what’s going on.

Here are the really great things about using Pulse:

  • No annoying ads! That’s right, by bypassing the Facebook site itself, you also bypass the ads (at least, for now!). You also bypass the overly aggressive tracking that Facebook does.
  • All of your social updates in one place. No more visiting multiple sites to see what your friend are up to – it’s all right there. Personally, I have friends who refuse to use Facebook, and only use Twitter. This way, I get to see their updates right in line with all of the Facebook updates.
  • Likewise, you’ll now have one place from which to post your updates – and it will get cross-posted to Facebook and Twitter.
  • You can also Comment, Like, Reply, Retweet right from the Pulse interface.
  • The updates aren’t just on this one page – you’ll see them a lot of places around Yahoo. Are you a Yahoo Mail user? You’ll get the updates there. Are you a Yahoo Messenger user? Yup, there’s a tab in Messenger AND whenever there’s a new post in any of your networks, there’s a pop-up window (make sure you’re using Messenger 10). A My Yahoo user? Yup, you can add the Yahoo Updates module to your My page and get your fix that way too. None of those describe you? I bet you’re on some site of Yahoo at least once a week reading an article, in which case, you’ll see the site-specific updates from your friends in modules along the side. And, of course, you can always just go directly to http://pulse.yahoo.com to check and post your updates.
  • Lots of other nifty things (like apps, and a built-in blog, etc.)

Here’s a screenshot of what a Pulse feed looks like on My Yahoo:

I’ve been using Pulse as my primary social feed reader for nearly a year now. There are still some occasional hiccups with it, but overall, it works like a charm, and I get to leave myself logged out of Facebook (which, as you can see from my other blog posts, is important to me).

Give it a whirl – and don’t forget to invite me to connect!

-Chris

* Disclaimer: As a long time employee, I make a conscious effort to not be too much of a shill for Yahoo – nothing’s worse than having a friend who’s always shouting about the same thing over and over, especially when it’s got something to do with their job. In fact, aside from the occasional tweet, I don’t think I’ve every actively promoted a Yahoo product, and certainly not in this blog.

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A Few Selections from TED.com

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I spent the afternoon yesterday browsing TED.com – I hope to make it an annual ritual. Such a high density of good stuff, thanks Chris (Anderson)! If you’ve never spent some time on the site, I highly recommend it. Instead of indulging your regular TV habit, spend the evening with some of the world’s great minds – it’s inspirational and entertaining!

Here were some of the ones that caught my eye – your mileage may vary:

  • Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food http://luvogt.com/x.pl?k=373DF71 Jamie’s so passionate that he’s a bit all over the place, but his message is spot-on.
  • Peter Molyneux demos Milo, the virtual boy http://luvogt.com/x.pl?k=2574DF0 One demo of how the Kinect can be used. I just tried it out for the first time yesterday at a store, and gotta say, this changes everything.
  • Arthur Benjamin’s formula for changing math education http://luvogt.com/x.pl?k=30A01B3 A famous math prof from my alma mater (Harvey Mudd) says it best to forget calculus, we should be aiming towards stats and probability as the “apex” of the math curriculum. I’ve been saying this for years, so of course I agree.
  • Mark Roth: Suspended animation is within our grasp http://luvogt.com/x.pl?k=573007F Mark takes his time getting to the point, but the idea is pretty big, and I love how it demonstrates an “aha” moment.

And these are for the data geeks in the crowd:

Happy New Year!

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The Search Tools They are A-Changing

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This evening, Yahoo is announcing some cool enhancements to their Search functionality. You should check them out, and I’m not just saying that because I work for Yahoo Search, but because after several years of posturing by the big search engines, the paradigms for search on the web are finally actually shifting.

The big three engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing) have finally started to diverge, much like the auto industry did in its early years. At first there was a plethora of small companies, mostly making custom vehicles, with varying levels of quality. Similarly, in the early days of the web, there arose a plethora of search engines (Lycos, HotBot, Alta Vista, Infoseek, etc. ad infinitum). Eventually, when Ford showed the superiority of the assembly line, consolidation began, and there became a correct and accepted definition of what a car was. And likewise, Google led the way in ushering in high levels of relevance, comprehensiveness, and speed – with Yahoo (and later Bing) following in tow, and at times even surpassing the leader. But those features are just table stakes now. It’s the natural progression in a product development life cycle in a competitive market: first match your competition, then differentiate.

I’ve purposely used the term “Search Tools” in the title of this article instead of “Search Engines” because now that we’ve finally got the underlying engines (or, platforms, to use the technical term) in place for search, the fun is just now starting! Google, Yahoo, and Bing are all starting to really innovate and offer different ways of searching. Just like cars, each has its own personality. (And, just like cars, sometimes they share some of the core elements, like Yahoo and Bing are doing for their “algorithmic web” and advertising content.)

To continue the auto metaphor, if you had an SUV, an all-electric sedan, and a sports car sitting in your driveway, which would you use? The answer is: it depends. Going on a ski trip? Heading out to pick up the kids? Need to get out and blow off some steam? It depends. The same will soon be true of your search tool – and since we all have all of these tools at our disposal, why not use them all?

Google recently launched “Google Instant”, which shows you search results as you type. It is really slick and really fast. Yahoo doesn’t have it, and neither does Bing. It is a fundamentally different way of interacting with a search tool. Some people love it, some hate it. And you can choose whether you want to use it. Personally, I find it too distracting – I don’t always want to live my life like I’m hopped up on caffeine. But I am not you, and you may find it a godsend. Give it a whirl and see.

Likewise, Yahoo just launched some pretty cool features around entertainment searches (like searching for movies, actors, musicians, TV shows, famous people, etc.) as well as searches about newsworthy topics. We’re able to recognize these real-world entities and give you all of the most relevant information and the ability to get things done right there at the top of the search results page. As an example, try searching for “The Social Network” on Yahoo. Not only do you immediately see ratings, showtimes in your area, and a link to a trailer, but you can also buy tickets and if you are a Netflix user, you can immediately add it to your queue (and if available, you can Instant Watch it – I especially like this last feature – so cool!) And, as you flip through the “accordion” tabs of Stories and Twitter, you get see see the most recent and relevant content – at your own pace. We’ve collected all of the “good stuff” in one place for you to browse at your leisure. If you do another search like “Lady Gaga“, the accordion changes accordingly to include News, Events (Shows), Albums, Videos, and Twitter. And get this: if you search for “Lady Gaga albums“, we’re smart enough to take you directly to the right tab. Collecting all the good, trusted stuff in one place – isn’t that what Yahoo was always known for?

Just like you wouldn’t drive your sports car on a camping trip, you can’t expect to always get the best results from your trusty old search engine anymore. So I invite you to explore. If you’re a Google user, try Yahoo for a week. If you’re a die-hard Yahoo fan, give Bing or Google a try. And keep exploring, because this is just the beginning of some exciting stuff in search.

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I Quit Facebook, I’m Rejoining Facebook

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Last month I quit Facebook. Really, the full deal – complete account deletion – wiped clean. And I made a big deal about it, in multiple venues, including individual messages to all my friends and family. It was the right thing to do, and for the past month, my mental life has been a bit quieter.

But, when the factors leading to a decision change, one must re-evaluate the decision. That’s why some of my friends have started to see posts by me, and others have received invitations to connect, on Facebook. No, this is not the work of some “fake Chris LuVogt”, it’s really me.

Why the flip-flop? In short, three reasons:
1) Facebook changed their policies,
2) Yahoo Pulse launched, and
3) I am in the internet services business.

Facebook Policy Changes
Last month, FB made a major revamp of both privacy controls and privacy defaults. This was in large part due to pressure from industry leaders, Congress, and the press. My quitting was one drop in that tsunami. To be honest I didn’t think they had it in them, but I have to give them credit for doing the right thing. Sort of. To be honest, they pulled a typical “two steps backwards, one-and-a-half steps forward” move. By itself, the improvements were not enough to get me to rejoin, and I still don’t really trust them, but other factors came into play. The Electronic Frontier Foundation summed things up nicely – if you’re still a Facebook user, this is a must read: Facebook’s New Privacy Improvements Are a Positive Step, But There’s Still More Work to Be Done http://luvogt.com/x.pl?k=EB0144

Yahoo Pulse
Just recently, Yahoo launched a revamped social networking platform (called Pulse). To be honest, it is functionally very similar to Facebook, but with better privacy controls . But more importantly, it includes features that let you cross-post between the two networks, so that (at your discretion) a post you make on Facebook will show on Pulse, and vice-versa. [As a Yahoo employee, I invite you to give it a try – it’s pretty cool.] This marks a subtle change in how you can use Facebook – namely, it is now possible to use a non-Facebook client application (Pulse) to manage and view your Facebook stream. In other words, Facebook’s walled-garden is still walled, but the wall separating it from Yahoo has been largely broken down. And, more importantly, as an individual user, I am now able to use Facebook’s backend without contributing directly to their revenue stream (of course, I am contributing indirectly in a number of ways just by having an account and friends). This allows me to get many of the benefits of using FB, without leaving myself logged in and exposed to some of features FB has introduced that have me worried about my privacy.

My Job
I work as a minor thought leader at an large internet services company. As such, I have a responsibility to both keep abreast of developments in the industry, as well as support my company’s efforts (what some refer to as “eating your own dog food”). This, of course, was true when I first made my decision to quit, but at that time I felt the problems I had with FB outweighed this point. This balance has shifted now, and especially given the significance of the Facebook-Yahoo integration, I feel my obligation to have a working understanding of a frenemy’s product is even more important, and I cannot truly have a good understanding without actively using the product.

Ramping up Slowly
I enjoyed my vacation from Facebook too much to jump back in with both feet. One of the nice side-effects of my quitting is that I have re-examined how I use the service, and I’ll be slowly and carefully ramping up my usage and friends list over the coming months. If you’re a friend or colleague, you can look forward to invites from me on Facebook, Pulse, and/or LinkedIn.

Cheers!

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I love Facebook, I’m quitting Facebook

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Two years ago, I debuted on Facebook with the unassuming status update ‘i been hearing bout this “so-shull networkin” thingiemabob – what’s it all about anyhoo?’, to which my first friends replied ‘uh oh – you’re going to get sucked in!!’ and ‘watch out for the ads. they’re evil’. Both were right. I have immensely enjoyed the ability to connect with friends, both current and long-lost, as well as actively participating in the “social web” revolution.

But now I need to join another revolution – Facebook users revolting against the abuse of power and clear lack of respect for privacy Facebook has shown repeatedly and increasingly. So, I’m deactivating my account. I don’t take this decision lightly – I get immense value out of Facebook. But I liken it to fast food – sure it tastes great, but at what cost, and do i really want to support a company that does not respect me as a customer and a person? I am not the only one doing this – some Googlers are also in on the movement: “Google engineering gaggle flees Facebook – The Register” http://luvogt.com/x.pl?k=388915D

Luckily, I have been very careful to not store all of my data in Facebook’s cloud, so this is not so hard. Also luckily, there are alternative ways to connect online. I actively use Flickr for photos, Yahoo Updates for social networking, LinkedIn for professional networking, Youtube for videos, and Twitter for technology and political ranting. I don’t want to lose touch with you all, so please do connect with me on those services where it makes sense:
http://profiles.yahoo.com/luvogt
http://www.linkedin.com/in/luvogt
http://twitter.com/luvogt
http://flickr.com/luvogt
http://www.youtube.com/user/luvogt
I don’t use Google Buzz, mostly on principle – Google released a product called “Buzz” many months after Yahoo already had a similar product with the same exact name – I consider that the ultimate in bad form and poor sportsmanship!

I do not expect many, or any, of you to join me on this quixotic journey. But, here are some articles from the past couple of years for you to take into consideration (reverse chronological). You make your own decision:

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Common Sense

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FINALLY! A replacement for the MPAA has emerged…

For those of you with kids, I thought I’d share this web site I just discovered – it’s called Common Sense Media. http://commonsensemedia.org

Basically, it is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that rates and reviews all sorts of media (Movies, TV, Games, Books, Music, even Web Sites) with respect to age appropriateness. It is similar to the MPAA (the folks who rate movies G, PG, etc.), but Common Sense is not hand-in-hand with the industry like MPAA is*. Also, the Common Sense reviews go into much more detail about the many dimensions that affect whether you want your child consuming the media (sexuality, violence, language, social behavior, commercialism, drug use, etc.), allowing you to make a much more informed choice.

And, for those of you who use Netflix, the ratings are included directly on the Netflix site (that’s where I found out about them).

Cheers,
Chris

* As the documentary film “This Film is Not Yet Rated” exposes, MPAA has close ties with the big studios and is actually a very secretive, private organization with very strange biases (against sex and for violence). BTW, before you go and watch this film, please read about it on Common Sense – despite its title, it actually is rated (NC-17) due to prolific inclusion of clips from censored movies.

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The fat and flat world

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I’ve been reading “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman. You have to read this book! If, in the next presidential election, some candidate anounces Friedman will be his adviser, or simply that he has read Friedman’s book and agrees in substance with all he says, that would cinch my vote.

I have a related thesis- “The World is Fat”. I mean this on both the micro and macro levels. On a micro level, developed countries are having more troubles with an overweight population and the health problems that entails. But, on a macro level, the growing population of the world means that we are throwing the natural balance of nature off. This has implications beyond just increased pollution and diminishing natural resources.

Humankind needs to go on a diet, and by this I mean it needs to learn to live with a fixed population. In the past, growth has been possible because of the abundance of both space and natural resources. Furthermore, growth meant more person-power, which led to an accelerated rate of technological progress. But we are at a point now where we are reaching the limits of what the earth will support. We need to slow down our growth now. Otherwise, when we do reach that limit, there will be some very painful trimming of the “excess” population.

This will be no easy task. Every generation is larger than the last, making the work force ever-growing. Slowing down to zero population growth will mean an effective shrinking of the relative size of the labor force.

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