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How Do We Know What We Don’t Know?

Friday, May 16th, 2008 by Ellen Pearlman

China, Internet Filtration Technology, and Knowledge Sharing

There are 1.3 billion people in the People’s Republic of China, more than enough warm bodies for the government to employ hundreds of thousands of full time Internet censors, which they do.  I can not be certain if this missive is being read either on line or in the transmission stage from China to the States.  All messages going out of the country are filtered for key words as are all websites being accessed.  Therefore I will omit the most heinous key words (that have to do with current world events over a major once every four years sports event occurring in this country) and talk around it as if I were being censored.  Which, in essence, I am.

This filtration is called the “Golden Shield Project”.  There are only three points of entry to the Internet from China, two in Japan and one in Hong Kong.  All the international gateways have a “network sniffer”.  These were originally manufactured by Cisco but now China’s own technology giants make the same product.  The effects of sniffer use is most evident in the handling of messages that do not agree with the ruling party’s ideology when these messages are funneled through one of the major Internet e-mail providers.

Web sites are also filtered to varying degrees.  The simplest way this is done is with a DNS (Domain Name System) block that doesn’t let the request for information get through.  However, if you do manage to get the site, it may return with a “connect reset” or “site not found” message that is indicative of the second level of blocking.  Then there is the “URL Roving Keyword Block” of inflammatory politically incorrect terms that change depending on the political winds.  Lastly there is the page content blackout, as occasionally happens to CNN or the New York Times if the government does not like the information on their pages.  It recently happened when the female third most important politician in the States met with a politically banned person of note.

Part of the rabid patriotism in this country is heartfelt, and part of it is through direct and intentional manipulation of state media.  Unless I supply my Chinese friends with information they tend to be rather uninformed about the world events that tarnish the image of their country.  This leads to the question of how do you know what you don’t know?  The simple answer is that you don’t.  I mention specific events concerning world news to friends, and they are shocked.  They had no idea.  Even people who work high up in cultural and ministerial positions are unaware of the extent of manipulation and filtering of their own private data.  Such data manipulation is apparently no longer confined to the theoretical, it is a fact of life.

Other knowledge sharing “problems” can crop up in China that would be unlikely elsewhere.  One friend in a sensitive cultural post had the misfortune to use Yahoo.fr (France) as her Internet provider.  When the recent tensions with that country were at their highest, none of her messages went out, a terrible situation for a person in the government who deals with time sensitive international bookings.  However, once you understand the parameters there are many shades of grey and tints of brown and blue that enable one to find cracks in the blockading walls.  Knowledge is fluid and analogies go a long way.  Human sensitivity and nuance is vast.  Cisco routers can take you only so far.  In the meantime, those in China will have to rely upon the creative use of language.  Language is poetry and as we all know, poetry can set you free.

Ellen Pearlman is a senior analyst at Basex.

Beijing Journal Part II

Friday, March 23rd, 2007 by Ellen Pearlman

As I am settling in Beijing, I am adjusting to some of the quirks and inconveniences of being a non-Chinese-speaking/reading visitor.  For example, when someone tries to text message me, the phone naturally displays it in Chinese characters.  Or when I try to pay for Skype through a credit card instead of PayPal, it takes over 48 hours to get card approval.  Though minor inconveniences, these setbacks could be annoying when dealing with time sensitive materials.

I am just beginning to get a handle on the Chinese censorship of the Internet, which is quite subtle.  I can get CNN and the NY Times, but if I type in the word “dharma” I get filtered out almost completely (I guess it’s a dirty word) and most You Tube broadcasts will not pull from the server, regardless of content.  The censorship seems to be roving, a bit arbitrary though extremely strict.  Besides pornography they are avid on restricting spirituality.  The thing about censorship is that you don’t now what is being censored, because you don’t know exactly what you are looking for.  There is a terribly odd quality of vacuum or mist, like you know it is there but you can’t see it, so you don’t know what it is you are not seeing.

The censorship works on two levels, the first is through Google China, which filters content, and the second is through delivering information from the server.  So even if you find the header you want in Goggle, the server just refuses to load the page, which is a raw, in your face, way of saying you’ve been found out and this is restricted information.  The page will just not load.  This dual filtering is very efficient and lethal and works towards creating a collective amnesia.  Of course, I can only speak about the English language as I have no idea of what is going on in Chinese, though I suspect it may be the same, if not worse.  It is equivalent to going to a library and looking up the topic “1960′s party scene”.  You may be looking for stories of wild parties in California and instead the only returns you get are the 1960′s Communist Youth International Party Conference.  This way you never know there were parties in California, even though it is common knowledge in the rest of the world.  So if you don’t know about it you don’t miss it.

The end result of this kind of information filter is a more docile and reined in population that essentially doesn’t know, and for the most part doesn’t care about what they are missing.  And it seems that the few who do care, and speak about it in chat rooms, are monitored by internal policing and I really don’t know what happens to them.

A more  blatant example is what happened the other night.  I was at a social gathering and was talking to a group of Chinese about the Paris Hilton debacle, both the sex tapes that circulated on the Internet, and her reality TV show with Nicole Ritchie.  The Chinese are well aware of the Hilton Hotel Chain, though they had never heard of Paris before.  I realized the whole story of her adventures, or misadventures had been filtered out of all the news media in all forms.  Now that’s one efficient censorship machine.  But, on the other hand, they allow, and encourage American Idol.  Go figure.

Analyst Ellen Pearlman is on assignment in China

Beijing Journal

Thursday, March 8th, 2007 by Ellen Pearlman

Three days before I am to fly to China, I encounter a problem with my ThinkPad.  With the help of Lenovo tech support in Atlanta, Georgia I find out that my ThinkPad’s wireless card has gone POOF.  The day before I am to leave I receive a replacement card.  I call tech support again, and am told to watch the instructional videos on line that show how to remove the 4 screws for the keyboard, 9 screws for the palm rest, and then how to swap out the wireless card, which resembles a memory card.  I print the instructions out, and turn my computer over.  The Phillips head screwdriver I have doesn’t work on the special screws and, as I am leaving for Beijing in a scant 12 hours, I throw up my hands and decide I will take care of it after landing.

Once in Beijing, having dinner with my hosts, I immediately tell them that I need a Lenovo store in order to have them install the wireless card.  The next day, after a flurry of phone calls, three Chinese gentlemen show up at my door.  Only one of them speaks English.  He takes out his tool kit and according to my memory of IBM’s instructions (which I repeat to him), he takes out the 4 keyboard screws and 9 palm rest screws with his special screwdriver.  The keyboard comes off easily, but the palm rest board does not follow suit.  He works on it for 25 minutes but it will not budge and neither of us can figure it out.  Finally he just gently lifts it up so he does not break the plastic and is then able to swap out the wireless card.  He puts it all back but it still refuses to function.  He then takes his portable USB drive, goes to a business next door, accesses the Internet, downloads a new driver from the Lenovo site, hooks up his portable drive to my laptop, installs the new driver, and voilà, I am immediately able to access my WLAN connection.  Total cost for the two hour on-site English speaking visit?  RMB 180, or $23.25. Priceless? Well, almost.

Analyst Ellen Pearlman is on assignment in China.

Three Visionary Views: Basex Strategic Thinkers Conference, September 2004

Friday, October 1st, 2004 by Jonathan Spira

As frequent attendees of Basex Strategic Thinkers conferences know, one won’t find the VP of marketing from an IT company on the podium presenting his company’s 12-18 month roadmap.  Most speakers are end users, seasoned executives with experience in selecting, deploying, and managing Collaborative Business Environments (CBEs) and they speak about their experience in the trenches.

It is, however, equally important to hear from the companies that supply the tools used to build Collaborative Business Environments.  To round out the program, Basex invites senior executives from vendor companies to participate in the Visionary Vendor panel.  Each of the selected companies thrives on innovation and we ask executives to detail their long-term views on how Collaborative Business Environments will evolve and what the collaborative workplace will be like in a three to five year timeframe.  We also proscribe their presenting a 12-18 month product roadmap or infomercial.

So what did the Visionary Vendors have to say?  Elizabeth Eiss, president and chief operating officer of Xpert Universe, an expertise location company, pointed out that undocumented knowledge will be key to successful Collaborative Business Environments.  Basex’ own research demonstrates that most knowledge (as much as 80%) is stored in people’s heads, and that this resource leaves the building at the end of the day.  Managing it  – and making it accessible throughout the enterprise – will be a key challenge.  Moreover, creating rich tools with a CBE – possibly even replicating a face-to-face meeting virtually – will make all the difference.  When deploying such tools as expertise location, companies, Eiss pointed out, will need to adhere to Basex’ One Environment Rule to provide a rich user experience.

Graham Glynn, founder and CEO of Learning Management Solutions, pointed out that knowledge workers really need a single environment for accessing and organizing information – one that essentially follows them from cradle to grave, making it as simple to go to last week’s presentation file as course material from university a decade earlier.  This type of tool should serve the individual user, first and foremost, he noted, and should cover both personal and professional activities.  The challenge ahead is to connect information from multiple sources into information sets appropriate for projects and special interests.  Who hasn’t wanted to go back five or ten years, to coursework from university or notes from a chance meeting?

Eric Winsborrow, senior vice president, corporate strategy, for Cloudmark, an e-mail security company, stood in at the last moment for Cloudmark CEO Karl Jacob, and pointed out that many companies are still caught in an unsuccessful battle against spam e-mail.  If this scourge is not resolved sooner rather than later, the very effectiveness of the tools we rely upon on a minute-by-minute basis, such as e-mail, will be significantly diminished.  Spam e-mail represents a grave risk for the future of CBEs if not contained.  Attendees might’ve imagined they were suddenly in a university biology class, when Winsborrow turned his attention to the DNA of spam e-mail messages.  E-mail – as well as other documents – has a genetic map and each message a DNA.  Classifying e-mail messages by genetic similarity may provide a new means of identifying spam e-mail more accurately.  Spam e-mail has, in effect, “SpamGenes.”

The outlook for the future of Collaborative Business Environments, according to our speakers, is bright.  CBEs will allow knowledge workers to tap experts and tacit knowledge, and will maintain that knowledge and more from cradle to grave.  The CBE will be spam free, for the most part, as tools which identify spam based on a message’s DNA will get knowledge workers the messages they need and relegate junk mail to the dustbin.

Ellen Pearlman is a senior analyst at Basex.

Blend in People, Culture, and Change – and Then a Pinch of Technology

Thursday, September 23rd, 2004 by Jonathan Spira

Earlier this week, on September 21, Basex held its 22nd Strategic Thinkers event, Managing the Collaborative Business Environment, to a full house of senior executives, practitioners, technology users and vendors.  It was rich with recipe sharing and some spirited debate about the right ingredients for creating successful Collaborative Business Environments (CBEs).

Jonathan Spira, Basex‘ CEO and chief analyst, opened the proceedings with an examination of what constitutes today’s knowledge worker and the knowledge worker’s boss.  We’ll go into detail in a future edition, but suffice it to say there are enough knowledge (or information) workers out there (more than 100 million in the U.S. alone) to make it critical for organizations to cater to their needs.  Avoiding the debate over definitions and differences, what exactly do knowledge and information workers do?  At the most basic level, they think, and generate ideas that often lead to innovations.  In the course of their activities, they create knowledge.

To accomplish their work, they require knowledge and information.  New research from the U.S. Department of Labor finds that knowledge workers spend ca. 40% of their time processing information.  And to do this they also need access to other resources such as people.  A properly-designed CBE, providing access to all of these resources in one workspace, is an essential tool for the knowledge worker, necessary to ensure productivity and growth.

The Collaborative Business Environment lies at the nexus of the knowledge, collaboration and the enterprise itself.  It supersedes the traditional desktop metaphor and brings people together – both synchronously and asynchronously – across borders.  It provides access to all of the applications, resources, knowledge, and information the worker needs.

Attendees at our Strategic Thinkers conference heard winning recipes for CBEs from knowledge leaders in business and academia.  Common to all was the focus on people, culture and change in addition to the right technology.  Barbara Saidel, CIO of Russell Reynolds Associates, stressed the importance of hiring generous people who enjoy teamwork in order to create and nurture a knowledge-sharing culture.  Lauren Steinfeld, Chief Privacy Officer at the University of Pennsylvania, emphasized the need for high-level support and involving the right people, in addition to employing the proper tools and creating effective content.  And Sandeep Manchanda, Chief Information Officer, Global Development, Marsh & McLennan Cos., framed his remarks as answers to the question “Why?”  Why is collaboration so hard? (because people are rewarded most often for individual achievement).  Why create a sense of urgency in knowledge projects? (to motivate people to act).

“So what’s the single most important ingredient,?” our panelists were asked.  The answers were illuminating: be a risk taker, be a good listener and feed back (often the most critical issue is the one least well articulated), and nurture strong relationships with the people you need to make the project successful.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Next week: a look at predictions for CBEs’ future from three visionary vendors — Cloudmark, Learning Management Systems, and Xpert Universe — who participated in our Strategic Thinkers conference.

Thanks to our panelists and all who attended.

Ellen Pearlman is a senior analyst at Basex.

Teach Your Children Well

Friday, December 29th, 2000 by Ellen Pearlman

IN BRIEF:  Eleven million ten- to seventeen-year-olds have wireless connectivity in the U.S. Concurrently, the number of Internet users in Asia will jump to 188 million by 2004. What does one have to do with the other in terms of B2B growth? More than one might think.

As this writer surveys the vast terrain of changes over the past year in the B2B sphere and endeavors to sum it up, the truth is the past is already history. What summons as a year end wrap-up is the future. And that future is beckoning.

If one can get past the stock market spikes and dips and the flops and consolidations in B2B, two startling trends emerge. One is the explosive use of both the Internet and wireless devices among the youth of industrialized nations with eleven million children between the ages of ten and seventeen having wireless access in the U.S. . In four years, that number is estimated to jump to 50 percent of all youth. With that kind of jump, there will also be an increase in demand for youth-oriented content and services. The number of children using the Web in the U.K. has also doubled in the past two years, with up to 65 percent of youth having online access. Numbers like this imply that the net and wireless activity will be a common as cable TV to this generation.

Concurrently, the number of Internet users will jump to 188 million by 2004. Even a country like Thailand will expand its B2B usage upwards of US$15 billion a year in durable goods and petrochemicals by 2004.  What these two seemingly disparate trends point towards follows. Young people are coming of age net and wireless savvy. Asia, and by implication, some lesser developed countries, are waking up to the power of the Internet. As one group matures, so does the other. And as B2B emerges out of its net nappy, there will be a cadre of young, skilled workers with innovate not yet heard of uses to boost B2B trade to levels not yet seen.

These youth will demand that their elders workplaces get up to speed and demand Internet Protocol (IP) enabled supply chains and connectivity. What was a new idea at the end of the last millennium will become an IP backbone mainstay within a decade, because there is no turning back time in this, the newest millennium.

Ellen Pearlman is a senior analyst at Basex.

1998 Top Ten

Thursday, December 31st, 1998 by Ellen Pearlman

As 1998 draws to a close, we present ten of the year’s most significant events, as covered by Basex.
1.)  Litigation: Microsoft and the Department of Justice. Microsoft and Sun. Microsoft and 20 states plus the District of Columbia. You get the picture.

2.)  The Legislation of the Internet: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Child Online Protection Act (CDA II). The ACLU had a busy year, and the Recording Industry Association of America tried unsuccessfully (so far) to repress the use of MP3.

3.)  Internet stocks (and sales) begin to fly: Take amazon.com and eBay for example. Tech Investors sent the NASDAQ on many wild rides.

4.)  Wireless communication expands: Iridium telephones arrived. So did a wireless Palm Pilot, WinStar point-to-multipoint wireless communication technology, and, most recently, FCC-approved wireless communication for airplanes.

5.)  Apple regains a viable market: Anyone seen the sales figures for the iMac?

6.)  The Year 2000 computer glitch is suddenly a reality: Companies began to scramble for programmers with the ability to debug their systems – recruiters are lining up outside the COBOL programmer’s retirement home near you.

7.)  The Starr Reports go online: The same administration that passed the CDA II also put the Starr Reports on the Internet.

8.)  Portal madness: Everyone wants to be a portal site. Everyone then claims to be a portal site. What actually is a portal site, anyway?

9.)  Mergers galore: The most compelling – America Online and Netscape, with the added bonus of AOL’s strategic alliance with Sun Microsystems.

10.)  The U.S. versus the European Union: Whose privacy standards should govern the Internet? What level of encryption is permissible for international e-mail traffic? Decisions are expected next year.

Ellen Pearlman is a senior analyst at Basex.  Elisabeth Ward, editorial director at Basex, assisted in compiling this list.