Monday, February 22, 2010

Kevin takes the ultimate step to manage his online identity...

Two Fridays ago as I was ready to leave for President’s day weekend, somebody knocked on our door. It was a man named Kevin. Kevin is an engineer working at a card processing company and he was upset that we had not removed his profile from the site given multiple requests. Furthermore, he was complaining that there was no way for him to remove himself technically from the site. Kevin is a young tech-savvy guy and I thought that if he had trouble removing himself from the site, then so would most everyone else. So I decided to sit down with him and open my computer to go over our self-service removal process to understand once and for all what the issues are.

To set the stage for what action was actually taken during the meeting and to demonstrate what every member of Spoke has the ability to do, here is a quick step by step of what we did:

1. Searched for his name in the Spoke website
2. Found his Spoke Profile and clicked on it
3. Click on the words “this is me” on the left side under the photo
4. On the registration page, located the “suppress your profile” link on the right and clicked on it. (Kevin didn’t see this removal link so we will make some changes to make it more visible)
5. Completed the suppression process to confirm his identity and officially suppress his profile.

After completing this process, Kevin asked me several other questions about what information is accessible in Spoke because he just wasn’t clear on that subject. Past experiences with identity theft have given Kevin a keen eye for privacy concerns related to information management and he wanted to be sure that his information was safe and that someone could not cause him harm by using Spoke. I explained Spoke's Information Privacy Policy and Kevin left reassured that his information was safe and his profile would no longer be visible in Spoke.

Some people ask why they have to register for Spoke to have their profile suppressed. Actually, you don’t have to.  However, given the nature of our business, it’s conceivable that someone would attempt to set up false profiles or to attempt to take control of a specific profile for malicious purposes.  Since anyone can set up a free ISP email account, we require you to be able to verify your identity using a corporate email address.

We are more than happy to help remove profiles from Spoke. Our intentions are not to keep somebody who doesn’t want to be on Spoke, on Spoke no matter what. Our commitment is to remove you as fast as we can. The fastest way is through our self-removal process that Kevin and I went through. It provides instantaneous removal from the site and then a couple of days to several weeks to get a specific profile removed from Google.

Talking to the team last week about my discussion with Kevin, it’s clear we still faces issues regarding the removal process. Our commitment to you is that:

1) We will keep reemphasizing this self-service process on the site, on our FAQs or on the blog; this is our preferred way and if you don’t find the current self-service feature easy enough, just let us know and we will adjust accordingly

2) We will continue sending instructional emails within 48 business hours to people who want themselves removed; if people don’t receive their emails, it may be because these emails are either caught in a spam filter at the mail box level or at the ISP level. We are working diligently to make sure that we are not blacklisted and currently we are not on any lists.

3) Some people may want to reach us directly over the phone and have their profile removed this way. We are in the process of evaluating how we can do this given the nature of our small team while still providing service to our members. Several options are being researched and you should stay tuned to the blog for future developments on this topic. If you choose this course for suppressing your profile, please be patient as this manual process takes much longer than the self-service approach.

Philippe Cases
CEO, Spoke

P.S.- Don't forget about the "If only I had Spoke... " contest.  There are only a few days left to get your shot at winning $100 - CASH!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where do I know you from?

Today’s technology, from social networking to smart mobile devices, is changing the way business is conducted. Now you, as a businessperson, have access to more information and more ways to connect to others than ever before. It’s an exciting time to be a professional with so many ways to develop new relationships and to manage the ones you already have. You can search these networks to connect with other professionals who have similar backgrounds, interests, or customer profiles and then download their contact info to your smart phone. What an exciting time! But with exciting times come challenging questions.

With this explosion of contacts comes a strong feeling of amnesia. How often do you look at a social profile and think to yourself, "I'm friends with this person on this network, but I don't really recall how I know them or why we are friends on this network - or others for that matter."  Most of us can associate a few people in our contact universe with this  thought, but do you know exactly how many you do?  And for the ones you do recall, how many times did you try to reach them and realize that you don’t have their correct contact information?

I think you would agree that it’s great that you have so many people with whom you build relationships. But at what threshold does the effect of social overload kick in? When does more become too much? And, more importantly, when does too much begin to have a negative affect on your ability to manage and grow your network?

Current research being performed on the subject by Robin Dunbar, a famous British Anthropologist, has theorized this problem.  He believed that an individual can stay in touch and maintain a relationship with a maximum of 150 individuals (Dunbar’s number) at a time.  This number has been very well publicized by Malcom Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point”.  Dunbar even added that for a group of this size to remain updated, an individual would have to spend 42% of his time cultivating relationships. Of course, they are other bigger numbers floating around like the Bernard-Killworth number which suggests a higher number of 290 individuals at a time.

While those numbers widely differ, it is fairly clear that there are many limiting factors to this number including relative neocortex size (the part of the mammal brain involved in higher functions such as sensory perception, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language) and the time we can spend maintaining those relationships.  Of course, with the emergence of social networks and new means of communications such as Twitter, this maximum number of active connections may increase as relevant, updated information is delivered to your fingertips without leaving the office and the time it takes to maintain a connection using these new means of communication have decreased significantly.  To answer this question of the impact of technology on social behavior, Dunbar is re-actualizing his study using Facebook as the field study. It won’t be long before we know with results being released in 2010.

Even with all these theoretical studies, these are all questions that maintain a subjective perspective and differ for everyone. Over the up coming weeks we will begin to address these questions and how professionals can take strides to get a handle on these challenges. Check back every week for updates on how you can tackle this issue.

Also, don’t forget about Spoke’s “If only I had Spoke…” contest. You could win $100!

Philippe Cases

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tell us a story and you could win $100 from Spoke...

With Spoke you can find the business contacts you need to grow your business, re-connect with ones you’ve forgotten about and manage how you communicate with them. What could be better than that? How about getting paid $100 for knowing why you needed Spoke in the first place?

Spoke is excited to announce our “If only I had Spoke...” contest. What is it all about and how do I win the $100 you may ask? Great questions! It’s simple. We want to know about a time in your professional life when you were unsuccessful at securing a new business relationship and you forgot you knew someone that could have helped. Have one of the best stories and you win!

We’ve all been there. A sales deal, a partnership, a contract or anything that drives your business’ growth was on the table and it wasn’t looking good. After the fact you realized there was someone you met long ago (either a former colleague, acquaintance, someone you met at a conference, a friend of the family, etc.) that you forgot about, but could have helped you to secure the new business relationship. You know, that point when we all do the proverbial slap to our foreheads and let out a loud D’Oh! Well, we want to hear about that story.

Spoke will select the best four stories submitted and will award one first place prize of $100 and three runner-up prizes of $50 as per the contest rules and regulations (see below).

So what are you waiting for? Tell us why you use Spoke and you’ll be on your way to a cool C-note in your pocket!

Contest Rules & Regulations:
1. You must follow @spokesoftware throughout the duration of the contest.
2. Submit your story by leaving a comment on the blog or by sending email to If you leave your story on the blog, please make sure to use the same email address you used for Spoke registration for the post account (e.g. not in the post, but in the field that asks for your email address). Otherwise we won’t be able to identify you.
3. You agree that Spoke may publish your story (whether you are a winner or not).
4. Contest ends on February 28, 2010 or until the contest has 25 participants, whichever occurs later.
5. Winners will be notified via email by March 16, 2009.
6. You may only win one first place prize per year and up to 3 runner-up prizes per year.
7. There is one first place prize of $100 and three runner-up prizes of $50.
8. If there are any problems or disputes, Spoke Software is the final arbiter and has the ultimate discretion over awarding the prizes and may award the prizes to any of the participants of the contest.
8. By participating, you agree to have your Twitter name published as the winner on Twitter and on this web site.
9. Winners must provide a mailing address within the United States in order to receive the prize.
10. Allow 4-8 weeks for delivery of the prize. Prizes will only be delivered to addresses within the United States.
11. You must reside within the United States of America to participate in the contest.
12. Contests are void where prohibited.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Spoke may be performing slower than normal...

This week Spoke began experiencing intermittent periods of exponential search volume causing our search engine to overload resulting in slowed search response times or, occasionally, searches failing. We are investigating the root cause of the issue and have taken precautionary steps to balance the search load so that the impact of these spikes to members will be minimized.

We know that these spikes are occurring during peak business hours, usually around the time both the east and west coasts get their days started. If you happen to experience a period of latent slowness, we encourage you to try using Spoke during other times of the day when these spikes are far less likely to occur.

As always we are working diligently to give you tools to aid in growing your network and managing your relationships. We appreciate any feedback you may be able to provide about this specific issue through our support department or about Spoke in feature improvement through our product feedback channel.

We thank you for your patience and will keep you updated about this issue as more information becomes available.

On a brighter note, make sure to check the blog next week for details about a cash-prize contest...

Monday, February 1, 2010

The next decade of Spoke - one is silver and the other gold...

Welcome 2010!

At Spoke we’re excited about what’s coming in 2010 and we want to fill you in on what we’ve been up to so you can take advantage of some great new tools coming your way this year.

2009 was a year of growth for Spoke. We took on several large initiatives aimed at improving our overall service and positioning ourselves, and our member-base, for dramatic growth in 2010. Like for many of us in our own lives, 2009 was a year of tough decisions for Spoke. Decisions on the future direction of Spoke and how to bring more value to our members. Decisions on how to bring more value to Spoke members. Decisions on how to deliver a service that can scale to those goals. And decisions on how to give our members a voice in that process.

To our long-time members it may have appeared that our momentum slowed somewhat in 2009, but know that we have been working hard behind the scenes to tackle these touch decisions and come back to 2010 recharged and ready to race forward to bringing you a world class application for managing your networking.

In 2009 Spoke Achieved:
More ways to manage information in Spoke
1) Remove profile without registering
2) Correct company information

More ways to give us your feedback...
1) Uservoice - giving members a voice in new feature development
2) Spoke Insider Blog - giving members the latest info from Spoke
3) Twitter - follow Spoke using your favorite social media tools

More ways to scale Spoke and provide better information...
1) Moved to cloud computing system – makes scaling really easy!
2) Re-engineered our de-duplification process
3) Dramatically reduced duplicate profiles and wrongly merged profiles

While members may have only noticed the changes from the first two sections mentioned above, the real gold lies in the infrastructure work in the last section. Unfortunately, the process was more resource intensive than we had originally planned. Fortunately we glad to let you know that the hard work for those initiatives is behind us and we are currently reprocessing our entire data set. What this means for you, the Spoke member, is that you are going to see the accuracy of our data improve by an order of magnitude in 2010.

In the first quarter of 2010 Spoke you’ll also see a whole new set of tools for revitalizing your professional relationships. Think about the people you know but for which you don't have the current contact information or the people you have even forgotten they exist. Spoke will bring a new and improved “Toolbar” to the table that will let you access those contacts and help you decide whether you want to rejuvenate your relationship for the purpose of what you are doing now.

It’s going to be an exciting year but we don’t want to give away too much of the cow just yet. So, to help you start to grasp what exactly is coming, we’re implementing a few things to help out:

First, is this blog. You’re already reading it, great! Just remember to check back form time-to-time as we’ll be releasing information about what is coming and how it will impact your professional lives.

Second, is a Spoke contest on Twitter. I can’t say too much about that now, but the details will be available through @spokesoftware on Twitter shortly. So go follow Spoke on Twitter so you can find out about the contest.

In conclusion, I would like to extend a thank you to our members for sticking with us through a “growth-spurt” year as we prepare to take Spoke to the next level and make leveraging your known, and unknown, network easier. We know the last few years have been rough times for everyone and we appreciate your patronage as we look forward to rewarding your loyalty with our hard work in 2010!

Philippe  Cases