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Game Review: Titanfall (taking gaming a step back)

Posted in botch, gaming by commorancy on March 28, 2014

It seems that many gamers, for whatever reason, have gone gaga over Titanfall. But, Titanfall represents everything that’s wrong with gaming in one single game and why it’s more aptly named Titanfail. Let’s explore what’s wrong with this game.

Gaming Industry Rags

The thing that really ruins gaming for me is the game industry review rags. I’m tired of their constant high marks for bad games. I’m tired of these rags getting paid by developers to write reviews and give them high marks knowing the game isn’t worth it. In general, I’m just tired of how the whole game rating system works. Yes, it needs a drastic overhaul. Worse, no one is discussing this issue. Unfortunately, it is just one in a big long line of problems that Titanfall brings to the table. That the review mags have given such high marks to this otherwise poor quality game says volumes about the state of the industry. An industry that is now officially very broken.


All of the Call of Duty fans seem to be going gaga over this game, but why? Is it because Respawn created it (the same developers who write Call of Duty)? Clearly, this game is not worth $60. By comparison, let’s understand what ‘worth’ means in the context of Titanfall. For example, for that same $60 when new, you could buy Halo 3 or Halo 4 (or any number of other similar FPS titles), take your pick. Inside these titles, you get the following:

  • Single player campaign mode (at least 10 hours of play)
  • Co-op campaign mode (another 10 hours of play)
  • A level up system (customize your armor)
  • Multiplayer including
    • Death Match
    • Team Death Match
    • Capture The Flag
    • King of the Hill
  • Theater mode (watch clips, capture clips, sharing, etc)

Even Call of Duty offers many of the above modes.

For that same $60, Titanfail provides us with exactly one of the above gaming modes:

  • Team Death Match

That’s it, one single game play mode. No campaign mode. No coop mode. No missions. Just full on 100% death match 100% of the time. A game with one single multiplayer mode is not even considered 1/5 of your average FPS title. Even Valve’s Team Fortress offered us more than Titanfail and it was included in The Orange Box which also included 3 Half Life campaign games, Portal along with Team Fortress for that same $60 when new.

Next Gen Gaming?

If this is any indication of the next gen level of gaming, the gaming industry can count me out. I have no intention of shelling out $60 for a game that’s clearly a failure. Oh, it’s probably making Respawn and EA a mint.  For me, once bitten, twice shy. Won’t do this again. Respawn is clearly skating on thin ice. And, thin it is indeed.


The one and only one saving grace of Titanfall is its graphics engine.  The graphics on the Xbox One are stunning. But, that’s not enough to save this game title. When it finally comes to the Xbox 360, the benefit of those graphics will be lost. The only thing left is this one-tracked game.


For the most part, the sound is serviceable within the context of the game. Yes, it helps the tutorial, but the actual gameplay it can be annoying and only serves to add to the repetitive nature of the game. The voice work is average, but not outstanding. There are definitely better voice artists that could have been used.


In fact, the screen movement is way too sensitive. Even on the lowest sensitivity setting, you can still move the aiming reticle in unrealistic ways. In fact, moving the camera around on the highest sensitivity could actually make some people sick. As I said, it’s just too sensitive. The sensitivity needs to be dialed back a whole lot more. It’s almost impossible to aim precisely as fast as the screen moves with each small stick press.


As I’ve stated, Titanfall a one-tracked game. As someone else so eloquently stated,

Respawn is a one-trick pony

In fact, this game is far less than a one-trick pony. Titanfall only offers team death match for your $60. It’s even less of a game than what Call of Duty offers. Every new level is effectively the same game play except with different maps. Sure, there is supposed to be some agenda that the teams are to accomplish, but in fact, the agenda makes no difference. What it comes down to is how many other player characters can you kill. The so-called objectives of the level are moot. That ‘campaign’ stuff is just added as subtext to make you think you’re getting some extended gaming experience. In reality, you’re not.

Instead, what you’re really getting is a subpar one-tracked multiplayer death match game wrapped in a pretty bow that at best deserves a $15-20 download price tag on Xbox Arcade. Yes, this game is no better than your average Xbox Arcade title. In fact, some Xbox Arcade titles are actually better than Titanfall (i.e., Contrast).

Oh, the game developers claimed to add in a ‘campaign’ mode, but there’s no campaign here. There are very loose objectives during the death match play. In reality, it’s all about how many other player characters you can kill.


Even more insulting than offering death match for $60 is the opening tutorial. For the first 15 minutes, you are asked to walk through a combat tutorial. The tutorial isn’t really the problem. In fact, the tutorial is actually kind of cool showing you how to use the Titan armor in cool and creative ways.

What’s insulting is that they make you walk through this tutorial with the understanding that you will be able to use each and every one of the cool creative features. No. It’s team death match. As soon as you’re thrown onto the play field, only about 3-4 of the tutorials actually apply. You can use some of the moves regularly. Like, catching and launching projectile ammo back at your opponent. In fact, you would never find yourself hopping out of your mech, then walk through a series of gates, opening the gate for your mech and then getting back into your armor. Nope, not even close. As I said, insulting. By the time you could even get halfway through that gate maneuver, someone would have picked you off or your armor would be destroyed and you’ll be waiting again for your armor to show up.

The tutorial definitely leads you into a false sense that this game might actually be something good. Instead, once you begin the game play, you realize that the tutorial was merely a joke.

Titan Armor

So, this is the biggest gimmick in this game and also its biggest failure. It’s clear that this gimmick just doesn’t hold up. Let’s consider just how long it takes to actually spawn the armor once you’re on the level (minutes). At best, your armor spawns twice per level. Once it spawns, you’ll have on average 5 minutes of game play before your shields are gone or someone assassinates your character. The armor is as weak in it as you are on foot. Seriously, we’re expected to believe that if we had a mech like that, it could only withstand a few hits before being destroyed?

Though, if this game had a single player campaign mode where you could actually use all of the cool things taught during the tutorial, you might actually be able to use the armor for a purpose. Instead, against 13 or so other opponents whose sole intent is death match and who also have similar armor as you, there’s no point in having the armor. Once you’re in the armor, the other armored opponents just find you and find ways of getting you out of the armor as fast as possible leaving you firmly running around on the ground so they can stomp on you.

Once you’re on the ground out of the armor, which you are the majority of game play time, then it’s just about seeing how many other team members you can kill as it all comes down to being team death match. Note that there are many other multiplayer games, like Halo,  that offer better ground combat experiences than Titanfall. Hanging out waiting for armor to spawn is just pointless.

Pairing System

When you’re sitting in the lobby waiting for a game to start, you’ll see the game pairing you up with other opponents. There are two teams, red and blue (sound familiar?). Anyway, the ‘red’ and ‘blue’ teams pair up on the playing field to begin team death match. Before that happens, though, you’ll notice that the game will pair level 2 players with level 40 players (and all levels in between). Clearly, there is also a huge disparity here. Again, another Respawn design failure.

And this is the single reason why many players are going gaga over this title. There is nothing better than leveling your player up for hours and hours and then having all of the weapons and armor to run around the playing field picking off level 2 and level 3 players. Not only is this no fun for the low level players, it’s completely unfair to those who just bought the game and are simply trying to figure out how to play it. There’s nothing fun about constantly having to respawn your character because some 13 year old sniper keeps picking you off from a hill.

Multiplayer gaming is clearly headed in the wrong direction. I’m not even sure what Respawn was thinking here. I can certainly see why some players love having this ‘advantage’. There are always people looking to game the game so they can play the game on their terms (and outside of what the developers had intended). Clearly, Respawn has given that type of exploitative gamer the perfect vehicle in Titanfall. For the rest of us, the game is a disaster.

Multiplayer gaming

MMO games have been around for quite some time. For example, World of Warcraft. Some MMO titles have even made it to the console like Defiance. I’m not here to say that MMO titles are in any way perfect. But, for a multiplayer experience, games like WOW and Defiance did a whole lot more right than wrong. For example and for that same $60, Defiance offers us a full campaign mode built into the multiplayer experience. So, if you want to run off and do your own solo thing, the single player campaigns are there. You can team up with multiple people and help others complete their campaign quests. There are even some side 4 player co-op games built-right in. Again, Defiance offered much much more than Titanfall. On top of all of that, Defiance offered regularly scheduled group events that everyone in the game could participate in.

Defiance was glitchy, the graphics were rudimentary and clearly didn’t offer up the perfect gaming experience. But, I believe that problem to be more naivety on the part of the developers than on being intentionally stupid. The developers seemed to cut some corners in producing Defiance and the in-game world suffered.  Above all of that, though, Defiance still shines as an example of how multiplayer campaign can be done right and still give us value at $60. Now that the price on Defiance has dropped, it’s well worth the money to give it a play before the servers are taken down.

Team Death Match Mode

This is one of the oldest multiplayer modes ever conceived. It dates as far back as Doom. And believe me, Doom’s multiplayer death match is a whole lot more fun than Titanfall. The problem is, death match gets boring fast. Unless you’re hosting a lan party at your house and you have a bunch of systems strung together, death match is as boring as the day is long after an hour. Sure, it’s fun for about the first 30 minutes, but after that I want to do something different. Titanfall doesn’t offer that. It’s the same repetitive task over and over. For those people who have a touch of OCD, this is probably the perfect game. For those of us who don’t have that, repetitive gaming gets boring really fast.

The Problem with Next Gen

I hope that Titanfall is an anomaly on the Next Gen landscape. If this is the level of gaming that we have to look forward to, the Xbox One may find itself completely out of the running in the console wars. Clearly, paying $60 dollars for a game that’s worth at most $10-15 and that also belongs as an Xbox Arcade title is completely insulting to seasoned gamers looking for gaming value.

If you’re a gamer reading this and you’re feeling incensed over this review (and for whatever reason you absolutely love Titanfail), your anger is clearly misdirected. You need vent your frustrations at the gaming companies who keep finding ever more clever ways of ripping us off. Clearly, this game stands as the gaming industry’s crowning achievement in ripping the gamer off. Titanfall is the shining example of how not to produce a $60 game.

Thankfully, I invested in the $249 collector’s version that includes a large sized statue and art book. While I don’t necessarily want to show my support for this game on my desk, I can easily recoup my investment in this game by selling the statue on eBay as a collectible. This statue will likely easily increase in value unlike most games which only ever decrease. With Titanfall, I fully expect this game to decrease in used pricing faster than most (probably $20 by mid summer .. the price it really should have been).


If you absolutely must try game, rent. The only gamer type to whom I recommend this game is anyone who dearly loves multiplayer death match. If you’re looking for any other gaming experience, you won’t find it in Titanfall.


  • Gameplay: 2/10 (Titans take too long to spawn, game controls are overly sensitive, death match only)
  • Graphics: 9/10 (eye candy, but not perfect)
  • Audio: 8/10 (voiceover work average, music reasonable)
  • Overall Rating: 2/10 (not enough gaming value for the money)
  • Overall Recommendation: Rental only. Save your $60 for real games.

Note: there is some discussion that Respawn is already contemplating DLC to add other modes like King of the Hill or Capture the Flag. But, it’s also likely you’ll have to buy a season pass to get these features that should have already been included in that initial $60. 

Rant Time: Google Wallet Verification

Posted in best practices, botch, business, california, personal security by commorancy on March 22, 2014

So, I know how much everyone love my rants. Well, here’s another one. This falls under personal security and internet security common sense. Today, let’s explore the safety of Google Wallet and it’s so-called verification system.

What is Google Wallet?

Basically, it’s another type of payment system like Paypal or Amazon checkout. Effectively, it’s a way to pay for things or send money on the Internet using Google. That’s about as simple as it gets. Who uses it? I certainly don’t nor will I ever if Google doesn’t change its ways.

Verification of Identity

Like most other payment systems, they want to know who you are. Or, at least, that the person who is wanting to use the payment system owns the card or bank accounts added into their system. However, each one of these payment systems usually does verification in similar ways. For example, Paypal verifies you by requiring you to add a checking account (i.e., routing and account info) and then adding a small amount of money to your checking account. Later, you enter those two tiny amounts of money into their verification panel and you’re all set. That’s pretty much it for Paypal. This is similar to other financial institutions like E-Trade.

Google’s Verification = Stupid

And I thought Paypal’s verification was stupid. Leave it to Google to diverge and make it even more difficult. In the verification form, Google requires you to enter your social security number, your birth date, your home address, your phone number and various other information that could easily lead to identity theft. Then they require that you submit it. Information, I might incidentally add, that is not required for you to use an established credit card or bank account for payment. After all, banks are already required to identify you before opening an account. This is the whole reason why Paypal’s verification system is enough. Paypal merely hangs onto the coattails of the bank that has already previously verified your identity when you opened the account. I digress.

When their entry form doesn’t work, they require you to attach a PDF document of a government issued identification card. Not only is that stupidly manual, who the hell know what Google is going to do with that PDF file once you send it to them? Why would you want to do this anyway? Seriously, you’re not opening a bank account with Google. You’re not getting anything out of it by sending this to Google. And, you’re opening yourself up to huge personal risk by leaving PDF documents of your identification cards floating around on the Internet for hackers to find. Seriously, what is Google thinking here?

For me, that’s a big red flag and a BIG FAT NO to Google. I have no intention of providing any physical paperwork to a private corporation. If you can’t figure out proper method to identify the user electronically, that’s not my problem.

Legal Compliance?

I know that Google claims that this is all in the name of Federal compliance, but I’m quite sure the compliance laws don’t require you to verify a user using any specific implementation techniques. Clearly, Paypal is able to comply with these laws without requiring a PDF version of physical government issued identification. The reality is that Google also does not need a copy of this. That they claim that this is required to fulfill legal obligations is smoke and mirrors.

No, it’s quite clear, Google’s verification system is broken and completely unnecessary. They can certainly comply with all identity verification laws without resorting to asking for a copy of your identification be submitted to them in PDF or any other format.

Merchant Requirements

In fact, while credit card issuers like Visa and Mastercard don’t forbid asking for identification when using a credit card, the merchant must still accept the card for payment as long as it’s properly signed without seeing an ID. Because Google wallet requires actually seeing your identification before using some services with your credit card, this violates card issuer rules regarding the requirement for seeing identification before purchases. On the other hand, unlike a retailer who has the physical card in hand, Google cannot see your card and whether it’s signed. But, the spirit of this rule remains. Using a method of charging a small charge to the card and asking you to check the statement, then supply that dollar amount should be enough to verify that you own that card and that you have access to statements… just like Paypal and E-Trade.

Because a lot of statements have now become e-statements online, the small charge method doesn’t necessarily verify your physical address. Though, if they need to verify your physical address, they can simply send a postcard with a code. Then, have you enter that code into a verification panel once you receive it. In fact, this is really the only method that will verify your physical address is valid.

Google Wallet’s Usefulness?

With all of that said, Google has failed to make any traction towards becoming a defacto wallet. In fact, there are so few merchants that actually use Google Wallet, it’s probably safer not to verify with Google. Being as unused as it is around the Internet and seeing as Paypal is the primary method of paying for things today, it’s too much of a personal risk to submit PDFs of your passport or drivers license to a random corporation. You have no idea where that PDF might end up. Though, it will likely end up on Google drive because Google likely requires its employees to eat Google’s own dogfood (i.e., uses its own services).

And since the risk of using Google drive is as yet unknown with all of the Facebook-like features that Google has added (and continues to add), it wouldn’t surprise me to find Google internal documents accidentally shared through a Google employee’s personal account via Google+. This would obviously be bad for Google, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That’s why you don’t upload PDF files to corporations like Google. In fact, I wouldn’t share PDF files of that type on any network drive unless it’s encrypted and passworded. Better, don’t put it there in the first place.

Companies requiring copy of a personal ID

Personally, I won’t do this type of ‘give me a copy’ verification for any company unless I’m opening a bank account, credit card or need to provide it for some specific financial transaction. Even then, I will only transact that business in person and allow the person long enough time to see the documents to get what they need from it. And no, they are not allowed to photocopy it unless there’s some specific requirement.

I especially won’t do this with companies as big as Google or Microsoft when no transaction is involved. As companies grow larger and larger, employees get more and more careless in document handling. Asking for photocopies of identification cards, social security cards, credit card faces or any other issued card is not cool and I have no intention of ever providing that to a company for any identification purposes unless I’m actually performing a transaction. I won’t do it for ‘just in case’ services that I may never use. Doing so stupidly leaves a financial time bomb out there ready to be exploited.

The most they need is the number off of the face. If a company cannot make do with what’s printed on the face of the card (by being typed in), they get nothing. Just like giving your check routing information to a company such as Paypal is like writing a blank check, giving copies of physical documents to corporations is tantamount to identity theft. I simply don’t trust corporations with access to copies of my physical documents.

Though, were Google to set up a storefront and I could walk in and hand my card to someone to visually inspect and then maybe have them swipe it (although, I’d prefer not), I’d be somewhat okay with that. But, knowing a PDF file is floating around on the internet somewhere with a copy of my physical card, that’s not in any way cool. I will never do that for any corporation sight unseen no matter who they are. Since there’s no way to transact business with Google in person, there’s no way I’ll ever verify my identity for Google Wallet.

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ABC’s Lost: What really happened?

Posted in entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on March 15, 2014

For 6 years, we tuned in to find out what the next episode would be. For 6 years, we wondered as the premise got stranger and stranger. In the end, we finally see all of the plane crash victims that we knew together one last time in death. So, what really happened?

Common Theories

A lot of people theorize that they were dead the whole time. Others believe everything from seasons 1-5 were real events. Other theories are somewhere between these two. None of these scenarios fit exactly with what I believe happened. Keep in mind that these theories below are mine. If the writers choose to revisit this story and alter their vision of what really happened and how it happened, then that’s up to them. Any new stories they put forth could also negate the below theories. As the show sits today, here is my theory.

Were they dead?

Yes. They were dead before the plane crashed on the island. In fact, they probably died from a crash at sea. If they were supposedly dead, then where were they and what where we watching? Though they were dead from our Earthly plane of existence, they did seem very much alive. You’ll need to understand the writers’ use of the jumbo jet plane archetype is a literal metaphor (and pun) for carrying these people to the next ‘plane’ of existence. Once you realize that the plane is merely a metaphor, then you’ll understand the entire show. Even the title ‘Lost’ is both a pun and a foreshadowing of the main characters’ ‘awakening’ when put into context of the story.

That flight literally moved each of the victims to the next existence plane which allowed them to continue their lives right where they left off from their former reality (in excruciating detail), just as though the plane had really crashed. Let’s start off understanding that plane of existence. The next plane is supposedly the plane of imagination and creation (and as a way point for the next step in our journey). If this territory seems unfamiliar, you should probably research more on the 7 or 12 or 31 planes of existence theories. In the next plane from ours, you can create a realistic universe of your own choosing. So, the island represents this plane of existence. The island had rules because the person who imagined the island created those rules. It looked, smelled, felt and tasted like a real island because that plane of existence was just as real to those involved.

In the case of people new to that plane, they are not yet aware that they are dead (from the Earthly reality) and continue onward ‘living’ their lives as though they were still alive in the Earthly plane. The reason the physicality of the island mirrors our physical human reality so closely is that all people who recently die end up there. Because each person’s essence is so heavily tied to the Earth plane for so long, it’s natural to bring that familiarity into the plane of imagination and creation and then recreate those things most familiar exactly as it were (people and all). Hence, the Island.

The Glitch

In that plane of existence, things will be a little off kilter here and there (like the cat glitch in the Matrix). For example, the smoke monster, the island barrier, Jacob, people randomly appearing and disappearing on the island, items they need randomly appearing and disappearing, being cured of illness, time travel, magical events, etc. These are all manifestations of someone’s imagination and/or of being in that non-physical plane of reality. Because none of the people realized they were effectively in a dream reality, they never ‘woke’ up to it… all except Desmond. He didn’t wake up, but he could manipulate parts of that island reality. In fact, he may have been the ‘constant’ who unknowingly created the island from his imagination after having died sometime earlier. Assuming Desmond was the creator of the island, he couldn’t wake up before the rest of the characters or the Island might drastically change.

Note, the characters discount or disregard the glitching because that plane of existence is less rational than the Earthly plane. So, events that would seem way out of place here on Earth are more readily accepted in that plane. Acceptance of the glitching is part of the awakening process.

Why strand them there?

That’s a good question. Let’s understand that they would have ended up in that plane of existence simply by their physical body dying. However, for no other reason than the writers needed a place to put the plane crash victims to create this story, placing them all into Desmond’s plane of existence was as good a place as any. If you have a bunch of dead people, to the writers it seemed to make sense and it produced a good enough show.

But, they left the island!

Well, yes and no. Because that plane of existence can manifest anyone’s imagination, it’s easy to have characters end up back at home. That doesn’t mean they were really there. What the characters saw was merely a shadow world created by that character in the imagination plane. That’s why the real world always seemed just a little bit odd, somewhat unnatural and unreal. So, anyone they interacted with was simply a dream character. Because not one of the characters ever woke up, they never knew they could learn to manipulate their own world in any way they saw fit. But, if they had awakened, they would also know that they’re dead. So, for the writers, it would have revealed the ending too soon to have any one character actually ‘wake up’.

Some of the people died on the show

Yes, they did. But, they were already dead? Yes, those characters who died on the island suddenly realized they were already dead and moved on from that plane to the next plane earlier than the rest of the characters. Because ‘moving on to another plane’ is a different event from physically dying, all of the characters who thought they were still ‘alive’ perceived that person’s exit as a death. If they were to perceive another character’s death in any way other than by our plane’s means, they would wake up to the fact that they’re dead. It also makes perfect sense that some characters might figure it all out sooner than others. There’s no need to stay on the island once you know the truth of it.

What was the island?

Was the island a type of Purgatory? Not exactly. Purgatory assumes you believe in Christianity. Purgatory is defined as an intermediate state between death and Heaven. A place to purify before reaching Heaven. If the Island were Purgatory, that would assume all of the characters were destined for Heaven. In fact, there were plenty of characters there that didn’t seem to deserve entry to Heaven for the things they had done in life. But, who am I to judge that for them?

Instead, it’s better to adopt the wider view of planes of existence outside any single organized religion’s ideas. These views define planes as, yes, intermediate planes after death, but more than that. There are anywhere between 7 and 31 planes. I won’t get into further details about this topic as it’s well beyond the scope of this article. There are plenty of books describing these planes, what they are and why they exist.

Anyway, the Island is one of these planes and a type of ‘waiting room’ (if you subscribe to the Catholic view, it might be considered Purgatory) for people to make peace with their old life allowing them to ‘wake up’ to their new existence slowly before moving on. It’s a place to let you replay events from your physical life and unshackle yourself from the confines of a physical body to transition to the next plane. Think of the Matrix and waking someone up there. It’s kind of the same thing, but you get to wake up on your own rather than by taking a pill and finding yourself in a new reality immediately. The island is simply that stopover point that leads each of those people to the next step of their existence.

Note that during season 6, their existence was defined to be ‘Purgatory’, but by season 6 the characters were beginning to wake up. During seasons 1-5, the characters thought they were still physical. In their reality, that was all an illusion. The only thing real during seasons 1-5 was they were in that waiting room that appeared to be an island. In fact, they were in an alternate plane of existence where imagination and creation makes things appear real.

Why 6 years?

Understand that time in that plane of existence is meaningless. 6 minutes, 6 hours, 6 days or 600 years could all pass in the blink of an eye to us. Time doesn’t work the same in the next plane of existence. To us, we watched 6 years of episodes, but to the characters it may have seemed to happened in less then 30 days. Time is relative to where you are.

Why not all 250+ passengers?

Those specific few people were likely chosen by Desmond to live out their reality on his island or simply found their way to that island because Desmond wanted it to happen. The rest of the 250 passengers ended up in their own different realities, perhaps living out their own lives as if the plane had crashed, but others could end up making a world back at home with their families. The unseen victims of the crash made their own realities outside of the island reality and we didn’t get to see their lives unfold. Some of those people might also have moved on faster than those we saw on the island.

They weren’t dead until the very end?

Yes and no. They were dead in our reality. But, they weren’t dead in their plane of existence. A plane that is outside of our existence (or at least a plane that we cannot get to in our current tangible form). Because their bodies had died, their essence moved on in what appeared to be a body that looked, acted and dressed just like the living counterpart. The theory is that when you die, you continue to see yourself as your last physical body even in the next plane of existence. That is, until you slowly wake up to your new non-physical existence.

At the very end, the characters were finally awakened to their own Earthly death. A death that happened before the island. Once they awakened, they could realize the truth of it and return to the Earthly plane as ghosts. For whatever reason, they all awakened in unison, that or it was simply just time. Though, to them, the island was still just as real as any event on the Earthly plane. But, to the Earthly plane inhabitants where their physical bodies had died, they had died at sea in the plane and that’s all their Earth families ever knew.

In essence, Lost was a show about ghosts living in an alternate plane of reality.

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Personalized Search: Where is it?

Posted in business, search by commorancy on March 2, 2014

For all of the innovation hubbub involving search technologies back in the early 2000s, one thing that has still not materialized is personalized search. What is personalized search? Let’s explore.

Generalized Searching

Today, when you go to Google or Bing and you type in search keywords, you’re likely to get the same search results that everyone else sees when typing in those same keywords. But, this is approach today is asinine, antiquated and stupid. While it may have been okay back in the early 2000s when search was new and the database was smaller, with the larger amount of listings, personalized search is long overdue.

When Google introduced Gmail, I thought they might be onto something when they were discussing personalized ads in Gmail. Unfortunately, Gmail is pretty much where all of that innovation ended. Nothing different materialized in Google’s main search product. And worse, it’s now 2014 and we still don’t have anything different.

Personalized Search

Since nearly every search engine requires a login and password, it’s no big leap to offer ways of storing search preferences right into each user’s profile. As you search for things, the system will learn of your likes, preferences and click habits. Even better, add thumbs up and thumbs down on listings to move them up and down in your own personal search rankings. If I don’t ever plan to use Reddit, then I can lower its search rankings in my preferences. If I heavily use Twitter, I raise search rankings involving Twitter when they are ranked lower.

But, my preferences are my own. With the sites I like and the sites I dislike, I should be able to tailor my search results to fit my needs. If I decide to start using Reddit later, I can re-rank these listings higher again. These are all my choices and affect my own personalized search results.

As a side effect of personalized results, it also forces everyone to sign into Google or Bing to gain the benefits of personalized search. That’s definitely a benefit to these search engines.

Why personalized search?

Generalized searching, unfortunately, yields results based on someone else’s likes, dislikes, payola or other criteria. I want to tailor my own results to fit my search needs. So, if I’m searching for a specific product and I use Amazon frequently, Amazon’s listings will always be the first to show at the top. Why show me Newegg or J&R Music listings if I have no intention of going there to buy? It’s a waste of the search engine time and mine.

It’s quite clear that personalized search’s time has come and it’s something Google needs to embrace. That is, rather than the next ‘WheatToast’ version of Android (or whatever clever food name they happen to use). Google has clearly been ignoring search improvements and the lack of innovation in this area clearly shows how out of touch both Google and Bing are.

As the size of search databases grow, individuals need better innovative tools to tame and distill the millions of listings into smaller more personal and useful listings. Personalized search must become the next innovation in search.

What will this break?

Search Engine Optimization. I know I know, I can hear a lot of SEO advocates groaning about how bad this will be for SEO. Note that SEO would only be impacted by each user who tweaks personal search rankings. For users who don’t do this, normal SEO rules apply. Though, I don’t personally care about how high some company is ranked in my personal search list. What I care about is the quality of the listings. In fact, in a lot of cases, SEO won’t even be affected in my own results. If I have made no preferences involving some keywords, the generalized rules still apply. So, if none of my sites that I ranked higher are in the listing, the generalized results will be shown to me and standard SEO won’t be impacted. It’s only after the first generalized results list that I can tweak the listings to my own preference.

After that, SEO may be impacted by my own personal preferences. But hey, that’s my choice. That’s the point to personalized search results. If I value one company over another, that’s my preference. I have the right to make that preference. That some third party wants their listing at the top of my search results is not my problem. You can use a paid listing for that. That’s the point in paying for a listing. The organic results are my own and I should be able to rearrange, tailor and shuffle them to my own personal likes. There is no other way to tame the mounds of links that get thrown at users during generalized search… results that are only to grow larger and larger.

So, to those people relying on SEO, I say, “too bad”. Learn to pay for listings if you want to be at the top of my personalized search results or, alternatively, give me a reason to rank you higher. That is, whenever we finally get personalized search.

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Huffpost: Facebook is not a verification system

Posted in best practices, business by commorancy on March 2, 2014

The Huffington Post recently put up a ‘warning’ that in order to ensure ‘civil discussion’ on their own site discussion areas, they would need to verify my account. Then, they proceed to put up a ‘Connect to Facebook’ button. Note they do not allow any other ‘verification’ method than Facebook. Let’s explore why this is not appropriate.

Facebook is a social media site

Facebook is not a verification system. This system is probably the LEAST trusted site on the internet for privacy, accuracy of personal data or for any other verification purpose. Nonetheless, that Huffington Post is now requiring connection to Facebook to post comments on the Huffington Post site is clearly without rational thought. But, it does have an alternative agenda.

Huffington Post is a news media site. It has nothing to do with Facebook and, more specifically, nothing to do with my Facebook account. Sorry Huffington Post / HuffPost, not gonna happen. You can go wallow in your own stupidity. This requirement is not only insane, but stupid decisions like this can easily to lead to your own demise.

Verification Systems

If you own a site contemplating verifying a user, don’t tie it to Facebook. Email verification is the only level of verification that you need to verify an account. Connecting to someone’s Facebook account in no way guarantees civil discussion. Connecting to Facebook is a privilege, not a right. The only thing connecting to Facebook guarantees is that Huffington Post can randomly place garbage onto that Facebook user’s wall.

HuffPost Agenda: Calling a rose, a rose

Though this situation is not rosy, it also has nothing to do with verification and everything to do with Huffington Post’s own propagandizing self-promotion agenda, that and gaining access to private pieces of your Facebook profile. It has nothing to do with verifying a user. As a large respected journalism site, if you’re going to require something like this, then call it for what it is. You plan on using these Facebook connections for your own advertising purposes. Don’t lie to us and hide it behind some fake verification process.

This is nothing more than a real-estate grab. Huffington Post is merely grabbing Facebook accounts to use for their own advertising purposes. It has nothing whatever to do with civil discussions or user accountability. No, let’s just call a rose, a rose. It is not anything other than that. Until Huffington Post does the ‘right thing’ and states the real reason why it needs all of those Facebook account connections, I can no longer trust the Huffington Post.

Bye HuffPost!

How not to run a business (Part 7): Communication

Posted in business, data security by commorancy on March 1, 2014

Internal business communication is a problem in any company, especially as a company grows. When you have a 10 person team, it’s easy for everyone to know what everyone else is doing. When you’re a 500 person team, that challenge becomes quite a bit harder. How do you solve this problem for a 500 person company? Let’s explore.

Don’t expect all team members to know everything that’s going on

Foster a company that values communication, knowledge, excellence and teamwork. One of the biggest problems facing any company is that people, in their zeal to get things done rapidly, gloss over explanations about critical points. In email, it’s really apparent when you get that miles-long email thread that effectively tells you, “Read the below 50 reply thread and figure out what’s going on”. You do this only to realize that no relevant customer information, times and/or dates of the ‘problem’ are even described in that thread. Worse, you’ve spent 15 minutes reading it twice. It’s no wonder things don’t get done quickly and that customers complain of slowness.

Team members should provide ALL necessary information to everyone properly for expediency. It is the originating employee’s responsibility is to describe all necessary information that identifies the customer in your company’s system. Without this basic information, someone will eventually have to stop and determine this. To solve this problem effectively, require the use of a ticketing system to track problems and make the ticketing system require input fields that force the employee reporting the problem to fill in all details properly. This completely avoids that 50 reply long thread where not one person defines the most basic things needed.

Wasting time on deciphering a miles long email thread is pointless. It’s much more useful to get to the heart of the problem immediately. Use ticketing systems to manage these communication problems. Email is for quick questions and small discussions. Ticketing systems are for resolving problems. Use the right tool for the right reason.

Don’t let your employees post internal company information to internet sites

Internal information flow is for employee use only. Twitter, Reddit, Quora or even your own external blog or discussion forums are not the place for employee communication. Hire people to manage external facing customer information. Saying or doing the wrong thing on public facing media, especially when you become a public company, can hurt your company and can become a permanent part of Google’s search database for years.

Your corporate communication’s team (you do have one, right?) should strictly control public messaging. On the other hand, employees posting their own personal views of non-company related matters is not to be restricted when not on the clock and when using personal assets and networks. As long as their posts have nothing whatever to do with company business, there should be no restrictions on use of employee after-hour use of social media.

Tweeting personal things while on-the-clock and using company equipment, should be frowned upon if for no other reason than it is reducing work productivity. If the employee does personal things during their break or lunch hour, it should not be restricted if performed from personal devices outside of company networks and not involving company business.

On the other hand, posting public communication involving the company or the company’s products on company time should be handled by the corporate communication team or by their approval. Saying the wrong thing on the wrong venue can cause irreparable damage to your company’s credibility or lose critical deals.

Don’t read every employee email or store them forever

While you can likely do this through auditing, it opens your business up to some legal issues. If the person reading another employee’s email becomes aware of something illicit that your team may or may not know about, it could lead to issues involving the company becoming an accomplice in whatever the act may have been. Not having the knowledge, it’s much easier to deny involvement and that the employee was acting on their own. That may or may not help your case, but it may prevent other personal lawsuits from arising.

Additionally, if you are reading employee email, that means it’s stored some place. Because it’s stored, it may fall under other problem areas like email retention. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t archive all emails sent by your employees, but keeping the emails stored too long is probably just as bad as reading them, in terms of legal problems. However, you may need to know if an ex-employee made sales promises to a customer that may not have been documented anywhere else. However, when you have emails stored, they can be subpoenaed during discovery of a legal proceeding. If you purge them after required legal retention periods, they’re not there to be discovered. At the same time, you may lose some historical information about your company. You have to make the call where to draw the retention line.

If you intend to keep backups of email, you should really only keep them for as long as the law allows, then purge them irrevocably from disk and all backups. Not having the information around can save your company from legal issues if an employee did something not sanctioned by the company.

Don’t use Google Apps, Postini, Appriver or other third party email servers without knowing how they work

If you outsource your company’s email system to a third party, you could open yourself up to lawsuits, loss of trade secrets or spying. You should always read that third party’s contract terms very carefully and ask for revisions for items which you don’t agree. If that third party reserves the right to archive, store and possibly even read those emails, this could open your company up to not only lawsuit discovery, it could lead your company to lost company secrets, lost company contracts, lost revenue, hacked email or lost customers.

A third party does have the responsibility to maintain some levels of privacy over contracted services, but you can’t control who that third party hires. If they happen to hire a person or contractor of malicious intent, you’re vulnerable. Simply using a third party, you’re at risk. In other words, that third party could end up hiring your competitor to provide some fundamental service that is conflict of interest to your business. Also, email hosting providers selling services to large corporate entities are prime targets for an attack. Beware of these risks involving third party providers. While using such a third party service may appear less expensive, you have to understand the hidden costs of running your business through any third party service. Only you can weigh those risk-benefits.

Even more, you’re also at the mercy of that third party’s security processes. If their process is not as stringent as yours, your company secrets could be at risk. If you don’t know the level of security that that third party provider offers, you could be a world of hurt if their email server is compromised and a bunch of your private company email appears on internet forums or on CNN.

Don’t pass trade secrets or confidential company information in plain text email

While you can’t rule out a corporate mole within your own organization, it’s far far easier to lose your trade secrets through email communication than through any other medium. If that communication uses a third party, you’re really at risk since few companies require encrypted email. If you choose to use email communication through a third party cloud provider, you should require that each employee send and use encrypted communications when discussing trade secrets, large customer deals, financial information or even discussing customer lists.

Setting up GPG, while not necessarily trivial, is one way to combat sending such easily viewed emails. Even the simple act of someone reading an email at home on their iPhone will transfer that email data across the internet in a visible plain text which can be read by anyone along the way. Email encryption prevents prying eyes other than to the recipient it was intended. Not all email communication requires encryption, but for those that do, encryption can be the difference between a lost deal and winning that deal.

The bigger your company gets, the more targeted it will be for espionage.

Don’t rely on chat systems to take the place of email

Chat systems are fleeting. These messages are easily lost. If you need records to be stored for your employee’s time use, then you should require email or ticketing to manage this. Chat is not always productive, but can be helpful to get answers to questions rapidly. But, don’t have your employee rely on chat to execute sensitive system procedures, especially if your company is using AOL, YMessenger or any other third party hosted chat system. Instead, for new procedures, use a local phone conference system. Voice chat is much more interactive, less error prone and, when combined with screen sharing, can provide much better methods of disseminating information and communication. Once the process has been nailed down, place it into an onsite Wiki that can be reviewed as a knowledgebase. Use a chat system for what it’s best at doing, writing quick small fleeting messages.

Don’t rely on third party services to run your entire communication business

If you can afford it, you should build and operate your own corporate communication systems behind your own corporate network infrastructure. If you farm out any part of your corporate communications to a third party provider, your communication is at risk. Risk from theft, from espionage, from hacking and from data retention that’s all out of your control. Instead, to control all of your communications (both internal and external), you will want to own all communication systems including ticketing, email and chat services. While you can’t own mobile device networks, you can own when and how they are to be used for communication.

Don’t forget to encourage employees to communicate regularly

While meetings are great ways at getting a lot of people on the same page at once, those that aren’t in the room during that meeting won’t have any clue. It’s also easy to forget who attended a meeting after the meeting convenes, so always make sure to encourage people who attended the meeting to communicate to those who didn’t attend and to whomever needs to know.

Also, require someone to keep meeting notes at all meetings and post the notes to a common department page after the meeting concludes. Better, require recording of meetings and store the meeting recordings as mp3 files for easy access and download. This not only allows those not in attendance to catch up on what was said, it also keeps those who were in attendance from claiming something was or wasn’t said. Basically, recordings keep everyone honest and informed. Remember to apply data retention policies to all archived meeting recordings.

Don’t tolerate employees who claim ignorance on what they have previously said

For any manager, director, VP or regular employee, honesty is the best policy. Keeping your employees honest keeps the company functioning correctly. However, any employee that regularly uses the ‘I never said that’ defense, usually indicates that they did say that at some point. Employees should not be allowed to get away with that defense, especially when it is found via email (or through recordings) that they did say whatever they claim they didn’t.

Employees using that defense more than twice and who have been found to have said it, should be officially written up and placed on a performance plan. Any further transgressions should be met with swift removal from the position. Honest communication is the key. Anyone intentionally sabotaging that goal by using this defense, should be swiftly stopped and/or removed. Fewer things make a company more communicably dysfunctional and time wasting than having to deal with unnecessary diversions (e.g. having to prove someone else wrong).

Instead, employees should always focus on the business at hand, not on doing historical research projects to find out what someone may or may not have said.

Don’t encourage employees to keep other employees in the dark

Barring salary and compensation details and upcoming earnings information, there are very few business topics that cannot be communicated to any employee in the company. Granted, some information may not be necessary for a specific person’s job role. There is no reason, though, that a person who manages IT couldn’t know the DSO number of a collections associate in Finance. This is not secret information. It may not be necessary information for that IT person’s job, but it should not be in any way a secret. Not passing unnecessary information is considered okay, but if someone asks it’s not a secret.

In the spirit of this section, all critical business information needs to be sent to everyone who needs to know. Example, when sales deals are closing, sales employees need to disclose all promises made to the customer and that information needs to be disseminated to all employees potentially impacted by those promises. Passing the information is not necessarily in place to prevent the deal from happening, but to allow anyone with extenuating information to inform the sales person of those business constraints impacting those promises. In other words, sales people need a technical conscience. The only way to manage this is to involve a technical person to help reign in the sales person and set proper expectations. Barring the use of a technical person in every sales deal, then the promises need to be disseminated to the technical teams to ensure the deal can be closed without problems.

If special provisions are needed for some promises, then the prospect needs to be informed of when those special provisions may become available. The last thing you want your sales person doing is making a promise without telling anyone. That’s the quickest way to not only lose the deal, but also to face refunds months later when the promises cannot be kept (and the sales person has spent their commission check after having left the company).

Communication Reality

Checks and balances can only be performed with proper communication to all teams and by also not keeping employees in the dark. If you find your sales team making promises without informing people timely, this person should be reprimanded and written up. Further transgressions should be met by leading them to them the exit door.

Communication is always a challenge and keeping the communication flowing is the only way to ensure smooth business operations. It’s when communication stops, lags or is held back until it’s too late that it becomes a business continuity problem. As a company grows larger and larger, communication will suffer. When a company becomes divided by geographic boundaries, communication becomes not only worse, but compartmentalized. What one office may know, another won’t. That’s a recipe for problems all around. Unfortunately, that’s also the problem that most very large companies like AT&T and Verizon face today. With 10000 or more employees, communication between all of these employees will greatly suffer and is one of the reasons that ticketing and process flows become the single most important communication tool in a super sized company.

However, that you may only have 50 employees doesn’t mean your communication can’t suffer. Every company can improve communication by using the right tools.

Part 6 | ↓ Part 7.1 | Chapter Index | Part 8

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