CIO Symmetry

November 13, 2008  1:51 PM

Google Flu Trends: What is it?

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

Chills, body aches, fever — it’s flu season. Am I sure of these symptoms? Of course, I Googled them. If you find yourself doing the same as cold and flu signs creep up around you, you may be contributing to Google’s newest effort to mark trends — Google Flu Trends, that is., a branch of the company committed to addressing world problems (as stated in the company vision), recently launched Google Flu Trends — aggregating Google search data to estimate flu activity across the country.

According to Google, people searching for flu-related search topics and people with actual flu symptoms are closely related. Google compared the query counts with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found that certain flu queries were popular during flu season. Keeping track of how often these specific queries show up during flu season can provide flu circulation estimates throughout the United States. During last year’s flu season, was able to accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.

Although still in the very early stages, Google Flu Trends could give you a heads up on flu season to prevent you from catching the dreaded affliction. According to Medical News Today, more than 97 million cases of the flu are reported annually. With a one- to two-week advance notice of flu trends in your state, you may be able to take the necessary precautions to prevent sickness (and sick days).

As of now, most states are in the low to moderate zone for flu trends.

November 6, 2008  9:26 PM

Google Chrome: How secure is your information?

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

Google is growing. From Chrome to G1, it’s not just for searching anymore.

As the Google giant is creating new breeds of consumers (“cross-consumers,” I call them — spanning email, news, mobile devices, Web browsers, etc.), what is happening to all of our personal information? Google knows who we’re emailing, what we’re emailing, what we’re searching…

The launch of Chrome in September marked a big step for Google — the browser would be in direct competition with Microsoft’s IE. I downloaded Google’s Chrome right away, eager to test it out. I enjoyed features like “Google Suggest,” which sends Google searches as you’re typing them out, anticipating your search desires. With every word you type out in your search query, you get links pertaining to that particular phrase. As if searching could get easier?

As it is, we can literally find out anything about everything. Google culls information from many sites and quick answers can be seen directly on the search results. If I wanted to know the dates of the American Civil War, I just need to type in American Civil War and I immediately get the start and end dates in the summaries. I don’t even have to go to any of the sites if I don’t want to.

But even if I’m not going anywhere, my information still is.

How secure is my information? Brian Rakowski, product manager for Chrome, said queries sent to Google through the autosuggest feature include the user’s IP address and the time the query was made. But Google logs only 2% of this information, according to Rakowski, and makes it anonymous after 24 hours by removing the last four IP address digits associated with the query.

What about the privacy feature on Chrome — the incognito tab? This feature turns off autosuggest and allows users to surf the Web without leaving a history or cookies. But, according to Google, you can’t entirely cover up someone’s Internet activity.

Search wisely.

November 5, 2008  9:34 PM

How user-friendly is your website?

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

Are “user-friendly” projects more likely to catch on? It makes sense – the easier it is for the average user, the more likely it is that they will continue using it. You know, the whole “keep it simple, stupid”?

A survey of John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s campaign websites conducted by New York-based consulting firm First Insights found that the more user-friendly the website was, the more likely it was to change minds. Forty-three undecided voters reviewed both sites: 22 found the Obama website more user-friendly, 16 felt McCain’s site was more user-friendly and five considered them to be equal. At the end of the day, 12 of the undecided voters leaned towards Obama.

What makes a website “user-friendly”? Jakob Nielson, once called the guru of Web page usability by The New York Times, has the usability scores of 51 similar sites. The sites were voter information websites from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the site usability for each was evaluated. The results? The best voter site got a score of 77% (out of 100%), eight sites scored below 40% and the lowest-scoring site got 29%. Not spectacular results, but not bad either.

According to Nielson’s findings, “you need an integrated view of usability, from the user’s perspective, and you need to develop the site through user-centered design.” The user should be the main priority because what’s the point of having a site if the people you want to use it, can’t.

Looking to make your website more user-friendly? Nielson suggests avoiding page clutter and any content resembling an ad. The phenomenon of “banner blindness” occurs when a user automatically skims or skips anything on the page that looks like an ad – whether it’s actual content or not. Another tip? Stay away from words or phrases unique to your company. What may seem obvious to you may not be so obvious to, say, Joe the plumber.

October 31, 2008  3:59 PM

Gmail apps: Text your contacts

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

Google Gmail users now have the option to send text messages to mobile phones. The experimental app, found in Gmail Labs, was made available to all users Thursday night.

The feature is very similar to chat – find your contact (if the mobile number is saved in your contacts list) and the option to send an SMS will be available. The text message will appear on the person’s phone as a number from a 406 area code – which will be associated to your account and the number to which all incoming texts to your Gmail account will be sent. Although free for the Gmailer, mobile plan charges may apply for the person on the other end.

Gmail Labs has recently introduced some interesting apps to heighten the Gmail experience. Google Goggles, the email app to test your frame of mind when sending emails after hours, was introduced earlier this month. Met with mixed reviews when tested on drunk emailing (it seemed almost anyone could get through the simple math questions, no matter how inebriated), the overall concept seemed interesting when used to slow you down (and cool you down) before hitting “send.”

Although a great way to — umm — waste time, Google Apps and Gmail chat are not just for personal use and can actually be useful tools in the office. In an official Google blog post by Matthew Glotzbach, product management director for Google Enterprise, more than 1 million businesses have selected Google Apps to run their business, and tens of millions of people use Gmail every day.

The cloud computing-based system did have a glitch in August, when an outage halted emails for a few hours, but according to Glotzbach, Gmail has a 99.9% reliability score. According to the research firm Radicati Group, companies with on-premises email solutions averaged from 30 to 60 minutes of unscheduled downtime and an additional 36 to 90 minutes of planned downtime per month. With Gmail’s one glitch in the year, it suggests it’s more reliable than other enterprise email solutions like Novell GroupWise and Microsoft Exchange.

It’s all about communication – and it seems Google is making communicating within the workplace easier with creative apps and (fingers crossed!) great reliability.

Interested in more about Google and cloud computing in the midmarket? Watch’s recent video interview with Glotzbach.

October 30, 2008  2:41 PM

Halloween costumes only an IT geek could love

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

What could be scarier than IT security breaches and software audits? For those of you who want to impress your friends and co-workers with a little bit of Halloween creativity (while sending along some subtle hints), Rachel Lebeaux, associate editor of, and I have compiled a list of the perfect tech 2008 Halloween costumes. From fun to frightening, these costumes are sure to be a hit at any party. You can even wear one of them at home as you greet the trick-or-treaters — passing out Hershey’s miniatures and disaster recovery advice to the ghosts and ghouls in your neighborhood.

– The computer virus. This frightening costume can really be ANYTHING, as these horrifying threats come in many forms. Need an added boost to identify yourself? Carry around a sign that reads something like, “computer viruses helped contribute to $8.5 billion in consumer losses in 2008” or “Click me! I self-replicate.” Have some fun with it – this is the one day of the year you can.

– A Post-it note with a secure password written on it. Get a plain, bright yellow shirt and write something like “PW- 1hgjM87c” across the front. Wear this one into the office as a subtle reminder to your IT staffers. If they ask you what you are, tell them they should know – one third of the most powerful passwords are still being written on Post-it notes.

– A software audit. No one will be pleased to see you show up at the party! Why? Because deep down, they may have been expecting you.

KACE Networks Inc., a Mountain View, Calif.-based systems management company commissioned a survey this year and found that 69% of those surveyed said they were “not confident” that they were in compliance with software license agreements. And 67% of the IT executives and managers surveyed said their companies haven’t taken steps to ensure compliance. What would you wear? Anything, really. Just make sure to tell people you’re there to collect thousands of dollars in legal and licensing fees after finding those extra, unlicensed mailboxes in Microsoft Exchange. Get official – start with a certified letter.

– A bad disaster recovery plan. This one may take a bit more explanation. Safety pin some basic (bad) plans to your shirt, like “physically relocate servers – down the street” or “only back up user data every so often … or when the mood strikes you.” Maybe not as sexy and exciting as some of the other options but for those who have experienced a disaster and have lost valuable time and money as the result of a poor plan, it’s an absolute nightmare. Go on, apply some ghoulish face paint for good measure.

– A hiring freeze. At first glance, this costume isn’t too scary but requires you to channel in some Debbie Downer remarks. Drape paper icicles over your light-blue (ice-blue?) shirt with the words “Now Hiring” written across it and then crossed out. Walk around telling people that a recent Fierce CIO report found that out of the 50 CIOs surveyed, nearly 25% said they have imposed a hiring freeze, while half said they are cutting spending on consultants and contractors. Tell them the job cuts and hiring freezes mean expanded work roles for IT staff are becoming standard procedure and, as a result, they’ll be spending more time in the office. Eek!

Want the other five? Visit the Total CIO blog for more chilling ideas.

October 23, 2008  9:13 PM

Geekin’ out with Google’s G1

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

On Wednesday, the G1 Google phone for T-Mobile with Android – the first “free, open source and fully customizable mobile platform” was made available in stores to the general public. A geek at heart, I was anxious to check out the much anticipated Android Market, which allows third-party developers to create applications with the Android-provided source code.

I trudged out to T-Mobile to pick one up. When we walked in, I was greeted by the store manager in his limited-edition G1 T-shirt. “Hi, welcome to T-Mobile, what can I help you with today?” As if he didn’t already know.

Within 45 minutes I had my G1 and, with a sigh, I turned off my beloved BlackBerry (stripped of its SIM card) for the last time. Leaving my BlackBerry behind was bittersweet – such a reliable phone … never had a problem with it.

So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Absolutely not. Although I had gotten used to the reliability of my BlackBerry, it was a stagnant sense of “fine.” Nothing was wrong, but things could get better. Things like open source applications and no one dictating which apps “belonged” to the platform. The possibilities are endless.

In an ironic twist, the day before the G1 hit stores, Microsoft declared it “Anti-Piracy Day.” Digital rights management schemes invoke negative reactions from many end users, which made me wonder — here’s the ironic part — if going open source would eliminate the licensing and piracy efforts companies like Microsoft are concerned with? Open source allows developers to create and edit without the licensing issues.

But, of course, it’s not just the Microsofts of the world that are affected — piracy harms the open source community as well. The need for creativity and the feeling of “giving back to the community” provided by open source could be harmed if people aren’t paying exorbitant prices for their pirated copy of MS Office (getting it free or at a reduced rate) – why bother working towards a change?

So, don’t be a software pirate and look forward to the possibilities of open source — think of all the apps!

October 22, 2008  7:43 PM

Obama’s CTO of the USA

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

Barack Obama, if elected president, will be looking for a cabinet-level chief technology officer (CTO) – a first in the White House. Job responsibilities will include ensuring the U.S. is caught up with technologies, infrastructure and services for the 21st century. A White House CTO would potentially help create broadband expansion with incentive programs (tax credits for smaller carriers, etc.) and oversee the proposed venture capital fund to develop more environmentally friendly technology.

Throughout his campaign, Obama has effectively used the Internet to raise funds and engage voters – utilizing everything from blogs to social networks. But the United States is ranked 15th among industrial nations in broadband penetration, according to a report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The report showed only 23 out of 100 Americans have broadband access – with rural areas being the most affected.

According to’s technology page, if the U.S. is going to succeed in the global economy we need to get on the ball and online. Without renewed technology efforts, it stated, the U.S. will continue to lose leadership in science, technology and innovation – particularly information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology. It continued to cite recent international study statistics: U.S. students perform lower on scientific assessments than students in “16 other economically developed nations and lower than 20 economically developed nations in math performance.”

The overall aim of broadband penetration and associated technological advancements is increased communication and awareness. Who are some likely candidates for the job? BusinessWeek’s short list from Washington insiders of potential U.S. CTO candidates includes Google’s Vint Cerf, Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer, Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos and Ed Felten, a prominent professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University.

Obama’s proposed CTO may help turn the economy around and keep things on the up and up — developments of new technologies will lead to more jobs. Obama’s plan to invest in climate-friendly energy development and deployment would theoretically create 5 million new jobs alone.

And if that doesn’t work out? At least one new job would be created – a White House CTO.

October 17, 2008  2:20 PM

Microsoft hosts midmarket CIOs – Vote for the biggest CIO challenge

EditorAnne Anne McCrory Profile: EditorAnne

A midmarket CIO’s challenges are many, and I’m always amazed by the stories I hear when I’m out on the road meeting many of you.

This week I touched down in Redmond for Microsoft’s US Midsize Business CIO Summit, an invitation-only event for about 400 midmarket CIOs. It’s a press-free conference, but I was privileged to be a speaker and thus join the technology glitterati on site.

My conversations covered a lot of topics, but what I’ll share with you here is a sampling of the folks I met. If you think your job is tough, consider those of these CIOs – then I’ll ask you to vote or share your story of trying circumstances.

– The CIO for a firm that conducts clinical trials. He has five staff in the U.S. and 25 in Europe. Based on the West Coast, he had just spent over a week on the road, first in London and then in Russia, then came directly to the conference. At home he’s on calls early in the morning and late in the evening, syncing up with staff around the world. Challenges? Language, culture. … He absolutely wasn’t griping about the travel or the hours (he didn’t even look tired!) and I know he’s hardly alone in living such a global lifestyle. But to me that seemed the most challenging part.

– The CIO who was hired to bring a food distributor into the 21st century. The company had all sorts of aging or aged systems – but the hard part was when this maverick CIO announced capabilities he wanted to roll out to the employee base. The CEO told him that sales reps were not going to use computers. Period.

– The CIO who had endured several offshoring contracts (some negotiated by his parent company), all with ill effects. In one case, employees at a provider hacked into his systems; in another, a key offshore contact left for another firm just after completing his Oracle training in the U.S. Meanwhile, he grappled with undeveloped infrastructure – he couldn’t get a switch for a new plant he was building — and bureaucrats who promised fixes and then didn’t deliver.

Do you relate to any of these experiences or have your own story of obstacles to share? Vote below for the one that seems most challenging and feel free to offer advice to the CIOs in question.

October 17, 2008  2:11 PM

2009 cybersecurity threats revealed – wah waaah

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

You know that new iPhone you got? Or the Android order you put in? Well, not to get all Debbie Downer on you, but your sexy smartphone is a security threat.

The Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC) announced the release of the Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2009. A big help in our overall awareness and protection, the report outlines security concerns and risks for consumer and enterprise Internet users. So what’s your mobile device got to do with it? Cell phones will become members of botnets.

In the GTISC report, Patrick Traynor, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgia Tech and member of the GTISC, delves into the “digital wallet” smartphone concept (smartphones store personal identity and payment information). He says smartphones will be injected with malware — when this happens, “large cellular botnets could then be used to perpetrate a DoS attack against the core of the cellular network.” The good news? Traynor goes on to say it will provide an opportunity to design security properly for the quickly evolving mobile communications sector.

The overall threat areas to be aware of, according to the report, are malware, botnets, cyberwarfare, threats to VoIP and mobile devices and the evolution of the cybercrime economy. The driving force behind all the attacks? The data.

The cybercrime community (a mafia of sorts, if you will) will be utilizing our recent advancements in social networking to cloak malcode. One example given in the report: Facebook wall links posted by a friend prompting users to install Flash Player updates. When the unaware user clicks to install the update, a piece of malware is installed on the machine. And just like that, the computer is involved in a botnet.

Other stats to be aware of? Botnets have become worse in 2008 and GTISC researchers estimate 15% of online computers will be botnet-affected this year. Cyberwarfare and attempts to “subvert the US economy and infrastructure” will accompany military interaction more often. And the already vulnerable VoIP? Cybercriminals will look to engage in voice fraud, data theft and other scams.

October 15, 2008  7:51 PM

Emotional working: What the financial crisis is doing to US employees

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

We’re all a little on edge lately. From the stock market to the housing crisis, feelings of instability infiltrate our daily lives. There’s no escaping it – we’re in an economic mess. And as the pressure mounts and the stress continues, some interesting things are happening in the workplace…

Passive-aggressive emails, tight-lipped smiles in the office kitchen, no more jolly hellos in the halls. What’s going on?

The answer? Desk rage: an increasingly common affliction within the office as stresses over rising costs, debt or job uncertainty continue to haunt Americans. Jennifer Bunk, assistant professor of psychology at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, has collected data on the subject from more than 1,000 workers. She found that 75% of people she surveyed have been treated rudely in the workplace at least once every year. Bunk also found that even mild rudeness decreases job satisfaction and commitment to the company, affecting turnover rates and retention. If someone quits, the company has to invest resources into finding a replacement. And if you happen to be the person to quit? Good luck commandeering the job market –budgets are tight.

A recent Fierce CIO Report found “the Corporate Executive Board in Washington, D.C., surveyed 50 CIOs, and nearly 25% said they have imposed a hiring freeze, while half said they are cutting spending on consultants and contractors.”

With job cuts and hiring freezes taking place, expanded work roles for IT staff are becoming standard procedure — which means more work and more time spent in the office.

What happens when single professionals with very little dating breathing room (less money, less time, less energy…) are cooped up in the same building everyday, experiencing similar events?

You guessed it – the office romance.

Results from Vault’s 2008 Office Romance Survey show 82% of respondents have known of an office romance between co-workers and 46% of respondents have been involved in an office romance themselves (20% of which resulted in “true love”). Well if the desk rage didn’t get you, the awkwardness post (potential) breakup will — one third of the relationships actually become “long term.” On the upside (yes, upside – I’m not that cynical) 42% believe that their mood would improve, encouraging them to go to work each morning.

Difficult times call for difficult measures, so do what you have to do. Just make sure your office romance doesn’t transform into office rage.

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