How Microsoft could win the mobile messenger war

skype

Every month we either hear about the launch of a new mobile messenger app, the funding of an app, or the acquisition of one. Yet, we never hear of any innovation coming from the Skype camp. If you conduct an image search for Skype you will find a few images of mobile devices but over 90% of the images are of Skype being used on PCs. This is wrong. Skype is one of the most brilliant of all mobile messenger apps. Perhaps I should say ‘could’ be…

Following Skype’s acquisition of Qik (disclaimer: the Founding CEO, CTO, Head of Ops, Engineer 1, Engineer 2 and the 2 first angel investors are all individual investors in MetaCert), I expected to see some amazing updates including video calling and chat integration. I don’t think about Skype when I want to use chat/IM on mobile. Why?!

Video is going to play a very big part in the future. Microsoft has the talent and technology to ensure Skype steams ahead in the mobile messenger space. But does it have the innovation drive and the ability to be agile?

My suggestion to Microsoft

Internal processes and office politics are likely to stand in the way of Skype (AKA Microsoft) building a world dominating mobile messenger app internally. So my suggestion is this:

Skype should open its API and hold a three month hackathon to see who can build the most compelling mobile apps - without limitations. Create a three stage elimination process where the early prototypes are knocked out. They could rent a hotel to house the remaining teams who would spend their last week putting the final touches to their apps. It would be the world’s biggest hackathon.

The best apps for each major market would each receive $1M in prize money (cash). Most products will never make it big in every market as each market has very different needs - so by allowing developers to focus on the market they know best you attract developers from all over the world and you end up with products that are fit for each market. The best overall app wins $5M in cash.

The entire project wouldn’t cost more than $20M, a tiny fraction of their R&D budget. And it’s almost certain to not only achieve true innovation around some of their core technology, it would also make them more attractive to the developer community longterm.

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Is Paul Walsh the new CEO of Symantec?

Late last week PC and network security specialist Symantec announced the departure of its second CEO in as many years. Steve Bennett has been sacked and replaced by board member Michael Brown as interim CEO until they find a suitable “leader to drive the next stage product innovation”.

The Chair of the board Daniel Schulman’s comments regarding Bennett’s contribution didn’t mention anything about progress in product innovation or company growth. Instead he thanked him for his contribution towards “business process improvement initiatives” and “cost cutting exercises”. Whilst these initiatives are important, they’re pretty easy to implement. And as Bennett found out the hard way, they’re not nearly as important as product innovation at a time when innovation is really needed at Symantec in this new(ish) post-PC era. Symantec will need to look long and hard at its product roadmap to ensure it doesn’t become irrelevant along with PCs, for which many of its current products and services are made. And can a company with over 200 products be the best in the world at anything?

I also question the brand marketing around the SSL business that Symantec acquired from VeriSign for $1.28B. It has been over 3 years since the acquisition and yet, most people still associate the tick with VeriSign. Moreover, I’d like to see some innovation around SSL in the smart device market. The PC market is dying and therefore, desktop browsers aren’t here to stay. Products that are built for companies and consumers who use desktop browsers are certainly not going to help a company scale. I’d like to see Symantec “extend” SSL further, to provide consumers with more trust when accessing web content inside apps (and mobile browsers). There isn’t a single security product addressing this need today.

Back to the CEO job. When one of our lead investors emailed me to say “Perfect timing for MetaCert. We should explore a possible partnership to help them with their mobile product roadmap. Go for it Paul!!” I immediately assumed the CEO position of Symantec (in my head) and updated my LinkedIn profile page. It was a silly prank for our investors, allowing me to highlight that MetaCert is working on products that companies like Symantec should have on their roadmap (metacert.com is way out of date). I assumed that either people wouldn’t notice, or they would assume it was a mistake. Instead, I received more than 100 emails congratulating me on my new post – including very senior management from big corporations with whom I had worked with in the past. I’m flattered that everyone assumed it to be true, but I must apologize for any confusion it may have caused. It’s not true. I am not the CEO of Symantec. I am still the CEO of MetaCert. But I will happily help them with mobile innovation should they ask for it.

At MetaCert we’re working on some mobile security projects in stealth, so perhaps they have similar innovations around mobile browser and app security to announce in the near future. I hope they do as it will help us to demonstrate a market need in order to raise more funding for our go to market strategy. I didn’t want to write too much about “MetaCert” in this post so I’ll write a followup post to explain why we are making some product changes ourselves.

With a massive portfolio of products and with little demonstrable innovation in the mobile security space, Symantec will need to hire someone who can execute fast – someone who’s not only got an eye for future trends, but who can create products to solve problems that people didn’t realize they had (such as the ones I’ve already outlined, albeit vaguely). This isn’t always easy but Symantec has the resource to educate a large market, with the ability and outreach to attract the developer community to help scale their solutions.

I believe the mobile app and browser security space is still at its infancy but there are a few areas of serious security concerns, for which no product exists. Whenever I think about apps and how they are evolving, I think back to my days at AOL when my teams were testing browser technologies. And as one of the original seven founders of the W3C Mobile Web Initiative, I will continue to believe that apps are growing exponentially but the Web and mobile browsers are here to stay. And the area of real concern is where apps and the Web meet inside a WebView.

Now… back to work at MetaCert. Not, Symantec.

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MetaCert Chrome extension now protects kids from pornography on Facebook and Twitter

At the time of writing this post, MetaCert has labeled over 655 million pages of sexually explicit content - that’s more than 32 billion URLs. For those of you in the browser, search or family safety business, it’s technically 6.5 million unique domains and sub-domains - increasing hourly. There’s a live counter where you can find the number of pages we have labeled at any given time, here. The number of pages/URLs is derived from the mass of linked data that we have collected and studied since 2010.

Protecting kids on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks

Like Norton and McAfee, we have been labeling domains and sub-domains to protect kids from unsuitable and harmful content. Our competitors focus on dozens of categories - such as religion, gambling, violence etc.. At MetaCert, we focus on doing one thing very well. We focus all our attention on labeling sites that contain ’sexually explicit content’ and as a result, we provide much better solutions for this type of content blocking - for both enterprise and consumers. I don’t mind being bullish with my assertion as they’re both multi-billion dollar companies and MetaCert is a new startup based in San Francisco.

We’re not happy with being the best however. We want to be as good as we can be. So with this in mind, we have pushed our technology to the next level by becoming the very first company worldwide, to label folders, URLs and search strings. This means that we can now protect kids from pornography across websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networks and sites that contain user generated content, without having to block the entire site.

While we have scaled our crawling and classification platform to label more domains and sub-domains than any other company in the world, we are now hard at work looking for the scalable solution for labeling URLs.

Unlike our domains, the number of individual URLs/profiles etc. doesn’t go into billions, yet. However, we are labeling more Facebook and Twitter profiles every day. Our goal is to work with these companies to help them create better tools for their customers to classify their own content. Even this isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as technology permits.

It’s possible to submit websites that you feel should be labeled from our site here. It’s not yet possible to submit URLs, so for now, you can propose profile pages and applications in the comments of this blog.

I read a tweet from Mary Kay Hoal earlier today that brought my attention to a blog post, warning parents about specific Facebook pages that they should be aware of. As soon as I read the post I labeled every one of the sex-related pages. These are now all blocked when using our new Chrome extension and will soon be blocked when using our iPad browser Olly and our Firefox extension (all free).

Our Chrome extension is our first consumer application to be updated with the ability to filter/block individual URLs etc. It’s free, it’s fast and it works. It now blocks more than 655 million pages of pornography plus all the individual Facebook and Twitter profile pages. Our system is cloud-based. This means that our customers don’t need to update our software to make use of the thousands of new domains/URLs being added hourly.

Please note that browser extensions generally, are most useful for kids who don’t know their way around browser software as they can sometimes disable family safety controls. Our extension is also useful for adults who either want to block pornography at all times, or if they don’t want embarrassing sites to pop up on their screen at work when opening up emails from colleagues sending ‘funny’ jokes.

No technology is a substitute for parental guidance. We should use software to help us protect kids from harmful content, but more importantly, we should educate them about how to use the Web sensibly.

Protect your kids with these free products and services

Install MetaSurf for Chrome

Install MetaSurf for Firefox

Install Olly Browser for you iPad

Use our DNS Service

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Google makes it more difficult to find porn by updating SafeSearch, but…

Today, c|net and the Business Insider covered a story about Google changing it’s SafeSearch. It’s now a simple ON/OFF switch for “Filtering explicit results”. This demonstrates that the market conditions are changing in favour of making it easier to control access to explicit material specifically, over and above other types of content. It also demonstrates that MetaCert is on the right track in helping companies to improve “how” they improve their existing family safety controls, or implement new ones, specifically for controlling access to explicit content.

Google SafeSearch is great for young kids but…

Although Google’s methodology is good for protecting young children from explicit content, it could be further improved by adopting MetaCert’s data feed. With Google SafeSearch enabeled, a search for “porn” blocks everything. That is, zero search results are returned. Using any one of MetaCert’s applications that demonstrate the use of our data, returns search results, excluding only the sites that actually contain pornography. Crude family safety blocking is ok for young kids, but improvements are needed for wiser teenagers and adults who would like to exclude sites that contain explicit content and not sites that talk about it.

Ironically, as you can see from the second screen shot, even c|net and the Business Insider are filtered out. You could argue that you shouldn’t search for “porn”. But it does demonstrates my point in over blocking on a vast scale that isn’t so obvious to the customer.

Below is a screen shot taken when using our iPad browser, Olly. As you can see, the same search has very different results. Companies that use MetaCert’s DNS or API as described by the Guardian this week, would also see much more accurate search results for their customers - without over blocking.

Thanks to Google, other companies that provide Internet access might see how helping customers control access to pornography should be the number one priority. Controlling access should be an easy-to-use on/off switch like we have on Olly and our browser extensions. More advanced settings can be provided for other categories such as violence, nudity, gambling etc.

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AVG Family Safe iPad/iPhone browser blocks too much

What’s wrong with this picture? I see three problems, which are consistent with filtering technologies that haven’t been updated since the mid 90’s.

Almost every Internet safety solution on the market, continue to use outdated keyword blocking. It is technically impossible to differentiate between sites that contain adult content with sites that either talk about it, or help you protect your kids from it. The AVG Family Safe browser doesn’t even do that much well - it’s pretty obvious that “sex health” has nothing to do with pornography. That said, it’s not easy to build a browser, so perhaps they should stick to what they’re fantastic at; anti virus software solutions.

The three problems as demonstrated by the AVG Family Safety browser:

  1. Search results that contain sexual health related websites should not be categorized as “pornography”.
  2. Sexual health related websites should not be blocked as a results of being miscategorized.
  3. The browser vendor/filtering company doesn’t allow the user to dispute the classification

There is an answer. And here it is. It’s called Olly - an iPad browser that provides protection for kids online and privacy for parents. It’s free, easy to use and blocks more pornography than any other software in the world - over 31 billion URLs.

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