Muscat, Oman. April 26, 2010. Women in Business Conference 2010. Female enterprise executives and entrepreneurs gathered on a fragrant sunny day at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Oman’s capital city. The topic? Changing the Face of Business – Women as an Economic Force.
PANEL: “How Information and Communications Technology can empower women”
Together with three distinguished women, including a doctorate advisor for Culture & Humanities, the President of risk management group, and the the German ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman, we sat on a panel to cover the topic “How Information and Communications Technology can empower women”.
The panel discussion and questions from the audience provided insight on a host of larger topics beyond the original scope of the panel.
The internet is about people, not it is not a place where we store content
There is a belief that the Internet is about content. Yet with the ubiquity of social networking, that’s no longer true. The topic was around the influx of “noise” on the internet, and how important it is to prioritize. This touched on a point rephrased from the LEGO Idea Summit in Bilund, Denmark – how to filter noise for more signal?
An question came from the audience “Well, what is your recommendation on what to do when I need data for a last minute presentation? I am completely overwhelmed with the amount of information a search reveals!”. My suggestion? “Go to the people you know for content”. With a tight timeline, I typically reach out to my networks of people to get information to me quickly. I did this during the volcano crisis when I was copin’ in Copenhagen, and always do it when in a time crunch I am due to present on unfamiliar content. One panelist comments “Yes, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the Internet? It is supposed to be a wealth of content, yet you suggest reaching out to people is better.”
Yes, and people is the Internet. The medium through which we reach people is virtual social networks. Without the Internet reaching people so quickly would be not possible.
Does Bing mean “But It’s Not Google”?
When asked the question “Who has heard of Bing?” about 15% of the Omani business women raised their hands. There is very little Bing Awareness in the Middle East & Africa and is considerably lower compared to the US. We could consider it due to the lack online and television advertisements, yet word of mouth is very powerful for spreading news of new technology virally.
The topic of Bing came up when our moderator mentioned that Filtering was critical. In fact, more critical than search. Relevancy is at an all time low with the traditional search engines. With Bing, we provide a decision making engine that skips many of the steps you need to do on your initial search. For example, let's say you would like to gather some biographical quotes from interviews with Princess Haya .
Try a search on Google: “Princess Haya”. You get some blue hyperlinks but alas, you forgot the critical word “interview”. So you have to re-search again . Now try Bing: Princess Haya
Immediately you see the categories of likely information that you may be looking for such as News, Profiles, and yes… Interviews. You are done. No need to re-search. And this is not just a static blue hyperlink. You can even hover over the URL and to the right pops up a small preview of the website .
Beyond this, on the left hand side, you can see common related searches for your keywords:
Going further, you can click on the Images category and narrow your searches to only black and white photographs.
Although not yet available in the Arabian English speaking regions, Bing has beta launched Visual Search, which you can experiment with the Women World Leaders, which presents our search results in a very interactive gallery format. More information appears when hovering over Queen Margrethe II, who recently celebrated her 70th birthday during my visit to Denmark on April 16th. Now if we could only get Bing to grow the female world leaders from 20!
Read more about the Visual Search options of Bing on the New York Times. Do you like it? If you find it useful, send your feedback so we can get Visual Search in our region as well.
What will Microsoft do if there is a crisis?
One of our esteemed speakers posed two questions directly to Microsoft: “Right now my children spend more time on the Internet than with people. I am worried about the social implications. Secondly, you mentioned the system failure during the Volcano crisis. This wasn’t a huge crisis- imagine if it was bigger? What is Microsoft doing to have a back up plan should the Internet fail?”
Big questions, but considering the source – a very big thinker – I would expect no less.
“So, you want to know what Microsoft is doing about your kids not talking to you? And on top of that you want to know what we do if we face a global technology meltdown?” (looking at moderator) “Um, how much time do we have?”
Clearly, the advent of social networking takes the virtual interactions well beyond the click-and-read days of the early Internet. These advances come with pros and cons. The pros can outweigh the cons. For example, when grounded in Copenhagen, our team was in the midst of quarterly business reviews (QBRs) with 8 different subs covering 79 countries. Although my region certainly does not include Denmark, Live Meeting and Office Communicator (OCS) made it possible to have voice, video, content sharing all at the low low cost of the 20 KR that my hotel charged. The QBRs continued without a hitch. This is thanks to good connectivity.
Moving to Dubai with nearly all of my friends and family in the US, OCS and Live Messenger have made it possible to stay connected even more so than when Face to Face (F2F) was possible. My friends and family saw more of my home in Dubai through virtual connectivity than they would when they lived only minutes away.
However, there are new rules of etiquette, safety, and security that come along with these advantages. Google has only recently launched Ahlan Online, catered to new Arabic speaking Internet users. Microsoft has long since been integrating Trustworthy Computing and Internet Safetyfor families. Beyond what the software companies provide, the teachings from parents and educators can provide a balance between real and virtual worlds. The LEGO idea conference and Kids Tech Challenge focused on bringing these worlds together in harmony (more on this later).
Now for the second problem – what to do when there is a massive Internet failure? We experienced this in a small degree with the Copenhagen (CPH) airport website and Delta airlines. Both experienced massive system failures during the Volcano crisis. Although we had gorgeously sunny days in Copenhagen, the unseen volcano ash brought both Delta and the CPH systems to a grinding and painful halt.
First, let’s examine what happened to the CPH airport website. Normally, a happily user-friendly interactive website….
…a day into the Volcano crisis, the website came crashing down to be replaced by a URL redirect – dismayingly named the Darksite. Perhaps this has another meaning in Danish? The Darksite served as the nearly-static HTM (updated every 6 hours), typo-ridden (unless Manday means something in Danish?) source for all updates on the airport re-opening.
The site still remained un-operational even when airspace cleared.
Source: Melissa Pickering
The day the airport finally opened, Melissa Pickering, my fellow strandee from Tufts University given a plane ticket. Clearly the routing systems had a hangover, as she was sent to Boston via our neighborhood showstopper, Eyjafjallajokull, which whose plumes she captured from the near empty plane.
Source: Melissa Pickering
What about Delta airlines? Delta has two main US toll-free phone numbers one for US flights, the other for international. Immediately after the airport closing, the international lines were jammed with 30 minute waits. Not too friendly when you are roaming on a Dubai cell phone in Denmark. But that was the good news.
A few hours later, both lines went down with the message “Due to call volume, Delta Airlines is unable to take your call right now. Please try again later.” Later…as in 3 days later. Both lines remained down for all 3 sunny days. The only way to connect to Delta was to have a friend in the US call Delta’s local office in New York city and conference call me in via cell phone. Eh. It worked.
What to make of this? There is clearly a huge entrepreneurial opportunity here – Crisis Management. Redundancy plans, failover management, and risk mitigation could not handle Eyjafjallajokull. There clearly is a need for outsourced emergency response teams. After all, who wants to pay salaries for a team that may not be needed for another 200 years?
So to circle back to the question from our Lebanese colleague in Oman. Yes. Microsoft has the people and resources to handle crisis. A small example? My colleague, Tony Surma won Microsoft’s highest award, the Circle of Excellence Chairman’s Award in 2008, for the amazing rally his team pulled together to put a rapid response system in place during the Tsunami and Katrina crisis, helping families find loved ones through technology and the volunteer work of Microsoft employees. The agility of technology and rapid response of people is the key factor to prevent system failures during crisis.