I am sick and tired of Spammers

Our tutoring website beanbaglearning.com was spammed last night.

It has taken me almost a full day to put things right, and apologise to our tutors, and let them know that their personal details were not compromised.

The good news is that I got the telephone number of the company involved and spoke to them this morning.

I spoke to a fellow owner of another UK tutoring directory who recommended that in future we invoice spammers for the time and effort involved in sorting things out.

I am mightily unhappy by what has happened, and wonder why they do it.

How small can beat big in business

I am starting to read with interest the Coaseanfloor blog.

Reading the work of Ronald Coase whilst at Henley, made me realise the rationale for setting up big businesses in the first place – the whole issue of transaction costs. Big companies started undertaking activities in-house because it was cheaper to do so, i.e. the external transaction costs were high. But many companies now have high internal transaction costs, just think of big posh offices, salaried partners and Directors, these push up the cost of conducting these activities in-house.

Transaction Costs

As an Accountant, I would naturally say that you look for value for money from each function and that if you can source it more cheaply, then you owe it to your shareholders to do so. Outsourcing to India can be a solution, but my belief is that you engage the large number of independent professionals and specialists to create a virtual team or department – these people are commonly more experienced and cheaper, as many of them work from home.

At Jiva, we are looking to make technology help in this process. The internet is an obvious way of finding these people and using their services. Our view is that accessible profiles, reputational management and online communication is at the core of the solution – and we are well on track to start making this happen.

The Real-Time People Web

At Jiva we are working on a whole series of real-time people web solutions. Not very user friendly terminology is it? An article at Aardvark goes along way to explain.

The key take-away is that what really matters is the increased accessibility of people online, not just the information online. We totally agree with this, and are working hard on delivering collaboration websites, and ways for people on a one to one basis – to communicate instantly.

I will take the liberty of quoting verbatim some of the key points from this article, as they explain it better than me:

Why is this important?

To understand this, consider the difference between Web Search and Social Search.

With Web Search, it’s possible to find countless long-hidden facts and figures which [a small minority of] internet users have at some point published on the web:  just type in a few keywords, and a Web Search engine will return the top results from among the billions of pages that constitute the web.  That’s great for queries about objective information that isn’t particularly timely, and which doesn’t need to be personally or contextually relevant.

With Social Search, it’s possible to find a person who has the information you are looking for: just type in your question in natural language, and a Social Search engine will connect you to someone with the right knowledge and experience to answer your question.  You get an answer in a few minutes, and can have a quick back-and-forth conversation with the answerer if there’s something you’d like to follow up on.  That’s just what is needed for queries that have a subjective element, or when you want information first-hand from someone you can trust.

The key point here is that often what you’re after isn’t static content — rather, it’s an interaction with someone who can help.  With the Social Search paradigm, online content is used as just an index of what its author knows about; the engine uses this index to find the person you should connect with for your question.  This becomes pretty compelling if we remember that the amount of information in peoples’ heads positively dwarfs the amount of authored information online:  just think what a small fraction of everything you know you have published on the web.  Yet everyone (not just those who blog a lot) have knowledge and experience that is valuable to share.  By using the web as an index of people, Social Search lets you tap into absolutely anything that anyone knows… in the theoretical limit.

How does this relate to the Real-Time Web?

There are three touch points for Social Search in the new real-time information landscape:

  1. The index of people is always up-to-date

    What makes Social Search possible is the vast amount of profile and social graph data that people have online (since this is what the engine uses to figure out who would be a good match to answer a question).  With the real-time web, this information can stay up-to-date automatically, so that you can connect with other people to talk about your current experiences.
  1. More people are online more often

    In the real-time web era, people are increasingly available online:  they are onIM, they are on Facebook, they are Twittering, they are using their iPhones.  This means that a Social Search service like Aardvark can easily see who might be available to answer a question in the moment and reach out to them… on any of these platforms.

    If you want to tap into your extended social network — tens of thousands of friends-of-friends, school and work connections, and such — we’ve found that it’s useful to have a service play the role of social intermediary here.

  2. Filtered channels are high-value

    The flood of online and real-time data has quickly become overwhelming to most people.  If you broadcast a question out to your entire network, that’s a lot of spam you’re creating as you add to the din; and over time, as we waste peoples’ attention, they are less attentive to these noisy broadcast channels.

    The alternative is to submit your question to a Social Search engine:  it will choose the few people who are most likely to answer, and contact them directly; in essence, it provides a kind of filter for your network.  It’s clear in the feedback we’ve gotten from Aardvark users that people are grateful to have this more personalized filtered channel — and as a consequence, they are much more responsive and thoughtful when they do choose to answer a question.

Put all of this together, and the result is a completely different kind of experience than anything available before.  Real-time information hookups!  With people you trust! Satisfying for the asker, gratifying for the answerer!

And this isn’t some futuristic dream — it’s happening right now.  In the time it took you to read this piece, a huge variety of questions were answered on Aardvark, based on connections made from profile data.  People really like helping other people!

In sum, the Real-Time People Web is the way that the Real-Time Web becomes personal:  Because often you don’t just want to hear what people are saying — you want to hear what someone is saying to you.

Education Collaboration: New Solutions

We at Jiva happen to think that people want to collaborate, its human nature.

So we have created three new Q&A websites to help:

– School children get help with their homework, from other children, tutors and teachers

– Prospective tutors can get advice on the business and issues surrounding tutoring.

We hope that everyone finds them useful. If you want to check them out, look at:

Stuckspace.com
Homeworkextra.com
Tutorhub.org

Vetting & Barring: Implications for Private Tutors

Many of you are probably mightily confused about what the new Vetting & Barring Scheme (VBS) means to private tutoring.

Beanbaglearning have been able to clarify the position, and hope that this article can explain its impact to tutors.

The VBS was set up in response to the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, and the findings of the subsequent Bichard Inquiry. As parents ourselves, we believe that anything that helps improve the safety of children is a good thing and welcome the Scheme.

Working with children and vulnerable adults is becoming a regulated activity, and adults undertaking this will need to be registered with the Independent Safeguarding Authority. The ISA will check personal records against central databases, and ensure that unsuitable people are not registered. Once registered, records will be continuously maintained for people, and registration will be revoked if they commit certain key offenses.

Many tutors will find that they will become ISA registered as part and parcel of their job, particularly if they are employed as Teachers or undertake tutoring at University.

Tutors who would not ordinarily have ISA registration will need to apply for this. We are told that this will take the Independent Barring Board seven days to complete. Individual registration will commence on 26th July 2010, and is expected to cost £28 per person.

CRB checking will continue, and will provide parents with more information on the type of criminal records held in your name. These are only ever produced at a point in time, and will become out of date quickly. The ISA check is a much deeper check than the CRB, but will not provide details of offenses in the same way as a CRB check.

To be clear, tutors using the services of Beanbag will be responsible for providing their ISA registration details direct to parents, who will be able to check it direct against the central database. Beanbag has no responsibility to maintain this information and will not provide it to parents.

The Government is undertaking a review of Vetting & Barring, and some details may change. Beanbaglearning will keep you posted.