Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So Why the Big Pivot?

As I've written about in this here blog before, I started b-school with some entrepreneurial thoughts.    

Specifically, those thoughts spring from a basic observation:  The way people live, share information, and connect with others has shifted from analog to digital way faster than our society has learned to understand or manage the change.  [If that sounded like a bunch of gobbledygook, or if it didn't but the monetization plan doesn't seem clear, don't worry...I will return to this concept ad nauseam in future entries].

Then I stared into the debt abyss and thought, "No way."  [I will break this down in a future entry, too, with a detailed explanation of how the post-9/11 GI Bill works].

Then I got swept up in the entrepreneurial culture and thought, "Way."  (h/t to "Wayne's World")

Founding a start-up can mean doing something I love, carving out my own path, and lots of other neat intrinsic benefits.  It also means either a) raising money through traditional routes, like venture capitalists, or b) bootstrapping -- getting the business off the ground while working on the side to earn just enough to break even on basic expenses.

Now that I've got a more complete picture of the landscape, neither of those options seems as daunting as it once did.  A wannabe entrepreneur who is really playing the cards right can pursue those options while still in school.

This Boston Magazine article by Chris Vogel doesn't hurt, either.  It gets to the heart of the Sloan environment and culture that fosters and promotes entrepreneurial pursuits.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

People...and Things

"If everyone demanded peace rather than another television set, then there'd be peace."  - Lennon

If you've read this blog for a while, there's nothing new coming with this entry, because I more or less write the same thing after each major natural disaster that consumes the national media beyond the time of its actual impact.

I care a lot about people.

I don't, however, care a lot about things.  In fact, that's putting it very mildly.  If I were to really tell you what I think about things, it would probably require some rather graphic language that I don't typically use on this blog.

If someone you love -- a friend, a relative, or anyone else -- died as a result of Sandy, that is a terrible tragedy.  I know what it means to lose people, just as you do, and I empathize.

But the panorama shots of the flooded out houses near the Jersey Shore, or the cars floating around in Lower Manhattan, just aren't enough to sustain me.  Seriously.  I can skip all that stuff for the new Netanyahu-Lieberman government, the Hillary Clinton visit to Algeria, or even the economic slowdown in India.  I can read those stories and maybe just maybe learn something.

Someone in Point Pleasant or Seaside might have some flooding in their house.  All those things are replaceable.  Those homeowners are almost certainly insured.  And even the "irreplaceables" (i.e. old wedding photos, 8mm of the kids' first steps, family heirlooms, etc.) are really just things when you get down to it.

I have all the time, energy, and interest in the world for people.  I will continue to think about and pray for the people whose lives are still hanging in the balance due to the storm.  I learned today that a Sloanie (Class of '13) just passed away.  I have no idea what the cause was. I did not know her at all, but already have (and will continue to) think and care more about her than I will about all the stuff that was damaged or broken in this storm -- or any other future storm or natural disaster I will hear about, ever.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Thousand Words, Sure. Thousands of Dollars? That, Too.

It's an old truism that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well how about several tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars?  The picture you see here to the right is the result of Sandy-inspired hysteria at a supermarket in the American Northeast (I'm not sure of the exact location...I snagged it from a high school buddy's Facebook post).  What it shows me is that Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Swirl Bread is being roundly rejected by shoppers at this supermarket.  So why is this picture so valuable?  It's because companies spend lots of money on focus groups, market surveys, and sample tests before they launch products.  And even after spending all that dough, they STILL sometimes don't get it right.  
Why not?
Because people aren't always honest about they way they respond to those things.  It's not that they're intentionally deceitful, but there's an inherent bias we have when we're asked about a theoretical idea (How would you like to take a cruise to Bermuda this winter?  What about a road trip to Niagara Falls and a Bills-Pats game?  Would you try a loaf of Pumpkin Swirl Bread?  Would you pay for a satellite radio subscription?) We sort of naturally just say "sure" to some of those questions because, well, why not? 
What we wacky consumers actually DO, though, is an entirely different story.  Trying to divine consumer buying habits in advance of real data is kind of like long-term weather forecasting, or thinking you have a system that's going to make you rich in betting on football games.                            
I acknowledge there are 3-4 loaves of something at the bottom of the shelf -- not sure what that is.  But any supermarket retailer knows that the eye-level and arm's reach stuff is what's going to move first. If there were just onesies and twosies of several other brand loaves on the shelves, this picture wouldn't be saying nearly as much.  However, the COMPLETE emptiness around the Pumpkin Swirl shows that whatever consumers came AFTER those other brands sold out preferred to risk going without bread rather than buying Pumpkin Swirl. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Well Is It? Or Isn't It? I'm Shrugging My Shoulders

I caught an interesting Facebook exchange today involving several mutual friends and acquaintances that went something like this:

"University of Florida is considering charging more tuition [or giving fewer scholarships] for less 'lucrative' majors." 

"Whoa, that's terrible."

"An appalling shame."  [x2]

"But is it really?  If taxpayers are footing the bill, maybe this stuff matters."  

I am badly paraphrasing here.  The commenter who offered the opposing viewpoint brought up several interesting thoughts to support what he was saying (he was ultimately middle-of-the-road but was the only one of the four people involved to even concede any ground on whether this was the 'right' thing to do).

I've seen a lot in print and in the media in the past several years about the so-called "Higher Ed Bubble."  Obviously, I'm in a tricky position to start opining about this, because if I veer too far in either direction, I could be tarred pretty quickly with the 'hypocrite' brush (for starters, I'm 32 years old and a full-time student, which certainly raises some eyebrows at times).

One thing that has NOT changed is my skepticism -- which borders on something closer to hostility -- towards highly-successful people with multiple degrees who go around opining that "college isn't really worth it" for other people.  Peter Thiel is a case in point.  He is a gazillionaire who actually pays talented young people not to attend college, but has a B.A. and a J.D. from Stanford on his wall (and again, there's the bias thing coming in...but I'd like to think he learned a thing or two at the Farm...or at least thought it meant something to cross paths with the guys who would ultimately co-found PayPal -- they probably weren't hanging around at the public library in Menlo Park..but maybe Thiel is so rich that he can just write off all the cognitive dissonance going on there).

As Kad Barma says, quoting Ogden Nash, "People who have what they want are fond of telling others that they don't really want it."  If you're a huge fan of that quote -- as I am -- you should get in the habit of throwing a yellow flag onto the field every time you see it unfolding in practice.

And of course it's bigger than just Peter Thiel.  Plenty of journalists and other talking heads have raised this issue lately.

Although I disagree with them about the value of a Bachelor's Degree (just look at how much tougher the job market is for those without that education level), I would concede some ground as it relates to certain post-grad programs.

If we're going to define a 'bubble' as a situation in which the price of something spirals upward far beyond its value (and we'll define 'value' in the way that omniscient beneficiaries of hindsight would define it after the fact), I think that REALLY does apply to some programs.

I bumped into a buddy last week who is working towards a Certificate program at UML.  Just to be enrolled in one class this semester, he pays full freight on student fees.  Those fees, plus that class tuition, add up to nearly $2k out of pocket.  Bear in mind, that's not for some advanced computer programming thing that's going to translate into big bucks on the back end...this is for something very social science-y (and I'm not naming the Dept. only to respect/maintain some anonymity here).

With the explosion of online degree programs, there are increasing opportunities to enroll in programs in some pretty squishy areas that don't seem, IMHO, to make most of their graduates *more* employable.  Only if we blindly buy into the idea that "education is good, so more education must be better" would some of these make any sense.  When a third-party payer (such as Uncle Sam, in the case of many veterans) is picking up the tab, the economics can get pretty distorted, pretty quickly.

The ultimate "Are you a big fat stinking hypocrite" test should probably be "Would you apply what you're saying to your own kid?"  (Oh, and I have a big hunch that a lot of these op-ed people who are spouting the 'just forego the Bachelor's' drivel would never accept that standard for Madison and Aidan).

But back to the standard:  I hope that within the next 16 years I am able to earn/save enough money to be able to support the lion's share of my daughter's undergrad costs wherever those might be incurred, regardless of major or program.  Even if I can't do it 'out of pocket' I will still bear that cost through my own loans, home equity, or whatever other source.

However, post-grad is a different ballgame.  A top-50 law or business program?  I'll support it if I can.  Med school?  To the best degree possible.  A Ph.D. program?  I'm here for ya.

Where I would start to draw the line, though, is when it's "school...just because."  If it's a substitute for looking for a job, or a time-holder because of a lack of a job, or just a flight of fancy for some other reason, THEN I will join the chorus of the naysayers who question the value.

Terminal Master's Degrees in the Social Sciences and the Humanities?  Graduate "certificates" with hefty price tags?  An online Master's Degree in Social Media?

If there really is a bubble going on, those are the first places where I think you'd hear the *pop.*  I'm not expecting to hear it anytime soon, though:  First, because of the deeply ingrained American ideal that education is the path to upward mobility/more is automatically better than less/etc. and second, because many of the policymakers in a position to speak out on this risk sounding like elitist hypocrite a-holes.  

Just look at the current contentious rhetorical climate:  Romney, a man who holds an MBA and JD from Harvard, of all places, and Brown, holder of a B.A. from Tufts and a J.D. from Boston College, have questioned the idea of a high-volume financial aid spigot that never shuts off.

In both cases, their opponents didn't waste the chance to pounce.

This is a thorny issue.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Congrats, Boys

I just heard some pretty awesome news:  RallyPoint just received 100k in MassChallenge.

Maybe somewhat ironically, since I just wrote here to complain about LinkedIn, I will mention that RallyPoint is designed to be a LinkedIn for the military (only much better).

For our Entrepreneurship & Innovation Team Project, we have to meet with start-up co-founders in the Boston area.  RallyPoint is the team we chose, and its co-founders, Yinon and Aaron, have graciously offered us their time and expertise on multiple occasions.

I am elated to hear this good news.

And now, good night.   

Et Tu, LinkedIn?

I was pretty excited to check my Yahoo inbox last week and see that a Lieutenant Commander I had worked with many moons ago had "endorsed me on LinkedIn."  I have a grand total of one LinkedIn endorsement* (plus a pending one from someone who I worked for last year...I just need to get on his case about it - gently), and it means a lot to me.  It's a paragraph long, it's heartfelt, and it could only come from someone who worked with me very closely in a very intense environment.

So when I checked my profile, I was eager to see what this Navy O-4 had written.  What I found was that it was...nothing.  LinkedIn has cheapened itself with the equivalent of Facebook "likes" in the sense that you can now mindlessly and effortlessly "endorse" people in area with a single, simple mouse click.

On my LinkedIn profile it now shows "Military," and "National Security."  Just that.  No explanatory bullet points or words, or anything to substantiate that.  Someone has taken the one second or so to officially acknowledge that I was indeed once serving on active duty in the military.  Then two other people who I don't even know from the military have seconded the notions, so to speak. 

I will admit that my LinkedIn profile could use quite a bit of touching up/fleshing out, but this is certainly not what I had in mind.

I feel like going back and "endorsing" the ability of people I know to magically turn oxygen into carbon dioxide.

* I had blurred the distinction but here it is.  A LinkedIn recommendation is where you can actually take the time to write something original and meaningful about a person you've collaborated with professionally.  An endorsement is the cheap-o equivalent of a Facebook "like" that means less than nothing.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What Founders Say, Continued

As I've written before, the most interesting and practically-applicable class I have this semester is called "Entrepreneurship & Innovation."  I take pretty detailed notes during class, and I particularly try to hone in on the common themes that I hear from startup founders.

The one that I wrote about previously concerns founders' agreements, and the one I want to quickly write about now is related to personnel. 

The relevant Lesson Learned basically boils down to this:   "You cannot 'fix' problem personnel who do not perform, do not fit with your organizational goals, organizational culture, etc.  Your ego may tell you otherwise:  it may say you're a great leader, a great motivator, a great coach, etc. and you can turn things around...but you can't.  Once you've finally exhausted all your other options and decided to fire someone, you're never going to look back and regret it.  In fact, your only regret may be that you didn't do it sooner."  

When I heard it the first couple times, I thought maybe someone was just trying to project their own unique experiences into something broader, but after hearing it nearly a dozen times, I'm listening extra closely when the subject arises.  For a cash-strapped startup built around a 'service' (as opposed to physical hardware) your personnel are likely your biggest cost.  Unlike a major public or private bureaucracy, you simply can't afford to keep 'dead weight' around breathing your air and burning your investors' cash.

If you take this advice to heart (as I do), it means that your hiring decisions are among the most critical.  And because resumes and interviews don't always tell the story, that's a whale of a challenge...and the subject of several future entries.

But back to the major lesson:  My own life experience informs a pretty similar opinion to what all these founders keep saying.  Generally speaking, a person who's happy at [insert name of place or organization] would be happy somewhere else.  Conversely, someone who is miserable at [insert name of place or organization] would be just as miserable elsewhere.

Two days ago, in fact, I caught up with a Division Officer at one of my old Navy commands.  I asked her about two sailors who used to report to me, and she basically summed up how they were performing -- high points along with the warts.  Guess what?  Nothing had really changed.  Time had moved forward, a new Officer was in charge...and you could keep changing those variables but getting similar results.

I don't think I'm any different.  My personality, work habits, traits, and foibles would be pretty much the same if you dropped me just about anywhere.  I bet yours would, too.  

Regal Passing: It's Complicated

You probably heard the news this week about the passing of King Sihanouk in Cambodia.

There will be a ceremony at City Hall Saturday morning at 9:30, which I plan to attend in order to listen, learn, and observe.  One thing I want to mention in the meantime is that there are a lot of intense feelings about King Sihanouk among Khmer-Americans living in Lowell, and not all of those feelings are warm and bubbly.  I asked my father-in-law about it this morning over the phone as I boarded the train...the conversation started in Lowell, ended in West Medford, and included maybe five or so words from my end.

I'm not schooled enough in Cambodian history to fully understand what King Sihanouk's life meant, what his decisions in the 1970s meant, or what his death means.

But I wanted to write this entry just to let people know there is a lot of sensitivity surrounding the subject.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mitt, Thanks for the Reminder

For the record, I am eagerly looking forward to voting very soon in two important elections.

For one, I will be voting for Sen. Scott Brown.

In the other major election, I will be writing in the name of a Yankee Republican who I greatly respect: "Clifford R. Krieger."

I am certainly not voting for the anti-business President, but I'm ALSO not voting for Mitt Romney.  As I write my Marketing report due tomorrow, I've got the debate going in the background.  I just had the pleasure of hearing Mitt Romney interrupt and talk over the moderator twice, to include a smarty-pants explanation of "the rules" during which he completely overrode her guidance and then spun into a long spiel as she was trying to regain control of the debate.

If he's got an image problem as a smug jerk, maybe 50 million Elvis fans aren't wrong this time.  Every time the President can stay quiet and let his opponent slam the ball into the net, he just looks better and better.  

MIT Graffiti

"Graffiti worth reading / Rarely is written / On walls that are worth writing on."  -- Barrett

This was too funny not to post.  A simple "don't leave your stuff alone, or it might walk away" public service announcement posted in the john turns into a debate about the computing power used by astronauts 40+ years ago, a critique of the relative sizes of the laptop and smart phone depicted on the poster, and then an accusation leveled against Apple.

As the token liberal arts guy, I could point out the way "gorilla" was incorrectly used by the guy who scrawled at the bottom, but I'm not quite sure how effective that would be.

The other day, someone who I barely know walked up to me and asked, "Hey, are you still doing investment banking recruiting?"

I was like, ""  In a friendly way, I pointed out that I was never on that track, so to speak [the question came from an international student, and I had (wrongly) assumed he mistook me for 'some other white American guy'].

When he then persisted a bit with that line of questioning, I asked what made him so sure I was, or had been, on the path towards bank recruiting.

"Oh, it's because I always see you carrying or reading the Wall Street Journal."  

Right away, I realized that he had correctly identified me, but I cringed a bit when I thought about what the whole encounter meant:  he didn't see that there might be any other reason why someone might be reading a daily newspaper.  Yikes.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cheating At Solitaire

"What gets measured, gets done."  - Anonymous

So it's officially midterm week now.  It's actually reduced op tempo for me, because a lot of our classes aren't being held this week...still, a walk through the main building (E-62) reveals even more students doing the "Sloanie Shuffle" with an oh-so-slight increase in the pace, staring just-so-slightly more intently into their Smartphones, with brows just a bit more furrowed.

I could probably stop to let them know that their idols like Gates, Buffett, Thiel, Zuckerberg, and Page (Larry, not me) don't bounce through their corridors like that...but I'm not sure I'd be able to get a word in edgewise (I'll save more observations of the 'Sloanie Shuffle' for a future entry).

Anyway, back to the midterms.  One of the things that theoretically takes a lot of the pressure and pain away from the whole ordeal is that MANY previous midterms are freely available on OpenCourseWare, and then many others are posted on an internal course website.

Given that the material doesn't change much year to year, this begs an important and obvious question: "Well then why doesn't everybody ace all the midterms?"

This was asked at one our recitations, and someone older and wiser explained it like this:  "Well, you've got three main culprits there.  First, some people just don't have time to study.  Whether it's from recruiting events, clubs, outside social distractions, or whatever, they don't prepare, and it shows.  Second, people study the wrong stuff.  Yes, studying the old midterms is the best way to do it, but some people will review unimportant chapters from the book, or cases from the course reader that we've told you would not appear on the test.  But third, there's a more interesting phenomenon that occurs when you put so much material out the way we could refer to it as the 'cheating at solitaire' effect.

Boiled down quickly, what he meant was this:  If you use the practice tests and answers in a way that challenges yourself (i.e. answer the questions first, then look at the answers, then retake...rinse and repeat, with time taken for dissection and understanding along the way), you're doing it right.  However, there's a natural and easy tendency to just sort of glance at the questions, then glance over at the answers and say to yourself, "Oh, okay...I got it."  That's what most people have a tendency to do.  It sort of makes sense, too -- it saves time, and if the steps taken to get the answer seem logical, then maybe you really do 'got it.'

The problem, though, is that just like a quick rearrangement of cards in solitaire can be done because that's what you 'really meant' and because no one else is watching, a quick glance that yields an 'I got it' may stand in the way of gaining actual, deeper understanding of the material. It's really easy to just do that in an offhand way while you're preparing, but then when the test throws you the slightest curveball, you're bound to stumble.

I thought that principle was interesting enough to take the time to write about and it ties in with the reason a buddy of mine who wanted to learn programming signed up for some actual CS classes.

He knows several Computer Science wizards who assured him the classes weren't needed and he could just breeze through a manual, but he still opted to spend some money on the courses. Because he did that, he was forced to learn enough of the material to get through all the problem sets and other words, he couldn't just take a quick glance at a manual, casually declare "I got it" and walk away.

I think that basic concept helps to explain why classes can be a great way to learn for anyone...even someone who is a natural autodidact with lots of self-discipline.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

But Isn't That, Like, Where Astronauts Go?

The midterms that are looming next week remind me that I've now made it one-eighth of the way towards receiving my yuppie union card.

While I'm quite happy to be on that path, there are some ways in which I refuse to conform.  Whether the proper culprit is my relative age, my military background, my love for the English language, being a commuter at a non-commuter school, some combination of all of the above, or perhaps none of the above, I'm not entirely sure.  

I could write about 'hic-a-doo-la' "fun" events (die-hard Family Guy fans will know that reference) or about how I think a lot of people could use a dose of that "take your work but not yourself seriously" advice, but for now I just want to quickly write about the word "space." 

Almost from the day things got rolling, I began hearing the word 'space' thrown around quite loosely in places where I would've said something like 'industry' or 'field' or 'area.'  I don't think it was the word itself that bothered me (I'd like to think I canadapt to new usage and forms now and then!) but the pretentiousness with which it was used.

A quick Google search tells me I'm not alone.  First, from the blog "Polandia:"

Where it goes horribly wrong is with phrases like “reach out” or the current favourite, “space”. I was listening to a podcast, I think Harvard Business Review, and the lady being interviewed was using space so often it was genuinely hard to follow what she was saying. I forget the details but she would say something like “We were testing atheletes who were operating in the basketball space.”instead of saying “We were testing basketball players.” and as the interview went on it was clear that the word space, in its new role, had almost unlimited applications. I might have let this go as a one-off nutty professor moment but it has been cropping up with annoying regularity so it would be great to head this one off at the pass!

From "The Office Life:"

Space [n.]A consultant's designated area of expertise or focus. The term is normally used with some form of the verb 'play.' "Our SME plays in the outsourcing space."
Suggested by w3.
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Space [n.]A really douchey way to refer to a market or industry. "We're looking at full saturation in the tablet space by Q3."
Suggested by Corinne F.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Talk: Have It Early, Have It Often

Every Wednesday night, I get to hear entrepreneurs talk about what they've learned along the way.  The single-most common theme that comes up when questions about regrets or "what not to do" surface is this: Unclear agreements among co-founders.

Here's why that's a really big deal:  Let's say four friends co-found a start-up.  Imagine that they're sitting around a table, drinking beers, gnawing on bar food, and frantically scribbling on cocktail napkins.  When the subject of equity comes up, one guy says, "That's easy.  We'll just each contribute a one-quarter share, and we'll each take a 25 percent equity stake."

To which someone replies, "Sounds good, Bro Namath," or "I like it, Brosef Stalin." [sound of glasses clinking].

Someone types that up the next day, all the "Bros" put their names to the paper, and that's it.  Right?

Well, not really.  The devil is always in the details.  What then happens under this all-too-familiar scenario is that one original partner leaves two months later to take a full-time job somewhere else in town.  A second guy ups and leaves to Seattle because Amazon comes calling, and the prospect of just north of 100k sounds better than Ramen noodles with a vague chance of future riches.  A third guy hedges by working part-time at the start-up while putting in 20 hours a week doing freelance consulting...leaving just that fourth original "Bro" running the company.

Fast forward two years.  Bro #4 was the "tech guy" and he's been plodding along building the [Super-App-Streaming-Pixellated-WhizBang-Optimizer].  A major firm peeks behind the curtain, takes a look, isn't really sure what's inside, but figures they could use Bro #4's programming talents and the IP rights to whatever the heck he's been putting together.  They call in some lawyers, some documents get ginned up, and BAM! just like that the little start-up that could has just been bought for the cool sum of $2.5 million.

So what happens to Bros #1-3?  Get ready for a legal brawl.

Because the founders never built in a vesting plan, never wrote up an agreement about even a single obvious contingency (like, uhh...someone LEAVING!), and never wanted to engage in any of this Awkward Talk back when everything was beers and pizza, they now have to call in lawyers to settle this dispute.

By a sandlot definition of 'fairness', it only seems right that Bro #4 would get the largest share of the pie, Bro #3 would get a smaller piece, and Bro #1 and Bro #2 could get whatever scraps they deserved for however long they stuck around.

But it's never that easy...and those legal fees can sure take a bite out of whatever piece of the $2.5 mill someone thinks he deserves.  And the only legal or quasi-legal document lying around that has any weight in the matter states pretty clearly that it's a 25 percent equity game all around.

If this all seems way too obvious to be believable, trust me, it's not.  This sort of thing happens to start-up founders all the time.  People even found companies, build Boards of Directors, and then get fired by those very same Boards because they didn't piece the agreement together in a way that protected the CEO from that very scenario, which probably seemed so implausible as to be laughable at one point in time.

This point is so important that when serial entrepreneurs talk about it, they emphasize how the biggest change they made going from Venture #1 to Venture #2 to Venture #3, etc. was the quickness with which they had The Talk with their co-founders.

People tend to not want to bet on single-founder start-ups, but I would say the only thing worse than a single founder is a group of founders who haven't figured out how they're going to handle basic contingencies.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Welcome to Huxleyville

I caught a very interesting article in the WSJ this morning about how, and whether, teenagers' online identities may be used as factors in the college admissions process.

Some schools swear they would never "go there," others won't provide any data, and a third group openly acknowledges that they Google and Bing their would-be cap and gown wearers.  In their defense, they want to know if someone is posting things that might show bullying tendencies, racist or sexist attitudes, or substance abuse problems.

The end of the article was laden with quotes about students and high school officials who are "shocked -- shocked I tell you -- to learn that such an 'unfair' process might occur."  

In THEIR defense, most of the applicants are minors, and shouldn't be judged for the stupidity of youth.

My reaction is a little cooler and more detached.  Rather than argue whether it's right or wrong for people to probe a bit into the "online you," the energies of anyone -- particularly a so-called 'digital native' born in the 1990s -- would be better spent doing a bit more time protecting those online selves in simple ways (restricting Facebook profiles, for instance) or doing basic damage control (take away those public wall descriptions of your, uhh....time in the basement).

During the Internet's infancy, it was still associated with was male, it was nerdy, and it wasn't a 'cool' place to be spending one's time.  Guess what?  That era is long gone.  Guess what else?  It's not coming back.  Regardless of age, gender, race, or social class, chances are you're depending on the Internet just about every single day.  I know that, I don't even necessarily know you.  

We're still transitioning into the world where our 'online selves' blend a little more seamlessly with our 'real selves.'  Today, most of our online selves are much more 'fun' than we actually are, for instance.

Regardless, as we transition, we will learn to be a bit more careful and discreet about what we post.  There are some things you can't control -- for instance, if you're Michael Phelps, you can't control the picture someone else takes and posts (the issue of whether he should have been in that vulnerable position is one for another day).  It's also hard to convince a moody teenage girl why that particular Tumblr entry might be a really bad idea.

Still, we have a tremendous amount of control over such things.  We can wrap some things up to keep them away from the prying eyes of non-technical types (what I mean by that is people who know their way around a search engine), or we can live transparently online (open Facebook profiles, no restrictions to Twitter views, etc.) but act as we would in the analog world.

Whichever we choose, the basic reality is that a certain train has left the station, and it ain't coming back.  You can save the 'fairness' discussion for Phil 101, but real world denizens would be wise to recognize that bad online behavior is fair game.