By definition any mediation or mentoring over the Internet between individuals, groups, teams or organizations for purposes of exchanging and supporting products or services is a form of e-Commerce. This topic alone could have a blog of its own, but here I will provide some concise input on uses and guidance regarding practices including the ever evolving Internet lexicon associated with this topic.
In terms of ethical application ombuds must take care in terms of the types of technology they use in alignment with the ethics and standards of our “best practice” versus the open Internet and evolving social media. By example, I do participate with an on-line group with members from all over the world. Everyone calls into a VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) e-Conference “room”. One of the topics during discussion was “how to use Twitter” in conflict management. Me, being me, I absolved myself from the conversation with one exception; a statement I made that “Twitter broadcasts ‘conversations’ globally and anyone can ‘join’ in and so where is the ‘confidential’ practice using this social media platform?” Currently, this is the immediate “danger” with technology and various levels of open source to encrypted data exchanges. I think that “social media” platforms like Twitter, Myspace, Facebook and LinkedIn, to name a few, are good for marketing, promoting and making contacts, but have absolutely no place in the mediation or mentoring function.
Some of the generic types of technology to fulfill e-mediation and e-mentoring functions I use or recommend are:
- e-Payment: the most popular payment system is PayPal to send funds, request funds, create simple payment pages on a web site or simply invoice using an e-mail address. Once you have negotiated your fee(s) schedule then make sure your e-mail address and business banking are “linked” and certified to your PayPal account and send the invoice to your clients e-mail address. Clients then have the option to pay by credit card, EFT or PayPal funds. If you bank on-line with any major national or regionally chartered bank you can also receive funds by EFT (electronic funds transaction) or increasingly anyone can get an e-Check sent to them. Check with your bank for procedures. These types of payments by e-mail and electronic banking are just as if they were buying off Amazon.com
- VoIP Communications: Voice Over Internet Protocol enables one very key function important to e-mediation and e-mentoring and that is you can install a “soft phone”. A soft phone is a software telephone application, that when installed on your notebook/laptop computer, enables hands free conferencing by telephone over the Internet. So if you are on the road, at home, in your office or anywhere you have “cellular telephone” access, you can “talk by phone” to anyone. Use the laptop/notebook speakers and microphone to gather a group or team around to “conference”. There are many companies, Vonage is well known, but there are many “open source” VoIP phone companies now and they offer soft phones free with the service. Additionally, VoIP enables me to have my office phone, soft phone, cell phone and e-voice mail all accept a call “concurrently” or “follows me” from office to soft phone to cell in sequence until the call is answered or drops into e-voice mail, you set the “ring duration” in seconds or minutes. I have no secretary and am a one person office, so I need this constantly or you lose business. Often, my computer, cell and land-line all ring together when I’m at my desk. If I don’t take the call, it goes to e-voice mail and shows up in my personal e-mail inbox as a WAV sound file that can be saved to a client folder if needed for future reference.
- Audio Recording: the soft phone installed on a computer with VoIP technology enables recording of “what you hear” menu selection for most audio recording tools. I have a Creative 24bit sound card and it comes with “recording” tools, which enables me to record conversations taken by answering my “soft phone”. I have had people not want to write out a statement, but are willing to “talk it out” and so get permission to record their statement, which they have always given in my experience. Alternatively you can go to Radio Shack and tell them you want to get an “analog” tape recorder to attach to your office phone to record conversations and they will show you what they have and how to use it. I have both, but have not had to do an analog set up in years now.
- Wireless G & Wireless N: to enable your notebook or laptop to “talk” over the Internet, access web sites, send e-mail, chat and other communications you need Wireless 802.11g and/or 802.11n built into your newer Vista OS computers or PC card enabled older operating systems. The newer the better as data rate transmission performance for Wireless N is now the same as cable or DSL Internet access that you have on home networks. You can get “burst” speeds during low traffic times of up to 110 Mbits or “down speed” to your computer. All of the cell phone companies have “contracts” by the month available to enable mobile computers with built in network cards, just sign up and “install” it.
- WEB 2.0: for teams working together on projects that need to share and update information for purposes of collaboration and “division of labor” tasking the new generation of WEB 2.0 web based applications is very good. I do NOT use this with clients, but will often set up an “account” on any one of a variety of application providers to collaborate with my team. You should be VERY comfortable with working over the Internet and understand the “nuances” of web based applications in order to actually get work done in this “environment”. I have had circumstances where “not everyone” was comfortable. Slow Internet connections will make work frustrating is one key factor I’ve discovered. I use MS Live for short term projects. Everyone needs a MS Live ID to participate, which is simply getting a firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address or “linking” an existing e-mail address to your Live ID account; and it even works with Gmail in this scenario. Once you have your Live account, load the home page and go to the top menu bar and pull down the menus for features such as SkyDrive (5GB storage), Groups (discussion area, calendar, team roster) and Spaces (Personal or team web site). This is ideal for university study groups. The next serious step up from this is MS Live Office, which I use for my OO Web site and it comes with all of the WEB 2.0 bells and whistles if you need it. I have not used all the features, but it’s been “tested” and is ready. MS will NOT work “cross platform”, by this I mean MACs need not apply. Instead, Acrobat.com is a new cross platform enabled secure and collaborative environment. It’s free right now and in BETA, but you can video conference, chat, upload and share documents and “administer” document sharing rights linked to your team members e-mail. There is no separate ID to get, very simple, clean and straightforward, though I’ve not tried it myself yet. These two systems are 256bit encrypted for security, but do reside on servers in the open Internet environment globally. They both allow Gigabits of storage for audio testimony files, video files, word docs, PDFs too and most anything that you can create using an application resulting in a file. Finally there is Google Docs on-line file storage to share files and view them virtually and make changes to the uploaded version during team collaboration. Combine this with a Google Group or SIG (special interest group) that is passworded and you have another WEB 2.0 environment to work in. I use it now with one group and have used it once for a project some years back and it’s “okay”.
- P2P Networks: My favorite application for Peer To Peer networking with clients and team members is TeamViewer4 and best of all it is MAC and PC cross platform compatible (MAC OS 10.x and MS Vista/XP). This is a 256bit encrypted and proprietary virtual network interface over the Internet that enables ANY SIZE file sending and receiving, chat, remote presentations (powerpoint) AND if you leave your home computer on in “server mode” you can access your home based PC from any computer anywhere in the world to access that “forgotten document” that didn’t get onto your notebook for instance. If you have produced video statements that are hours long and 100s of MB in size, this application moves them effortlessly and you can retrieve them if someone on the team forgets them for a conference or seminar. I initiate a “client” invitation on TeamViewer4 when a client has a file larger than 10MB (default e-mail attachment limit for ISPs) to give me for a case or project. There’s a free version of TeamViewer4 that enables one P2P connection at a time, or you can buy the business license for 3 simultaneous connections at once. You can also “brand” the “client” window for clients to see your logo and banner for your company. One last function of TeamViewer4 is it lets you “record” the P2P collaboration session. This is handy when presenting documents and getting “acknowledgement” from participants that they have read, reviewed and understand what they are “seeing and reading”. TV4 is one handy application with other capabilities not discussed here.
- Blogs: just a quick word on blogs. WordPress is set up to enable password access to the whole blog or “tabs” of a blog and you can keep it private and away from search engine “crawlers” and indexing. This is a simple environment that I’ve seen set up for small teams to work cross platform with a focus on lots of content providing, such as writers of all types, technical, books, print media, etc. There is a “book” configuration for private publishing of case findings, journals or research.
- Chat & IM: On “open source” Chat and Instant Messaging, as provided by Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and many others is also “dangerous” and should not be used for transmitting files, sharing information or having “conversations” about any confidential information. The TeamViewerer4 chat function is fully encrypted and secure and only between “peers”.
- Video Broadcasting: I have not used or had a request for video broadcasting, but some time back I used Yahoo Video Broadcast services in a “focus group” and “mock jury” situation to resolve and mediate out of court. Currently, the best technology and very easy to use is USTREAM.TV. You can set up and embed a live video stream from your notebook computer linked to your blog or web site where the “player” has a proprietary web address or URL and you “invite” open access by e-mailing the URL or hyperlink or you can have passworded access to view the live stream by providing the password to unlock the URL access. You need a video camera connected to your USB port on your notebook and a “studio” set up with good lighting and professional seating. Mediation’s can be watched “remotely” from anywhere and mentoring can be done by “recording” the video stream using included “tools” and then use the session for discussion at a later time. USTREAM has a private CHAT function where the moderator or mediator can take question from the Internet audience globally. This provides state of the art Internet collaboration and very responsive “learning” environments. I’ve not used this yet, but have tested it and it’s very easy to use and set up.
To sum up, I most often use my Vonage VoIP with e-mail and then TeamViewer4 for large document transfers and “private chat” in a virtual proprietary connect that is “tunneled” and not “open” on the Internet. I “virtually” get paid by PayPal from all clients using MasterCard and VISA after sending an invoice. For a secure and passworded virtual “team office” I use MS Live when the team can post comments to the main blog, upload files for sharing during the coarse of the project.
This overview is just the tip of the capability and capacity of the technology as discussed. Many features were not discussed here and “tactics” for utilization left out. There is no “fully integrated” application, but no doubt, some company like Adobe will move in this direction in the future. Always, please, keep in mind the privacy and ethics we must comply with when using technology and be sure to select and use technologies that enable “secure” and private interactions.