Firefly Is...

Firefly is the recognized leader in providing intelligent agent technology for creating personalized communities in on-line environments. Firefly Online serves as a starting point for members seeking personalized experiences and community within areas of interest such as news, music, Web sites, software and movies. Firefly Online, with a large and dynamic community, is a free on-line service and is a platform for members to voice and exchange their tastes and experiences. Firefly members can find and connect with other individuals to build a trusted community of members who share similar interests through personal home pages, real-time chat rooms, one-to-one messaging and mailboxes. Firefly offers members the ability to build relationships and personalized experiences based on their individual tastes.

WHY USE IT?

Firefly is exciting: it enables users to share information on computer networks. Members can get relevant that reccommendations they desire which saves time. Today's information available on the Internet is overwhelming; too many choices and too much information is available. Interacting with software agents not only provides members with the kind of valuable word-of-mouth recommendations they seek from friends and neighbors, but also links them to a virtual community of individuals who share their interests.

Features include:

Mailboxes that let members send and receive messages, while protecting their privacy

A "whispers" feature for exchanging real-time messages

A "favorites" feature that lets members instruct agents to notify them when certain individuals come on line

Easy-to-use public and private chat rooms; moderated and auditorium-style chat for hosted events

Venues where members create their own special interest groups

The ability for members to write their own reviews and read those written by others.

Customized homepages for every user, including text and graphics

Personalized interactive homepages where visitors can determine what interests they have in common--no two members see the same page in the same way



HOW DOES FIREFLY WORK?

A Firefly agent becomes more knowledgeable about a membersÕ unique tastes and preferences through continued use. Firefly technology automates the "word of mouth" process by comparing a userÕs opinions to others who share similar tastes and preferences. As a result, members receive personalized recommendations for products and information from their own Firefly agent that travels with them through multiple categories or domains such as books, Web sites, software and music while learning their likes and dislikes.

thetechnology...

Automated Collaborative Filtering: A breakthrough in handling information overload ACF helps members discover not only products and information they'll enjoy, but also people they'll like What they proposed was a new kind of highly autonomous, personal intelligent agent. Instead of merely responding to their members' personal bidding, these new agents would be able to share knowledge with one another, and they would, in effect, be able to learn and evolve.

Automated Collaborative Filtering (ACF) actually guides members to the information they're likely to find most relevant. In addition, the software agents offer members access to the source of these recommendations; a community of trusted neighbors whose preferences align with their own.

Because ACF helps members discover not only products and information they'll enjoy, but also people they'll like, this software inspires the technology of information retrieval with a uniquely human dimension. Firefly software provides the user with the knowledge gathering power of an intelligent and discriminating personal assistant. Once an agent has learned about a user's likes and dislikes, it can recommend additional items the user might enjoy by communicating with the agents of other individuals with similar preferences.



ISSUES:

Privacy...

They do not ask for names or addresses and promise never to disclose any personal information that the user leaves with Firefly. Firefly claims to respect the privacy of its members and aggressively safeguards the confidential information members share with their Firefly agent. The company has established an innovative program designed to protect the privacy and integrity of membersÕ personal and preference data. Before registering for a membership, the user can view the companyÕs privacy policies. They state the policies cleary and mention that they are joined by many leading industry organizations in its support for consumer privacy rights.

The company is working with VeriSign, which will offer a higher level of security for Firefly members by offering Digital IDs. The company has also engaged Coopers & Lybrand to evaluate the companyís privacy procedures. In addition, Firefly Network is an active member the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit civil liberties organization working in the public interest to promote privacy and social responsibility, and the Direct Marketing Association, an organization dedicated to the evolving practice of direct marketing.

These extensive credentials convinced me that Firefly is extremely serious when it comes to protecting ÒmyÓ privacy. It reassured me that my personal information will be confidential --enough that I went ahead and registered my personal prefernces.


SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS...

Firefly did more than just recommend movies and music, it offered many other features. At the web-site, the user can join a community or set up a personal home page in Firefly's ÒPeopleÓ section. These home pages are filled with photos of the user, qoutes, poems, and various comments which are quite expressive. Most interesting were the bazaar aliases used. For example, I came across Ò Ms. Fierce, Kid New York, and Vampire Moon.Ó Or the user can create and run Buzz rooms and Venues based on their own personal interests. As the user builds their own online communities, the user can use Firefly Mail and Whispers to communicate with friends.

The most powerful feature which Firefly offers the member is a sense of community. It can connect members with other members who share similar interests. Firefly puts members in touch with new people. There are places to hang out; once a memeber of Firelfy, you can enter into a chat room or create your own. FireflyÕs Buzz provides real-time chat, and Venues offers more in-depth and on-going discussions.

This has important social implications for the members at Firefly. It is an important part of daily life to be able to communicate with others. Also, people naturally want to belong to a group of people who share similar interests. But to do this DIGITALLY is truly a new phenomenon! It raises the question: Is this good or not?

After pondering the issue, I couldnÕt come to a concrete conclusion. However, it is evident that there are pros and cons to being part of a Òdigital community.Ó

Who goes there?

Certainly, not every individual could or would join a Firefly community. First, members of these communities must have access to the Internet. Most are likely to be the digerati . The digerati are Òhip to the new.Ó They are ahead of the game when it comes to being involved with todayÕs fast changing technology and innovations.

Then there is the Ònew to the hip.Ó Members of Firefly communities are not all the same. All types of people are hooked up to the Internet: kids, moms, dads, grandmas, professors, college kids, bakers, artists, and even postmen access the Internet! These people might not be online very often, however, they are trying new, high-techy things and could join a Firefly community.

Why in CyberSpace?

Why donÕt people just join a sports club down the street or go to the corner cafe to meet their friend? It may be easier to log on Firefly using your alias and enter a chat room then to grab your coat and head for the road. The incentive to join a virtual community may be the convenience.To be cyber-social, you can hangout at any place and at any time, while communicating with others online. This is instant gratification!

Many people may not have the time to socialize the conventional way. They may have 25 minutes Ôtil lunch break is over and feel the desire to be part of a small discussion. So, they just go to FireflyÕs website, type in their alias, jump into a chat room, and jabber away with numerous others who are discussing similarly interested issues.

Well, this sounds convenient, but isnÕt the phone even better? It is true that the phone is faster and more personal. However, it usually provides only one-to-one conversation and lacks the sense of community which Firefly chat rooms provide. Also, in the chat rooms, participants are there, because they want to be. Your friend on the phone, on the other hand, may be busy and not want to speak to you, especially about your topic of interest!

In addition to convenience and the sense of community which Firefly provides, your identity is completely hidden. This means that what ever you say and feel will not be discriminated against, and you will not be discriminated because of your opinions. It is less frightning for people to communicate truthfully, because fear of rejection is likely minimized. The alias clearly provides a saftey mechanism for members to feel protected.

FireflyÕs Virtual Community, An Escape from REALITY?

Take for example, a typical cafe in Berkeley (in 1999). As you turn off the corner of busy Bancroft, you hastily rush into the door of Cafe Strata. Upon approaching the register to finally order that hot triple espresso, you become aware that you are making too much NOISE! You look around, confused, and see nobody. Wait, you look again (a double take), and notice the place is packed! But what is going on? Where is the usual frenzied atmosphere? Today, Strata is like a foggy day in Stephen KingÕs pet cemetery. Look again. Laptops everywhere. Laptops and Ricochet. Everybody is using one. NobodyÕs talking...theyÕre online with eachother at FireflyÕs chat room. ...You canÕt help but to burst out with,ÓAhhh...somebody say something!Ó The cashier runs around the counter, stops and gawks at you with complete shock in her eyes. You get the point. You are the weird one here. Can it be this? ...& Will it be?

IÕm not sure that the world will ever come to this, but I do see how communicating through chat rooms is an escape from reality. There is danger yet comfort in this. People might communicate less face-to-face. This is somewhat disturbing to me, because they are losing human contact which is a big part of Òliving.Ó However, I realize that some may not communicate at all if it werenÕt for this available medium today.

Because of the identities protected and the medium used, Firefly provides a space for people to socialize without being intimidated. Fear of acceptance should diminish. Socializing is frightening for some people, especially face-to-face with a stranger. In a Firefly community, members can easily meet people with out the initial fear of being rejected or criticized. And this, I truly believe is great!!! ItÕs a new an unusual opportunity.