Friday, April 27, 2012

Social Slam: Knoxville Social Media Conference

I'm attending Social Slam today, a social media conference hosted in Knoxville. There have been some really great insights today, and I would definitely recommend checking out the #soslam topic on Twitter for all the highlights. It's trending in Knoxville - I'm pretty sure anyone in Knoxville who tweets is probably here today! There are some great speakers and a great audience as well.

Although everything has been really great, my favorite session so far was from Tom Webster, Vice President of Strategy at Edison Research (@Webby2001). He did a keynote called "Drowning in Data: How to Save Yourself," that really hit home on several key points. There's a huge difference between good, usable data and random numbers, and which one you are getting really comes down to if you are asking the right questions. People go to social media for answers, assuming it can tell them what their customers want or even who will win the presidential election. But ultimately, "Social media alone will never give you answers, but it will give you better questions."

Another point he touched on was what I am calling "infographic spam." The point of a good infographic, as Webster said, is to display really complex information in a way that makes it immediately apparent to the viewer. However, most of what we see online calling itself "infographics" is just information trying to be more attractive, trying to get more clicks. And frequently this type of simplified information is misleading.

Before trusting statistics, infographics, or studies, remember to check methods. Find out who ran it, where they got the numbers, and who they got the numbers from.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Using Twitter to Raise Awareness: When Things Fall Apart

By now social media are probably the most popular way to spread word and raise support for causes. One of the ways this is frequently done is by adding badges to Twitter avatars. While this can be done to show who has donated, it is generally a very simple thing to add even for someone who has not donated.

Georgia Tech Professor Eric Gilbert has created a code that might change that. Called When Things Fall Apart, the campaign slowly destroys and then rebuilds Twitter avatars over the course of three days for anyone donating $10 or more to the Red Cross. The experimental campaign is part of a research project by Gilbert, who built the code with the help of a grad student, examining "Twitter mobilization through changing profile pictures in both organic and orchestrated campaigns." Gilbert says he is interested to find out "If we inject serious computation into this can we get people to pay money and send it to a worthy cause."

The Red Cross agreed to officially partner with Gilbert on the project, and so you are taken to a real Red Cross donation page. There is currently no expiration date, and he plans to have the campaign available for a long time. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Predictions of Internet, Social Media, and Telecommuting via 1974

We're pretty used to the Internet by now, although as a society in many ways we are still coming to terms with social media. But 40 years ago, it would take quite a leap to guess where technology was headed. This is a pretty neat video of Arthur C. Clarke doing just that, telling an interviewer how in 2001 we would have access to any information we needed through a "console" in our homes. He even predicts telecommuting and social media! I imagine that these things we take for granted now seemed like pretty crazy ideas to most people at that point.

How (Not) to Get More Likes on Facebook

One of The Oatmeal's recent comics is labeled "How to get more likes on Facebook." Of course, before actually telling you how to do this (and you should really already know the answer) it humorously details several ways NOT to do it.

Essentially, this comes down to: stop begging for likes. It's annoying, spammy, and you wouldn't do it in real life. As the comic states, no one just walks up to someone to say "Hey, I'm trying to be a better person and become more likeable. Would you mind going around and telling everyone how great I am?"

This is pretty good advice, but I think that when you are trying to grow your social media presence there is a danger in taking it too far the other way as well. While the focus should ALWAYS be on creating content that people will WANT to like and share, there's no harm in occasionally reminding people to do so. If you're not promoting yourself, you're relying only on others to do so. But please, please remember that before you promote yourself, you should have something worthy of promotion.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Collective Art

Yesterday I talked about one of the reasons I love the Internet - the way people come together for no other return than to make someone happy. Today I have another reason: art and creativity.

Spanish photographer Pep Ventosa has created a body of work called The Collective Snapshot around the idea of sharing by layering dozens of different snapshots of landmarks on top of each other to create one image. The results are striking and beautiful, often looking like slightly abstract watercolors. His statement says "images in this series blend together dozens of snapshots to create an abstraction of the places we've been and the things we've seen. A celebration of our collective memory." (Emphasis added.)

I love the idea that these photos aren't capturing these places as they are in fact, which is how we normally think of photography, but instead are capturing the essence of what thousands of people see in them every day. It's using a camera to see the world through everyone's eyes instead of just one at a time. It's similar, in my mind, to what social media is doing for the first time - creating a saved collective memory of what has happened in our lives.

Making collective art is, in some ways, part of the culture of remix I wrote about a while back. The difference, I think, is that instead of creating thousands of new versions from one original piece of art (music, visual, writing, etc) this is creating one work from thousands, where everyone contributes to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Caine's Arcade: The Kindness of Strangers

You may have already seen this adorable short film/documentary on Caine's Arcade, since it's been going around the Internet over the last couple days. If not, then it's a short story about a 9-year-old boy who spent his summer creating an elaborate, incredible, FUNCTIONAL cardboard arcade inside his father's auto part store. He had no customers until finally, one day, Nirvan Mullick walked in looking for a part. After buying a "Fun Pass" and playing with the games, Mullick asked for permission to make a short film about the arcade. And then he did something magical. He recruited people through a Facebook event to create a flashmob to come to Caine's Arcade (without Caine knowing).

Caine's Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.

This is what I love about the Internet - when people from all over join together just to make someone's day. Mullick said people from all over were commenting on the page, saying how much they wished they could come if only they weren't so far away.

This TED talk (Jonathan Zittrain: The Web as random acts of kindness) is from 2009, but I love it. Here's a quote that struck me:
"So what we see in this phenomenon is something that the crazed, late traffic engineer Hans Monderman discovered in the Netherlands, and here in South Kensington, that sometimes if you remove some of the external rules and signs and everything else, you can actually end up with a safer environment in which people can function, and one in which they are more human with each other. They're realizing that they have to take responsibility for what they do."
This is similar to an effect I noticed in real life a while back when a stoplight was out down the road. It's not a huge major intersection, but it gets a ton of traffic. And yet, when the light wasn't working, there were no crashes. In fact, people suddenly seemed to understand the concept of a four-way stop far better than I usually observe at a real four-way stop. Traffic didn't get backed up. In some ways, it seemed to be moving better than when the stoplight was working.

So next time you feel like there's no hope for humanity (it's easy to get this feeling when reading YouTube comments or these Twitter posts from people who didn't know the Titanic was a real event), watch Caine's Arcade. Watch this TED talk. Smile at someone, and see if they smile back.

Monday, April 9, 2012

This Restaurant is a Rip-off

I know, I should be writing about Facebook's acquisition of Instagram, especially after Instagram launched to Android just a few days ago. But you know what? Everyone is writing about that, and after reading a bunch of articles so I could write a post, I got tired of hearing about it, including from me. So instead, what I have for you today is a cautionary tale: Always Look Up Reviews.

We have a unique ability at this point in time to get reviews and opinions from strangers on nearly anything using the power of the Internet. It used to be that you could, at most, get third-hand info - your friend has a friend who tried something, and told them how terrible it was. Now, all the anger from all the customers is available at most people's fingertips, and yet restaurants like Nello's still exist.

Nello's is in New York, on Madison Avenue, and you should never ever go there. The place is apparently notorious for hidden charges on top of entrées that are ridiculously expensive in the first place. Even the New York Times has written about it. From charging for "complimentary" drinks to refusing to disclose prices for "specials," this place seems to have ALL the scams. Terrible service and food are, of course, included in the price. If you want some pretty spectacular stories from people who accidentally ate there without realizing what it was, check out the Yelp reviews. Oh and for your entertainment, here is a user-uploaded photo of their receipt:

And THAT is why you should always read reviews.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Internet Easter Eggs

So I was sitting here this Saturday morning reading through my usual round of Internets, trying to decided what to blog about today - Twitter suing spammers? Google's goggles? Facebook relationships causing a gunfight? - but then I decided, hey, it's a holiday. Some of you are celebrating Easter and some of you aren't, but either way I hope you have a good weekend. And to help you in that endeavor, here are several worthwhile Easter eggs I found in my daily hunt of the Internet:

Texts from Dog - the tagline for this new Tumblr currently making its designated Internet rounds via ridiculous numbers of shares on various social media sites, as well as articles in places like Mashable, is "my dog sends me texts. i post them here. Yeah. it's weird." The OP is from the UK, and the characterizations of Dog are hilarious and spot-on. Warning: language alert.

13 Awful Easter Bunny Family Photos - Pretty much confirming the sheer terror a child feels when confronted with an enormous rabbit costume. Although to be fair, it's not just little kids. I found some of these pretty horrifying as well.

14 Wonderfully Geeky Easter Eggs - Hopefully this makes up for the previous link. Some fantastically decorated eggs to inspire the crafty ones among you this weekend. (Note to the Internet at large: See the Battlestar Galactegga and Alice in Wonderland portraits? Your assignment: Buffy and Firefly.)

Bonus round: Do yourself a favor and Google this 1.2+(sqrt(1-(sqrt(x^2+y^2))^2) + 1 - x^2-y^2) * (sin (10000 * (x*3+y/5+7))+1/4) from -1.6 to 1.6 in a browser that isn't Internet Explorer.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Your Facebook Password

I've been kind of avoiding the whole "employers asking for Facebook passwords" issue that's been going around, mostly because I believed it will blow over fairly quickly. Even when Facebook itself joined the fray, I didn't give it too much thought. (For the record, I would walk out of an interview if I were asked for my password; that's not the kind of environment I would be willing to work in.) I figured some employers would realize how much horrible press this kind of thing would get them, and stop, and others wouldn't care, and in return they would get the kind of employees willing or desperate enough to share private information.

However, I got into a short discussion with someone yesterday about the issue, and I realized it is potentially a very unique and interesting situation. Obviously, Facebook doesn't have to get involved - it's not technically the company's problem if a third party asks for your password and you give it to them. But instead, it jumped right in, leaving everyone slightly startled and kind of wondering about its motives. I mean, it's not like Facebook has a history of caring very much about its users' opinions, especially when it comes to privacy. So why take a stand now?

The difference is that when Facebook gives your information away, it makes money. When you are forced to give it to someone else, it loses money. Because that means you might spend less time on Facebook, might be less honest on the site, or possibly leave entirely. And all of those things are bad for Facebook's advertisers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Comedians Impersonate You Drinking Pepsi Next

What do you think of a comedian viewing your Facebook profile to get a sense of who you are, and then impersonating you tasting Pepsi Next for the first time? If that sounds like fun, you'll get the opportunity in Pepsi's new campaign.

Yet another attempt at viral social marketing, Pepsi is teaming up with Funny or Die to offer "online taste-tests" of the new product. However, fans of course have no way of actually tasting Pepsi Next online, so instead one of 12 Funny or Die comedians will attempt to simulate fans' reactions to the drink, and then post the videos online. Fans will have to opt-in to be chosen for the videos. A few sample videos have been posted to get people excited about the campaign.

Pepsi Next is meant to be a mid-range soda, not a diet drink but still with 60% less calories than the original version. This has been tried before by both Pepsi and Coke, but failed to have high enough sales to keep producing. Pepsi thinks consumers are now ready for this type of hybrid beverage. Still, it sounds kind of "New Coke"-ish to me, and I'm not sure how I feel about the campaign - even though it's an opt-in, I still think that there is a very real possibility of fans being offended at their portrayals, as even the promo video below seems to expect. And while it's funny to watch a video of someone else getting furious at being called by their middle name, it's less funny when something similar happens to you.