Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Pacific and Fan Generated Content

HBO's miniseries The Pacific is midway through its ten week showing and is already drawing praise similar to that given to its companion series Band of Brothers. HBO fully utilizes social media to market its original programming and is continuing this strategy with The Pacific. Their social media strategy encourages fans to generate content far beyond the first run of the series. Fans have already produced an enormous amount of content through reviews, comments, and forum discussions. Thanks to these fans, the series will remain alive even beyond its first run and viewers will find plenty of opportunities to join in on the discussion now or in the future.

Official Content

HBO maintains an official website for the series. The site includes a forum, newsletter, photos and videos, episode guides, and several "making of" videos. The site is professionally designed and matches the style of the pages of HBO's other original programming. Fans can interact on the forum and can also submit stories about family members who are veterans of the war.
HBO also maintains a fan page on Facebook for the series. The official The Pacific Facebook fan page is one of the best fan pages for a TV show or movie on Facebook. There is a welcome video, information about the series, wallpaper and posters, music from the series, a discussion board, videos, and much more. There are already over 108,000 fans of the page and the wall is filled with user comments. HBO also posted 27 official trailers and interviews from The Pacific on Youtube. There is much more online about the series but the remainder is mostly fan generated.

Fan Generated Content

One of the main sources for fan generated content is the Official Fan Site. The site contains previews of upcoming episodes, news regarding the series, and an active forum. Fans can post reviews of episodes and discuss the series and the history of World War Two.

Fan reviews and forum discussions can also be found at Internet Movie Database. There are 28 reviews so far and 78 pages of forum discussion. This content will only grow as the series continues and then the DVDs are released.

An interesting place to find more user reviews is at Product listings are already posted for the soundtrack, the book, and the soon-to-be released DVD’s for The Pacific. Each listing allows for fan product reviews too. Beyond these sites, there is a listing at Wikipedia and numerous blogs and review sites maintained by fans.


There's already an enormous amount of content online about The Pacific and it's growing daily. HBO set-up the series main website, fan page on Facebook, and posted videos from the series on Youtube in order to get things started. But the remainder of the online content is coming from fans and users who post reviews, comments, and discussions on the growing number of forums and sites dedicated to the series. Fortunately for HBO, the series is getting positive reviews. Otherwise, this strategy could backfire as fans might blog and discuss the failings of the series and affect DVD sales. But the sucess of the series and the extent to which it is already discussed online provides further evidence of the power of social media and the value of user generated content.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Opting-Out of Select Features

While it seems like social media might be necessary to function, stay connected, or to get ahead, it isn’t. It’s acceptable to refuse the onslaught of social media. There is plenty to experience in the world that doesn’t involve a computer screen or a cellphone. A letter or a phone call still mean more than an e-mail or a tagged Twitter update. It’s possible to find employment based on your merit, not your Facebook or LinkedIn profile.

In fact, we’ve done pretty well without it until now. And social media isn't all or nothing. You can opt-out of select features and services while still getting what you need out of social media.

Opting-out doesn't mean living in the dark, as the Onion News Network humorously portrays in its "Google Opt-Out Village" special report. It simply means choosing to not use certain aspects of social media, telling services not to share your information with third parties, and spending your online time wisely.

If you are interested in using social media, but don’t want to be deprived of a legitimate existence beyond the reach of your electronics, I encourage you to use social media sparingly. Evaluate how useful each tool is for your needs. If you know what to look for, you can get the best parts of social media without having to deal with the bad.

Important rules for the cautious social media user:

  1. Know your needs before you start.
    This will keep you focused and help you find the services that are best suited for you.
  2. Know the rules.
    Some services require you to either opt-in or opt-out for specific features. Find out what options are available to you and tailor what services and information sharing practices you agree to.
  3. Log out!
    Facebook communicates with other websites to enhance features and make a profit. This practice may share your information without your full knowledge if you are still logged in when you visit outside websites. Worse, it might then display your activities to anyone in your network.
  4. Personalize privacy settings.
    Know the features of your account and your privacy options. Many opt-out or opt-in features are hidden deep in the account options.
  5. Be selective.
    Many social media services overlap in functionality. Rather than have profiles with three different services, find the one that suits your needs best and stay there.
  6. Don’t commit before you’re ready.
    If the social media service requires you to make a profile or an account in order to view basic parts of the website, don’t bother.
  7. Use a screenname whenever possible.
    Use more than one if you prefer. Facebook requires your real name. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave your name everywhere you go on the internet. Embrace the anonymity and protect your identity.
  8. Use different passwords.
    Never use the same password twice. If you must, at least use different passwords for social media sites so that unwanted parties cannot then gain access to your e-mail, work, or bank accounts.
  9. Never pay for anything.
    Don’t provide your credit card number to Facebook or other social media websites, even if you don’t buy anything.
  10. Delete old profiles.
    If you no longer want to use a service, delete your profile and cancel any e-mail notifications. It won’t remove your data from the history files entirely, but it keeps your information more secure and prevents spam.
  11. Don’t play games.
    Online games are the easiest way to lose money through social media platforms. If you want to play a video game, go to an arcade or buy a solid game that is worth the investment.
  12. Choose applications wisely.
    Applications can be useful and fun. Like games, however, they can leech money and time from you. Only choose the most important ones for your needs.
  13. Bookmark your favorites.
    Save time by clicking a single button to get the news you need without having to type out addresses or search terms and sort through the results.
  14. Contribute when it feels right.
    You don’t have to leave a comment everywhere you go, but feel free to engage in discussions and to commend good works. It’s acceptable to use a pseudonym or a screen-name; you do not have to use your real name.

Embracing social media doesn’t mean giving up your identity and your free will to the denizens of the internet. You can choose what people see about yourself and what you see about others.

You can engage in discussions, projects, and networks that appeal to you the most. Social media should be free to participate in, although always consider the possibility of making special, one-time donations to your favorite connections.

Most importantly, remember that social media is a realm of choices. But you must actively make and protect the right to make those choices. Otherwise social media services, like any growing business, will sell you out for a nifty project or a crisp dollar.

Choose when and where you want to accept social media and firmly deny it where it isn't welcome.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Student Gets Expelled Over Status Update on Facebook

What Not to Post

A teen from Brevard County Florida recently got expelled from school after his principal read his status update on Facebook. Apparently the student ranted about how much he hated his school and raved about how he was going to slit the principal’s throat and laugh while she bled to death. He also stated that he was going to tie all of the teachers up and set them on fire.

Are you kidding me? Did this kid forget that he friended his principal and that she was going to see it? Or did he have total disregard for her and wanted her to read it? Either way this was her response, “Did you know your principal can read this? This is a horrific level of disrespect to our faculty. Death threats are not a joke. Do not even bother coming to school tomorrow. I will be mailing an expulsion letter to your house. You may go to the unified school district office to enroll yourself in another school. The last thing we want to have our students act in your behavior.”

Where Should We Draw the Line?

Okay, so we’ve all vented on Facebook before. I’ll be the first to admit that I was having a bad day yesterday and cursed the summer heat. But to curse at someone and threaten his or her life is out of line and should not be tolerated on Facebook or any other social networking sites. I know that you guys (my classmates) may be a little tired of me posting about etiquette when online, but I think that it should continue to be discussed because time and time again teens and adults alike fail to use common sense when posting.

Some people agree with the principal’s actions, while others feel as though there should be no repercussions for his actions because he’s simply exercising his freedom of speech. Some even argue that since his threat was made on Facebook, a social networking site, that it should not have been taken seriously because it was obvious to everyone that this teen was in no way a threat to his school. They’ve also stated that he should be cut some slack because he’s a kid. I disagree with these statements. I think that users should take responsibility for their actions when posting online.

I came across another story where a young athlete was expelled from school for posting inappropriate material about a teacher. Parents of the athlete used their ignorance of online etiquette as an excuse for such behavior. They didn’t think that anything he posted online would get him into trouble with his school and thought that none of this would have happened if they had been forewarned.

Similar stories such as these pop up everyday and yet nothing changes. I think that both parents and schools should take part in educating the younger generation on using etiquette when posting online.

The Virtual Takeover

virtual image

Kim Yoo-chul and Choi Mi-sun were good parents. They dedicated hours on end to raising their daughter, Anima, while their real, unnamed, three-month old daughter starved to death.

This, and other recent issues regarding online addiction and cyber bullying, go beyond being irresponsible to reveal the tragedies that can happen when the virtual and real worlds collide. Nowhere is the potential for this greater than in the gaming and virtual world environments where some people spend as much as ten hours per day, not just playing games but living in pseudo worlds.

The fact is that most people responsibly manage their online and real world selves, and escaping to a virtual world is no more addictive than watching a good TV show. However, for some reason or reasons, others can’t get enough, which is unfortunate since virtual gaming is going to take over our lives according to Jesse Schell, a game designer and professor at Carnegie Melon University.

If the opportunities available in Second Life are any indication, Schell’s prediction has already started to unfold. The following is a sampling of the real life areas in which Second Life has already gained significant reach.


Video games, and by extension, online games used to be for kids. Statistics show however, that the vast majority of virtual players are adults older than 26. With so many environments to choose from: outlandish planets with their own culture to the ability to create one’s own alter-environment, it is no wonder that the more popular sites like Second Life play second home to more than two-million subscribers with more than 50,000 online at a given time.


As if the sheer entertainment value isn’t staggering enough, virtual environments are giving a deeper meaning to the term e-commerce. Virtual shops and businesses that were once figments of someone’s imagination are translating into real dollars for some people. But how? Forbes has a list of virtual professions that have turned out to be pretty lucrative.

Already established, social media savvy companies, like Dell, are also getting in on the act.

Education & Training

Second Life actively promotes its platform as a medium for education and training. The advantages for learning institutions and businesses lies in the fact that Second Life goes beyond the typical tools used for teleconferencing and distance learning. In addition to the ability to meet online for collaboration purposes, real environments such as the classroom can be mimicked, and simulations can be created without having to develop new software technology.

Despite these advantages, some colleges are returning to the real world in hopes of creating their own virtual environments following Second Life experiences that did not live up to the hype. Considering its commercial success, Second Life might be a better alternative for companies like Alpine Access that are in need of an interactive meeting point for employees that are geographically dispersed across the country.

While it is my personal hope that gaming technology does not grow to the point (at least not in my lifetime) where it is somehow integrated into how we brush our teeth, as Schell asserts, where we are at now is clearly only the beginning.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Risky Recruiting with Social Media

As a candidate for a position with XYZ Corporation, I would be foolish not to use all the social media tools at my disposal to draw a complete company picture. Using a variety of networks, I would try to determine XYZ’s online reputation; I’d research its products and its culture; I’d look for stories from current and former employees; and I’d look for a social media presence that was compatible with what I already knew.

Of course, the hiring authority at XYZ would be equally foolish not to check me out on every available network. In fact, one could argue—if not yet, then soon—that the company who didn’t scour the Internet for every tidbit about a potential new hire was being negligent.

It’s too soon to tell, but this scenario has been suggested as one of the real threats social media has introduced into human resources and the employment life cycle. Another possibly more serious threat is the charge of discriminatory hiring practices, stemming from the use of information that employers find on social media networks—information that would not/should not have come out during a typical interview. Ethical hiring managers are careful to avoid asking interview questions about religion, sexual orientation and the like; but what is the correct response when they find pictures or texts of such privileged information on a networking site?

On paper, that answer is easy: ignore the contraband and continue evaluating the candidate for all the right (i.e., job-related) reasons. In reality, however, those cards have already been played, and you can bet that even the most conscientious among us would find some job-related insufficiency to weed out candidates that didn’t meet our surreptitious criteria. Assuming that we were able to rise above such behavior, proving that we did so would present an exceptional challenge.

Renee Jackson, an associate with the law firm of Nixon Peabody, wrote about these risks in a January article for the National Law Journal. She warned that “employers must address their use and misuse [of social media] before, during and after an employee’s tenure.” She confirms that employers may face liability for using information learned about a candidate from a social media site. Protected class status—race, age, disability, religion, etc.—are off limits and cannot be considered in hiring decisions. She echoed what I’ve read in other places: that it would be hard for an employer to prove that it viewed, but did not use, the information from a social network.

Jackson also lists some information employers can lawfully use in their decision-making. Illegal drug use, poor work ethic, poor writing or communication skills, feelings about previous employers and racist or other discriminatory tendencies that may be revealed online are fair game. And, in a tongue-in-cheek warning to applicants, she reminds us that employers may “lawfully consider an applicant’s general poor judgment in maintenance of his or her public online persona.”

As social media permeates the workplace, greater access to information brings opportunities and risks for employers and employees. Essentially, both parties have to be alert and weigh the benefits against the risks of using social media-both on and off the job.

Meow, Meow, Myspace! Social Media and Pets

Social Media has changed how we interact with our pets and others

As I write this blog, my "child" is sitting on my shoulder, serving as both muse and distraction. This "child" is not, in fact, human; it is my one year old cat who plays quite a large role in my life. When he is not removing keys from the laptop or snoring on the couch, Soscal, my cat, enjoys staring into the screen because it is bright and it moves. These two traits are major prerequisites for holding a feline's attention. However, some pet owners have taken this interest to a novel level with the creation of social media profiles for pets of all kinds.

A Place to Call Their Own

Time recently reported that pet owners have banded together to create a version of Facebook entitled Doggyspace andMycatspace . These websites feature pet profiles that allow the owner to post pictures, create status updates, and befriend similar breeds. Instead of focusing on the human, these sites are supposed to be from the pet's perspective. Doggyspace claims that it "is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who love dogs. People use Doggyspace to keep up with friends, upload funny dog videos, and to give their dogs their own cyber place." The site, along with Mycatspace, features blogs, headline pet news, and forums to discuss the joys and trials of pet parenting. Doggyspace also allows users to search by breed in order to find other Great Dane devotees or German Shepherd groupies.

Making it Accessible

The Iphone and Ipod Touch now feature a Doggyspace app. Users can easily access information about their pet's "friends" while on the go. Videos and groups encourage member participation while the unique pet focused forums could save hours of pet training or veterinary care if users band together to compile knowledge about a specific breed. Mycatspace is not quite as informative; though blogs, forums, and pictures do exist on the site, the main purpose seems to be entertainment value. There are several games that members can play as well as cutesy pictures for desktop backgrounds and screen savers. Only members can access the main parts of the site which does not lend itself to visitor stops.

Making Anonymity Easier

Blossom states in his book Content Nation that one of social media's biggest goals is to entertain. While this goal is most certainly the end result of the pet sites, they can also serve a very practical purpose. Users of social media who are not comfortable with sharing their name, city, or workplace can still find a way to express themselves online through pet profiles. By personifying your pet, you are allowing other users glimpses into your daily life and your personality. It gives pet owners the interaction that they may need with people of similar interests, but also allows the user to take the emphasis away from their own body or careers. Time also claims that "pets write messages to one another about shared interests and offer advice on health problems, training or local dog-friendly parks. Some have even enlisted their caretakers to arrange offline play dates." The user can extol Fido or Sassy's latest accomplishment for an audience of interested peers. What better way to use social media then for enjoyment?

A Few Problems

With more than 700,000 users of Doggyspace, social media for cats and dogs has really taken off. However, what about gerbils, snakes, bunnies and assorted other pets that do not fit into the traditional American home? Some bunnies have sneaked on to Doggyspace with the explanation that a Bunnyspace does not yet exist. So, unless your the owner of a dog and cat, you may have a hard time finding the social media site for you. Also, the dogs on Doggyspace tend to rack up friends even faster than their human counterparts. For this reason, it is imperative to keep personal information from infiltrating the site as it distributed to people you do not know except through the website. Caution would have to play a role in using the sites.

Soscal the cat

Overall, pet social media seems to be taking off at an advantageous time. People and their pets have gotten closer than ever and it no longer seems odd to create a profile for your furry friend. In fact, it may just allow me to figure out how to stop my cat from scratching my couch or how to appropriately keep him tick free. And all of this may mean a happier kitty, which means a less mutilated keyboard. I give it a two paws way up.

Utilizing Social Media: College Couture

My younger sister, Lydia, has recently started her own blog in March.

Titled "College Couture" it provides fun and fashion for college girls on a budget.

In an interview, Lydia states "I have always had a passion for fashion. I looked to fashion magazines and runway shows for advice on upcoming trends. However, I was really sick of going through magazines and finding none of their items really affordable. With the state of the economy and the recession, none of these items were really affordable for the average consumer. As a college student, I could not afford their items. How could I be trendy and chic without having to break the bank? I knew if I asked myself this question than others did too. And so my blog was born. Most of my items are under $30. I want to show other girls that you can still be trendy without having to pay high prices. I wanted consumers to know that they could still get a high fashion look without the high price. With my love for fashion and love for computers, I knew a blog was a good path to go on. I wanted everything to be online, so I could be environmentally friendly and not use paper. My future goal would be to eventually build my own website and I have already started on this project. I would also love to start a website for guys too."

I must say that I think my sister was very creative to come up with this idea for a blog. I didn't even communicate with her that I was in a social media class, so she came up with this idea on her own.

I think that people who have an idea for a business or a blog should definitely utilize social media to promote themselves, which my sister has brilliantly done. I wish her the best!

How to Be a Social Media “Guru”

Through some twist of fate, I recently found myself managing the social media of three clients, including two extremely well-funded startups. But I still have trouble answering the question, “So what exactly is it that you do, Jennifer?”

The other day, I told an author that being a social media guru was “easy.” Keeping me real, she replied, “Yeah, duh. It’s easy for you because you’re good at it. You’ve practiced and you know what you’re doing.”

And she was right. To some of you, math – which terrifies me – or swimming or cooking or piloting planes, might be the easiest thing in the world. That’s because you took the time to learn the rules and figure out what you’re doing. And that, in a nutshell, is how to be a social media guru, right?

…Okay, so maybe there’s a little more to it.

Do you really want to be a “Guru”?

First, I don’t really buy into the term “guru,” even though, sadly, it seems to have become the default term for the services I and my counterparts at this relatively new position provide. A traditional guru imparts words of wisdom to followers. But a social media expert should always, always start and maintain conversations. If all I did was drop a “Confucius says” quote on Twitter once and awhile, I wouldn’t be a very good social media guru, now would I?

When writing for social media, make sure to be as open as honest as possible. Sometimes that simply means asking questions that don’t have “Yes” or “No” answers. For example, which is the better Tweet?

"Do you think Company X should create an iPhone app?”


"We here at Company X want your help designing our iPhone app! What features can you not live without?”

Of course #2 is the better Tweet, because it encourages participation and discussion. A “guru,” on the other hand, might simply announce “Company X is developing an iPhone app. So be it.” That’s not very social media like, is it?

Know Your Social Media Sites

The second ground rule in social media is to find ways to quickly ascertain the etiquette of any social media site you encounter. You should, of course, know the etiquette of the big sites like Twitter, Facebook and Linked in, but there are plenty of social media “sites” out there – blogs, forums, Nings, etc. – that don’t start with the letters T, F, and LI. You may have a real estate client who wants you to establish her presence on, for example. Or you may have a client who wants you to establish her presence, but isn’t sure where. It’s your job to use the tools are your disposal, such as Alexa or Google PageRank to determine whether sites are big and bad enough for you to invest your time on.

Know Your Target Audience

On the other hand, you also have to be able to ascertain a social media site’s audience and decide whether that audience gels with the folks you’re trying to reach. Say you’re selling sausages. Don’t you think you would have a better chance of selling lots of sausages on the Sausage Lovers Forum (for god’s sake, never, ever Google that) with 3,000 members than you would on a bigger site like Facebook, where users may or may not be sausage lovers? Often, it pays in social media to hit a variety of targets both small and large. Read here for more on identifying your target audience.

Be Able to Show Return on Investment (ROI)

One of the biggest complaints about social media is that its ROI is hard to ascertain. That’s certainly the case. Just like with something like public relations or marketing, it can be difficult to discover whether your new customer randomly stumbled on your service or whether they did so because of a marketing, PR or social media effort on your part.

While there is no exact science when it comes to social media ROI, there are tools you can use to at least prove that your message is getting out there. First, you know you’re doing something right if you get more social media “followers” or “fans” on sites like Facebook or Twitter.

You also need to get analytical with tools like Google Analytics. This handy free tool tells you how many people are looking at your anchor website, what sources they are clicking in from (I.e. Twitter, Facebook, the Sausage Lovers Forum, etc.) and what they do (i.e. buy a product, subscribe to your mailing list, etc.) once they are on your site.

One caveat: Google Analytics and tools like it are not a foolproof way to discover the ROI you are generating from social media. A Twitter follower could love your Tweets and feel great affection to your company, but you would never know that that unexpected sale that just came through came from that guy because he simply typed in your website URL. In that way, social media is like public relations in that it generates general good feelings, but those feelings may not be quantifiable.

In Conclusion…

This is just a tiny encapsulation of what it takes to be a social media guru. As John Blossom has already illustrated, “everything” it takes would fill a book (or, more likely, a blog.) The most exciting – and nerve wracking – thing about the social media “guru” position is that it’s changing every day. There are a plethora of new sites, iPhone apps, strategies, analytic measures, laws and regulation to keep up with, and they are always changing. Social media is like the Wild West of the internet. Do you think you can strike your fortune?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Can Social Media Help You Drop Some Pounds?

We've talked about how social media can help you connect with friends, business colleagues, corporations, and even government officials -- but can social media take that connection in a direction that is personal and intimate? In a country that is burdened by obesity in children and adults, can social media become a positive power that changes lives?

Is There a Group For That?
With the advent of Facebook, it seems there's a group for just about everything, including weight loss. The Virtual Weight Loss page has more than 600 fans, with most posting about other weight loss sites or avenues, but a few posting about their own struggles. The page directs users to an application where they can upload a photo of themselves and see how they will look a few pounds thinner. An interesting concept, but is a photo enough motivation to lose the weight?

Weight Watchers stands out with more than 175 thousand fans, many posting before and after pics and words of encouragement to each other.

How To Do Squats, Pushups and Eat Right
YouTube is a great place to check out exercise and nutrition tips. There are videos for nearly every aspect of weight loss, including this one on David Elmore Smith's 400lb+ weight loss:

David Smith's story is an inspirational one, shared not only on YouTube but also various news shows. He now works as a personal trainer to help others lose weight. His story is told in detail on trainer Chris Powell's Stax website.

Support Is Just a Click Away
In addition to the aforementioned Facebook groups, there are support groups created just for people trying to lose weight. Support groups work to help provide, well, support for the weight loss journey. People who otherwise might never have an opportunity to meet or converse suddenly become a critical link to someone who is struggling with an "overeating" day or needs extra motivation to get off the couch. One of these groups is Twit2Fit, a community of Twitter users who tweet about their weight loss and offer or receive encouragement and movitation.

How Many Calories Does Blogging Burn?
A quick search for "weight loss blog" on Google turns up more than 46 million hits. Not all of them are personal blogs, of course, but many are. Hollie's Weight Loss Blog comes up high on the list and features posts by a young woman trying to lose weight. She started blogging in 2008 when she was 333 lbs, and now is around 290. She has also blogged on SparkPeople, one of the most popular community sites with message boards, blogs and tons of great information on nutrition and exercise.

Social Media Can't Do It For You
Although social media obviously has great options for support and instruction, it's important to note that spending a lot of time blogging about weight loss or reading about exercise will defeat the purpose of actually getting up and moving. It's a little too easy to get caught up in talking about something rather than doing something. But of course, there's an app for that, so you can just take it with you while you walk.

CouchSurfing: Using Social Media to Travel

Have you ever wanted to travel but didn't have the money? Well, with faith and a computer, you can travel anywhere in the world for the price of the plane ticket and some money for food. Just visit, and you can travel the social media way.

Once again, my fearless brother showed me a way that social media can help you save money if you aren't afraid to be killed in your bed by strangers. He introduced me to couch surfing. For those of you who have never heard of it, couch surfing is, according to their official website, "an international non-profit network that connects travelers with locals in over 230 countries and territories around the world." The couch surfers' website allows people from all over the world to meet and talk with the idea being that you can find someone who will host you in their country by allowing you to stay in a guest bedroom or sleep on their couch while you visit (free of charge). Apparently, people have met lifelong friends through this network - people they met by hooking up online, opening up their home, and even showing them around their country or giving them advice on the best places to visit.

I think the concept is wonderful...and naive. However, it's been in operation since 2002 and, as far as I could tell, have had no reportings of travelers murdered, maimed, or raped in their beds by strangers to whom they've opened their doors. ABC News did a report on CouchSurfing in 2006 and the owner, Casey Fenton, said there had only been one report of a "minor theft" incident since he started this project. People who participate do not have to have background checks run on them; there are several levels of security in place with recommendations and vouchers from people who know you. Of course, these people could all be lying. The only legal verification they "offer" is an identity check to verify the person is who he or she says she is and lives where she says she lives; this identity check is not required. If you agree to have this identity check, though, you get more privileges and more exposure to the surfers.

This astonishes me! I don't know if I'm dark and cynical, or a big baby whose afraid of everyone, but I would be extremely nervous going overseas and staying in a stranger's home. Maybe I still don't have the hang of the world of social media and haven't learned how to make friends online. I think it's hard enough to trust people when you're face to face with them; now you want me to trust what they write? Wow - I've said it before and I'll say it again, that takes a level of faith in the goodness of people that I don't have.

But lots of people do. According to its statistics page, this website has had approximately 14,000 new members sign up EACH WEEK this year with a total of 1,783,181 couch surfers. The majority of the couch surfers are in the 18 to 24 age group with an almost equal number of males and females. The top couch surfing city is Paris, France, but the top couch surfing country is the United States. If you read testimonials, many of the people say that couch surfing has changed their lives.

There are several videos on YouTube regarding couch surfing that explain couch surfing. This link will lead you to a BBC report on couch surfing that may give you a better understanding. After watching some of these videos and reading the comments, I have to admit, if I could conquer my fear of sleeping in a stranger's house, I would love to be a couch surfer! The possibilities of seeing new places, meeting interesting people, and learning new things without spending a fortune is exciting. Perhaps my brother and I can try surfing together.

The Future of Twitter: Is It Dying?

Twitter Head: (noun) A twitter head is a person who likes to twitter 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will twitter about anything that comes to mind. Even twittering about twittering.

The popular social media tool, Twitter, based out of San Francisco, utilizes six languages (English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish) and has accrued a language all its own. Jargon like tweet, tweet cloud, retweet, and twitter head signify functioning verbs, adjectives, and nouns related to the 140 character status updates that keep networks informed on “what people are saying.”

Despite its wide use between languages established and newly formed, how popular is Twitter, really?

Young vs. Old
Unlike most social media applications, Twitter didn’t launch with a young user demographic. Instead, Twitter’s largest user demographic started with and continues to be around 30. According to Quantcast, an online strategy and data company whose slogan is “It’s Your Audience. We Just Find It,” 45 percent of Tweeters are between 18-34 years-old, a slight drop from 2009’s reported 47 percent.

An article in the Washington Post printed in February says that for teens, “Twitter has not caught on in nearly the same way—and experts suggest the difference is that most teens want to socialize with their friends and peers, not broadcast to the larger world.”

Samara Fantie, 17, or Gaithersburg, says that 140 characters is not enough room for teenagers to get out everything they want to say. Then she adds that Facebook “does everything Twitter offers, only it’s better. It would be like going backwards.”

So teens are using social media. In fact, 73 percent of 12-17 year-olds log on to social media sites daily. But not Twitter. Last year in 2009, 12-17 year-olds on Twitter represented only 1 percent of Twitter’s overall users.


Oh Miley
In October 2009, pop star Miley Cyrus—a teen herself—cancelled her Twitter account. An uproar followed, with the hash tag #mileycomeback and pleas to dad Billy Ray Cyrus from thousands of her 2 million followers. The article “If Teens Don’t Use Twitter, Then Why Do I Have to Read About Miley Cyrus?” brings up a good point: “maybe teens don’t use Twitter except when Miley Cyrus quits, to get her to come back to a service they don’t use? Or maybe the idea that teens don’t use Twitter is simply not true.”

The Verdict
Is Twitter’s popularity confined to twenty and thirty-somethings? To PR reps? To stay at home moms? If it’s not being used in younger generations, what does the long-term projection of Twitter look like? Or any social media, for that matter?

In order for a social media network to be sustainable, younger audiences must perpetuate the trend by using the media throughout their teens and continuing use into adulthood. Both Myspace and Facebook launched in markets reaching a late-teen and early twenty-something demographic, then spread outward to older and younger audiences. But Myspace and Facebook are relatively new themselves; both started within the decade. And how can we really predict the future of Twitter when we have yet to gauge the long-term effect of other social media?

New research from Quantcast says that in 2010, 13-17 year-olds represent 13 percent of Twitter users, an astounding 12 percent increase from last year. So maybe teens are starting to warm up to the idea of Twitter, or maybe they’ll follow in Miley’s footsteps and give up the network all together. Either way, tweeters beware: Unless teens catch on, Twitter is a dying meme.

Sh*t My Dad Says

The Problem
I have to admit that when I began to write today’s post, I was a bit stumped. I wanted to blog about the true power of social media and how it could catapult seemingly random people, events, or trends to overnight success, but I couldn’t find that single best example to illustrate my point. Luckily, my oldest daughter was home for Easter, and she did not fail me. I always knew that paying for her eight years of college would someday reap big returns.

The Idea
She directed me to a Twitter page with the unlikely name of Sh*t My Dad Says. Once there, I was able to read the many words of wisdom spoken by 74-year-old Sam Halpern as they have been faithfully recorded by his n’er-do-well 29-year-old son, Justin. The curmudgeonly dad says things like, "A parent's only as good as their dumbest kid. If one wins a Nobel Prize but the other gets robbed by a hooker, you failed," and, "I didn't say you were ugly. I said your girlfriend is better looking than you, and standing next to her, you look ugly." The son Tweets these pearls verbatim to the rest of the world.

The Content
I read through several pages of the Tweets, and I have to admit that I was very amused. As you can probably tell from the title, Sam Halpern’s language tends toward the raw side of the spectrum, but if you don’t let the word choice get in your way, the man is genuinely funny. And his son’s idea to share these observations via Twitter was nothing short of brilliant, despite his father’s comments to the contrary, comments such as “you don't know sh*t, and you're not sh*t. Don't take that the wrong way, that was meant to cheer you up.”

The Power of Social Media
Oh, I was about to forget to tell you about the power of social media. It has been less than a year since that very first tweet. During the initial month, Justin gained 250,000 followers. Now over 1,200,000 followers have signed up for his Tweets, including about 100 who joined while I was writing this post. He has a Facebook page called Sh*t My Dad Says that boasts over 150,000 fans, many of whom seem to like to share the sh*t that their own dads say, and he even has the dubious honor of a knock-off Facebook page with another 35,000 followers.

The Book
He posts frequently on his popular blog, Sh*t My Dad Says. He has a website called Sh*t My Dad Says. He has compiled all of his father’s sayings into a book called Sh*t My Dad Says, which ranks #64 at based solely on pre-orders (the book does not come out until May 10). And then there is the CBS television pilot, which will feature none other than William Shatner in the role of that wise old philosopher, Sam Halpern, and which will assumably be called something other than Sh*t My Dad Says.

So there you have the power of social media. An unemployed entrepreneur conceived of an idea, branded it, marketed it, and once it gained critical mass, stood back and watched it all happen. Justin Halpern made it look easy. Or, as his father put it, "Oh please, you practically invented lazy. People should have to call you and ask for the rights to lazy before they use it."

Proposed Facebook Privacy Changes Raise Eyebrows

Facebook recently announced proposed changes to its privacy policy that have caused a stir among privacy advocates. The proposed changes would allow Facebook to share more of its users’ data with third party sites without obtaining explicit permission or approval from members.

Reading Between the Lines

A draft of the new privacy policy can be found here, but I found the redline version, which highlights deletions and additions, to be more helpful in identifying the changes. One of the most controversial changes is in regards to information Facebook shares with third parties. Per the terms of the proposed policy:

In order to provide you with useful social experiences off of Facebook, we occasionally need to provide General Information about you to pre-approved third party websites and applications that use Platform at the time you visit them (if you are still logged in to Facebook). Similarly, when one of your friends visits a pre-approved website or application, it will receive General Information about you so you and your friend can be connected on that website as well (if you also have an account with that website). In these cases we require these websites and applications to go through an approval process, and to enter into separate agreements designed to protect your privacy.

What Does This Mean?

Eric Eldon does a great job analyzing the various changes to Facebook’s privacy policy and he refers to the above change as “potentially a very big deal.” What concerns critics the most is that this has the potential to become Facebook’s default option as users must “opt-out” in order to prevent their information from being shared. There are also concerns that the program is likely to expand beyond the initial 10 or so “pre-approved” sites that are partnering with Facebook.

How It Would Work

If you log into Facebook and subsequently opened another window to one of its partner sites, that other site would know you as a Facebook member and would present you with relevant information from your Facebook social network.

For example, if you were logged into Facebook and then accessed a music site to listen to a song, the music site would be able to tell you which of your friends also like that song and vice versa. Once again, this level of sharing would be offered on an “opt-out” basis which means your data will be shared unless you take the time to tell them not to.

Letting the People Have Their Say

It should be noted that these changes are currently in the proposed stage. Facebook gave users until 12 a.m. (Pacific time) on Friday, March 2nd to voice their opinions on the proposal. As a proponent of internet privacy, I opposed the changes. Like other critics, I would like to see third party information sharing offered as an “opt-in” rather than an “opt-out” option. But even though the official deadline to respond has passed, it’s not too late to let Facebook executives know how you feel. If you’d like your “private” profile information to remain so, write the powers-that-be and let them know your opinion.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Social Media Avalanche

One of my most favorite things in the world is cotton candy. When I take my kids to Chuck E. Cheese the first thing I do is distract them with handfuls of tokens. When they go off to play skee-ball, I stealthily buy a big bag of sweet, glorious pink cotton candy and eat it in peace. The way I see it, cotton candy is like underwear - I don't want to share either one.

The inevitability though is my complete and total lack of control in stopping half-way through the bag. My stomach plainly says, "Chris, you need to stop now," while my head says, "Let's see if we can finish the bag." Cotton candy, as Martha Stewart might say, is a "good thing," at least in smaller, manageable doses.

Over the years, I have found that many things are filled with cotton candy-styled awesomeness, including beer, live Sunday afternoon Bowling on ESPN, and social media. Like cotton candy, all are really incredible yet best enjoyed in small, manageable doses.

Options, Options, and a Few More Options

Just the other day I was playing on my Facebook when my eye happened to spot a link with an unusual title - something like Klurf, Shooff or Mlipr. In a rare moment, I channeled the crotchety ways of my long-dead grandfather and wondered, "What's the deal with all these stupidly named social media Web sites? ...They're everywhere!"

I opened up a new tab in my browser, went to Google and typed something about there being too many social media sites. Much to my delight, I found an equally crotchety fellow who had written an article called "Too Many Social Networking Sites Out There." While I completely disagreed with his assessment of Twitter, I really found what I was looking for - not from his writing, but from the technology powering his blog.

I clicked on the "SHARE" button on the navigation across the top of the blog. To my surprise, a list of sharing options popped up.

Not one or two options.

Not three or four options.

I was presented with a list of 263 OPTIONS - everything from the familiar: Facebook and Twitter; to the semi-familiar: Orkut and Digg; to the "really?!?!:" Fwisp, Plurk, and Mister Wong.

In fact - here's a graphic of all of them.

I don't care how much anyone loves social media; if people are having to figure out one of 263 options (of anything) it's probably too much.

Social Media is 2010's Version of Cable TV

I can bet that most of us have seen a giant list - like the one above with tiny little logos - like this before. In fact, if you still check your mailbox every week, more than likely you get some sort of cable advertisement from Comcast or AT&T that has an information graphic on it listing all the channels you get if you subscribe to their service.

After much cotton candy-fueled deliberation, it finally dawned on me that social media sites are patterning their propagation and consumption very much after our modern-day television.

Once upon a time, people turned on the television set to a limited number of stations - outside of the "Big Three" networks, there wasn't much else. Last year, when I signed up for AT&T U-Verse they had to give me a 12-page foldout brochure to help me get acquainted with my channel listings. Truth be told, I've had U-Verse for nearly a year; the only stations I know by heart are the networks, ESPN and the ones my kids watch.

Social media is very similar: there are places like Facebook and Twitter that I (as well as countless millions) flock to every day. If there was a Nielsen's rating for social media, those two sites would be near the top.

Then there are other sites like Tumblr and Flickr which I go to once or twice a week. On my cable box, their equivalent is Food Network and VH1.

Admittedly, I am paying for channels that I didn't even know I had - and often wonder who watches programming on them and why. In the realm of social media, I am still scratching my head in regards to purpose of Fwisp and Plurk.

Basically, television and social media are not only similar in the massive dearth of channels, sites and content; but also in how the "players" are separated into the "big boys," the one's with a legitimate audience, and the niche pretenders.

Of course, where social media differs from television is that while there are numerous niche cable channels, they usually have intuitive names. If I see a channel called "Game Show Network," I don't have to put my rocket science degree to use in determining that the station shows game shows. When I see names of social media sites like ZooLoo and Sphinn, I not only have no clue what on earth I'm supposed to do with it - but I'm probably so busy on the "Big Three" that I won't even care.

So What Does This Mean?

I have no doubt that with every passing day, ever-improving technology will mean that new social media sites will spring up with the promise to do bigger, better and more exciting things. As more sites come online, it will not only be harder for users to figure out what they do, but how best to manage and integrate social media accounts - those with varying information types, interfaces, and purposes.

Perhaps one day Google will create an uber social media application where users could manage any and every social media account under their name from one single screen; or perhaps social media will continue to function much in the same way we interface with television - we pick what we like and pay no mind to the other stuff. I leave the floor open to you humble readers and the Comments link below.

In the meantime, I will sit back, enjoy a bag of cotton candy and wonder how long it will take for some industrious chap to say, "Hey, you know what cable television needs?...A Social Media channel."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Backchannel: Unofficial Commentary on SXSW

Every SXSW panel features not one but two simultaneously occurring discussions. While one occurs out loud, with people in the room who can see one another and hear one another speak, the other occurs silently in that shadowy netherworld known as Twitter. While everyone appears to be listening attentively to panelists and speakers, many people behind the scenes are also Tweeting questions, commentary, and yes, snarky remarks, as the panel progresses.

This ongoing Twitter conversation has come to be known as the “backchannel” and all panelists deal with it in a combination of four ways:

1.) Prepare for it – All of the panels I attended were at least ready for the backchannel. They all had “official” hashtags (i.e. #theyelpeffect, #funemployed, etc.) so that people who Tweeted through the event could organize their thoughts and read the thoughts of others also Tweeting along in the room. But considering how brutal some Twitterers can be, I also suspect that creating a hashtag for your panel has become SXSW policy rather than the choice of the panelists themselves.

2.) Embrace it During the Presentation – To me, the most successful presenters assigned someone to follow the backchannel as the panel progressed. They then rolled with the flow and answered questions that came across, went back to address points that appeared to have been missed, and generally let the audience participate.

3.) Embrace it After the Fact – Other panels, especially the small ones with one or two presenters, might not have had the resources to monitor the backchannel as they talked, but did end up embracing it after the fact. Jennie Chin (@misohungry) of The Yelp Effect, for example, came back and commented on the back channel after the conversation ended.

4.) Ignore it – The least successful SXSW presenters ignored the backchannel forever and ever. I attended one panel that promised to be about viral marketing but mainly consisted of the marketing teams from two website aggregators promoting their own services. The backchannel quickly grew ugly, but the two presenters remained oblivious and continued with their obvious plugs. As a result, many people – me included – walked out and went to find a more agreeable panel.

How is the Backchannel Changing SXSW?

Imagine if you were sitting in school and instead of merely listening to the lecture, you were able to ask silent questions without interrupting the class or make snide remarks about the teacher’s pocket protector. That’s how the backchannel feels to me. It’s a way to turn a presentation given to you to a conversation with you. In other words, the backchannel epitomizes everything we’ve learned in class about social media. People are no longer content to sit back and have information spoon fed to them. For better or for worse, people want to participate.

The backchannel made SXSW panels participatory, democratic and fun for me. I felt, in many cases, like I was being heard instead of preached at. And what’s more Web 2.0 than that? Love it or Hate it?

Jennie Chen of the food blog MisoHungry and Austin American Statesman writer Addie Broyles moderated one of the liveliest panels I attended at SXSW. Whether you are a local restaurant owner or one of the tuned-in social media superstars who uses sites like Yelp and Chowhound to review restaurants, you would probably have had something to say at “The Yelp Effect: When Everyone’s a Restaurant Critic.”

Apparently this is an issue near and dear to many hearts, as the panel’s small room was packed to the gills with interested people. I was lucky to get a seat for the panel, which was structured as an open discussion or “core conversation,” rather than a top down speech. It was already getting social media-y in here!

The People Yelp

The biggest take away from the panel was the fact that restaurants can no longer get away with subpar service. If a Yelper (or someone who writes on CitySearch, Chowhound, UrbanSpoon or one of the many other everyone’s-a-critic-sites) has a bad experience at a restaurant, pretty soon everybody who’s tuned into social media will know. If enough Yelpers have a bad experience, that restaurant’s credibility will take a nosedive.

Restaurants Respond

On the restaurants’ side, people argued about the trustworthiness of reviews posted on sites like Yelp. The argument there seemed to be that maybe the public just doesn’t “get” some restaurants. Maybe it was because we were at a technology convention, but that argument never got off the ground. In my opinion, if the public doesn’t get you, maybe the problem is with… well, you. Responds itself answers a few of these complaints. First, the site uses an algorithm to police reviews that look suspicious. For example, if a spate of people suddenly create accounts and give 5 star reviews to one restaurant only to never log on again, the site recognizes a smoke blowing campaign and suppresses or even deletes the too-glowing reviews. The same goes for a user who is only negative all of the time. The site decides he’s probably just a crank. Further, business owners do have the chance to publicly comment on reviews and to contact reviewers who have had a bad experience.

The main idea of the panel seemed to be that, instead of trying to sue or similarly squelch sites like, that restaurant owners should get with the program and start seeing Yelp as a customer service platform and a mandate on how to improve.

This Blogger Responds

My one gripe about the panel was that we didn’t have time to talk about a couple of sensitive issues when it comes to One is the assertion by many small business owners that Yelp allows people to pick on the small, local businesses than can least afford bad reviews in this economy. (To this, as a Yelper, I say “Offer a good product, and good reviews will follow.”) The other issue I wanted to touch on was the two class action lawsuits filed against Yelp alleging that they try to shake local businesses down for advertising, and if the businesses don’t comply, hides their positive reviews and otherwise damages their credibility on the site. Of course, there was only so much time, and both conversations would have strayed from the original purpose of the panel. So I suppose I should really be congratulating the moderators for keeping us on track!

Audience participation was interesting as well. One man said, “Call me old fashioned, but I don’t even allow comments on my restaurant criticism blog.”

I muttered, “You’re old fashioned,” prompting the people around me to nod or vocally agree. To me, that moment was one of many testaments to the increasing power of social media. As Blossom said in Content Nation, people are no longer content to listen to top down messages. They want a two-way dialogue instead. If you read a restaurant criticism blog that doesn’t allow comments, you might as well be reading a magazine. At least with a magazine you get that inky smell and the satisfaction of holding its weight in your hands.

Let’s face it. The world is changing. Restaurants and other local businesses can choose to roll with the times, shape up, and listen to customer critiques or they can continue to offer those old-fashioned comment cards and get left behind in Web 2.0’s sizeable wake.

No matter what, I’ll continue to Yelp. Care to friend me?

Saturday, March 27, 2010, the King of SXSW

From my seat, it appeared that the social application Foursquare took the crown at this year’s South by Southwest. (Okay, so there isn’t really a King of SXSW, but if there were…) And other location based applications like Gowalla and Loopt weren’t far behind.

What is Foursquare?

Foursquare is a location based social media application. If you’re a Foursquare player, whenever you go to a new venue – a restaurant, a store, the library, or even a church – you “check in” either via text or by a device specific app. (I have it on my iPhone.) The application uses your device’s GPS to “place” you at the venue. Foursquare allows you to see the first name and last initial of other people who are “checked in” at the same venue, and it shows you who is the “Mayor” of that venue. Mayors snag their title by having the most check-ins at that location. As more and more people visit the venue, Foursquare also proves the place’s popularity (at least to other geeks like me people who use Foursquare.)

Foursquare users sometimes even battle for mayorship. (As well they should – many venues have jumped on the Foursquare bandwagon and offer coupons, discounts and other specials to the mayor. I’ve seen everything from a free yogurt for the mayor to a free night at a hotel. Not bad for merely going someplace you would have gone anyway.) Even if you don’t manage to become a mayor, Foursquare also periodically gives you “badges.” You might get a badge like “Crunked” for hitting five joints in one night or “Superstar when you’ve checked in at 50 different venues in your Foursquare history. While badges aren’t redeemable for money or prestige, they are the psychological pellet that keeps many people checking in, and checking in, and checking in…

Foursquare at SXSW

Foursquare debuted at last year’s SXSW, and its popularity showed no signs of waning this year. Just to keep SXSW goers' interest, the application added 15 new badges that could only be earned at SXSW. Badges like Superswarm could only be earned when you checked in at venue where at least 250 other Foursquare players were also checked in. It’s a testament to Foursquare’s popularity that I earned that one on Day One when I was in the SXSW registration line waiting for my badge. (I also earned “Decathlon” for attending 10 sponsored parties, and “Panel Nerd” for hitting five panels. I missed out on the fun ones like the badge that could be earned for taking a ride in Austin’s famous Karaoke RV.)

So What’s the Point?

Many people don’t see the point in playing location based games like Foursquare. Foursquare even spawned the website and application Please Rob Me, which is designed to demonstrate that Foursquare is very public and an invitation to burglars to rob you while your Foursquare stream shows you out of the house.

This is a valid complaint and highlights the fact that you shouldn’t “friend” people you don’t know on Foursquare or add your Foursquare updates to a very public forum like Twitter or Facebook where less-than-good-intentioned acquaintances might hang out.

In my opinion, the point of Foursquare is the same as Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Which is, duh, being social. You won’t forget the first time you check into Foursquare, see another person checked in, and then share that secret little Foursquare nod. Sure it hasn’t happened to me yet, but I can see striking up a conversation with someone based on our mutual degree of Foursquare checked-in-ness. Plus, it’s a way for me to show my love for my favorite venues.

On the downside, yep, I suppose I could be robbed (though people routinely leave their houses for other things – like work), and I suppose a stalker would have a field day on Foursquare. That’s why it makes sense to only “friend” people you trust and definitely think of your privacy when posting your Foursquare whereabouts on very public forums.

As for Foursquare at SXSW, I’ve been left with a gaggle of new Foursquare friends in other cities and a handful of new badges to display with pride on my Foursquare page. A major accomplishment it ain’t, but fun? It’s at least about as fun than the original four square, and even the non-athletic can do it.