Monday, July 22, 2013

Ads Destroying the Web - is Facebook Premium the Answer? Or are we Reinventing the Wheel?

Twitter Co-founder, Biz Stone, thinks that Facebook should offer a premium version for Facebook of some sort, an ad-free version of Facebook if you will. Stone is one of three co-founders of Twitter, which is why the advice seems to be so interesting.  I may be a skeptic, but it seems unlikely that anyone in his position in this day and age offers free advice to the competition.  Still, I don't necessarily think it's a trick, I think he is just stating the obvious.  We are all annoyed at what Facebook has become, and to a large degree ads are to blame.  See what Stone suggests in this article.

It is not just Facebook, however, that has an exhaustive amount of ads cluttering their service and taking away from the consumer experience.  CNET just reported that "the American Customer Satisfaction Index's E-business report gave search engines, social networks, and news sites a collective satisfaction grade of 71.3 out of 100."  CNET attributes the satisfaction decline to the clutter of advertisements distracting from the core purposes of these services.  In other words, we just want to live in a world where a search engine is a tool to find what we are searching for and Facebook is just a place to connect with people.  We want to seek out products and services, not have them thrown into our peripheral vision at all times, begging to distract us from what we are doing.

So, would any of us actually buy Facebook premium?  I'm sure some would to a degree, even if it was just a small percent of Facebook's overall users.  As Stone mentioned, even a small percentage of Facebook users paying a low amount each month would add up to a very large fortune with Facebook having over a billion monthly users.

Personally, I would stick with the free version even if a premium version was offered at just a couple dollars a month.  I'm quite content getting the same thing, no ads on Facebook or anywhere for that matter, out of an open-source ad blocking extension called Adblock.

Below are two of the same Google searches, before and after I downloaded Adblock.  It took about 30 seconds to install and starting working right away.

I'm new to Adblock but I love it! Keep in mind, not only are my Google searches now ad-free, all of my social media sites are also now ad-free!  This has changed my life.

I thought I'd pass along the suggestion on to anyone who hadn't heard of it or who gets extremely frustrated with all the ads everywhere.  You are not alone.

Merry Christmas to all of us!  Adblock has been around since I graduated high school in 2006, but better late than never!

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Hashtag - Useful or Annoying? The How-to on Hashtagging for Businesses

Yesterday, I spent the day in a hashtag war with my boss, who thought it would be fun to send all of his e-mails/texts to me with # in front of just about everything he wrote, in order to prove to the world once and for all that he is indeed hip and social media savvy.  He took a particular interest in the hashtag, like many do, because of how incredibly widely used it is on social media these days.  Of course I, in good fun, had no choice but to participate in these antics, to the point that, by the end of the day, I did not even realize I was doing it anymore.  Thank goodness today is a new day, and we both forgot that we were waging hashtag war yesterday.  Still, I couldn't help but think that this is how it starts; we start to use hashtags to emphasize something, then something else and something else, and it evolves into forgetting that we are even doing it.  When EVERYTHING is emphasized, all of a sudden NOTHING is.


Today, ironically!, I came across an article that explains the origin of the hashtag and its original purposes:

The article made me start to think even more about the hashtag and its use.  Of course the social media applications themselves are using hashtags.   Twitter has been most well known for their hashtag use and part of their claim to fame is in popularizing it.  Facebook is also starting to see more hashtag usage as well, and several other social media sites are getting on board with the trend.  Vine, owned by Twitter, obviously uses the hashtag, and Facebook's Instagram is also using hashtags as well.  Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr, and many more are also following suit.

So, with all of the large social networks using hashtags, yet there is such a wide use of these tags for #sometimes #no #apparent #reason at all, how are we to make sense of the hashtag and its purposes?  Better yet, how can we use the hashtag for business purposes?  Here are a couple of pointers to make hashtags work for you and your business:

1. Be consistent!  If you are a social media manager for a business and would like your audience to trend your topic, make sure you use it consistently.  Do not go from #yourbusinessname to #yourbusinessnickname to #somevariationofyourname.  Decide what your hashtag will be and use it all the time until it catches on.

2. Pick a short hashtag! For example, if you are Point Park University and you would like to make your posts trend, you may want to consider #pointpark rather than #pointparkuniversity.  Think about what the users/audience will want as well as your own desire to brand yourself.  For example, you may think it is super important to get that "university" word in there for branding, but the fact is, you'll be hashtagging all by your lonesome.  Your audience will rebel and pick the short version of your name, and you will be missing the opportunity to promote your brand.

3. Be flexible!  Even if you have picked a short hashtag and been consistent with how you have used it, there might just frankly be people calling you something entirely different.  You might think that you are #pointpark, for example, and in fact everyone thinks you are #ppu.  If that is the case, you might have to be flexible and switch your strategy; go with what works and don't beat a dead horse with a hashtag that is not catching on.  In the words of Regina George, "stop trying to make 'fetch' happen! It's not going to happen!"

4. Know your audience! You are going to need to know your audience so that you can actually relate to them and keep them reading what you write.  Social media is about building connections, not just selling, so make sure your posts are a conversation rather than a sales pitch.  Hashtag fun stuff, be funny, and if you can't do any of those things, ask someone else to be your social media manager.  #sorry

Last but not least, here is a special piece of advice - Tagboard.  We experimented with it for our small event at Point Park University, the SAEM High School Summer Workshop.  We asked the students to use the hashtag #saempgh to mention the event on social media.  Now, everything they said (or we said with #saempgh) is compiled there on a "board." We can easily connect with our users just by going to Tagboard and pulling up our tag.  Instead of simply trying to connect with everyone through impersonal mass posts, we are now able to see what people say about us, click on their posts, and respond to them directly.  It is a new world and we have to find new ways to engage our audience.

#thanksforreading #staytuned

Monday, July 15, 2013

17 Reasons Smartwatches WILL (possibly) Work

Recently I discussed how afraid I am for the world to experience "wearable technology" in the form of smart watches, such as the rumored iWatch, the Google smart watch, or the Sony SmartWatch.  Still, with that said, ultimately I concluded that I may fall victim to the new trend if the technology advances this market as much as sources claim.  Even more importantly, if this is really to become a $50 billion market, as Business Insider suggested, I'm pretty sure quite a few others will find themselves wearing a smart watch as well. Of all the things I have read about this rumored technology, the only thing I REALLY didn't believe was this article:

The author attempts to explain why this technology won't catch on.  While I am not 100% convinced that it will either, the reasons this author gave seem completely off base.  Excuse me while I interrupt this article from Gizmodo with my own 17 reasons why smart watches just might in fact work.  Be warned: my bias/allegiance to Apple might* reveal itself.

17 Reasons Smartwatches Won't Work (Yet) by Brian Barrett - And Amanda Munsch's 17 rebuttals...

The cascade of smartwatch rumors—be they iWatch, Surface, or other—increases daily. By this point, smartwatches of every shape and stripe seem inevitable. But there are so, so many reasons why they shouldn't happen. Not any time soon, at least.  
(HMM is 6 months not any time soon?) 

To get a sense of the sheer volume of smartwatches on the horizon, you can look no further than Quartz's exhaustive rumor roundup. It's an extensive lineup of companies, each and every one of whom may want to seriously reconsider where they're headed. Here are just a few reasons why.

1. The wrist is valuable accessory space. Watches aren't just watches anymore, if they ever were. They're fashion statements in a way that today's gadgets—ooo, a black rectangle!—aren't. One-look-fits-all isn't going to cut it, and color variations don't count (looking your way Apple).
1. Fashion is prone to evolution, just like technology.

2. Too many sizes. In fact, one size doesn't fit all, either! Men and women wear different-sized watches. Beyond that, watch size is another aesthetic choice that people who wear things on their wrists care very much about. How many SKUs are these companies prepared to manufacture?
2. Have you ever heard of an adjustable strap?  Also, size preference is something that can be obtained by choosing a different company's product, just as people choose different mobile phones.

3. Which makes for terrible UI problems. Adding a micro-sized display to your platform's lineup is problematic enough on its own for apps. Allowing for displays with multiple degrees of tiny is guaranteed chaos. Scaling horrors, ahoy!
3. We search the ENTIRE web on our iPhones, read our mail, create our calendar, blog, check Facebook, create Instagram photos/videos, and you don't think we can check our e-mail or read a text from an iWatch?

4. But mostly one giant size. The obvious answer to that would be to stick with just one display size, which iWatch and Samsung and Microsoft rumors currently peg at 1.5-inches. That is a very big thing to lug around all day.
4. The obvious: big watches are in...

5. Battery life will be horrid. The sad thing is, it still won't be big enough to fit in all of the internals it needs alongside a battery that's worth a damn. While there's no way a smartwatch will be as battery-intensive as your phone, you're still going to have to plug the damn thing in every few days.
5. Solar power or Casio/Gshock Bluetooth Low Energy

6. Imagine input on that tiny display. Making your smartwatch do what you want is going to be a royal pain, unless you've got needlepoint fingers, or until voice command technology advances so far beyond where it's at today we might as well be talking about getting a few more feet of lift out of our hoverboards.
6. Removable face plate!

7. They're going to be ugly. Big might be a necessity for a smartwatch, but it's also garish in an accessory. Even the nicest-looking iWatch renders are sort of gross. And existing e-ink products aren't much better. 
7. Technology is sexy.

8. Speaking of which, this already exists.  A gorgeous, functional, cellular-powered gizmo-watch made by erstwhile hardware god Sony could have been huge. Huge! Instead, it's a gadget cold …It's pretty awful.

8. Sony is a bad example.  Pick another one.

9. And this.

17 Reasons Smartwatches Won't Work (Yet)

9. I would wear these!

10. Even Apple sort of had one. The iPod nano was the closest we've gotten to a real-deal iWatch in terms of size and functionality, especially when paired with a clever watchband. It was so popular that Apple ditched the hardware after a single generation.
10. The iPod nano was nothing like an iWatch.  It couldn't even compete against Apple's iPod.  Try again.

11. In fact, we've been doing this since the 80s. And they've all been bad. Could someone come in and reinvent the category, like Apple did with smartphones? Sure! But it'll have to be a once-in-a-generation reimagining. Maybe someone manages it, maybe not. The only guarantee is that nearly every smartwatch will be terrible for a very long time.
11. What?  Now you're absurd.  Apple reimagined far more than just smartphones.  The iPod changed how we listen to music and now the iPad has changed the way we view the internet, manage our financial portfolio, keep our family photo album on hand, update our calendar for the world to see, and so much more...

12. How much will these things cost? Oh man, are you really ready to drop $150 on yet another gadget that already does things your preexisting gadgets can? That's how much the Sony SmartWatch runs you. Even if an Apple iWatch manages to match that, it's a whole lot of change. 
12. A G-Shock Watch averages over $110... And this watch would potentially be worn by a market with extra $$$.  $150 sounds like a steal!

13. And how often will you have to get a new one? Product refresh cycles are variable, but it's safe to say that your average handheld gadget—phones, tablets, etc.—don't last you much longer than three years at most, if only because of the (non-replaceable) battery. So look forward to having to get a new watch at least that often.
13. I agree, I hate that.  But it doesn't keep any of us from getting a new phone every chance we get!

14. It's another data eater. Not to mention that a smartwatch that only runs on Wi-Fi would be effectively useless; when you're in your house or a coffee shop or another Wi-Fi accessible location, you're using other devices. So get ready to tack yet another gadget onto your data plan, unless it's pure Bluetooth (there's that battery life again) or some sort of Airplay-like ad hoc wireless hookup with your phone.
14. When has that ever stopped us from checking Facebook or Twitter? Never.

15. The smartwatch identity crisis. Is a smartwatch a souped-up activity tracker or a dumbed down iPhone? If it's the former, are we really sure that people want activity trackers on a large scale? If it's the latter, won't that be redundant? If it's a combination of both, do you go with a leather band or a rubber strap? Why are we doing this, again?
15. Redundant, maybe.  That didn't stop us from the iPad though we all have iPhones and laptops.

16. Honestly, it's the gadget version of 3DTV. All of this smartwatch build-up sounds incredibly familiar if you've been around a while. It sounds almost identical to the drumbeats that lead up to 3DTV, another product for which there was no clear demand, but companies didn't have any better ideas, so why not? Smartwatches are that.
16. Umm... nope.  These products are completely different, as are their target markets.  

17. Dick Tracy would've used a smartphone. Ever get the feeling that we're all still chasing that dumb Dick Tracy watch-phone? Forget it. If Dick Tracy were alive today he'd be using an iPhone, because it does all of the things that watch-phone did, but better. If you're going to resurrect a Dick Tracy accessory, make it the fedora.
17. No comment.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Will Wearable Technology Turn Us Into Robots?

Technology continues to advance daily and the world is changing.  Some people fight it, others embrace it cautiously, and still others, like me, are addicted to it.  We can't get enough of it.  Turning it off is not an option and, in fact, it makes us anxious to do so.  Just last week on the 4th of July for example, I went to a farm with family to relax and enjoy the weekend.  It was fantastic and I loved everything about it, except for one thing that was lurking the entire time, kicking at my insides and nudging me every time there was a lull in conversation, I had bad signal!

Before you judge me, let me explain that eventually I let go of my anxiety and had a great time.  When I acknowledged my poor signal was adversely effecting my mood, I was able to let it go.  But, I won't lie, I have feared for a long time that there is a day coming when we all cling to technology so much so that we aren't able to connect with reality.   Now however, I see that even my worst fears weren't aimed high enough for what is to come.  It is not people that will cling to technology, but technology that will cling to people.

They are calling it "wearable technology" and it is said to open a $50 billion market.  The ability to put your phone in your pocket - to be out of sight, out of mind - will soon be a thing of the past.  Should we run from it?  Personally, I don't see the point, the world keeps moving whether we close our eyes or keep them open.  So me, I will embrace the new technology like always and hope that I don't turn into a robot.  Those with more means than I, well they'll be the ones with the Apple and Google stock.