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Social Networking 101

20 Feb

So, it’s been several weeks since I’ve written anything. Part of it is the pressure to be funny and witty and interesting, part of it is that I’ve been busy as hell at work and haven’t had much time to think of anything to write about, and part of it is the “winter doldrums”. Whatever. I’m writing today!

I thought I’d take up the subject of social networking from the perspective of someone who works in the business. Because of my chosen profession, and because I’m a very active participant in it, I gete a lot of questions about things like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. What are they, why should I use them, what’s the point of them, how do they make money, etc. etc. So, without much more conversation, here’s sort of a “social networking for dummies” that you can use when someone says to you “I just don’t understand Twitter” or “Why does Facebook mess with the experience all the time?” I’m also going to do this in the form of Q&A – trying to cover the questions I get from people. So, onwards:

  1. “Why does Facebook keep messing with the experience? I hate timeline, hate that my news feed isn’t what I want it to be, etc. Why do they do that to their customers?”
    Well … you see, dear Facebook user, you ARE NOT THE CUSTOMER. Repeat it, you are not the customer. Here’s how you can tell? How much money do you send to Facebook each month for the privilege of using it? None? Hmm. So here’s the deal, Facebook’s PRODUCT is you – very simple. And their customers are both advertisers and people who buy their data. The data is made up of information that you and your friends generate as you interact online. YOU are the product because it is you using Facebook. When you meet with a Facebook advertising rep, the first thing they tell you is that Facebook has nearly a billion subscribers worldwide, and something like 200 million in just the US alone. You are the product that Facebook monetizes. And they get you to stay and interact not because of their experiences but despite them. You stay because that’s where your friends are.Here’s my prediction: I do think Facebook’s influence and growth has pretty much peaked – I think everyone that is inclined to use it is using it. I do think that they are not going away anytime soon, and their revenue will continue to grow as they get better with their ad products, but in terms of user growth, the curve has flattened a lot in the last year, and I think is about at it’s peak.
  2. “What’s Twitter? Why twitter? How do I use Twitter? Etc.”
    I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a Twitter fan nor much of a Twitter user. I do “tweet” (the act of posting a 144 character post on Twitter), but I don’t use it that much. Basically Twitter is Facebook but in a shorter form. You are limited to 144 characters for each post – whether a tweet (original post), a reply, a retweet (when you share something someone else tweeted), etc. Where Twitter loses me is wading through all the tweets to find things that are interesting (see the next topic, Hashtags). There’s just too much traffic. The typical power-user of Twitter has the whole thing linked to their cell phone through texting. Outgoing Tweets, incoming tweets, etc., all deliver to your text messaging. If you choose to receive, you better have unlimited texting, I’m just saying. I can’t imagine getting that all in my phone. I visit Twitter once a day, scroll through Tweets from people I care about, search hashtags that interest me and that’s about it. I Tweet primarily to share articles, promote my blog, etc. I’m not one of those “eating dinner” “on the bus” Tweeters.
  3. “What’s a hashtag? I think that’s a Twitter thing but I see them on Facebook now. What are they and what’s the point?”
    A hashtag is a word, preceded with the # symbol that is designed to improve the searchability of your Tweet and to organize Tweets by topic. It has been adopted by Facebook users as well, although the searchability of those posts is still really early stage. That said, it’s generally used as a way to follow a trending topic. During a big event, like the Russian meteor event from last week, people will start hashtagging their posts with something like “#meteorshower” or “#russianmeteor” or “#armageddon” or whatever, and the more people that use that hash tag, the more content that Twitter has to categorize into a common thread. If you go into Twitter’s site or mobile app and type in a keyword preceded by a hashtag, you’ll see posts by that topic. It’s that simple.
  4. “What is a ‘trending topic’ on Twitter and Facebook?”
    Pretty much anything that is a hot topic on Facebook or Twitter – and on Twitter, it is generally denoted by a hashtag. So for example, when Marco Rubio got cotton mouth last week (humorously so for anyone other than a Republican), immediately, there was a whole bunch of humorous tweets with the hashtag of “#rubiothirsty”. During the Superbowl, when the blackout occurred, there were tons of posts (many funny) with the hashtag “#superbowlblackout” (among others). Hashtags are how Twitter has become useful/meaningful for me – it allows me to categorize all the noise that’s on Twitter.
  5. “What’s Pinterest and why should I use it?”
    Like Twitter, I’m not a Pinterest expert, but it’s basically a version of Facebook or Twitter where sharing things you like or are interested in happens, but in this case, it’s all about images. You can be online, see an image in a story, a catalog, etc., and “pin” that image on your Pinterest “pinboards” (and you can have different ones for different topics), and those are shared with friends who are following your activity.  You pin them through a utility that you install on your browser.  I have a Pinterest account but have to admit to not using it much, if ever. It is actively used by companies and brands though to promote their products, and I know a lot of foodie friends who use it for recipe sharing and such.
  6. “What’s Instagram and why should I use it?”
    Instagram is basically a social network based on photos you take or upload to the site. It differs from Pinterest in that Pinterest is more about sharing images you see elsewhere online, whereas Instagram is more about what you create yourself. I think Instagram is one of the most creative spaces on the web. It allows you a huge leeway in how you process and modify images, and there’s some amazing creativity going on within it. I dabble with it – I love taking pictures, and do so a lot with my iPhone 4S (which has a great camera in it) and enjoy sharing them on Instagram. Now then, Instagram was bought by Facebook and Facebook has integrated a lot of Instagram’s functionality into it, but … Instagram on it’s own is a pretty cool thing, If you’re interested in photography and art, I definitely recommend it.
  7. “What’s LinkedIn and why should I use it?”
    LinkedIn is the social network for professionals – you put LinkedIn and Facebook together and it’s the social networking equivalent of a mullet – business in the front, party in the rear!  Seriously though, it’s an unbelievably powerful networking tool.  I literally got my job through networking on LinkedIn and probably get five job opportunity solicitations per week.  If you’re in business, it is absolutely essential.  And if you’re not, it’s not.  Your LinkedIn profile is basically your resume, people can endorse you with skills and capabilities and write recommendations for you, you can post articles, comments, status updates etc. just like Facebook, and you can link your profile to friends and network contacts.  The critical thing about LinkedIn IS your profile – having a powerfully-written profile is what puts the wings under you – and by powerfully-written, I mean “search friendly”.  I literally have an entire paragraph, that while written in plain english, is jammed full of keywords for searching to find me.  I manage and curate my LinkedIn profile constantly.  It is an absolute essential for my career. You can look at my profile here, and of course if you’re a LinkedIn user, well, let’s connect!

There are plenty more social network products and experiences out there of course – Tumblr, Reddit, etc. etc. and there will be more to come. But above are the most common questions I get from folks about social networking.

Hope you find this interesting and useful!

As you were,

Stew

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That “This is Amazing!” moment

12 Jun

There is a fairly famous and popular “bit” by the comedian Louis CK, that he titles “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy”. In the clip he talks about stuff we take for granted now that is truly incredible, and we get upset when it doesn’t work right. His point: HELLO! It’s amazing that it exists at all! The best little bit of the clip is where he talks about people on airplanes using the in-flight WiFi and when it drops out they get all pissed off. His point to them? You’re in a metal tube, sitting in an armchair like in your living room, shooting through the sky at 500 miles per hour. That little feat is amazing enough. And now you’re pissed off that somehow you can’t connect from the internet from there? Here is the clip:

This post is somewhat close in relation to my “FM Technology” post – in that post, I talk about how so much of what we do works by FM Technology – defined as “F’ing Magic!”. I’m writing this right now in a “This is Amazing” moment. I’m on a speeding Metra train, using my tiny little, screaming fast laptop, connected to the internet via a Sprint 4G USB device, and somehow the words I write are getting published in real time to my Word Press account by the process of my laptop taking my information, turning it into a stream of data, that my little 4G device transmits to a series of towers as I speed along, which then gets transmitted through a telephone network, out to the Internet network and to some data center somewhere where that stream of data is stored. You then, once I click my “publish” button and enable to you see it, can then through whatever connectivity you have, send a request to that server, which then sends my words through a series of wires, satellite links, fiber optic cables, Cable TV lines, etc. into your computer or laptop or tablet or smart phone, which then decodes it and creates a visual image of my words that you can read.

Excuse me, that’s Amazing.

It seems like these days we do all take it all for granted, but I have to admit that I try as often as possible to have an “amazing” moment. My favorite Amazing moment has been when I’m hurtling through the air in the steel tube connected to the internet – that alone is plenty amazing as Louis CK says. But, add to that the rest of the story, whenI really experience that “This is Amazing!” moment is when I’m chatting through Facebook in real time, with my good friend, Simon, who lives in the UK, whom I met on the internet through an online travel site, and where he and I finally met in person last summer in Cancun. He and I are chatting in real time, and when I start deconstructing all the “This is Amazing” things to enable that to happen – all the way down to him reading my review of a resort in Mexico on CancunCares.com (that’s how we “met in 2007) … well … Ok, that’s all kinds of Amazing.

I could go on and on about all the little Amazing things we have these days – 10,000 songs in your pocket (iPod), computers in our hands (smartphones and tablets), cooking with radar (Microwave ovens), a whole room full of maps in our cars (GPS), etc. etc. As I noted in my “FM Technology” post, I often think of my grandfathers and my dad – all men that left the world too early – who all appreciated cool stuff, and try to consider what they’d think of all of this now. Anyway, onward to a different “This is amazing!” moment.

This past weekend, we went to Galena IL to go stay at a friend’s vacation home on the Eagle Ridge golf resort. Beautiful place. Galena, if you’re not familiar, is a town in FAR northwest Illinois, near the Mississippi. That area – pretty much all of Jo Daviess county in Illinois, is an area that opted out of getting scoured pool-table flat by the ice ages somehow, and does Illinois’ best imitation of actually having terrain. Northeast through south-central Illinois is table-top flat. I’m from Iowa. People joke about Iowa being flat, but I’ve ridden across it 4 times on a bicycle. Trust me, it is anything BUT flat. Maybe flat compared to Colorado, but compared to the flat parts of Illinois, Iowa is positively hilly. Well compared to the rest of Illinois, the Galena area is positively mountainous. Beautiful!

One of the unique features of this vacation home (besides being beautiful) is that it was totally disconnected. No cable TV or satellite TV, no internet. No phones. The owner has it that way intentionally. He does have a mad-good home theater installed –and a killer house-wide music system. But beyond that, pretty much a disconnected zone. That forced my internet-deprived sons out of their usual routine of online video games, YouTube, Netflix, etc. etc.

Anyway, it is also miles from any big city, and is considered by the government agency that considers such things to be a “protected dark sky” area – there are observatories and such there and they restrict the amount of light pollution to preserve the sky visibility. Tucson is another such area. Tucson is so dark it is as if they have piped in the darkness. This is one area where big government is accomplishing something great. These skies are incredible!

Therefore, our “this is amazing” moment this past weekend came not from high tech, but the heavens. We got back to the house after dinner and it was DARK. We all headed outside to look at the stars – and it was truly Amazing. In the Chicago area, our light pollution is so bad that you can barely see the Big Dipper. This was the total opposite of that. We could see so many stars, constellations, planets, satellites, shooting stars (meteors), distant airplanes, etc., that we all five of us pulled up chairs, fixed beverages and turned our faces to the skies and enjoyed stargazing for nearly 2 hours. And said “This is Amazing!” multiple times. We talked, we didn’t talk, we ooh’ed and ah’d, we all yelled “Hey, did you see that??” when a meteor shot across our view. We watched the show together. It was great.  We are so used to a sky with very few stars and a vaguely orange glow from all the street lighting, that when met with a truly dark sky filled with stars, well, it stopped us in our tracks.

Now that is Amazing. On so many levels.

Go have an amazing moment today, OK?

As you were,

Stew

The Indy 500 – why it belongs on everyone’s bucket list

30 May

If you’ve read my blog before, you know well that I’m a bit of what the Brits call a “Petrol Head” – I like cars. And I like driving fast cars on race tracks and watching fast cars race, both in person and on TV. Folks that are not racing fans don’t get why I like seeing cars going in circles and well, I don’t pretend to enjoy watching soap operas or golf on TV either (can’t stand either of them). That said, I think everyone ought to go to the Indy 500 at least once in your life. It truly is an American spectacle where the enormity of the event outweighs what actually takes place at the event itself. Going to the Indy 500 isn’t about cars making 800 left turns at better than 200 mph (although that’s way cool) – it is about witnessing something truly and uniquely American.

I have been going to the 500 for more than 25 years now – my first 500 was a spur of the moment thing that happened with my long-time hometown pal Tom called me the Thursday before Memorial Day in 1987 to ask me to go as his father-in-law couldn’t make it with him. Of course I said “Hell yes!” and a life-long tradition was born. I’ve only missed three races since then – one when a friend of mine was getting married (and didn’t wind up getting married that day … whoo that’s a long story, one when my twins’ birth was potentially imminent (it happened just three weeks later), and once when my sister-in-law was getting married. Two out of three of those were worth missing the race. The race was Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. I’ve already ordered my tickets for next year. Two days after the race.

For those that don’t know it, here are a few cool facts about the Indy 500:

  • This year was the 96th running of the race, and the 101st anniversary of the race. There is not a single sporting event that has gone on this long.
  • It has been for years, and continues to be the single largest-attended event in all of sports. Even though attendance is down from the heyday of Indy racing in the late 1980s, when attendance was nearly 500,000 people, 300,000+ people still go to the race, with more than 250,000 seated in the stands. Pretty amazing.

The track itself is stunningly huge – the track is 2 ½ miles as a square-cornered oval. The straightaways are 5/8s of a mile long, the “chutes” between the corners 1/8 of a mile long each and the corners are about ¼ mile each. The actual facility is huge – more than a mile from north to south, and ¾’s of a mile from east to west. There is an 18-hole golf course on the grounds – 9 holes of which are in the infield of the track! The track also features a nearly-3-mile per lap road course that uses about 1/3 of the oval and then snakes through the infield. The roadcourse is used for the US Moto Grand Prix.  I’ve heard a stat that 15 NFL-sized stadiums would fit inside the track.  I believe it – it’s huge.

The track was originally paved with bricks – and hence earned itself the name “Brickyard” – the namesake of the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race held there in August. There is one yard of the bricks left exposed – at the start/finish line.

The speed at which the cars go around this track is simply stunning. There’s nothing in your life that can calibrate your senses for it. They go by so fast that your eyes cannot track them unless you pan your head like a camera. Seriously. To give you a sense – this year’s qualifying speed around the track was a four-lap average of around 227 mph. That’s straightaways and corners combined – which means that the cars are going nearly 250 mph at their peak in the straightaways and more than 210 mph in the corners. To give you another idea – jet airliners typically leave the ground at approximately 165 mph.
… and more and more.

So, you’re asking, “OK, it’s huge. The cars go really fast. It’s got a great history, and lots of people go. Meh. Why should I go?

Again, the 500 is America with a capitol ‘MERICA!. For starters, it is held on Memorial Day weekend every year, and the entire race day is dedicated to those that serve our country and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. In the lead-up to the race, they have:

  • A parade of military personnel walking up the main straightaway as part of the opening ceremonies – always gets a huge standing ovation.
  • A parade of the same military personnel riding around the track in the back of convertibles or trucks waving to the crowd – again, a standing ovation.
  • A haunting moment of silence to remember those that died for our country, where all 300,000 or so people all stand silently – followed by the most haunting rendition of “Taps” you’ll ever hear – a lone bugle, ringing over the sound system across this gigantic facility. With all 300,000+ people standing silently, remembering.   Goose bumps!
  • Performed renditions of America The Beautiful, God Bless America (sung by Florence Henderson), and “Back Home Again in Indiana” (sung by Jim Nabors).
  • An invocation prayer – this year’s was especially great.
  • A military jet flyby (this year was “multi-generation warbirds” that included P-51s from WWII all the way to an F-16. In years past, there have been stealth bombers, Harriers, F-16s, F-14s, B-52s, etc. etc.) at the end of the National Anthem.
  • The Purdue marching band playing all sorts of march music
  • And more … all kinds of America there.

Plus, there’s all the traditions – the bottle of ice-cold milk served to the winner along with the rose wreath (that always makes the winner look like some sort of racehorse), Gasoline Alley – the garage area, where fans can walk and mingle among the drivers and crews, the three-abreast start, which is the only place in motorsports that this occurs (interestingly, at the narrowest oval track in all of motorsports), and much more.

And it’s family traditions – we know so many people where going to the 500 is something the family does together. You see it all over the stands – people renew their seats over and over and get to know the people next to them – it’s like a strange, annual family reunion.

My own traditions on this are even more fun. For starters, where we park – we park in the yard of this small house in Speedway, IN – here’s a Google Maps view of it. A kindly old woman by the name of Mary Ann owns it – her husband, Art, passed away a few years ago. I’ve been parking at Mary Ann’s house for more than 20 years now. There’s a whole group of folks there where, for one day a year, we catch up with each other’s lives. We’ve all seen our kids grow up from babies to toddlers, to grown men (as my sons are now) – we’ve seen new friends introduced. There’s also been a few of those touchy moments where someone who has been there for years, just isn’t anymore … as the person has died. Divorces, new husbands, kids coming “out”, etc. A little microcosm of life on Cole Street in Speedway, IN.

Staying at Mary Ann’s is like staying at your grandma’s house – and comes with all the comforts of home – she just opens her house to those that park there. Most are not strangers and are repeaters, but … once a year friends. We’ve slept in the house when the weather has been bad (this year, Joel and Brian slept inside in the A/C while Alex and I “marinated” in the tent outside in the heat), we can take showers in the morning. She feeds us a wonderful breakfast of egg strata (I like to call it “cholesterol express”) and Monkey Bread – other folks bring donuts, and there’s always a steady flow of coffee.

Our usual race weekend has us driving to Indianapolis on Saturday morning, arriving at Mary Ann’s place in early afternoon. Job 1: Open the coolers and grab a beer. Job 2, unload, and set up camp – a tent in the back yard, portable grill, table and chairs, etc. From there, we usually head over by the track to walk around – outside the track’s main straightaway stands is Georgetown Road. It becomes a pedestrian mall of sorts – there are food vendors, RVs parked and playing music, wacky people hanging out, etc. Indy has a reputation of being Mardi Gras like, and the tradition is the guys encouraging the girls to, umm, “share” … so that’s going on all day as well. There’s a fan fest at the track itself, with big companies having exhibit tents, games, etc. And the Speedway Hall of Fame museum, which we toured this year for the first time.

From there, we get back to Mary Ann’s later in the afternoon, sit in the shade of the big tree in the back yard and have a beer or two – this year, we got into a spirited Eucher game (it’s a card game). We snack, and then fire up the grill and grill some nice-sized steaks, with baked potatoes, a salad, etc. Later in the evening, we usually wander back over to Georgetown Road to people watch – that’s when the weirdness cranks up to 11. Besides the aforementioned Mardi Gras action, there are wandering bands of evangelicals trying to convert the sinners, many, MANY more sinners pointing out to them that it’s not happening. Families, guys and girls walking together, groups of goofy drunk guys, etc. It is quite a scene to see. We usually split from there by 11:00 or so – as about then, it starts getting pretty crazy, and I don’t need to be around when a fight starts.

We dive into the tent and go to sleep – only to be awakened at 5:30 AM by a ground-shaking BOOM! – the military bomb that they set off in the infield of the track to announce that the track gates are now open. We usually manage to drop back off to sleep for another hour or so, then emerge from the tents and head inside to line up to take a shower, get coffee and be around as the rest of Mary Ann’s crew arrives – there are only a few of us that camp. After enjoying Mary Ann’s homecooked breakfast, it’s time to strike the campsite, reload the van, and head across to the race – about 2 hours before the start, where we enjoy all the pre-race festivities, and then, of course, the excitement of the race itself.

When I decided to start ordering tickets, I was looking forward to someday attending with my wife and kids – our plan was always to have two children, and even if it were two girls, this was something our family was going to do. We didn’t plan on having three boys though, and this has turned out far better than I ever imagined. Over the years, I’ve of course done a bunch of “guys weekend” trips – myself and three buddies – a 24 hour exercise in competitive drinking, eating and general silliness. We’ve done couples trips where Robin goes and we bring another couple – and those are always a blast. And, for the last several years, it’s just been me with my three sons. As I said, I never imagined ever when I started this, that I would be bringing my three boys with me. And to boot, I’ve got one studying to be an engineer, and he hopes to be working for a racing team for his career. I can’t imagine coming to the 500 as his guest. But I hope it happens!

As I said, the Indy 500 is truly something to add to your bucket list. I do have to say I’m blessed with a wonderful set of memories because we luckily found a “once a year” home at Mary Ann’s house – I look forward to that scene as much as I look forward to the race itself. The race, and the events around the race do have to be experienced once in a lifetime though. You’ve never seen anything like it. And you owe it to yourself to experience it. Just once. And if you like it as much as I do … well, 23 times so far for me …

As you were,

Stew

Tech Support Top 10

15 May

When you spend a major portion of your life working in digital marketing and information technology, you tend to wind up being the local expert on all things computer related. The irony of which is that you wind up generally hating goddamned computers. I enjoy using computers and technology – comes with being a serial early-adopter, but I do have to say at some points, I think I want to just skip them all across a pond and move to an island and never seen another one as long as I live. As usual, because of my helpful nature, I have managed to cast myself as being tech support for my family and for a lot of friends. I’m generally able to diagnose networking issues, sort out misbehaving iPhones/iPads, etc.,help out buggy email, eradicate viruses, rebuild computers and I’ve even built a number of “frankenDell” computers for the family out of obsoleted Dells that were castoffs from Robin’s family. So, I’m pretty good at this. But it doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

Additionally, because I am, A) a social media addict; and B) work in the digital marketing realm where online search, social media and other online experiences are the stock in trade of what we do, I’ve become an expert in those arenas as well, both from a user perspective and from a business perspective, so plenty of people seek my advice there as well. As you can imagine, I don’t mind talking about this area – although while many of the principles that big brands use to achieve dominance in online marketing DO translate to local business, the scale at which big brands do this also enables their tremendous results – therefore, it frequently boggles the mind of a small businessman who is for example, struggling to get search ranking on his site, to find out that a company like a major brand spends multiple millions of dollars per year on just search engine optimization.

On the tech support side, by and large the questions relate to internet connectivity – why can’t I get online, why does my internet connection seem so slow, how come my emails aren’t coming through, etc. etc. From an internet perspective, the questions generally run to how things work – how does Google decide which item to rank up first, how come Facebook changed to timeline, why, when I talk about something on Facebook, an ad pops up that seems to mirror that topic, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind helping out – in fact, for the most part, I enjoy it, unless I’m trying to undo a problem that was self-inflicted, like some horrifying piece of spyware that a family member got by clicking on something that they shouldn’t have clicked on.

One interesting thing about working in the tech business for all these past years is the number of silly acronyms that we seem to have regarding users of computers or products. “RTFM” is an admonition to someone that should consider perusing the product documentation. “PEBCAK” is an acronym that is used to classify a problem that seems to be rooted in user error. It stands for Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard. And of course the old fave: IIOHOINHAA. Actually, I’m pulling your leg – that’s not really an acronym. But it certainly represents a bit of advice I’ve given numerous times over the years when asked a question about “why did it do that??” In fact, it’s my first answer below.

So therefore, in no particular order are more or less the ten most frequent answers that I give when someone asks for help with a computer or internet question. Note that a few of them are questions to answer the question. You can supply your own questions:

  1. If it only happened once, it never happened at all.
  2. Just type that into Google. It will give you your answer.
  3. You can buy that on Amazon.
  4. You have to understand that the monetized product on Facebook isn’t the thing you interact with but instead is you – you’re Facebook’s product that they make money on.
  5. Just because you read about it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.
  6. Sounds like your web connection is down.
  7. Because Google has all the answers to everything, that’s why.
  8. That’s not good. I can fix it, but we’re talking serious bottles of scotch to get it done.
  9. Restart your computer.
  10. It’s FM Technology. And Science!

Happy computing!

As you were,

Stew

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