My Facebook profile, now with extra hotness

If you haven’t visited me on Facebook recently, you may not have seen my new super-awesome profile. It looks like this:

Facebook profile page makes set of images look like one big image

And while you’re visiting me, I hope you’ll check out my new Facebook page, which I set up to share my writing and work. (I use my profile for personal conversations.)

If you want to try this yourself, I recommend downloading the photoshop file included in the TechCrunch’s How to Recreate that Facebook Profile Picture Hack; don’t use the profile picture generator or you’ll end up in link spam hell.

Blogging hubris

Yesterday I made the mistake of bragging about how well I’ve been doing with my daily blogging practice. And tonight I thought I’d knock off a quick blog post that would keep me in my groove. Instead I found myself learning the ins and outs of last.fm, playlistify and spotify…not to mention download 4 new pieces of software…all with the intention of getting a playlist onto my blog. The result: I’m in yet another showdown, caught between my desire to emerge victorious over stubborn technology and my desire to get something in the vicinity of a night’s sleep.

I won’t consider myself defeated by this whole quest for the embeddable iTunes playlist, even though this is at least the third time I’ve looked for a solution. But it is a reminder of the delicate balance between blogging as writing and blogging as technology. In the same conversation that found me bragging about my blogging consistency, I told a colleague that I’ve forced myself to forswear hacking away on my blog setup unless I’m up-to-date on my actual blogging. It’s a good discipline that keeps me from spending 90% of my energy on the container and only 10% on the contents.

Tonight reminded me that it’s just as easy for the “content” to become an excuse for geeking out. And even when geeking out is (kind of) the point of your blog, trying out software is not the same as blogging.

Call for Papers: Social Media in Higher Education

The Internet and Higher Education has issued a call for papers for a forthcoming special issue on Social Media in Higher Education (PDF). The issue will be edited by Stefan Hrastinksi and Vanessa Dennen. In the call, the editors note:

In this special issue, we would like to explore how social media can be taken advantage of in higher education to support informal and formal learning. It is well agreed upon that most learning takes place outside school in our everyday lives. On campuses, there are common spaces such as hallways, lounges, libraries, and cafés, which support informal learning better than classrooms or lecture?halls. Social media have potential to support learning in both informal and formal settings, as well as creating an entirely new setting in which learning may take place. We can learn a lot from how students are already using such media to support learning in each of these areas…In this issue, we seek articles that present the outcome of rigorous studies of social media use in higher education as well as articles that help provide strong theoretical guidance for the directions future research might take.

If you are conducting research on social media in the classroom and would like to submit a manuscript for consideration, the submission deadline is February 15. And I’ll look forward to seeing the published issue at the end of this year!

How your Facebook presence can inspire your friends and family

Over at The Hookup Column, Anna Lind Thomas concludes her list of Dos & Don’ts for Facebook status lines with the following:

DO inspire, uplift, support and spread love.

Anna’s suggestion is a refreshing departure from the all-too-common focus on social media as “personal branding” or “reputation management”. Yes, you should think about what your profile and latest status update say about you. Anna herself quotes a great question: “If you died, this moment,  what would your Facebook status say about you?” [As I write this, mine would reveal a profound shift in sentiment towards Cat Stevens.]

But (to paraphrase, bastardize and torture yet another great question), ask not what your Facebook profile can do for you, but what it can do for others. This is the essential idea of strategic communications: whatever you say, whether it’s in a speech, a brochure or a website, should be delivering one key message. The point of that message is generally to get someone else to think or do something, whether it’s to vote for your candidate or buy your product or stop smoking.

I’m a great believer in designating Facebook, or some social media platform, as a consciously non-strategic outlet. After all, not every online utterance need serve your vision of world transformation or business domination, and reserving some tiny corner of your online life for actually you as you (you know, what in he olden days we called the “real” you) is a good way to ensure your persona doesn’t entirely overtake your personality.

But being genuine and relaxed is not, I hope, the same as being self-involved. Even if your Facebook presence is targeted entirely at your close friends and family — especially if it’s targeted at your close friends and family — it should do something for them, too. Anna outlines a number of ways your Facebook posts can do something for someone else: by sharing a nice bit of personal news, by posting something you found interesting, by making them laugh.

Why not make your next Facebook post a deliberate effort at inspiring or giving a little love to your Facebook friends? I’m doing that right now:

A Facebook status update encourages friends to focus on how to be happy regardless of their external situation.

Why on earth would you want to watch TV?

Blogging my incredibly elaborate efforts at The Perfect Tech-Enabled TV makes me conscious of all the people who are wondering why I care so much about watching TV in the first place. After all, most of my friends are highly evolved creatures who divide their time between meditating, cooking vegan meals and reading the latest prize-winning novel. My devotion to a low-brow medium that is proven to be the root cause of many of the world’s problems is not only suspicious in itself, but should make you think twice before heeding my words on any other screen-based amusements.

That said, I refuse to hide my TV habit. I’ve managed to curtail or eliminate just about every other vice in my repertoire: alcohol, refined sugar, white flour, pot, coffee…you name it. Leave me my screens!

And I’m not convinced TV belongs only in the “vice” column. For those of you who scratch your head at the very idea of subscribing to basic cable, here’s a quick run-down of the ways that TV can actually be, you know, not bad:

  • The new middle-brow: It seems increasingly that there are more watchable, smart TV shows than watchable, smart movies. I’m not talking about the ultra-highbrow, art-house stuff: I’m taking about your everyday, enjoyable-but-not stupid stuff. Shows like Damages, Friday Night Lights and The Good Wife make for engrossing but thoughtful drama; 30 Rock, Modern Family and Community offer far more consistent laughs than the latest gross-out movie comedies.
  • Incremental entertainment: By the time our kids go to bed it’s often too late for us to watch a movie and get to bed on time. A one-hour show, however, is manageable.
  • Self-deception: If the TV is on, then I’m having fun and not working: at least, that’s the little lie I tell myself. So I up save the work chores that are too tedious to mono-task (e-mail cleanup, spreadsheet checking, inserting graphics into blog posts) as well as the work chores that I’m avoiding and need to distract myself from in order to get started. Then I put on a show that is good enough to watch, but not so good that I mind having half my attention elsewhere. It helps me get to those tasks I’d otherwise avoid forever.
  • No late fees: When we do watch movies, we inevitably return them late and rack up late fees. Watching movies as digital downloads (via iTunes, Netflix or Amazon) is a great way to avoid enriching Blockbuster.
  • Talking to normal people: TV (like childrearing) is one of those great common grounds that give you something to talk about with people you don’t know very well or have much in common with.
  • Getting it: TV is a huge part of popular culture. If you don’t watch TV, you’re going to have a hard time relating to mass culture. Period.

If we didn’t have computers…

LOVE Social Media but If we didn’t have computers-wouldn’t need #SocialMediab/c we wouldn’t have stopped being social in the 1st place.

When I first shared this interesting tweet from online pal Brenda Johima, it was with some reservations. After mulling it over for a few weeks, I want to explain them.

Massive counter-factuals always make me a bit nervous: “if we didn’t have computers…” is the gateway to another universe in which so many things are different from the world we live in that it’s hard to evaluate the hypothetical alternative. “If we didn’t have computers…” we wouldn’t have the same kind of global economy (no complex online trading systems), we wouldn’t have a foreclosure crisis (without computer-modeled derivatives and default swaps the bad loans would never have been made), and your local newspaper would still be beholden to the typesetters’ union. “If we didn’t have computers…” is a world in which the historical path unleashed by the industrial revolution reached a dead end, or branched in some direction that is, from here, unimaginable. Whether that path would have led to a world in which we’re leaning across our picket fences to swap potato salad with the neighbours, or one in which we holed up in our individual compounds and waited for the apocalypse…well, I don’t know if I’m prepared to weigh in on that one.

What we can discuss are the roots of our current crisis is de-socialization….a crisis that has been pretty convincingly attributed not to computers, but to another screen: TV. In Robert Putnam’s research on declining social capital (the community involvement and social ties that hold societies together), TV emerged as the chief culprit. Both Putnam (with a little help from me) and others have investigated whether computers contribute to that decline, or mitigate it. The most compelling evidence I’ve seen suggests that the use of the Internet supplements rather than displaces people’s offline social interactions, and correlated with people participating more actively in offline activities.

Brenda’s tweet reminded me of the disconnect between people’s subjective experience of the Internet, and what research tells us about its social impact. Social media may feel like the answer to the role the Internet plays in accelerating and distracting us from our community lives, but that acceleration and that distraction long predate the advent of the personal computer and the Internet. If anything, social media and online interaction offer the most promising antidote to the social disconnection that has characterized our modern lives.

Crowdsourcing my identity: an art experiment

The phenomenon of Pecha Kucha — presentations in which a speaker addresses 20 slides for 20 seconds each — has overtaken unconferences and WhateverCamps as the hottest format for professional gatherings. So I was interested to see a Pecha Kucha veteran tackle the format in an entirely novel way during Emily Carr’s recent MAA student presentations.

Elisa Yon, who organized Victoria’s Pecha Kucha night, is now in her first year of the MAA program at Emily Carr. Elisa is an architect who won an architectural design competition that led to her representing Scotland at the 2008 Venice Biennale, so she had no shortage of professional accomplishments to share with her fellow students and faculty. But in her getting-to-know-me Pecha Kucha presentation, she began not with the usual approach of showing slides of her work, but instead shared slides that others had sent her. Elisa asked some important people in her life to send her images that said something about her, and in speaking to those slides, Elisa spoke volumes about her work, character and key relationships.

Based on that experience, Elisa is now experimenting with Pecha Kucha as a way of curating self-portraits using contributed images. She’s asked for my help, and I have agreed to solicit 20 images from different people who know me — some well, some not so well– in order to build a collective picture. It’s kind of like a 360 evaluation based on creative feedback rather than analytic feedback.

Ironically, I began by asking people I know from my offline life, though I used e-mail to contact them. And then it struck me: if I’m serious about the claim that my online life is my real life, shouldn’t I ask for input from people in my online world? After all, the perspectives and perceptions of people who know me online are at least as accurate in reflecting who I am — given how much time I spend online, they may even be more accurate.

So, online friends and colleagues, I’m asking you to bring it on. Between now and November 24, I’m hoping you will contribute images via comment (just leave a link to your picture in a comment on this blog), Twitter, Flickr or Facebook…or whatever format works for you. I’m a little afraid of what I’ll get, and ready for accusations of narcissism, but hey, narcissism is a core part of social media culture so I’ve decided to embrace it.

Here are Elisa’s guidelines for contributors:

  • Please send an image (photo, drawing, cartoon, whatever) that you think says something about me.
  • If you prefer, the image could be a fragment of text (poem, quote, etc.).
  • It shouldn’t be a photo of me, and it’s ok if you use an image you find online using something like Google search.
  • You are welcome to explain your choice of image, but it’s not required; however it will help me speak to your picture in my presentation.

I will share the results online in some form, most likely Slideshare. Thanks in advance for your help!

And if you’d like to try curating your own Pecha Kucha self-portrait, you can contact Elisa by email as eyon [at] ecuad [dot] ca or on Twitter as @elisayon.

Adding images to blog posts with Skitch, Zemanta and Flickr

Imagine I wanted to write a blog post about how to do something online. (I know it’s a stretch, but bear with me.) If I really wanted me reader to follow what I’m blogging about, I’d need to include screenshots. The typical workflow, on a mac, would look something like:

  1. Use the Mac’s built-in screen capture to snap a picture.
  2. Trim and resize the image in an image editing program like Photoshop or Pixelmator — or if it’s a simple crop, Preview.
  3. Save the cropped/edited file to a folder on your desktop.
  4. Write your blog post, and (if you’re lucky) use its upload/insert image option to upload the image from your desktop folder and insert it in your post.

Of  course, if you’re using the “post image” field to add a featured image or thumbnail to your post rather than inserting an image into the body of your post, you’ll need to upload your image somewhere so you can link to it. That means you’ll need to follow steps 1-3 above, and then use an FTP program to upload your image to a folder on your website where you can link to it. It’s all quite tedious.

For quite a long time now, I’ve relied on Skitch as an alternative to Apple’s built-in screen capture. It has simple annotation and editing tools built in, so I can crop, resize and put clarifying comments directly on the image. And then I can use the “webpost” button to upload the image directly to the Skitch server. Then instead of using my blog’s image uploader (which tends to be tempermental), I use the URL generated by Skitch to embed or link to the image. Pure awesomeness!!

But I recently started dreaming about it being even awesomer. Like, what if I didn’t have to go to the Skitch site and copy & paste the URL for the image I want to use? What if I could select it right on the dashboard I use to write my blog posts? What if just thinking about an image was enough to generate it and insert it into my post?

OK, I haven’t worked out the last part. But the obvious answer to the first part was Zemanta, the kick-ass Firefox extension/Drupal module/WordPress plugin (you pick which one to use) that offers you easy options for adding hyperlinks and images to your posts. There in my Zemanta sidebar is a perfectly good image gallery: why can’t it include my Skitched images?

After beseeching Zemanta + Skitch for some integration, I hear right back from the Zemanta folk, who suggested working via Flickr, since that is already integrated with Zemanta. That sent me on a little exploring…at which point I noticed that Skitch’s preferences allow me to choose from a variety of destinations that are capable of storing my uploaded images. Among those options: Flickr.

This was supposed to be the blog post that tells you how setting Skitch to upload to Flickr made my screenshot pop up in the gallery of images Zemanta displays on my WordPress dashboard. I edited my Zemanta preferences so that it knew to pull images from my awsamuel account on Flickr. I snapped a screenshot of the Zemanta gallery, uploaded it to Flickr,  tagged it “Zemanta Flickr Skitch”, and titled it “Zemanta screenshot captured in Skitch and uploaded via Flickr”.

Screenshot of Zemanta media gallery does not show MY screenshot of Zemanta media gallery

Then I reloaded my media gallery. The image I’d uploaded to Flickr did not appear — not in the “Zemanta” tab, and not in the “My Sources” tab.

So I’m going to leave the mystery there…and hope the same Zemanta social media maven who answered my tweet yesterday will be able to give me a diagnosis of what is going on here.

NIche messaging with social media: going for the Golden Graham

Reach each of your audiences with the message that speaks to them.

That’s one of the central appeals of social media: the ability to target your message, affordably and appropriately, to each of the audiences you’re trying to reach. Create a YouTube clip with an edge to hook your under-25s. Create a business-value app on LinkedIn to reach your b2b audience. Sponsor a mom’s group on Facebook with your most family-friendly lines.

It’s especially key for products and services that require buy-in from multiple decision-makers. If your purchaser has one or more influencers, and those influencers are in different market segments, you need the kind of niche messaging that social media can support.

But what happens when your worlds collide, and your Facebook mom catches your business message? Or your b2b customer sees that edgy brand on YouTube? How do you establish niche messages while maintaining an authentic brand — a brand that keeps its integrity even when the pitch is tailored to different audiences?

In short, how do you achieve the Golden Graham Effect?

The Golden Graham Effect is what happens when a product or service achieves a consistent and coherent brand, despite offering different benefits to different audiences.

I discovered the Golden Graham Effect when I was pregnant with each of my two kids, I didn’t have any of the clichéd cravings for pickles, peanut butter or even chocolate. My craving was for Golden Grahams, a sugary breakfast cereal that was my bedtime snack every night for months.

Confessing my Golden Grahams cravings led to the discovery that I wasn’t the only thirtysomething with warm childhood memories of this particular cereal. Like me, a number of my friends got Golden Grahams on the allowed list in our otherwise sugar-limited households. In my house, “junk” cereals like Froot Loops and Cap’n Crunch were allowed only as a birthday treat. Every day cereals were low sugar brands like Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies and Shreddies (thank god, I didn’t grow up one of those homes that only allowed 100% sugar free puffed rice.)

Mysteriously, Golden Grahams made it through the sugar-limited gauntlet. I can guarantee you that this admission wasn’t due to its health merits: take one bite of the stuff and you’ll see it’s closer to Frosted Flakes than to Bran Flakes. But my [link]Adele Davis[/link]-worshipping mother let me buy it week after week.

Call it a parental oversight. But the discovery that so many other friends also obtained Most Favored Cereal status for these little sugar pellets had me wondering what kind of 1970s advertising genius got Golden Grahams into so many health-conscious cupboards. How did Golden Grahams simultaneously sell parents on its healthfulness, while letting us kids know that this was the good stuff: the delicious, sugary cereal that was normally forbidden?

Revisiting a 1979 ad on YouTube gives you some clue. The ad sells the wholesome, family image: this is the kind of cereal people eat when they’re camping! Can’t get much healthier than that.

But what let us kids know that these were worth trying? The repeated use of the word “honey”? Some kind of subconscious imagery visible only to pre-teens? Thinking back to my own sugar-starved childhood, I’m guessing that it didn’t take much to cue me that a cereal like this might be a step up (or down) in the junk-breakfast pyramid. And I can guarantee you that any of us who succeeded in getting the stuff would darn well go back for more. Especially when it had 3.5 times as much sugar as the competition.

I can come up with that 3.5 figure today, when nutrition information is readily available. It took me all of two minutes to find the nutritional info for Golden Grahams and for Rice Krispies.

In 1979, those numbers were harder to come by, which is what made the Golden Grahams play possible. Under conditions of imperfect information, Golden Grahams could cultivate a completely different parent-facing message from the brand value it actually delivered to kids. Sell parents on the healthy image, and let kids urge them to come back for more.

Today, social media doesn’t just offer the opportunity for niche messaging. It introduces the informational equivalent of nutritional labeling for every product, and every service on the market. Offer contradictory messages to different customers, and chances are they will come across each and every one — or enough of them to notice your inconsistencies. Offer one thing to purchasers, and another to consumers; one thing to parents, and another to kids: they’ll find out. Offer inconsistent value, spotty service, or low-quality products: your customers will hear about it from one another, and your potential customers will evaporate before your eyes.

There’s nothing wrong with a marketing strategy that goes for the brass ring — or in this case, the Golden Graham. By all means, embrace social media as a way of speaking to each of your particular audiences, and telling them the story of what you can do specifically for them.

But remember that your product or service has to live up to each and every one of those stories. If it can, the payoff will be 3.5 times as sweet.

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