BarCamp Miami 2010

BarCamp Miami 2010 is on for this coming Sunday, February 21 from 9am-6pm. This year, it will be taking place in the heart of Miami’s Design District at 4141 NE 2nd Ave.Just a quick note to let you all know that

If you’ve never been to BarCamp, I urge you to come. It is a free unconference that in years past has attracted upwards of 500 attendees.

If you’re a start up looking for some feedback on your idea, if you’re an employer looking for talent, if you’re talent looking for work or if you’re an investor looking to find out more about the ever growing South Florida tech scene then you need to be there.

Of course, many think that the Geek Dinner is the highlight of BarCamp. This year’s offering comes from world-class restaurants Pacific Time and Maitardi. Registration is free, but please sign up so we can get a head count. If you’ve never been before, you will be pleasantly surprised and if you’ve come to past events, you know what you’re in for.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that there is $3 valet parking all day in the Design District. Hope to see you there.

On privacy, or Why facebook is not your friend

I have long believed that privacy is an illusion, a sort of opiate for the masses. “Trusted” companies have collected our  credit/debit card records, telephone calls and text messages for years. Now it’s the archiving of facebook, twitter and foursquare updates, blogs posts and comments…and on it goes.

On the one hand we expect a certain degree of privacy, on another hand we willfully give it up and on a third hand (warning: this post is not anatomically correct), we cry “foul” when we feel our privacy has been violated. Like 99.9% of all matters internet related, none of this is new. Ma Bell always knew who you called and Visa always knew what you bought and where and when you bought it. The magnetic stripe on the back of your driver’s license probably knows who you took to the prom, for God’s sake.

Living your life online brings the fear (hysteria?) of privacy loss into sharper focus even though, in many cases, we ourselves are to blame for that loss. I would argue that “they” have long known lots more about you than you probably want to think about. Haven’t you ever watched “Law and Order”? Cell records, swiped ID cards, 7-11 debit card receipts- that’s how Jerry Orbach poked holes in your lame alibi and Sam Waterston put you away in the second act.

facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently, in a very offhanded and arrogant  manner, declared that the new default (non) privacy settings on facebook reflected new “social norms” and so “we just went for it.” Let me translate that for you:  a service that is used by 350 million people worldwide just made a profound change, a complete 180,  in how your information, posts, pictures, comments, videos, etc. are protected and they didn’t even bother to check with you first. They just “went for it.” (Read more here)

Awesome, dude.

Of course, you can go into your privacy settings at the top of your page and revert back to the way things were. But how many of you reading my little blog are hearing about this change for the first time? Further, one of the founding principles of facebook that kept us all coming back was that you could rightly assume that your updates, pictures and stuff were only being seen by your “friends” (another word that facebook has rendered meaningless, but that is another blog post).

This is not an anti-facebook rant, regardless of the what is contained in the previous paragraphs. I will say, however, facebook is dead wrong about this policy and may suffer the consequences. Their misguided and tin eared policy shift is akin to positing “if you don’t want someone to see you doing something bad, maybe you shouldn’t do it.” Uh huh. This illogical rejoinder is most often utilized by governments in the former Soviet Union, North Korea and more than once by the previous crew in Washington (and probably the current one, too). Privacy does not just mean secrecy, but that reductive logic is part of the price we pay in these anti-intellecutal times we live in. This “argument” in defense of “openness” renders context meaningless.

As regular readers of this blog already know, I am big fan of the author Chuck Klosterman. I read something the other day in his book “Eating the Dinosaur” that encapsulated the current state of affairs and maybe, just maybe, helps share the blame for this so-called “loss of privacy.”

“…I’m not sure that we aren’t seeing the emergence of a society in which almost everyone who isn’t famous considers themselves cruelly and unfairly unheard. As though being famous, and the subject of wide attention, is considered to be a fulfilled human being’s natural state- and so, as a corollary, the cruelly unheard millions are perpetually primed and fired up to answer any and all questions in order to redress this awful imbalance.

I fear that most contemporary people are answering questions not because they’re flattered by the attention; they’re answering questions because they feel as though they deserve to be asked. About everything. Their opinions are special, so they are entitled to a public forum. Their voice is supposed to be heard, lest their life become empty.

This, in one paragraph (minus technology), explains the rise of New Media.

Meet me in Doha

My last post was made from my hotel room in Doha, Qatar where I lamented having missed a local bloggers conference. Since I made that post, I have made amends and connected with several of the attendees and organizers.  I am pleased to be heading back to Doha for several days starting December 26 and I want to use this blog post to connect with even more of you.

I am working on a long term project in Doha that focuses on several interesting topics including food security, green and sustainability issues, solar energy and technology. I will be in Doha  from December 27-New Year’s Day and really want to connect with as many  local bloggers, tweeters, and podcasters as I can, so please feel free to connect with me via the blog or twitter. (#tweetupqa)

In the meantime, Happy New Year to all of you, and thanks so much for supporting the blog and podcast this past year.

All the best in 2010.

New social networking communities

Social media is obviously a huge part of my life. I write about, it’s a big part of my day to day life, I talk about it ad nauseam and my consulting business is devoted to it. Nevertheless, I am fully aware that its uptake is not nearly as ubiquitous as some of us addicts might like to think. There are huge segments of the population, (dare I say the majority?) who wouldn’t know foursquare from Times Square, facebook from Redbook.

I make this blog post on my last day of a 6-day trip to Doha, Qatar. (Sorry, no picture to post. I know-lame!) I was curious to know what the social media scene was like here, especially since I am trying to evaluate how best to use SM on behalf of a new “green” client here in Gulf. Lo and behold, there was an Arab bloggers meeting here in Doha just yesterday called Mudawanat: All ABout Blogging. (Here’s one review of the event. Jeremiah Owyang spoke to the conference and writes about it here.) Unfortunately, I found out about it too late (shame on me), and would have been unable to attend in any event since I was a little busy finishing up some work. But it was encouraging to see that social media uptake is continuing to grow steadily everywhere you turn.

I know that my personal and professional lives have been immeasurably enriched because of social media/social networking and I am glad to have found a new community, if I make it back to Qatar someday soon.

Is “good enough” good enough?

Long before I made the move into social media, most of my career has been spent in the entertainment business. I started in radio, moved to the music business (as both a performer and executive) and then onto TV (never as a performer, thank God).

I have always been fascinated by trends and how sometimes you can have two diametrically opposed trends developing simultaneously. I still produce, direct and write lots of video content (here’s a picture taken two days ago from a client shoot to prove it), and this has kept me thinking about one of these two-way trends a lot.

Quality. How important is it, as it pertains to audio or video content?

First let me identify the trends, as I see them. On the one hand, there is this breakneck race to the top in terms of HD televisions, HD video cameras, even HD radio. Everything needs to be as life like as possible, and we all want high quality HD monitors at home to watch the, arguably, low quality content on TV. (Hey, it’s my blog. I can editorialize all I want.) But, seriously, video production and delivery quality is going up up up while the prices of TVs and cameras keep coming down down down.

On the internet, however, high quality video delivery is still hampered by bandwidth issues, among other things. Flip cameras, iPhone 3GS and other low cost video cameras are gaining in popularity, and with good reason. You Tube, uStream, facebook and other outlets allow you to then share that content quickly. But that, in my view, is the disconnect. Online video and user generated content tends to be of very low quality. The video needs to be compressed in order to be uploaded, and good audio is almost always an afterthought, if it’s thought of at all. I have long maintained that the democratization of content creation and distribution is both the best thing and the worst thing about the internet. The great thing is, ANYONE can make a video. The bad thing is, ANYONE can make a video.

So, to restate it: We demand high quality audio and video at home, but we give online content a pass. I wonder how long will that trend last? And, more importantly, if your business chooses to use video, does the TECHNICAL quality of the content you put out there send a subconscious message to your audience? You might not realize it, but when people try and watch a video that has terrible sound, they make a LOT of judgments. You do, too. There is an old saying that “Video is easy. Sound is hard.” I understand that there are situations where a company might CHOOSE to go the UGC route, and there are tons of valid reasons for doing just that. But my question is a deeper one. Has expertise been devalued? Are all decisions coming down to dollars and cents? If so, is it penny wise and pound foolish? Something you post on the internet, as I say every day of my life, is there forever. There is no delete button on the internet. So is putting out content for content’s sake a sound decision?

Obviously, quality has always carried the day in all walks of life and in all endeavors. When both audio and video podcasting were new, there were zillions of podcasts being produced and thrown up onto iTunes or onto people’s blogs and websites. There is less of that now because people have realized that creating regularly scheduled, quality content is hard, and expensive work. Expensive in terms of the time investment and, yes, the dollar investment.

But here’s the question I have rolling around in my head that I don’t have an answer to: have we reached a point where “good enough” is good enough? Our attention spans are being vied for every minute we’re awake. So is “yeah,yeah, I get the gist of it” where we find ourselves today? And if the answer to either of those questions is “yes,” then where does that leave professional content creators?

My sense is that the quality of internet audio and video is improving because people are tired of wading through stuff shot with shaky cameras, bad sound, no edits, no titles, no opens or closes- no expertise. In other words, maybe the new way is trending and becoming more like the old way. For every uStream video, there is a Hulu video. I realize it is an unfair comparison to compare UGC with NBC, but I hope I make my point.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Has good enough become good enough? If so, do you think it will always be this way? Am I totally off base with this post? I’m really interested in your comments, so fire away in the comments section.

What if somone says something bad?

Regular readers of this blog know that training young people to use social networking/social media effectively is something I am very passionate about. I also think that, used properly, it is an invaluable tool for admissions departments, alumni offices as well as a way for current students to chronicle student life.

There was an article in this morning’s NY Times (link)  focusing on the MIT Admissions Department’s embrace of social media by selecting student bloggers to write about what life is really like at the Cambridge geek factory. (And I say “geek” with love.) The powers-that-be at MIT have been able to get past the fear of “What if someone says something bad?” and given students, AND commenters it should be noted, an unedited forum to sell the school. Let’s face it- high school kids today know when they’re being BS’ed. Hell, my seven year old sees a commercial on TV and said to me, “Dad, it doesn’t really do that. This is just a commercial.” I honestly don’t think I was that savvy at 7, so imagine what kind of filters 17 and 18-year olds have.

But back to MIT bloggers: they are chosen by means of a contest that grades their writing samples. According to the Times article, once incoming students arrive on campus, “[T]he bloggers are sought out as celebrities during the annual ‘Meet the Bloggers’ session at Campus Preview Weekend.” One of the bloggers, for example,  wrote about her love of anime, something that would have little chance of making it into a slick brochure or marketing video. Yet a prospective student who was also loved anime saw the post and reacted, “I never would have guessed that people at MIT are interested in anime. Oh, well…+1 on my Why I should go to MIT list.”

STILL think current students are poor ambassadors for your school? My response to that is the same thing I say to companies who are unsure if they should let their employees blog, tweet or otherwise speak on behalf of the company. If you can’t trust your employees, you have a bigger problem than just deciding on your social media strategy. Further, if you have a sub-par product, maybe the key tenets of social media- transparency, openness, conversation and engagement- make you a poor candidate for a social media strategy. You can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig.

And in regard to the “what if someone says something bad?” fear, here’s an anecdote: One blogger complained about how the resident advising system was making it impossible for her to move out of her housing. The housing office requested that the admissions office remove the post, but they did not. Rather, they suggested that the housing office leave a comment or rebuttal on the blog. “Eventually, the system was changed.”

That, party people, is the essence of blogging, in particular, and social media, in general.

A (perhaps not so) obvious word about social networking

I noticed something in today’s paper that cell phone coverage in the US was now approaching 100%. (It’s already at something like 96.7%). The number of active social network users as a percentage of all Internet users is equally dumbfounding. Pretty soon it will not be hyperbolic to say “EVERYONE” is on fill-in-the-blank social network.

But what is that doing for us?

I think it’s important to remember that social networks are not new. Instant messaging and e-mail can probably vie for the title of “First Social Network.” facebook, twitter and all of today’s updated versions enhance and enrich our online experiences. For me, the intrinsic value of being networked online is to enhance my life offline. (Otherwise known as “real life.”)  My presence on the different social networks has brought immeasurable value, for reasons grand and trivial, business and personal.

It’s been said that facebook is for connecting with people you know and twitter is for connecting with those you’d like to know. I think there is a kernel of truth to that, but they’re certainly not the only two networks out there. (Although when I watch my local Fox sports channel and they tag their promos with “follow us on facebook and twitter,” I know we have crossed some invisible mass acceptance barrier.)

To those who complain of social network overload or to those who have been reluctant to jump in, I would ask if you have considered what your goals might be in joining or not joining. Social networks merely facilitate the primal need we all have to connect, share and interact.

Think of it that way.

Who uses social networks anyway?

Anderson Analytics has recently confirmed what many of us already knew about the most popular social networks out there, namely facebook, MySpace, twitter and LinkedIn. For marketers looking for good demographic and psychographic information about buying habits and areas of interest broken down by which social network they use, there is some good stuff here.

110 million Americans, which represents about 60% of the total online population, use social networks. That number might be low as the study only counted people who used a social network in the past month. The average social networker spends a LOT of time on them: 5 days a week, 4 times a day for at least an hour each day. 9% stay logged in all day keeping tabs on what’s new.

For brands considering a facebook page or twitter presence, 52% of users had friended or become a fan of a brand, illustrating that people are receptive to this type of engagement. Not surprisingly, 45% say they link only to family and friends, and another 18% saying they will only link to people they had met in person.

A quick breakdown by service:

facebook:

  • 77 million users
  • 40% married
  • 80% white
  • Average income $61,000
  • Average number of connections: 121

facebook showed a tremendous level of loyalty with 75% of users saying it was their favorite site and another 59% saying that had increased their use of the site in the past 6 months.

twitter:

  • Interests skew more towards news, restaurants, sports, politics, personal finance and religion.
  • More likely to use twitter to promote their blogs or their businesses
  • Average income $58,000
  • Average number of followers: 28; average number they follow: 32
  • 43% said they could live without twitter

MySpace:

  • Young, fun, but disappearing. Most said they had used the site much less in the last 6 months.
  • 67 million active uses (nothing to sneeze at)
  • Most joined for fun and are into humor, comedy and video games
  • Not big on exercising but, unexpectedly, they seek out parenting advice more than any other group.
  • Average income: $44,000
  • More likely to be black or hispanic, and 60% are single
  • 23% are students

LinkedIn:

Surprising no one, LinkedIn is all about business. Hey, that’s what it’s there for, right? It’s also the only service that skews more male than female (57%-43%).

  • Average income: $89,000
  • Interests skew towards news, employment info, sports and politics
  • More likely to to be into going to the gym, spas, yoga, golf and tennis
  • They are also into gadgets, although not too much gaming. Digital cameras, High-def TVs, DVRs and Blu-ray players. (So THEY’RE the 16 people who have bought a Blu-ray!)
  • They unwind by gambling online and, wait for it…., going online for soap opera content. (OK, I have NO idea what the significance of that is.)

The full report is supposed to be out now, so check their site for more details.

Moms, kids and social networking

Summertime seems to be ushering in a drop off in facebook traffic amongst the 18-25 set, although they still remain the dominant demographic. The last 30 days has seen a 3% drop in traffic among the college crowd, but it has also produced a bump of 1.5 million users among those over 35.According to some usage figures, active facebook users in the US now total 70 million, with 60% of them over 26.

When I speak in schools and to education trade groups, one of the biggest things I hear from parents is that they are afraid of what their kids are doing online. But a lot of this fear comes from a lack of knowledge. In other words, the parents themselves have not taken the time to jump on facebook or one of the other social networking services to see what all the fuss is about. Well, that might be changing. The popular parenting site Babycenter recently completed a pretty extensive study about the uptake among moms and they say that moms who use social media is up 462% since 2006. As always, these numbers should be kept in perspective since in 2006, the overall usage numbers of social media was nowhere near where it is today.

The more parents, teachers and administrators educate THEMSELVES about social networking, the better chance we will all have to help our kids become digitally savvy adults. Kids might get bummed out being “friended” by their parents or another adult relative. But it’s worth it if the end result is that we, as adults, learn the facts about living our lives online instead of responding to misinformation and negative hype.

iPhone 3GS and online video

Shortly after the iPhone was released a couple of years ago, in very short order it became the number one camera that people were using to upload photos to Flickr. What Apple figured out a long time ago is how to make the overall user experience a simple, intuitive and fun one.

The new iPhone 3GS now shoots and uploads video with just a couple of clicks. The result? YouTube reported that in the six days after the 3GS release, video uploads to the site increased by 400%.  But think about the potential if the phone had been widely available in Iran? What about for retailers who want to post quick updates about new shipments into their stores?

Video is still the most effective way to tell your story and the usage numbers continue to grow. We recently began the deployment of a series of videos for one of our clients and decided to use their facebook fan page as well as 6 or 7 different video sites including YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Metacafe, Yahoo and Blip. The lesson being you never know where people might be searching for information about your product or service, but you need to research the different methods of reaching them. YouTube is clearly the 800-pound gorilla, but it is important to reach people wherever they might be.

Technology continues to make this easier and easier.