Football, Yogurt and Live-Tweeting

Superbowl Ads Twitter

Yessss! The Superbowl is today!

I didn’t even know who was playing until someone at work asked if I wanted to join a pool this week. I asked who was playing and the guy told me while backing away.

Here’s a brief history of my personal interaction with this all-American event:

Superbowl XXXVII: A Personal Triumph

Until recently, I associated the Superbowl with pledging a sorority. The amazing sorority I wanted to join freshman year had a time-honored tradition in which each year’s pledges present a halftime “dance” at superbowl parties, at a house of upperclassmen guys. There was no effing way I was doing that. I participated as far as wearing the proper colors (Raiders’ black-and-silver) and allowing my face to be painted. I then successfully ducked out completely unnoticed as we were ascending the stairs toward the living room. Taking advantage of the cluster-fuck and drunkenness, I looped back around to the end of the procession line, so there wasn’t enough room for me in the living room. (This is my 1st time admitting this.)

Superbowl XLVII: Prime Reading (& Tweeting!) Time 

I never developed an interest in this game. Visiting my brother in college meant I was forced to attend a couple of Wisconsin football games in ridiculously freezing weather. There are photos of me eating yogurt and reading a book during these games.

Now, Superbowl feels like some kind of milestone in my 1st year back home in 4 years. I’m spending it at my parents’ house (unintentionally; I didn’t realize this weekend was Superbowl Sunday until 2 days ago).

Tonight, I’m excited for more than just yogurt and reading (as if that power combo wasn’t enough). Tonight the added bonus is Twitter. I have fallen in love with Twitter this year – especially during huge public events. I had a blast during the Presidential debates – another event I probably wouldn’t have cared that much about had I not been privy to hilarious real-time commentary offered by professional and amateur comedians.

Participating in a collective conversation with complete strangers is basically the most invigorating experience I’m capable of having these days.

Twitter provides the platform; Superbowl-like events set the topic.

My mom’s response to all this:

I hate that word ‘hashtag’. Isn’t it just this? (Crosses fingers in hashtag formation.)

Follow me tonight @steppenchik.

BOOK REVIEW: The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr

Book Review - The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

The Main Idea:

There are two opposing schools of thought: “Net enthusiasts” believe we are in a new golden age of information access and user participation. “Net skeptics” feel we have entered a world of mediocrity and narcissism.

“Deep reading” and “losing oneself” in a book requires the ability to concentrate over long periods of time. The internet challenges this type of reading. i.e. We multi-task, are bombarded with streams of endless information, and it is easier than ever to find more information about topics we are interested in. Personalized magazines (i.e. Pulse, Zite, Flipboard), RSS feeds, hyper-linked articles – every page is packed with links directing our attention away to an entirely different location.

“As our use of the Web makes it harder for us to lock information into our biological memory, we’re forced to rely more and more on the Net’s capacious and easily searchable artificial memory, even if it makes us shallower thinkers.”

 

“. . . we are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest.”

– Nicholas Carr

In order to avoid becoming “pancake people”, there needs to be both: “time to operate the machine and time to sit idly in the garden”. The distinguishing characteristics of a well-formed mind include both the ability to “find and quickly parse a wide range of information and a capacity for open-ended reflection.” (Carr 168)

Interesting Tidbits:

  • Clocks were invented originally by Christian monks for precise timing of daily prayers
  • There were no punctuation marks or spaces in original written language (scriptura continua)
  • Reading is pleasurable because of the series of “intellectual vibrations” it sets off within your own mind.
  • Enlightenment used to be achieved through introspection, according to American Transcendentalists and English Romantics.
  • Now, more access to information means more knowledge and more power – a mode of thought that’s been in place since at least the Industrial Revolution.
  • “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” – Seneca

Brighter Software Means Dimmer Users

As “users” of web technologies, we expect programs and software to be endlessly user-friendly. Apple has revolutionized user-friendly product design, and Google tries to interpret our needs in order to provide the best possible search results. We are so spoiled by these industry leaders, we feel as though all technology should look and feel the same. Programs that  require the least bit of thought or patience are considered executed with “poor UX”.

We simply don’t want to play around or figure anything out by trial-and-error anymore. We lose patience, and feel entitled to something better, more intuitive, something that understands what we want to do and makes this possible with minimal resistance. The result is users who fail to grasp underlying concepts, or themes that exist within these technologies that we can take with us and apply to future interactions.

This interpretation completely challenges what I’ve observed on the web as a cult-like following for UX in both web and product design. Carr put it well: “The brighter the software, the dimmer the user.”

Nature Restores Our Humanity

 Carr does offer us a way out of the “electronic forest” – by referencing both scientific studies and personal accounts of nature as a remedy for this information overload. After spending time in natural settings, away from cities, people are shown to exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and are more calm.

In sum, this book was extremely enlightening – both from an informative perspective, as well as a contemplative one. 🙂 Highly recommended.

IRONY: My Mom Clips Articles on Social Media

Digital Anthropology

My mom still clips articles and leaves them for me on my desk. It’s nice sometimes, especially if it’s a longer op-ed piece or something from the Sunday Times magazine, as I do enjoy longreads more in print than on screens. Otherwise, when she tells me she’ll save something interesting in today’s paper that she wants me to read, I tell her to not bother – I’ll find it online.

She took the time to grab a pair of scissors, and physically cut out an article to share with me – on social media.

But this week, she cut out and clipped the ultimate irony: an article about social media and the ways in which companies are using it to leverage their market research. It was already funny that she was still doing this for articles in general: obituaries of interesting writers or anthropologists, travel pieces on places I’ve visited or are planning to, etc. But this one took the proverbial cake. She took the time to grab a pair of scissors, and physically cut out an article to share with me – on social media.

I read it, and learned nothing new. It was written for people who do not use social media, but instead clip articles about it. My mother enjoyed it, and I think it helped her understand a little more about the field in which I work and am interested.

I just got a kick out of the message/medium combo.

3 Bones to Pick, 3 Social Networks

3 social media bones to pick

There are a few complaints I just have been dying to put out there on the interweb recently. I decided to stop putting it off and air my grievances in the hopes that someone finds them, who will either (a) fix what’s wrong with the user experiences of these social networks, or (b) realize I’m the missing piece of their UX or social media team and hire me on the spot. Or, more likely, (c) I’ll get a huge weight off my shoulders by “blogging it out”.

Picasa (or Google Photos, or Google+)

I was one of the first people to join Google+, before it was open to the public. Remember they wanted it to be all “exclusive” and you needed an invite? I actually signed up for a mailing list, to be notified when Google+ was in beta testing. I tried it out, I created some circles, I posted things for about a week before I realized not that many people were using the damn thing. A few weeks later, everyone else did join – and then the cycle repeated itself. Fine, I’m over it.

Until . . . I wanted to view a friend’s photo album recently, and it was literally as convenient as taking the LSAT. The friend is actually a 70-year old author for whom I’m building a web presence. He tried sharing with me a photo album with Picasa. When I clicked on the link in his email, it told me the link did not exist. I had him set up a Google+ account, but still I was unable to view the album. The two of us went back and forth for about a week, until somehow he was able to share the damn album with me. It was shocking how complicated the process was, considering Google+ is supposedly all about sharing and engaging with one’s social circles. It was a mind-bogglingly difficult experience to view this guy’s one simple album.

Facebook’s iPhone App

Facebook Mobile TimelineWe all know that it’s slow. Fine. But I only found out yesterday that you can’t even access Timeline from it. Does this make any sense? You cannot convert the user experience on one platform (desktop) and not the other. I was tagged in a friend’s picture, and went to approve the tag but was told the app could not access Timeline. I will, however, give Facebook credit for recently adding the ability to unfriend someone, on mobile. I unfriend people every so often when I’m feeling sassy, and not being able to do this on the go was really inconvenient. I can’t predict when some random person I met on a teen tour 10 years ago is suddenly uploading pictures of their wedding – and I want to be able to unfriend this person immediately. Even if I’m on the bus. Thankfully, this is now relatively simple to do on the mobile app. But the Timeline thing – come on.

Instagram’s Social Options

instagram Social OptionsThis is really also a Facebook complaint. Ever since they bought Instagram, you can no longer search for someone on Instagram by their Instagram username. You have to be Facebook friends before you can be connected on Instagram. Which I get – it’s in Facebook’s interest I guess to get even more users. But part of what I love about Instagram is how not intimate it is; it’s supposed to be all about the pictures, not the people behind them. I actually met a girl at a bar who I clicked with, and we tried becoming Instagram friends then and there – only to discover that since we’re not Facebook friends, we can’t. And it feels a lot stranger to quickly “friend” someone you meet when you’re out, as opposed to just following them on something like Instagram or even Twitter. I left the bar that night without having a new Instagram follower/followee, because I didn’t feel comfortable asking this girl to be Facebook friends right away.

Adding someone on Instagram should be much more casual; I see you taking a photo of something interesting, I want to follow you. Not get updates on your sister’s wedding photos or a link to the article you read in the Washington Post this morning.

Phew. I said my peace. Now hopefully some good will come of it, and these weird little kinks will either be worked out or I’ll realize that I’m the dumb one all along. The sad thing is I don’t feel like either of these outcomes is likely.

QUESTION: What is Your “Brand”?

Brand Personality

The dog park is such a great place to meet interesting characters. Today I met a digital marketing guru (no joke, I checked). We watched my minpin try to maul her 12 year-old standard poodle, and got to talking shop. She advised me to think of my personal online presence as my “brand”.

Advice I’ve encountered before, but today it sunk in a little deeper. It got me wondering: exactly what is my brand? What do I want it to be?

The Human Element of Brands

Marketing-speak puts so much emphasis on voice and tone, personality and style as brand attributes. Companies devote considerable time and money on making themselves “sound” a certain way. Web start-ups tend to act act friendly, quirky and “innovative”.

A perfect example is the new TV ad for Google+. It’s a multi-media love letter composed by a forlorn guy to his long-lost love, as a grand gesture to win her back. It adds a humble and very relatable human element to the social network, showing slices of a life we can all picture ourselves in.

Here’s what I envision as my own personal “brand” qualities:

  • Sharp.  I notice things. Connections between things. I love finding commonality in hard-to-reach places.
  • Witty.  In 6th grade two boys made fun of me for “laughing too much”. They both have boring jobs now.
  • Compassionate. Understanding the point of view of others is a great skill to have, both as a human and a writer.
  • Professional. I love shopping at Staples.

From this I hatched an idea for what to name my business if and when I start a business: “The Content Chameleon”. I’m the chameleon, and I create content for any niche/purpose. Executing powerful messages by tapping into those 4 traits.

And it all started at the dog park. Where dreams are made and digital marketing strategies are hatched.

BOOK REVIEW: I Live in The Future and Here’s How it Works

I Live in the Future and Here's How it Works by Nick BiltonI think I should have read more reviews of this book before reading it…as someone who uses the internet, and enjoys reading about it from time to time – this book was boring.

Read Only If You Think Internet = Scary

I had an internal conflict pretty much the entire time as to whether or not I should just quit and move on with my life. I kept thinking of this incredible article about not finishing books just for the sake of finishing them – but it turns out I’m too big of a pushover.

Highly recommended for “technochondriacs”, or anyone who feels like they’re too far behind in today’s digital revolution to understand any of it.

Sorta Like Reading 1984 in 1986

The fact that it was published in 2010 sort of gives it an excuse. The ideas and concepts it discusses have been discussed so much – with colleagues, friends, blogs, etc. – that nothing really felt that “futuristic”.

There were actually several “what if’s” that now exist: we really do receive totally personalized versions of the news through sites like Zite, Flipboard and others. Google really does deliver personalized results based on a person’s social circle, search history and geographic location. It’s pretty neat that Bilton was able to project so accurately these once-revolutionary ideas, but you just can’t read this book anymore if you’ve already had conversations and read articles about this stuff.

Bilton as a Blogger v. Author

Bilton is the lead tech writer for the NYTimes blog, Bits. He definitely knows his stuff – which is why it was frustrating to read sentences like “Look at Apple, the early computer company that has moved into music, music players, cell phones, and new electronic readers.” Ohhhh, that Apple? And this is a line that appears toward the very end of the book. It just felt a little bit too spoon-fed.

That said, it is easier to digest content online when it’s simple, straightforward and with a dash of humor. So maybe the style of the writing is better suited for a blog format, than a 266-page book. In the future (and here’s how it works), I will definitely refer to Bilton when when a new gadget or technology comes out and I want an early adapter’s opinion of it. So…there’s that.

IDEA: An Infographic of Typical Social Network Users

Last week I posted a comment on Google+ (after remembering that it exists for the 1st time in a few weeks), about how there are too many social media networks to be consistently active in all.

I then wondered: there must be an infographic to illustrate the typical user profile, for each social media site. For instance, typical Flickr users might be completely different from Instagram users in terms of age or profession. I think it would be extremely interesting to see such data, and tried to find some fun, graphically composed poster with bright, bold colors and shapes pointing out just what that data is from a macro and even entertaining perspective.

I came across a few interesting infographics: Social Media Demographics, on Flowtown.com; and Twitter Users Profile, on InfographicsShowcase.com to name a couple.

I’d love to pool these and other related concepts and presentations together, and see what pops out. Or, would getting real actual user data constitute for privacy violation?

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: