Working Toward Simplification, Starting With Notifications

Let me tell you a tale of woe.

One day, I left both of my cell phones (one for work, one personal) at home. FOR AN ENTIRE DAY.

It was terrible fine. Truly, what I thought was going to make my life harder ended up making my work day way more efficient. However, I didn’t realize how much more efficient it had been until the next day, when I had my phones next to me all day.

Ding, buzz, alert! Ding, buzz, alert! Ding, buzz, alert!

On and on and on, my phones vibrated or buzzed or alerted me to some breaking email or news or social media update. None of it important, nothing that required taking my attention from my task and getting me off track every five minutes. No wonder some days I feel like I’m spinning in a hamster wheel! And most of the time I don’t even swipe my phone open to further investigate or read those emails. But that simple act of breaking my attention span is enough to derail me.

Coincidentally, I’ve been reading a book about living a simplified life (think decluttering everything from your home to your obligations and putting the emphasis on the real necessities in life to capture more joy). And the night after my epiphany about my phones being a huge distraction, lo and behold, there was a chapter about digital distractions and some tips on how to handle it all.

Step one was turn off the notifications.

Turn off notifications? Can I live like that? A life without knowing when I received an email or someone liked my Facebook post? (Also, why have I never thought of that before?)

I turned off all the notifications on my phone (with the exception of text messages and phone calls – I have two kiddos in different schools, so I’m not going to take the chance of missing important school notifications.) But otherwise, I haven’t heard a ding or a buzz or a beep all morning and it has been glorious.

Another tip is one that takes a bit more work: decluttering your email. Maybe you have the same issue – do you get near daily emails about products or services you use? Yep, me too. It can be tedious to go through and unsubscribe to each email, but there are some ways around that. Unroll.me, for example, allows you to see all of your email subscriptions and easily unsubscribe.

Whether or not you recognize how much of a distraction our devices can cause, I hope this helps you take a pause and think about how your life is ruled by that tiny computer in your pocket or next to you on your desk. While I’m not suggesting leaving your phones at home all day, you might try a digital detox and see what you discover about it in your own life. (And if you do, let me know in the comments so I can try it too!)

 

Social Connection at What Cost?

It’s been fun, guys.

Digging our heads into the sand and enjoying our social media. Happily sharing gifs, memes, videos, photos with one another, connecting with friends (or frenemies) from high school and posting political opinions that will change exactly no one’s mind.

On some level, we probably all knew that Facebook was tracking our every “like” and “share” online. And yet, the reality of that fact has come crashing down on us over the past few weeks as privacy scandals at Facebook are making headlines.

Understandably, there’s a #DeleteFacebook campaign ongoing. And yet, I haven’t deleted my Facebook account, with no plans to do so. What about you?

While I’m not planning to leave Facebook, I have identified recently with a scene from NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” where privacy-conscious Ron Swanson is alerted that web site cookies exist and that Google Maps has a photo of his house:

(He’s throwing his computer in the dumpster, FYI.)

But that’s not a solution. Maybe for some it is, but not for me and probably many others working in today’s world, who need to utilize and understand technology and social connection.

However, we can – and should – all do a better job of understanding just what we’re agreeing to when downloading new apps and sharing on social media. Instead of an “ignorance is bliss” outlook, take a thorough look through your privacy settings and advertising settings and be very specific about what information you want to share with each platform or app.

If you are interested in downloading the full archive of what data Facebook contains about you, this article from Inc. includes an easy five-step process:

How to Get Your Data

In typical Facebook fashion, it’s easy to get this data, but only if you know exactly where to look. That’s what I’m here for.

  1. Click this link. You’re looking for facebook.com/settings. If for some strange reason that doesn’t work, on desktop, you want to click the little upside-down triangle in the upper right-hand corner, then drop down and click “Settings.”
  2. Click where it says “Download Archive.” You will likely have to reenter your password. Facebook will need about 10 or 15 minutes to compile your data and will send you a link via email to get your information.
  3. Check your email spam folder; the message Facebook sent me wasn’t readily visible in my inbox. The subject should read “Your Facebook download is ready.” Click the link in your email and you’ll be sent back to Facebook again–and probably have to enter your password once more. (This is a good thing; there’s a lot of personal information in the files they’re sending you.)
  4. Click the “Download Archive” button on this second screen, and you’ll download a .zip file that should be called: “facebook-YOURUSERNAME.zip.” Extract the files by clicking on the .zip file in most cases, and you’ll wind up with a series of folders. There should be a file called simply “index.html.”
  5. Click on that, and the archive should open in your browser.

I’m going to download my Facebook data – mainly to see what it contains and how accurate some of it is. I joined Facebook when I was a sophomore in college, back in 2005. So, I’ll have 13 years of data to comb through and I’m assuming it’s going to be as embarrassing as when I read back through my diary from junior high.

I’m Crowdfunding Nostalgia, and It is Delicious

In the midst of holiday package arrivals at my house, I recently found an unexpected one: a 12-pack of sweetened sparkling water that I had crowdfunded almost two years ago (and nearly forgotten about).

How could I forget, I ask myself? This is no ordinary fizzy drink. This is pure nostalgia in a bottle; a beautiful, light-blue, tear-drop shaped glass bottle containing the sweet nectar of my youth: Clearly Canadian. When I was young and was allowed to pick a drink when we’d stop at the gas station, I always reached for Clearly Canadian (usually the Mountain Blackberry flavor). It was the best.

At some point in the early 2000s, it was gone. (The company launched in 1987, and was also responsible for a wacky space-age drink of the late 1990s: Orbitz, which resembled a lava lamp complete with gelatinous floating blobs, and was only on the market for about a year.)

Alas, I moved on with my life and mostly forgot about the clear soda beverage, until May of 2015, when suddenly, there it was in my Facebook newsfeed: Clearly Canadian was coming back to life! And I could help through crowdfunding!

I had only crowdfunded one other thing (if you’ve seen the Veronica Mars movie, you’re welcome); and it was such a fun experience to see that come to fruition, and to realize I had a teeny, tiny part in making it happen.

Crowdfunding is still a fairly young concept. It has been around since about 2008 and emerged as a response to banks lending less to artists and entertainers in the wake of the economic recession, according to a World Bank report from 2013. It has expanded far past entertainment, however, and the World Bank report notes that by 2025, the potential for crowdfunding investment is $96 billion a year.

And in Indiana, rules passed in 2014 allow Hoosier entrepreneurs to raise up to $2 million, and investors to invest up to $5,000 per company (the JOBS Act of 2012 dealt with federal rules for crowdfunding).

Of course, there are risks associated with crowdfunding. As an investor, sometimes things don’t go smoothly and you risk the company or product not being executed. That was definitely the case for Clearly Canadian. Expected delivery dates (September 2015, then October 2015, then November 2015) came and went. Email updates mostly stopped. Apparently there were problems with vendors and at one point the production facility shut down in the middle of a production run.

Early in 2016 there was an update, but again, nothing happened. I basically thought I’d lost my $30 (the base-line contribution for this campaign was around $30 for a 12-pack). C’est la vie.

Until earlier this week, when I received a shipment on my doorstep. I’m not ashamed to admit there was squealing and dancing on my part. I am slightly ashamed to admit the first thing I did was take a photo of my prized possession and post it on Facebook to make my fellow ’90s friends jealous. It worked, they were jealous (except for the one that also participated in the campaign. We did a virtual “cheers” with our drinks).

Do you crowdsource? Has it all gone smoothly? Share your stories! I’m interested to hear your experiences, too.

Don’t Make These Social Media Mistakes

Here are some worthy reminders from Digital Relevance regarding mistakes you should avoid when using social media for your business.

Your tweets or Facebook posts are solely promotional.

Social media can be a good venue to share special sales and promotions, but don’t post these activities too often or your “fans” will drop you. People want to follow your company because you are helpful, informative and have something to offer.

You don’t interact with anyone.

It is called social media for a reason. It seems like a no-brainer, but a big no-no many companies make is not interacting with its followers. You should promptly respond to mentions, replies and retweets and continually check your Twitter feed to respond and reply to your followers. Be sure to answer comments or questions on Facebook as well.

You tweet too much or share too often.

Twitter is a much more continuous, open platform for sharing multiple times each day. You should tweet at least three to five times a day, but what’s more important is the quality and value of your tweets. Low-quality sharing won’t lead to much interaction. On average, top brands posted once per day on Facebook. If you post more than twice per day, you will typically lose engagement.

You only tweet or share posts about your business.

It’s not all about YOU. Your followers want you to be a resource for industry information, trending topics and every now and then they like to know what’s going on in your company, but they don’t always want to know about every single webinar, article or event. It’s good to show you are a real, successful business, but also illustrate your value as a resource that continually interacts with its followers.

You’re commonplace and uninteresting.

Just as writers have a unique style and voice, brands should have a unique voice that their audience understands and relates to. Form your unique voice based on your culture, community and conversation.

You repeat yourself, you’re totally automated and you repeat yourself.

Automation can help productivity and efficiency, but when it comes to social media, it can seem spammy, impersonal and excessive. Don’t tweet or share the same article multiple times a day or even multiple times a week. A helpful article can be shared multiple times for larger exposure, but spread out your coverage dates.

Avoiding these mistakes will help you build a strong online community that believes in your brand, considers you an essential resource and enjoys interacting with you.

How Can One Little #Symbol Go So Wrong?

Okay, I’m going to vent for just a minute about the degradation of my beloved English language.

I gripe every year when a host of new “words” are added to the dictionary. I do not agree that “selfie,” “squee” or “srsly” are actual words. Srsly? SERIOUSLY, Oxford English Dictionary? If only you could see my computer screen right now, you’d see all the little red squiggly lines under these so-called “words.”

As much as I loathe that, there is one thing that drives me crazier than almost anything else (almost anything else: the blanket usage of the Oxford comma is still No. 1 on my list of ridiculous things) – and that’s the misuse of hashtags and the fact that they’re infiltrating our communication.

We’ve all done it – used a hashtag on Twitter or Facebook to not describe or sort news (the reason hashtags were created in the first place), but to instead, make yourself look like you get this whole Internet thing. “Look ma! I can write the pound sign in front of phrases! My friends will think I’m the #bee’sknees!”

As they were originally intended – to sort news or topics and make it easy for readers to follow along with those subjects on Twitter – hashtags can be quite useful. Businesses can make great use of hashtags to promote specific products or events, or news topics that are relevant to the organization’s followers.

But past that, we must draw the line. No more using hashtag phrases in conversations! No more lazy or cutesy writing! Instead of giving me 12 hashtags to try to figure out what in the world you’re talking about, dig down deep and use actual words, phrases and sentences to describe what you are doing and how it makes you feel.

You are not too good for the English language.

Here is a funny little clip from "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" and special guest Justin Timberlake that personifies what might happen if we let this kind of nonsense continue.

Social Media Appeal

Social media has become a daily habit or necessity for most people. We feel the need to be plugged into Facebook, Twitter or some other site 24/7 to stay connected with the world around us, but do you trust the social media sites that you use?

You probably answered "no" to that question. A recent study done by E-Score found that people are less likely to trust social media brands and are twice as likely to trust traditional media brands (broadcast, cable and print).

This survey also produced other interesting data, including insights into online dating sites. Two online dating sites, eHarmony and Match.com, were among the highest ranked social media sites in terms of awareness, but they had the lowest appeal. E-Score says that this indicates “consumers’ displeasure with the process of using social media to find a companion.”

E-Score also found that the use of Twitter and Facebook seemed to be more out of habit or necessity since they are highly recognized and have a high number of monthly unique visitors, but have low appeal.

With people losing appeal for social media sites, could we be seeing the downfall of social media? Or will a new player come into the mix to keep social media from dying?

Reporting Truth is More Important Than Speed

When you work as a reporter at a small community newspaper, you learn early on that making a mistake – grammatical, factual or otherwise – will typically earn you a public flogging by way of scathing letter to the editor. So, you double- and triple-check your facts before printing.

But, something has happened in this 24/7 news cycle and Twitter-as-news cycle. Accuracy and truth in reporting has become less important than being the first to break a story.

I was shocked to observe it happening during the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. For example: The name of the shooter most news outlets had been using all day was the wrong name (it was the shooter’s brother). The first victim – the shooter’s mother – wasn’t, in fact, a teacher at that school. At one point there was a second shooter, and then there wasn’t.

Bad information. Just plain wrong. But it was out there and people were repeating it. Re-tweeting it.

It seems history is repeating itself with the Boston Marathon attack.

Shortly after the blasts, one news outlet said 17 people were killed. We all know that the actual number is three. Another outlet reported that a Saudi national was in custody and being guarded at a local hospital as a suspect. It turns out the innocent man was held down by frantic people in the crowd who thought he’d had something to do with it. He was never in police custody as a suspect; just recovering at a local hospital, like so many others.

Then, two days after the bombings, news outlets and social media erupted that a suspect had been arrested. An hour later: No arrests. It wasn’t until the Boston Police Department and FBI confirmed there had been no arrest made in the attack that the claims died down.

It dawned on me during the early moments of the Boston Marathon attack that as news consumers, we’re all part of the problem. We all want the information as quickly as possible. We re-tweet and share on Facebook the moment things are announced, whether or not stories contain a credible source. An “unnamed” or “unofficial” source does not count as credible, people.

Like so many Americans, Sandy Hook will always be on my heart. As a journalist, my mind will also linger on the shooter’s brother, who not only lost his family and has to live with the pain his brother caused, but whose name was vilified for the better part of a day, despite his innocence.

In the future, do your own fact-checking and wait for a named source. Contact the news outlet to let them know you value accuracy over rapidity.

It’s time to demand better.

‘Suit Up’ for IT Job Interviews

Sometimes it’s best not to imitate what you see on TV and the Internet (great advice, I know), especially when it comes to fashion choices for the workplace.

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is well-known for promoting his social media juggernaut while sporting hoodies or dark grey t-shirts. And those young technology creators in the new Samsung commercials are dressed down in jeans and t-shirts while discussing their “Unicorn Apocalypse” phone application.

While Facebook has been wildly successful and those creative geniuses look like they are having a blast deciding whether or not the unicorn zombies should have glitter in their manes (I couldn’t even make this stuff up if I wanted to) – it’s best not to expect a relaxed atmosphere when interviewing for IT jobs.

In fact, a recent survey from Robert Half Technology says IT professionals seeking a new job in Indianapolis should interview in a suit if they expect to be taken seriously. Almost half of Indianapolis chief information officers (49%, over the national average of 46%) cited a formal business suit as the appropriate interview attire.

If you don’t have a suit, khakis and a collared shirt were preferred with 34% of respondents; tailored separates were then preferred by 14% of the CIOs interviewed nationally. Only 4% of CIOs expected anyone to show up wearing jeans and a polo shirt.

Of course, the point is to let your skills and experience shine – so don’t overdo or try to be ironic by showing up in a tuxedo with tails or ball gown, either.

Mashable Asks Facebook to Face 2012 Mistakes

Mashable takes Facebook to task for some of its mistakes in 2012. Granted, we all made mistakes in 2012 … remember (that embarrassing event) and/or (person I dated)? 

But regarding Facebook, the "hidden inbox" was the really frustrating one. Looked like I’d missed messages from people and they probably think I’m a jerk for not responding, when the fact is I’m a nice guy — and I’ll be the first to tell you that. Mashable relays:

3. Instagram vs. Twitter and the Rising Garden Walls
In a move that has gone largely unexplained, Instagram disabled support for Twitter cards in early December. Instagram links no longer propagate as photos in Twitter streams, and users who’ve married the two in their social media lives are frustrated.

It’s clear Facebook still views Twitter as an existential threat, and perhaps rightfully so. The two networks keep adopting each other’s features (Twitter incorporating media, Facebook becoming a real-time news feed). But killing Instagram’s Twitter integration is a classic "walled garden" move by Facebook, and a sign that if you still want to use Instagram, you’ll have to play by Facebook’s rules.

Who loses in this battle of APIs? Users, according to Mashable’s deputy editor Chris Taylor. I have to agree.

4. Facebook Messaging Gets Weird
We’ve had email since the ’70s. It’s not that hard to implement.

Yet baffling quirks in Facebook’s messaging system came to light in 2012.

The first was a "hidden inbox" that stored messages Facebook deemed unimportant. Users in late 2011 and early 2012 were surprised to find outdated communications from friends and family buried there. While this "Other" inbox was not a new feature, it became black mark on Facebook’s user experience in 2012.

Remember kids: Users, not algorithms, should determine what is and isn’t important.

Another bizarre feature that bubbled up this summer was "Message Seen" notifications — essentially, a read receipt that indicates when users see your messages, chats and group posts. You can no longer hide from unwanted Facebook communications. Your friend will know as soon as you’ve read (and ignored) that request to attend her poetry slam next Thursday.

Oh, and you can’t turn it off (not without some fancy browser extensions, anyway).

If that’s not enough, Facebook just rolled out a dandy new feature that lets strangers send you a message for $1. Get ready for spam, unsolicited pitches and long-lost stalkers.

Report: Facebook Worked to Get Out the Vote — Possibly Helped Dems

The Atlantic offers an interesting article about Facebook’s Election Day activities, and how the social media giant’s non-partisan efforts possibly helped Democrats by turning out more young and female voters.

Assuming you are over the age of 18 and were using a computer in the United States, you probably saw at the top of your Facebook page advising you that, surprise, it was Election Day. There was a link where you could find your polling place, a button that said either "I’m voting" or I’m a voter," and pictures of the faces of friends who had already declared they had voted, which also appeared in your News Feed. If you saw something like that, you were in good company: 96 percent of 18-and-older U.S. Facebook users got that treatment, assigned randomly, of course. Though it’s not yet known how many people that is, in a similar experiment performed in 2010, the number was *60 million*. Presumably it was even more on Tuesday, as Facebook has grown substantially in the past two years.

But here’s the catch: four percent of people didn’t get the intervention. Two percent saw nothing — no message, no button, no news stories. One percent saw the message but no stories of friends’ voting behavior populated their feeds, and one percent saw only the social content but no message at the top. By splitting up the population into these experimental and control groups, researchers will be able to see if the messages had any effect on voting behavior when they begin matching the Facebook users to the voter rolls (whom a person voted for is private information, but whether they voted is public). If those who got the experimental treatment voted in greater numbers, as is expected, Fowler and his team will be able to have a pretty good sense of just how many votes in the 2012 election came directly as a result of Facebook.

In a country where elections can turn on just a couple hundred votes, it’s not far-fetched to say that Facebook’s efforts to improve voter participation could swing an election, if they haven’t already. They’ve done a very similar experiment before, and the results were significant. In a paper published earlier this year in Nature, Fowler and his colleagues announced that a Facebook message and behavior-sharing communication increased the probability that a person votes by slightly more than 2 percent. That may not seem like a huge effect, but when you have a huge population, as Facebook does, a small uptick in probability means substantial changes in voting behavior.

"Our results suggest," the team wrote, "that the Facebook social message increased turnout directly by about 60,000 voters and indirectly through social contagion by another 280,000 voters, for a total of 340,000 additional votes." This finding — remarkable and novel as it may be — is in concert with earlier research that has shown that voting is strongly influenced by social pressure, such as in this 2008 study which found that people were significantly more likely to vote if they received mailings promising to later report neighborhood-wide who had voted and who had stayed at home.

Although months of door knocking, phone calls, and other traditional campaign tactics surely bring more people to the polls, those measures are expensive labor-intensive. Nothing seems to come even close a Facebook message’s efficacy in increasing voter turnout. "When we were trying to get published," Fowler told me, "We had reviewers who said, ‘These results are so small that they’re meaningless,’ and other reviewers who said, ‘These results are implausibly large. There’s no way this can be true.’ " In a country where elections can turn on just a couple hundred votes, it’s not far-fetched to say that, down the road, Facebook’s efforts to improve voter participation could swing an election, if they haven’t already.

Now it must be said that of course Facebook is not trying to elect Democrats. Facebook has an admirable civic virtue and has long tried to increase democratic participation in a strictly nonpartisan way. "Facebook," Fowler said to me, "wants everyone to be more likely to vote. Facebook wants everyone to participate in the fact of democracy."

But that doesn’t mean the effects of Facebook’s efforts are not lopsided. Outside of Facebook’s demographic particularities, there are reasons to believe that improved voter turnout in general helps Democrats, though there is a debate about this within political science.

In practice, though, there is no such thing as pure a get-out-the-vote, one whose tide raises all votes, and Facebook is no exception. It skews toward both women and younger voters, two groups which tended to prefer Democrats on Tuesday. Eighteen-to-29-year-olds voted 60 percent for Obama, compared with 37 percent for Romney. The next-older age group, 30-44-year-olds, gave Obama 52 percent of their support. Among Americans older than 45, Romney won. The implication is clear: If Facebook provides a cheap and effective way to get more people to the polls, and it seems that it does, that is good news for Democrats. For Republicans, well, it’s an uncomfortable situation when increasing voter participation is a losing strategy.