May 30, 2009

No, Virginia, Everybody Is Not Online.

In the midst of all the Twitter hype of the past weeks, I've been reflecting on the 2 people I know who are just beginning to teach themselves how to use e-mail.

When I initially heard each woman's "story," I was really taken aback at the news of her budding e-education. But when I listened to the behind-the-keyboard rationales, I understood why it's taken them so long to join my digital world.

The first woman is my hairdresser, Kim. She's about 40 years old and until recently, she owned her own salon. Her office manager, a relative, manages the shop's inventory and basic finances online. Kim has a computer at home but her husband handily manages her digital needs. Her 5-year-old daughter teases her for her computerphobia.

Did I mention that Kim's been doing my hair for almost 25 years? Well, just before the 2008 winter holidays, she moved from Cleveland to Phoenix, AZ. (Every female reader just gasped and sent me a little cyberhug. I feel the love. Thanks, ladies.)

Anyway, long-distance phone charges were an unwelcome post-move expense, and of course, Skype is... well, Kim doesn't even know what Skype is. And so, at long last, she's teaching herself to e-mail. Her daughter is so proud.

Case #2. My dental hygienist, Joanie. She's about 53, I'd guess, and she has no use for a computer on the job either. She knows how to e-shop on her home computer, but she really bought it for her teenage son to do his homework.

Now Joanie's being told that the next re-certification exam for her license will be given online. And the teacher of the prep course prefers any interaction with students outside of class to occur through e-mail. And so, she's learning MS Outlook at last. Her son is so proud.

Like smokers who are quick to say they know they should quit, both women have told me many times over recent years that they knew they needed to up their computer skills. "Anybody who can't manage the basic stuff online is going to be in trouble pretty soon," Joanie said once. Friends of mine who work at nonprofits serving offline America would agree.

Residents of offline America are all over the place. Like those without health insurance, you probably know many of them whether you're aware of it or not. Many are living in one of our nation's 42 million low-income households; others may be elderly or in rural areas. Online America is dissing Offline America at the speed of a T1 connection with a high-speed modem.

Of course, the flip answer to this concern is that every American has access to a computer where they can complete housing and job applications and whatever. Heck, all they have to do is go to their nearest public library. Except that for many, that library trip would have to be squeezed between job 1 and job 2, and add yet another bus ride with accompanying waits to and from.

Another easy answer is that there are always options to online life. Like contests where you can enter online for free, or send a postcard entry for the price of the postcard and a 44-cent stamp.

I can't tell you how happy it makes me to know that The Good Guys, those unsung, creative nonprofit soldiers, are indeed coming up with workable responses. Many organizations have found ways to offer computer access for the people they serve, sometimes through hardware and sometimes through wi-fi.

The Wall St. Journal reports that a San Francisco nonprofit just opened a new 8-computer drop-in center where half the visitors are homeless. All 9 city-operated homeless shelters in New York will all be wired this year and about half of the city's other 190 shelters already provide computer access.

One San Franciscan who lives under the proverbial bridge said it all: "You don't need a TV. You don't need a radio. You don't even need a newspaper. But you need the Internet."

Look around and you'll see that retirement communities, senior centers and nursing homes --I mean, long-term care facilities -- are sponsoring Internet cafes and classes so that grandparents can chat with their out-of-state children and grandchildren or far-flung friends.

So there are Good Guys working to improve computer access for all. More power to them. What's more, there are other samaritans insisting that it isn't enough to ensure that access is fairly distributed. They say that it also needs to be universally fast.

Apparently there's a digital divide within the digital divide.

The U.S. ranks 15th in the world in broadband capacity, says the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. We need to do better. Speed matters.

To prove the point, "Speed Matters" is the title of the annual survey by the Communications Workers of America that rates each state's broadband capacity. (FYI, you can download fastest in #1-ranked Rhode Island and slowest in #50 North Dakota, #51 Alaska and #52 Puerto Rico.)

Using dial-up “inhibits the richness of the [online] experience" says Dr. Eileen Applebaum, director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.

(I hear you muttering, "Well, duh.")

But Dr. Applebaum is making a case for more job training classes online for people living in poverty, and those websites need to make heavy use of video, photos and charts to reach people with low literacy skills.

(Now you get it. You remember what it was like waiting for a video to download. That's why you have DSL now.)

So would you like to be one of the Good Guys? Simply donate your computer to charity.

What's that you say? You can't find an organization near you who'll take it? No worries. Meet Computers with Causes.

Because one Good Guy deserves another.

May 27, 2009

Who Loves the Web? Good Guys AND Bad Guys

This has been some week for building the self-esteem of cyber junkies and the socialized web itself.

My peeps -- early adopters and (forgive the sweeping generalization) the cool folks in NY and LA and points in-between -- are receiving announcements made in the past few days like digital hugs. For people who "pick up the phone when they want to talk to a friend" and all around Luddites, the announcements show that their side has lost more points.

On Monday, Team Obama sources leaked the news that the President plans to create a new senior White House position: "cyber czar." This person will shape strategy to protect the country's private and government computer networks. A more accurate moniker would probably be "cybersecurity czar."

Don't confuse this job with the position that President Obama filled last March.

That job -- Federal Chief Information Officer -- is held by Vivek Kundra. The official announcement says:
Mr. Kundra is charged with directing "the policy and strategic planning of federal information technology investments and is responsible for oversight of federal technology spending. The Federal CIO establishes and oversees enterprise architecture to ensure system interoperability and information sharing and ensure information security and privacy across the federal government."
Yay. International and governmental computer hacking is a threat to homeland security if ever there was one.

Mr. Kundra told Business Week that he also hopes to get federal agencies to share information and use social networks to sustain conversations with the citizens they serve. He wants to "transform the way the government uses technology." More power to him.

(And if he checks out the comments that readers posted to that Biz Week article, he'll see that he's also challenged to transform the way people think about natives of India like himself. It's not pretty.)

Whoever is appointed to the new cybersecurity slot is expected to be a member of the National Security Council. He or she will report to the national security adviser and the senior White House economic adviser. Totally different job.

The second big announcment, one that you may not have heard about, is that the New York Times has named its first social media editor.

Ya gotta love the Times. As of this writing, NYT is #14 on Twitterholic's Top 100 List based on followers.

A journalist with 25 years of experience, Jennifer Preston is charged with keeping the Times in Twitter's Top 20 and figuring out how to keep the paper's digital profile strong. She works with reporters to get them comfortable with blogging and with using social media as a helpful tool.

But it turns out that the Times is not setting the trend in this area of newsroom management after all. Shirley Brady was named to a similar position at BusinessWeek last year.

No matter. I feel hugged and I like it.

May 25, 2009

E-Mail Is Trusted. Company Blogs? Not So Much.

Twitter and Facebook get all the press, but guess which online information source is the most trusted of all?

E-mail.

Yep. Respondents in a December 2008 survey by Forrester Research said that a good old-fashioned, non-sexy e-mail message from someone they know wins them over every time.

Keywords: "from someone they know." Hard-sell e-mail is still considered... well... junk mail.

The survey reported that the second most trusted resource is a consumer review site such as Yelp and Cityvoter.

Wondering what the least trusted online info sites are?

Company blogs.

Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff explains that if people don't trust corporations, why would they trust a corporate blog? But the solution isn't for businesses to abandon their blogs. The best recourse is to design them to feel more personal than corporate. For examples, he suggests visiting the Blog Council and its list of best-practice business blogs.

The lesson that every marketer can take away from the Forrester research is not to be so snarky about old-school e-mail and to remember that the hottest fads may not necessarily work best for your business.

In just one example, Twitter demographics disclosed last March showed that 63% of tweeters are men, with middle-aged males the largest cohort. Not only that, it turns out that California residents make up more than 57% of people on Twitter. If your business caters to women in Minnesota and Wisconsin, there may be better online marketing apps to try.

That's the kind of information you'll get from Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed By Social Technologies. Josh Bernoff is a co-author with Charlene Li. I just finished the book last weekend. It's so crammed with helpful and fascinating info that I almost used up my Post-It pen flags.

(You gotta get one of these things! It's a highlighter with Post-It flags built into the body, making it simple to not only highlight interesting material, but also to mark the page for easy reference. I hereby swear that 3M hasn't paid me a thing to endorse this product -- but I'm certainly open to taking a thank-you gift.)

Anyway, if you're truly interested in understanding the hows and whys of social media, especially in business applications, Groundswell is a terrific introduction. I rarely recommend hardback/hard-copy books for noobs because the information they provide can so quickly become obsolete. (I've already seen at least 2 sites that I reference in my e-book, Web 2.0: Time Well Spent go bye-bye.)

Groundswell was written in 2008, and much has changed already in the online social whirl. But Ms. Li and Mr. Bernoff do a fantastic job of explaining big concepts in easy-to-understand language with helpful tools and models that illustrate critical points.

May 24, 2009

It's a WORLD WIDE WEB. Got it?

There are Internet users out there --of all ages-- who still believe that no one of any real authority will ever read what they post online. These people also think that no one will figure out who's actually behind their screen name. These people are...not that bright.

Every case of web stupidity is a lesson and a warning to the rest of us. And yet such ignorance persists. The pinheads will be with you always.

My local news this weekend reignited my fire about this issue. A 30-year-old resident of Coventry Township, OH went on Craigslist's "Rants and Raves" page to complain about a Summit County Deputy Sheriff.

Lori Baker-Stella, the Deputy Sheriff in question, had cited this so-called adult's mother for letting the family dog run loose during the previous week.

In his Craigslist post, the man wrote that "someone should beat [the Deputy Sheriff], rape her, cut her hair off and shoot her with her own gun and shoot other deputies that come by."

Guess what? He was arrested. Quel surprise!

This type of imbecilic online behavior isn't limited to the US of A.

Last March, a Swedish 17-year-old wrote that he planned to copy the actions of a German teen who had opened fire at his former school, killing 9 students and 3 teachers. In addition to detailing how his attack at a school in Lund, Sweden would be carried out, the teen also included a photo of himself holding a gun.

Guess what? He was arrested, too!

Then there's the people who, lucky to have a job in this economy, use their employer's e-mail account to wreak havoc online. Last summer, a 42-year old woman working at a nursing home in Beachwood, OH sent a nastygram to celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. (Another case from my area! What's up with THAT?)

Using the nursing home's account, the woman commented on Hilton's blog, calling him a "fat gay pig."

Of course, in these post-Miss California days, everybody knows that Mr. Hilton does NOT go quietly into any good night. He responded by publishing her entire message with her name and address. His fans sent her several hundred angry e-mails (obviously, to her work account) AND called the nursing home's administrators, who promptly fired her. She is now suing Perez for $25 million.

Dumb and dumber. Maybe he shouldn't have published her info, but can she really prove that her bosses wouldn't have snooped out her misuse of their e-mail and fired her anyway?

One thing that helps people think they can get away with web bad acts is the fact that legislators at all levels are slow to catch up with what's happening on the Internet. That's why Lori Drew, the defendant in the country's first cyberbullying case, is only facing misdemeanor charges of accessing computers without authorization.

(Surely you remember Lori -- the St. Louis-area hyperMom who pretended to be a boy having MySpace conversations with a girl she suspected of badmouthing her daughter. After the fictitious boy broke up with 13-year-old Megan Meier in 2006 by writing that the world would be better without her, Megan hung herself.)

But just because cybercrime laws are slow to materialize, it would be foolish -- sorry...it IS foolish -- to think that you can say anything you want on the Internet without consequences.

The first conviction of an online hate crime occurred more than 10 years ago when a 21-year-old Los Angeles man sent racist death threats by email to 59 Asian students. The case proved the point that a threat sent through cyberspace is no different than sending it over telephone wires or the U.S. Mail.

A professor at Western New England College School of Law told CNET News, "One of the things many people like about the Net is the anonymity factor. But just because the Net has been this sort of fantasy land, isn't going to get you off the hook when it comes to [criminal activity]."

True dat.

And yet...

In January, a 47-year-old Southern California man was charged threatening a presidential candidate for his October 2008 post on the Yahoo Finance board titled "Shoot the nig."

I wish I was making this up.

While I've refrained from using the names of any of these cybernuts lest they gain more publicity, I do want to share this particular post in its entirety:

"County fkd for another 4+ years, what nig has done ANYTHING right???? Long term???? Never in history, except sambos. Fk the niggar, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon."

Two lessons here. One, we are not as anonymous online as we think. The quiet tappity-tap on a keyboard in the solitude of one's room or office is misleading.

Two, we are not as "post-racial" as some think, either.

May 20, 2009

Sexting = Really Bad Phone Sex

When I was in Fourth Grade standing in line for something or other, a boy put a pocket mirror on his shoe, slid his foot near mine and got a good full look at my undies. I'm not sure of his name (Harvey?), but I do remember how loudly he screamed to the other boys, "Pink panties!"

I tell this story to illustrate the depths of the embarrassment that I have suffered lo, these almost 50 years thanks to one boy with a small mirror and a big mouth. I guess I should count myself as lucky that little Harvey didn't have access to MySpace. Perish the thought.

But in today's environment of "sexting," the more accurate analogy would be to imagine that I would have voluntarily sent my own panty pic to Harvey's cell phone. And that's not truly an accurate comparison because the girls of today don't send a photo of underwear -- they send pix of the full Monty.

Why? Who the hell knows. My I'm-not-a-doctor guess is that many teenage girls will do darned near anything to get someone to like them. Whatever it takes to impress a boy -- or the cool girls.

The problems begin when the kids learn that sending nude photos across public airwaves is illegal and that any promises of "I won't show them to anyone!" go out the window when the relationship ends.

An 18-year-old in Florida e-mailed nude photos of his ex-girlfriend to 70 friends. He was kicked out of college after receiving 5 years' probation. Oh yeah -- he'll be 43 when the SEX OFFENDER label is removed from his record. That label will impact where he can live (not close to schools) and where he can work (is there any place looking to hire a sex offender?).

The "Sex Offender" label also means he'll show up on internet mapping sites like Family Watchdog. Once that happens, parents in his neighborhood may treat him quite shabbily, not caring exactly what he did to earn such a slimy appellation.

I couldn't find any info about the maligned girl in the Florida case, and maybe that's a good thing. Because sometimes the girls in such cases...well...they kill themselves.

One of the most famous (infamous) cases happened in my state of Ohio last year. After an 18-year-old high school senior in Cincinnati broke up with the boy she'd sent nude photos of herself to, he shared the pix with his buds. And those buds shared the photos with their buds.

Pretty soon students of both sexes at at least 7 area high schools had seen the glamour shots and they reacted by calling Jessica Logan names like 'whore,'' "slut" and ''porn queen' via phone, text, Facebook and MySpace. After months of pain, Jessica hung herself.

Sexting isn't a rare thing, either. According to a national study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 1 in 5 American teen girls (22%) say they have electronically sent or posted nude or semi-nude images online of themselves.

And then there's the 60-year-old vice principal in Virginia who was trying to find out if sexting was going on at his school. He didn't get hard evidence, but his investigation led to police charging him with child pornography and related crimes. $150,000 and a year later, he proved his innocence. Wow.

There's so much talk and warnings about keeping kids safe from internet predators, and those warnings are needed. But parents, educators and counselors need to give just as much talk and warnings to keep teens safe from their own bad tech acts. Wired Safety is a great resource, and there are many more.

I'm not talking about cyberbullying here -- that's for another post. Today I'm talking about girls and boys with raging hormones and ringing cellphones. It's a combustible mixture.

May 19, 2009

Bye-Bye Vinyl Records, Newspapers...TV?

I don't know anyone who lives "off the grid," so green that they generate their own power from the sun and other sources. Sometimes they even find ways not to rely on city water or sewer services.

From my deeply ON the grid position, I admire those super-green folks who truly walk the talk. But I don't personally know anyone who lives off the grid. I do, however, know someone who has "cut the cord."

A person who's cut the cord does not own a television. Make no mistake: a cordless life doesn't mean life without network and cable TV programming.

My cord-cutting acquaintance sold his TV last summer and is still quite culturally in-the-know via his laptop and iPod. He'll tell anyone who'll listen how easy it is to be regularly connected to network sites like abc.com and comedycentral.com.

(And before I forget, big props to Comedy Central, where somebody really smart realized the level of fanatacism generated by Stephen Colbert. Sending votes to NASA to get space in the space station named after him is just one example of the craziness. So now he's got his own website apart from the network's that keeps the Colbertfanatics connected through elements rooted in the YouTube and social networking models.)

But back to my cordless friend. What really floats his boat are sites like Hulu, YouTube, iTunes, Joost, tv.com, Fancast and Veoh.

But wait! There's more:
  • crackle (owned by Sony) for movies and shows
My friend and people like him are scaring the pixels out of traditional TV execs. At my last TV employer, I worked for a General Manager who was all about the campaign for "Free TV." I'm talking circa 1986 when cable (read: HBO) was all the rage.

"People have to understand that what we offer for free is more fairly distributed, and just as good, as anything they can pay for on cable," he'd rant.

I'm not saying he was wrong (though HBO programming really was SO far ahead of network fare), but if John L. is still around, he's seen "free TV" take on an entirely new meaning that has undoubtedly made his head explode. Ask the recording industry, or newspapers, about what "free" programming really means these days.

Right now, Boomers are telling tales of what it was like when the TV world had 3 stations and we all watched shows at the same time, like The Wizard of Oz or The Flip Wilson Show. But now my fellow booms know that even the days of Dynasty and The Thorn Birds are fodder for a museum.

The concept of "water cooler talk" is based on everybody seeing the same program the night before. The water cooler is now officially shattered. (The phrase "don't touch that dial" hasn't been relevant for years thanks to ubiquitous remote control.)

I can sort of relate. Thanks to Netflix, I've been watching Boston Legal for the first time even though it went off the air last December. I'm halfway through Season Two. I'm running around saying "Denny Crane" to people who think I've either lost my mind or whatever semblance of cool I had left.

But, I'm still watching a TV.

I continue to be surprised by the number of friends I have who haven't totally cut the cord but they are accustomed to using a computer to watch 24 or Grey's Anatomy. When I ask them the day after a broadcast what they thought of that week's episode, the response I generally get is, "I didn't watch it yet -- I'll catch it online." I hear that reply far more often than "I TIVO'ed it" or "I taped it." Why pay TIVO or buy a tape when your computer has it for free?

I'm not saying that televisions are terminal. Not yet. The Washington Post tells me that 99% of all US. households still own at least one TV, and 85% of the country pays for cable.

All I'm sayin' is that Forrester Research found that more than 90% of major broadcast network programming is legally accessible online within a day of broadcast (only about 20% of cable programming is online) and really, do I have to watch it when they tell me to?

Apparently, there are other mature" brains thinking this way, too. From April '08 to April '09, Hulu viewership rose by 490%, and the fastest growing group in terms of time spent watching per viewer was people ages 35-49.

But, of course, it's the actions of younger generations that really predict where a trend will go. And to them, time-shifting TV is as natural as, well, watching TV online.

I heard social media hoo-ha Peter Shankman tell a story about a 20-something who, when invited to a Super Bowl party, said he'd be there around 8:00 pm. It never occurred to him that his host planned to watch the game in real time. Who does THAT anymore, he wondered.

Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future told the Post that "The broadcast networks as we know them are in true peril. They will barely have audiences under the age of 40 in the next 3 to 5 years."

I don't doubt him at all.

May 17, 2009

Don't Ask, Do Tell

Transport your mind back to middle school English class, or whenever it was that someone taught you that there are 4 types of sentences:

-- declarative: makes a statement
-- interrogative: asks a question
-- exclamatory: shows strong emotion
-- imperative: gives a direction or a command

For the purposes of this post, I'd like to address parents in particular, especially those who see themselves in these true stories:

1) A 3-year-old is running at top speed up and down the aisles of CVS Pharmacy. Her mother is in the checkout line. Whenever little Casey comes near (as she makes the turn to run back in the opposite direction), her mother says, "Casey, don't you want to come stand with Mommy?" And each time, Casey giggles and runs.

The question was asked and answered. Heck no, she doesn't want to stand with you.

2) A 4-year-old boy is in line at McDonalds jumping up and down yelling "French fries! French fries!" His mom says, "Don't you want some apple slices?" He shakes his head back and forth and says, "NO!" Mom: "You like apple slices. Are you sure you don't want some apple slices?" Son: "French fries! French fries!"

Again, asked and answered.

3) A friend and I get in the front seat of her car; her kindergartener hops in the back. My friend turns to face her daughter and says, "Aren't you going to fasten your seat belt?" Her daughter continues to walk Barbie across the top of her seat. My friend rewords it: "Honey, won't you please put your seat belt on now?" Her daughter continues to ignore her and Barbie continues to strut her stuff.

Without words, little Layla has answered the question asked of her.

Yo, parents! It's not abuse to insist on certain behavior from your child instead of requesting it. There's a difference between interrogative and imperative sentences. A question is not a command, and even preschoolers know it.

"Casey, come here! Stop running!"

"No, Honey. You can't have French fries today. Maybe next time. But you can have some apple slices!"

"Layla, put on your seat belt now!"

Can you see the difference? Your kids can.

May 14, 2009

Another Marketing Tool Bites the Dust

It used to be that businesses worked really hard to secure a phone number that spelled out a word easily memorized by their customers. 1-800-NABISCO -- that kind of thing.

I was thinking about the death of phonewords yesterday while blogging about the FCC's efforts to get the word out about the digital TV switchover on June 12th.

DTV.gov lists the information hotline as 1-888-CALL FCC. But listed immediately after that is the full-digit number, 1-888-225-5322. At first I wondered about that, but then I remembered the one time I was in my car and frustrated that not only couldn't I dial a phoneword, I couldn't even figure out the full-digit phone number.

Why's that, you ask? Because there's no room on my cell's teensy keys to fit "ABC", "DEF" and so on. I mean, if there are letters and numbers on most cellphone buttons, the letters are for texting and e-mail.

The days of exchange prefixes like Glenn Miller's Pennsylvania 6-5000 are long, LONG gone. I admit it -- I remember when my family's phone number was SWeetbriar 2-4599 and my favorite aunt's was LOngacre 1-2248. It took quite a while for Ma Bell to switch everyone to all numbers. The process started in 1958 and 3/4 of the nation's phones had changed over by 1977.

Clearly, in today's competitive environment, the business that still thinks a branded telephone number is an effective marketing tool is a business that hasn't got a clue.

It was announced last week that for the first time, the number of American homes using only wireless phones is higher than the number of households with traditional landline connections.

Not only that, but 1 out of every 7 U.S. homes (14.5%) receive all or almost all calls on cell phones even if there's a landline telephone available.

The study was done by the National Center for Health Statistics, a branch of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). What do phones have to do with health? Well, if the government and other info-gathering entities rely on telephone-based health surveys to collect data, it can be a bit trickier figuring out the wireless numbers to call.

Here's more phone factoids to ponder:
  • More than 2 in 5 Millennials ages 25-29 live in a household with only cell phones.
  • Low-income households are more likely to have only a wireless phone.
  • The chance that a home is equipped with a landline phone increases with the age of the resident/s.

Were any of those bullets surprising to you? Not to me.

Cells are cool and they do more than just make and receive calls. For renters, they're easier to maintain than arranging installation of a landline phone. If a house has a landline and a cell, I'm imaging that the landline is almost exclusively used for a computer.

As for that last point, I think one reason that older people (that is, older than me) have a landline is because they've always had one. Cellphone numbers are harder for them to see, they don't need to have phone access everywhere they go, people on cellphones are rude, yada yada yada.

And one very good reason that not-so-old people (like me) still have a landline presented itself on 9/11/01 and again on 8/14/03.

During the attack on the Twin Towers and also during the Great Northeast Blackout, cells were useless. Local and multi-state wireless phone systems cracked under the weight of calls from millions of panicked parents, lovers and friends. But at my house, during both crises, the landline worked just fine.

To recap: cell phones are killing marketing phonewords; cell phones are frustrating researchers and cell phones are not going away any time soon.

May 13, 2009

Change Your TV Can Believe In

This is it -- less than a month before the big digital TV switchover. How time does fly. It seems like just 4 months ago that folks like me were lobbying for more time before the end of TV as we know it. Actually, it was 4 months ago.

June 12th is the big day for analog signals to go bye-bye and make TV screens go POOF! for everyone still using rabbit ears. Those viewers generally include low-income and/or rural households, the elderly and perhaps people who like TV once in a while but mostly for local news.

The most recent estimate I could find guesses there are 3.5 million homes still lacking the converter box that will keep their non-cable, non-digital TV working. That's down from 6.5 million three months ago, but still a lot of folks who need to understand what's getting ready to happen.

Since Congress pushed the conversion date back from February 17, even the FCC thinks the added time has been helpful. (That comforts me. I always believe everything the FCC tells me, don't you?)

To its credit, the FCC used the extra weeks to beef up supports for consumers and to be far more proactive in getting the word out.

FCC outreach adviser Roger Goldblatt said, "We're going to schools, we're going to barbeques, we're going to picnics. We're going to where they are to spread the word."

In addition to an easy-to-understand guide, the dtv.gov website has been majorly tweaked and is MUCH more user-friendly than I remember it when snow was on the ground.

A DTV hotline (1-888-CALL FCC OR 1888-225-5322) has 4,000 agents ready to answer calls from people frustrated by the process of installing their converter box or just plain confused and scared. Walk-in centers are open in more locations and a fleet of contractors including volunteer firemen is supposedly being enlisted to offer in-home installation very soon. (um, yeah, tick-tock, tick-tock...)

As a wake-up call for the 3.5M analog users, digital TV will get a test drive next Thursday, May 21. And because more federal funding was given to the program, 2 coupons worth $40 each are still available for anyone needing help purchasing the $40-$80 converter boxes. Coupons will be available through the end of July.

What I know for sure is that this transition can't, and won't, be pushed back again.

What I know is that on June 12th, somewhere across these purple mountains majesties and fruited plains, there are going to be houses or apartments or trailers where Americans are shocked to find no picture when they click the remote.

May 10, 2009

Ah, Look at All the Lonely Tweeple

Didja ever feel as smart as a nuclear physicist when newscasters report the results of a study that proves something your common sense already told you is true? The headline is something like: RESEARCHERS FIND LEAVING FOOD OUT OVERNIGHT MAY ATTRACT INSECTS. Your response is, "Duh."

Nielsen Online reports that more than half of new Twitter users stop using the program within a month. Even though a recent study by Nielsen Online revealed that the number of first-time twitterers doubled in March, they're just not hanging around.

OK ... am I the only one who gets this?

I mean, right now I'm on Twitter every day, to the point that my Facebook skills are eroding. But if you'd seen me the month after I opened my Twitter account, you'd have doubted that I'd ever be the fairly accomplished tweep that I am now.

Why?

Well, I've said it before and I'll say it today and I'm sure I'll say it again: Twitter is hard to learn. It's even harder to understand the concepts behind it that make it a favorite of small businessowners and all around good people.

Now factor in the masses who've joined because of Oprah, or Ashton, or the ladies of The View.

Imagine the hundreds of moms who've used up precious weekend hours or quiet time when the kiddies are asleep to watch a confusing stream of tweets on the "everyone" messagestream, while waiting for Oprah to send a rare message. Can't you hear the chimes of their PCs shutting down amid the murmurs of "I don't get this. Life's too short. I'm done."

Media Week compares Twitter's “I don’t get it factor” to the letdown people felt after the virtual world of Second Life was overly hyped several years ago.

Again, I can relate. It took me a weekend to create my Second Life avatar, another weekend to learn how to walk and fly and another to cruise through a "town" and "talk" to people.

I never changed out of the newbie clothes my avatar was born with, which made a lot of Second Lifers reluctant to chat. No matter -- by then I'd decided that while Second Life was certainly cool, there were better uses of my time. Like learning Twitter.

So I understand the Nielsen study results. And I accept that there may very well come a day when Twitter is not the hottest kid on the block. Heck, I even accept that there may come a day when there IS no Twitter. (Uh-huh. That's right. I said it.)

I'm all about keepin' it real, but apparently my realism makes me a rarity.

The tweeple commuity was so incensed by the Nielsen research, complaining that it failed to consider supplemental Twitter apps like Tweetdeck, that Nielsen did the survey again!



Ah, look at all the lonely tweeple. The study results remained the same.

But there is some comfort in the updated headline. The lashing out of angry twitterers proved to Nielsen that PWTs (People Who Tweet) are a force to be reckoned with that can influence traditional and online media outlets.

So let's see if I have this right: newcomers to the Twitter party don't stay long. But the other partygoers think it's the best party ever, and they're as doggedly passionate as Trekkies.

Hmm. Trekkies hung around so long, sustaining the programming that birthed them, that they're cool again. If that's failure, I'll take it.

Live long and prosper, my tweeps.

May 9, 2009

Typing, Watching and Talking: My 3 Fave Things

Today's post is being created on-location in lovely Bethesda, MD at the home of the goddess' BFF and WCG (World's Cutest Goddaughter). WCG is home from her first year away at college.

It's a sunny 81 degrees here and the azaleas are in bloom. Good news for me, a ton of pollen for them.

After a delish brunch (Eggspectation -- do drop in if you're in the DC/MD/VA neighborhood), we decided to hang around the house watching trashy TV (Real Housewives. Manswers. Need I say more?) and talking.

And we did one more thing -- we each pulled out our laptops and went online.

I wished that someone could take a picture of our new millennium trio, multi-tasking with love. While we caught up on the latest headlines of our lives, we had the shared experience of what was happening on the 42" HD TV screen. At the same time, we had the individualized experience of whatever was on our respective computer monitor.

I'm sure that some people might never believe that our conversation was earnest. How could anyone possibly pay attention to 3 things at once? In most instances, of course, no one really does more than one thing at a time. We actually alternate quickly between tasks.

That being said, today we did our best. WCG and her mom checked their Facebook pages, I popped on to Twitter and checked email. My friend got her daily dose of The Huffington Post and my goddaughter finally made it to Level 72 in Tetris while I practiced using a MacBook.

Here's a deep thought: maybe, if each of us had more than one tab/webpage open, we were actually "doing" 6 things at the same time...or more. Wow.

Only our ears were needed to maintain the conversation, and with TV as trashy as what we clicked through, actual watching wasn't as critical as listening.

Someone told me recently their belief that Millennials are the first generation that learned to multi-task before kindergarten. I don't know if that's true or not. What I do know is that today, at least, two 53-year-olds and a 19-year-old multi-tasked their butts off.

How many things have you done while your laptop is on?

May 8, 2009

Nobody Said Not to Use Wikipedia, But...

Hey computerphiles! Remember WYSIWYG? "What you see is what you get" was an early descriptor of "print screen" and other functions. Here's a Web 2.0 acronym that I think will prove to be far more helpful: DBEYR.

Don't believe everything you read.

To put it another way, Wikipedia ain't no Encyclopaedia Britannica.

There was a time not so long ago when few people -- or at least few people who didn't have homework to do -- trusted Wikipedia as a credible news source. Somehow, the site's administrators have been able to turn that around, big time.

A 2007 Pew Center report found that on a typical day, more people visit Wikipedia than use online dating services, book travel online, drop in on a chat room or (are you sitting down?) buy items online. Of course, it doesn't hurt that with its many hyperlinks, Wikipedia blurbs tend to pop up high on search engines like Google.

Wikipedia is just one of hundreds of "wikis" -- sites where the information provided is added, deleted and edited by users. In most instances but not all, someone somewhere monitors the quality and accuracy of the materials.

(BTW - netlingo says that the term "wiki" originated from the Hawaiian word for "quick." There. Now go and amaze your friends with your new, hopefully reliable knowledge.)

As for Wikipedia, its reliability came into question again this week, which one hopes will serve as a wake-up call for the 36% of Internet users who regularly turn to Wikipedia for information. Oh, and also for journalists.

It seems that if newsrooms don't ban the use of Wikipedia (some do, some don't), reporters will rely on it for basic background info. Enter Shane Fitzgerald, an enterprising University College student in Dublin, Ireland who hoped to demonstrate globalization, especially as it occurs through Internet use.

Mr. Fitzgerald decided that the death of Oscar-winning French composer Maurice Jarre in March provided the perfect opportunity for an experiment. He added a well-written but fictitious entry into the Wikipedia bio for Mr. Jarre and gambled that somewhere on the big blue marble a reporter would use the post for an obituary.

He scored a trifecta. Many supposedly lofty news organizations used the inaccurate information, including The Guardian, the London Independent, the BBC Music Magazine website and newspapers in India and Australia. I'd like to gloat that no U.S. papers were caught in this easy trap, but it might just be that we're not as interested in a soundtrack composer from France. Freedom fries, anyone?

The moral of this story is not to stop using Wikipedia. I gave you the key bullet point in the lead:

DBEYR.

May 7, 2009

Killer Flu? Grab Your Computer, THEN the Face Mask

At this point, it doesn't seem as though swine flu will turn out to be the Andromeda Strain, Ebola Outbreak or some other We're All Gonna Die virus that Hollywood has been scaring us with for years.

Trouble is, more reliable sources -- such as the Centers for Disease Control -- have convinced us that a killer virus isn't just the stuff of movies and playacting. The reality is that Newsweek's Laurie Garrett reports that bird flu, which Americans made jokes about, is 850 times more dangerous than the swine flu.

Yay?

But every influenza strain teaches epidemiologists a little bit more about how viruses spread and kill. What I've been watching is how this one has taught us about how social media supplements -- and sometimes, surpasses -- traditional media in tracking an epidemic. I mean, pandemic.

Let's start there: an epidemic affects many people at the same time in the same locality. Pandemics occur when an epidemic sweeps through an entire country, continent or the entire world.

And so, fully informed, let us monitor how Nielsen Wire watched several keywords buzz up across the web: peanut butter and salmonella (the previous U.S. freakout), Susan Boyle and swine flu. This chart is as of May 1st, tracking swine flu's zoom straight up to online OMG level:

What I wasn't able to track as effectively is how swiftly Americans began referring to H1N1 instead of "swine flu." In my circles it was pretty darned fast, but I hang with a pretty educated group of newsjunkies, so what can I say.

Meanwhile, Google offered an oh-so-comforting swine flu map:


World Wide Real Time Swine Flu Map

And Twitter? Well, let's just say that the tweets, they were a-flying.

My friends on Facebook AND my tweeps on Twitter shared this helpful Q&A on the virus by CNN. As for the CDC, they want their site to be shared on all the major social sites.

I think it's a good thing that the people most affected by a killer pandemic, otherwise known as Us, are the ones now in charge of keeping Us Updated. (Did you follow all that?)

In other words, during the influenza epidemic of 1918, newspapers were in control of all updates, information, education...you name it. That plague killed more people than the estimated 16 million that died in World War I.

This time around, and the next and the next, you and I are running the presses of non-newspaper communication. Twitter broke the story of the recent earthquake in China and it may very well break the news of the next pandemic. At the very least, Twitter, or something like it, will surely be a primary information source when we're threatened with another virus that hops continents like a rejuvenated M.C. Hammer.

Did you need another reason why you should understand how Twitter works? This could be it.

May 4, 2009

Will You Still Love Me If I Don't Text?

My husband and I fall into 2 distinct camps when it comes to our computer life.

By my definition, he is a total hardware guy who comprehends RAM, motherboards, graphic cards, operating systems and all the technical jargon that makes my eyes cross. He can run cable and link your network, and he's not even an official IT guy.

Me? I'm your software girl. Social media, social networks, cool websites. My husband can develop a masterful Excel spreadsheet but Linked In throws him for a tizzy. He is not on Facebook. He may never tweet.

So we like different things. So what? That's just the tip of our I'm-different-from-you iceberg. But now Monica Hesse at The Washington Post has helped me see why I'm so cool with it.

It's because he's my husband and not just the flavor of the week.

"Today, you can be a phone person, an e-mail person, a text person, a Skype person, a Facebook wall person, a Twitter person [or] an instant-messaging person," Ms. Hesse writes.

Those preferences are critical in the current dating scene, where every one of the other person's faves are over-analyzed for their compatibility quotient. A Facebook addict can get pretty frustrated by a partner who's dedicated solely to pimping out his avatar on Second Life. A perpetual tweeter may rarely check e-mail even though that's the way her date generally tries to reach her.

In Sex & the City style, Ms. Hesse asks, "Can a texter love a Twitterer?"

I may be an old married lady (almost 16 years, thank you), but I know that dating is hard enough without the test of matching up communication streams. I can only imagine how upsetting it can be when a potential soul mate turns out to adamantly refuse to have a cell phone while yours never leaves your side.

Blogger Kelli Lawless says that 30-somethings are most affected by technological incompatibility because they've declared individual tech preferences. She believes the 25 and under crowd are comfortable with all the apps out there, while people 40 and up tend to use the phone for romantic communicating.

Fascinating.

I wonder if the intergenerational factor comes into play for a 60-year-old man with a 27-year-old hot babe. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Here's the closest I can come to relating to this phenomenon. During the prep for my most recent class reunion, I learned that today, the love of my 12th-grade self doesn't have an email address because he doesn't use computers. He works for himself and chooses to do his work, and live his life, offline.

My reaction was to shake my head and laugh because these days there is NO way anyone without a computer could be my boyfriend. In fact, it might be hard for me to even accept a computer-clueless girlfriend.

Technological incompatibility is a big deal. It's apples to oranges to say that it's the same as when a couple dissolves after Date 3 because he likes sailing and she hates the water.

This is communicating we're talking about. Couples may not have to worry about sexual compatibility if they can't even figure out how to plan the hook up.

First dates are a time for questions: Where'd you grow up? What kind of music do you like? I suggest you add a new one: How do you 'talk' to your friends?

May 2, 2009

I'm Communicating...Who's Listening?

Look through the Goddess' archives and you'll find post after post on strategies, tools, case studies and best and worst practices for getting your message across to your target audiences.

Apparently, even a goddess can have a little oopsie now and then.

Successful communication, you see, refers to 2 actions, not just one. A message is transmitted to an individual or group, and that receiver must, for the process to be effective, actually hear or acknowledge the message sent.

I realized my omission while reading an essay in Time Magazine's annual listing of the 100 most influential people in the world. The profile of President Obama, written by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, includes this line:
"Time and time again, people have talked of Barack Obama's talent for listening. His real talent is for hearing what is actually said."
This sentence reinforces a basic truth: honest, engaged listening is both a skill and a rare quality.

Truth 2: In many cases, professional communicators are presenting a message that may not be of interest to its audience.

The ugly truth is that more often than we care to admit, we are trying to reach people who don't listen well and tell them about issues they may not care about.

In just one example, a shopper looking for weed killer at Home Depot may not be supportive of 'green' issues at all. And yet, that same shopper is exactly the person that the National Resource Defense Council wants to reach, and educate.

Remember that when you start to use the jargon of your industry, or the academic big words that impress your professors but leave Joe Six-Pack (sorry) totally lost.

Copywriters, especially those who write for television news, know full well that the average viewer reads at less than a 7th grade level. Even if you know for sure that your audience is full of college grads, a page full of words is rarely as inviting or persuasive as concise clear writing, bulleted key points, and refreshing white space.

It's a different sort of inconvenient truth.

May 1, 2009

When Media Training Doesn't Work

I like Vice President Joe Biden. I always have.

Republicans like to use him as the poster child for plagiarism, the law school no-no that ended his run for President in 1987, but I'm of the "he who is without sin" camp. And then there he was presiding over the bizarre confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991. (I'm proud to say that I know someone who attends an annual event called Anita Hill Was Right.)

So I want to feel sorry for Joe Biden now, as once again his mouth has gotten him in trouble.

Heaven knows my mouth LOVES to get me in trouble. But here's a headline for you: I'm not the Vice President of the United States charged with calming a populace that's increasingly scared of a growing pandemic. I don't have the power to hush a media that's already over the freakin' top with "end-of-the-world" glee.

Surely you've seen the clip by now, but just in case:



Granted, the man was probably, simply, honestly, telling the truth. It's easy to imagine him telling Dr. Jill and other family members to avoid planes, trains and other people's automobiles because he doesn't trust recycled, shared air. Yes, the comment is based on misinformation, but it's still OK for his living room. Not so good in an NBC-TV studio.

I was actually watching the live interview that morning. What this clip doesn't show is the post-interview scene where Meredith Viera asks in a "no sh--?" tone, "Did I just hear the Vice President say that we should stay off of airplanes?"

Say it ain't so, Joe -- you get no sympathy from me this time. Not when the night before -- less than 24 hours before -- President Obama perfectly delivered a comforting message of "It's going to be OK, just wash your hands and stay home if you're sick."

I once worked at a TV station where, whenever the screen dipped unexpectedly to black, non-technical staffers would imagine the engineers' panic by saying "They're running like squirrels back there now."

Mr. Biden made the White House communications team run like BIG squirrels.

His comments floated out on the air at 7:05 am. At 8:47 am Biden's office released a "clean-up" statement:
"The advice he is giving family members is the same advice the administration is giving to all Americans: That they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico."
Um, no. That is not what he said at all. Good try, though.

By 10 a.m., Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano had supplied her own do-over for the VP:

"If he could say that over again, he would say if they're feeling sick they should stay off of public transit or confined spaces because that is indeed the advice that we're giving."
That's the saddest PR spin reframing I've heard in a long time. At least, until I saw the clip of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs taking his turn on the clean-up crew at 2 p.m. EST.

The same White House press corps that sat quietly during a myriad of sad but laughable justifications for the ramp-up to war in Iraq is now emboldened enough to giggle in the Press Secretary's face. I guess that's...progress?



The communications team are the ones who've earned my sympathy. I don't know if Mr. Biden refuses to read the talking points he's given or what. Any PR person who's worked for a while and for more than 1 employer has suffered through the CEO who thinks he/she knows it all.

Trust me, they never do.

The perfect remedy for Mr. Biden would be a media training collar that zaps his neck before he puts his foot in his mouth...something on the same principle as the Invisble Fence for dogs.

Short of that, I'm guessing this isn't Joe's last gaffe.

Why he can't understand that saying the wrong thing as Senator will never be the same as when you're a heartbeat away from the Presidency, I don't know. He's a very smart man, plagiarism notwithstanding. He must know that right now the nation needs someone who intentionally soothes and informs, not someone who glibly scares and apologizes.

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