Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It takes more than a village to protect kids online

Every now and then I get to talk with college-age students about social media and all the stuff going with privacy, identity, and security on the Internet (most recently at Smith College, my Alma Mater.) More often than not, I find that they really don't know too much about how to protect themselves from fraud, let alone how to construct online identities that won't hurt their job chances. Yet, the assumption continues among lazy adults that "kids know it all" about the Internet....

Well, finally, the Government and tech giants have realized the inanity of believing "kids know it all" and have teamed up in an new program that will teach kids not just how to handle cyber bullies, but also how to deal with online frauds and scam artists.

Now, I'm not thrilled that this is coming out of the Department of Homeland Security, but, when I think about it, what goes on in our little machines on our desks or in our laps could impact the larger network of computers out there.

We're never really alone with our machines, if you think about it.

The program will be administered by the non-profit National Cyber Security Alliance, has a curriculum, and will send to the schools volunteers from companies such as EMC and Science Applications International Corp. Support will come from Symantec, Cisco, and Microsoft, to name a few of the companies involved.

Apparently, one of the motivators for starting the program was the results of a study done by the Pew Internet and American Life Project which found that only 3 percent of state school curriculums instructed students on proper use of social networks and chat rooms. Yet schools are often giving assignments that require Internet use.

I guess the assumption was that kids were getting taught *something* about the Internet at home. But think about it: how many of us have heard stories of parents who plop computers in kids' rooms, and then allow the kids to just close the bedroom door? How many of us have heard parents say how they want to "spy" on their kids' activities online, rather than find out how things work or what's going on in the greater world of life online?

So, I'd hazard a guess that there are indeed bigtime security reasons that may go beyond "identity theft" and "stalkers" that have become reasons for the government to create a program like this to teach kids the things they're not getting taught anywhere else.

Think about it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Never Ask a Teen-Ager How To Use Twitter

Update 6/1/09 A new study from Pace University and the Participatory Marketing Project shows that only 22 percent of Gen Y (The Millenials) are using Twitter The blurb on the study goes on to say that Gen Y has to be convinced of the value of Twitter Um, if you have to convince them so hard, then maybe it's a medium that they don't need right now--they may need it as they get older and can't text from their workplace. Sheesh! Apps, though, are hot for everyone Thanx C-Net for the link end

Ask a middle-aged early adopter! Seriously....

In a post today on the Comscore blog, blogger Sarah Radwanik notes how Comscore has observed a huge spike in Twitter traffic over the past months including an increase in U.S. traffic, with users reaching 4 million...

Comscore hasn't released their official analysis of the Twitter numbers, but Radwanik points to a post by Reuters reporter Alexei Oreskovic who recently posted about the demographics of Twitter users. Radwanik extrapolated on Oreskovic's bare-bones figures and found that "18-24 year olds, the traditional social media early adopters, are actually 12 percent less likely than average to visit Twitter (Index of 88). It is the 25-54 year old crowd that is actually driving this trend. More specifically, 45-54 year olds are 36 percent more likely than average to visit Twitter, making them the highest indexing age group, followed by 25-34 year olds, who are 30 percent more likely." Check out the following two graphs showing the rise in traffic and rise in age demographic usage:

So, when Joe Blundo of The Columbus Dispatch asked his teen-aged daughter about Twitter and she told him he wouldn't like it, he should have gone to the more tech savvy folks he (maybe doesn't) know and ask one of them about Twitter.
He would have gotten a far better answer about it, and perhaps wouldn't be still scratching his head over it.

Ian Paul at PC World suggests that "[T]his means the concept of the technologically inclined "early adopter" as a young, predominately male demographic may have to be revisited."

MAY HAVE TO BE REVISITED!?!? My god! I've been screaming about this one for some time now. This just goes to show me so many in mainstream media are so in love with the hype around the youth demographic that they have failed to see what is happening right under their noses among people their own age.

How bloody insulting!

What might account for the rise of Twitter use among a not-so-youthful demographic? As a constant and continual observer of patters in online use among the marketing and journalism communities I've seen how the message of Twitter's effectiveness has not gone unheeded. And while there are many great, fun, and not overbearing uses of Twitter in marketing like @DaveTheShoeGuy, there are also a cadre of dorky, dimwitted, and egotistical multi-level-marketers and other assorted snake-oil salespeople spamming us daily with their "follows." Among journalists--many of them middle-aged--there is a high, and highly effective, use of Twitter. The journalists who use it are so good at it, I had to write a post about it.

My observations have lead me to conclude that a good understanding of how to use Twitter comes from the adept use of both online and face to face communication. Far from being the closeted geeks of old, the middle-aged Early Adopter crowd are the people who have those skills down pat. Is it any wonder that they're doing so well on Twitter (when you tease out the dorks, that is.)? Perhaps only to those dazzled by youth--but not to the truly social media savvy of us out there.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Blockbuster's Woes are Local DVD Rental's Potential Gain

Update 3/8/10 Sadly, I must report that Pick Your Flick will be closing next weekend. They started an inventory sell-off this past weekend, and will close at the end of business next Sunday. They were in operation for 3 1/2 years--not bad for a small store in an industry on life-support. Along with Pick Your Flick, Easthampton's other video store, Movie Gallery, is also closing. This leaves Pleasant St. Video in Northampton as one of the few remaining rental stores. Pleasant St. Video specializes in hard-to-find stuff. I've found things there that are NOT on DVD--hard to believe, but there are a number of reasons that some films are only available on VHS, esp. outre films by folks like Russ Meyer. Many of us hope that Pleasant St. Video will keep going as the rest of the storefront rental industry collapses

As more old-school media business models fail, and retail takes a nosedive in our crappy enconomy, is it any wonder that Blockbuster--the company that gobbled up the local video rental business-- is facing the prospect of bankruptcy?

Some of this, as Ed Oswald points out in his post, has to do with the pricing war between Blockbuster and Netflix, which also did some damage to Netflix. Netflix, however, doesn't have Blockbuster's retail space overhead, so, while impacted, didn't get totally destroyed.

There's more to it than the ascendancy of Netflix--although Netflix's community and convenience features speak boatloads about the service's value to its customers. There's also been the rise in DVR use. I'm sure lots of folks don't use TiVo just to tape the latest episode of Gray's Anatomy or Hannah Montana. They're also hooking it up to HBO and other networks, TiVo'ing movies as well as premium content series like Six Feet Under.

Yet there's opportunity in the death of Blockbuster to bring back something vital to neighborhoods: the local DVD rental store. We used to call them "video stores" and often they were run by a cast of characters that knew something about movies. And I don't mean like the condescending jerks in Kevin Smith's "Clerks." Some of my best memories were of when, in the '80's, I worked for a local "video store," where the movie geek in me got to talk with customers about movies. I could recommend movies because I'd seen most of them (a benefit from working there.) Seeing a regular group of customers, I got to know their likes and dislikes and could help them choose. I'll never forget being able to help a harried Father with a bratty son pick out something comparable to "Ghostbusters" or help someone's wife pick the best of "sword and sorcery" b-flicks (yeah, I used to watch those. Liam Neeson was in a bunch of them) for her husband.

We even used to have an old guy who used to keep a notebook of reviews of porn flicks. He had a whole system, with recommendations! His notebook was amazing, and his info, believe it or not, quite valuable to our business (Saturday night was big for couples renting porno.)

Local video rental stores were replaced by Blockbuster because of the sheer volume of new releases that Blockbuster stores could keep in stock at any given time. That, however, was easily countered when Netflix, with its almost-endless supply, could mail 'em quicker than Blockbuster could rent 'em. What Blockbuster couldn't replace, and what people are beginning to value again, is the interaction with other film afficionados. Netflix does this online through its various rating and sharing mechanisms, while stores like Pick Your Flick, the DVD rental store up the street from where I live, does it through face to face community building and interaction.

Let me tell you something about Pick Your Flick: there's *people* there. It's owned by Tim and Liz Jenks, who used to be neighbors of mine. Both Tim and Liz are huge movie lovers. They have a great sensibility about film--any kind of film. They get the reasons why Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" is a great chick flick, as much as they get how "Atonement" was kinda boring....

Tim and Liz bring to their store a relationship to their customers that continues to be sorely lacking amongst the blue shirted, khaki wearing worker bees of Blockbuster.

I'll never forget when a chick at Blockbuster recommended "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" to a customer. I wouldn't have recommended that turkey without a serious caveat and a recommendation to have a stiff cup of coffee first. And Tim and Liz wouldn't recommend it either without a raised eyebrow and a possible suggestion of something better--or a cheeky comment about Sean Connery. And on their MySpace page, they've put together a list of Top Ten Reasons why Pick Your Flick is better than Netflix

So, while another big corporate movie rental business goes bust, there just might be a very good opportunity for the small local movie rental place to boom.

Think about it.

The death of User Generated Content may be greatly exaggerated

I wonder sometimes about Sarah Lacey. On TechCrunch, she goes into great detail about how "user generated content" doesn't make money, and how its promise to help talented people hasn't come to fruition....

Oh, really? Lacey's analysis doesn't make sense in that its view of UGC comes through a lens filtered by the old-school media's judgment of value based on currently failing business models.

The thing about UGC is that what one expects from it is far broader than Lacey's claim that it must make money or lead directly to some fairy tale of overnight success. That's not what most UGC producers think of their work, and not what most UGC producers get from their efforts.

Now, I've been in the UGC business for a bit here, with my blog and various contributions to publications like Huffington Post and Silicon Alley Insider and syndication through Newtex. I'm not looking to make money from any of these ventures, although I do make a small bit from Newstex. What I get from this is influence and jobs. And had I been a bit wiser, and really liked doing journalism of some form, I'd probably be writing a column like Lacey's by now. In one respect, that's maybe where I wasn't so smart, but who knows what the future holds.

The true value of UGC is determined by the creator, and not necessarily by those curating it. The value of UGC is not determined by how much money YouTube makes, or what Twitter's business model happens to be. The value of UGC is determined by the "user" who is creating it, at any point in time, in any medium that person chooses.

The value of UGC cannot be determined by externals--but only by the ones who are creating. It may shatter some dreams if it isn't creating the overnight success, but it is also helping those who want to actualize realistic dreams and goals, as well as those who are overqualified and under-employed who simply want to share content with others.

However, in a recent conversation with Mark Ranalli of, I've seen how properly managed UGC (he hates the term too) can create value for both the UGC producer and the site that curates UGC. And I'm working on a new venture that has a strong UGC component to it (can't say much more now.) What I can say is that if UGC is managed properly by a "broker" or third-party, it can make money. The key is to understand why it is produced, and to reward UGC that is of value--the value to be determined by the community. Most who've been in the MSM, who are looking at the outside of the UGC busienss, really don't get it, don't get the reasons why people do it, how to filter it, the value of community in helping to determine value, and then how to turn the filtered content around to the benefit of everyone involved.

Mainstream media just doesn't get the process of creating value from UGC. Perhaps it's because it's swallowed its own hype and Horatio Alger stories, and has a need to create value *right away* to shore up sagging profit margins. Maybe the creation of media isn't meant to make a big profit for a bunch of other people who have nothing to do with it.

I'm just sayin'....

A note about Steve Outing's UGC venture: yes, Steve's venture didn't make money. IMO, it was a bit ahead of its time, and may not have reached the right niche audience. There are so many variables to the UGC equation and its hard to know where communities that produce strong content will congregate, as well as the time it will take to create that community. We're only seeing some of the answers to those variables now and on small scales.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Small is Beautiful: PodCamp Western Mass

Who said it couldn't happen in Western Mass?? Last Saturday (3/28), Morriss Partee, Jacklyn Stevenson Archer, yours truly, and a group of about 36-or-so cool folk pulled together and made the first PodCamp Western Mass happen at Open Square in Holyoke, MA.

And it was a great success! Check the PCWM Flickr stream to see all the happy PodCampers....

If there's one thing I kept hearing from folks was how much they were getting out of each and every session. Sessions were small (that's the great thing about a small PodCamp) which allowed for lots of questions and cross-talk. None of this top-down stuff.

Here are what were important highlights for me:

Bill Dusty of Springfield Intruder, a hyperlocal site for Springfield MA and Mike Dodds, managing editor for Reminder Publications (a hyperlocal newspaper) and blogger at Out of the Inkwell came and sat in on they hyperlocal journalism session I conducted. It was good to have some non-marketing folks at a PodCamp! IMO, the journalism community has to get out and breathe the air in other spaces besides those where the ink resides, and no better place is a PodCamp. Mike and Bill got to meet my friend Aldon Hynes who told them about CT Newswire, a project down in CT that pulls in all the press releases and distributes them on a Google group to those signed up on the group list. Aldon said that the reason for starting this group was that communications depts in local government have lost connection with the folks they should be sending press releases to, and with this group, it is easier to get information out to those who not only want it, but need it.

This is extremely important for hyperlocals like the Springfield Intruder, that are sometimes more on-the-ball (so to say) then the local newspaper.

I hope that Bill and Mike can get a list like this going for Western Mass! All three of them sat down after the session and did some serious talking.

IMO, the only way the news is going to change is by getting in touch with the grassroots--and the grassroots aren't necessarily going to come to the news, in special journalism gatherings. It's got to be the other way for new ideas to get into the stuffy old newsroom.

And Mike's a great guy! He really, really understands online community--how it functions, what it takes to do it right and maintain civility. He also gets that it is the responsibility of editorial staff or whoever is in charge of the community to enforce policies and NOT administer them according to who they do or don't like.

And a big, super-special shout-out to Steve Sherlock, blogger at Franklin Matters (and other sites), who came out from the eastern part of the state to help us with registration (and who helped us with Eventbrite when we got all throw-up-our-hands frustrated with it.) I've known Steve for a couple of years now, from seeing him at a number of events out Boston way. And now he's an honorary Western Mass'er!!

I had great conversations with Jeff Rutherford, who was/is a journalist now doing p.r. and related stuff. Jeff gets social media. Really gets it. And John Elder Robison, Asperger's researcher and author of "Look Me in the Eye"--who I had a very interesting conversation with about mommybloggers and geneology. Seems that John and I see different sides of the mommyblogger spectrum. He sees women looking to help their children with Asperger's. I see women who are interested in using their mommyblogger status to promote themselves. Ah, there are all kinds in this fascinating blogosphere!

Another great take-away was how many people are interested in bringing PodCamps to other parts of Mass. There was some talk of one out in the Berkshires and AuctionWally and I got to talking about doing one out in Barre, MA.

And that's the great thing about PodCamps. They don't need to be in major cities, with crowds of hundreds. They can be small. And small is beautiful!