Thursday, December 23, 2010

Google plots popularity of favored Carolinas terms

If you haven't tried the Google Ngram Viewer, you're missing out on a word-geek treat. Its a database of all the words in five million books published since the 16th century. You can plug words or phrases in and get a chart showing how popularity of the word waxes and wanes over the centuries. I plugged in a bunch of Carolinas words just to see what happens. Here's what I found:

  • Piedmont -- Except for one surge around 1670 (the year English settlers landed at Charleston), the word was virtually invisible until the 1880s. Usage reached its highest level in the 1940s, and has fallen since then.
  • Carolina -- Usage surged briefly around 1670, but began rising dramatically around the time of the Civil War. After about 1940, it trended generally downward until the 1980s, when it rose moderately again.
  • Moonshine -- Perhaps not surprisingly, usage zips upward around 1919, when the Prohibition era began.
  • Fish camp -- Not used much until the 20th century. Usage spiked around 2000.
  • Tarheel -- First came into print in the late 19th century; usage increased dramatically after 1920.
  • Barbecue -- First crept into print around 1750, but didn't gather steady momentum until about a century later. Usage gradually increased until the 1980s, when it skyrocketed.
Why do you think these words took off in print when they did? Got any other good Carolina words you'd want to plug in?

Monday, December 20, 2010

What's the most mispronounced name in Charlotte?

One of the best things about social networks (or worst, if you're a Facebook-hater) is the ability to take funny little "things that make you go hmmm...." snippets of everyday life and share them with the world. The folks at Wingate University recently had a little fun by making a YouTube video poking fun at the fact that people can't settle on one correct pronunciation for their school's title, and for the town it's named after. Is it Win-GATE or Win-GIT?

When I first moved to the Charlotte area, I lived in Rock Hill, where I quickly got reprimanded by locals when I pronounced the name of nearby town of Sharon as if it were the popular woman's name. Nope, they told me, it's SHAY-run. When I pronounced the name of nearby Lancaster County as you would the actor Burt Lancaster, I got corrected again. It's LANK-a-stir, they told me.

There's a ton of similarly weird name spellings/pronunciations around the region. Which ones are your favorites?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Facebook lists hottest status updates of 2010

Guess what the hottest trend in status updates was for 2010? Use of the phrase "HMU." If you're only marginally hip (like me), explanations are probably in order. That stands for "hit me up." (And if you're terminally unhip, "hit me up" means "contact me."). Apparently lots of people were using Facebook as the starting point for -- dare I say it -- person-to-person communications. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Check out the rest of the list of top status updates here.

What was your favorite status update meme of 2010?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Charlotte's hottest Google searches of 2010

Google this morning released its list of top Google searches for the year in various cities around the country. Charlotte's "Google Zeitgeist" list came out looking a lot like our national reputation -- all business.

Here's what was on Charlotte Google searchers' minds in 2010:

  • UNCC moodle
  • UNCC email
  • Parent assist
  • CPCC email
  • CATS bus schedule
  • Charlotte restaurant week
  • Charlotte half off
  • Showmars menu
So, Charlotte's Googlers were education-minded folks who ride the bus, do a lot of business at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Credit Union and love to eat -- especially at Showmars. (The "moodle," by the way, is an online classwork management system UNCC professors can use to deliver quizzes and assignments. "Parent assist" is the school system's online system where parents can track their kids' grades).

This isn't a completely reliable reading of what locals are seeking on the Internet. Local folks probably go to Facebook more often than any of these sites, but most wouldn't do a Google search to get there.

What do you think? What was your most-used search term of the year?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Local schools win big in social media contest

Looks like Metrolina Christian Academy in Indian Trail and Charlotte's Collinswood Language Academy have become the latest local schools to win big in a national social media contest. Metrolina took the grand prize of $50,000 in the Clorox Power a Bright Future contest, while Collinswood won a $20,000 grant.

The contest was designed to let parents and teachers across the country nominate school sports, music and arts programs that have been hit hard by budget cuts. Supporters voted online. Metrolina will put its money toward a new athletics complex, while Collinswood will upgrade its playground.

The Charlotte Jewish Day School learned earlier this fall that it had won $500,000 in a Facebook contest by Kohl's department store.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Facebook's changing your page again

Facebook's made changes to people's pages again, so that of course means some users are feeling unsettled and grumpy this morning. This time, it's the profile page they're tinkering with. (Actually, they're being smart about it for once and giving users a chance to opt into it themselves first. Click here to try the new layout now). It's designed to be more visual, with pictures of you and your friends more prominently placed. It plays up photos of friends you connect with the most. And it's designed to make your "Interests" section more visual and prominent, and more socially connected.

Jason Keath, founder of the Charlotte-born Social Fresh marketing conferences, blogged last night about how he discovered that it also lets friends edit your interests. He plays tennis, and a friend he plays with added "tennis" to the "Sports I Play" section on Jason's profile. Depending on how you've got your privacy settings arranged, it might be possible for your friends to add stuff to your profile, too.

Closest I've come to that so far is when I got a message last night saying a co-worker had updated his profile to show that he worked at the Observer with me and a bunch of other folks. I'd already had the Observer listed in my own profile as my employer. Now he shows up in there as someone I work with. My hunch is that, even if I hadn't already put the Observer as my employer, his update would have added the Observer to my profile.

It's another move by Facebook to become a more accurate online mirror of your social connections, values and interests. That naturally makes Facebook more appealing to advertisers. So, as much as Mark Zuckerberg talks about giving people more of what they want -- socialization -- it's hard not to be a little cynical and see this freshening-up of the profile page as an enticement to get more data on people's interests and values added to profiles, either by users themselves, or by their friends.

That said, I don't really know that I mind it all that much. I do like knowing what my friends (and general acquaintances) value. We all do. But as Jason rightfully notes, this does bring with it the possibility for abuse. Teenagers who tend to friend everybody at their schools look like the most likely victims. But I suspect this change will accomplish what Facebook wants. As queasy as we all get over the possible privacy implications, our social urge seems to have gotten the better of us for now. That's why Zuckerberg's sitting on a gold mine at 26.

Friend me on Facebook, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kids getting cellphones at younger ages

Quick, take a guess: what's the average age American kids are getting their first cellphones? 10? 12? 14?

According to data out today from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, most are 12 or 13. But hold on, there, before you go ripping the phone from your 10-year-old's fingers. According to Pew, while none of the 17-year-olds in the survey got phones when they were 11 or younger, more than half of today's 12-year-olds had phones when they were 11 or younger.

So, the times are a'changing, and it appears most parents today think it's ok to give their kid a phone by the time they turn 11. What do you think? When did your kid get his or her first phone? Are 11-year-olds mature enough to have cellphones?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New (temporary) job duties for me

As is the case for so many folks in these days of tight budgets and low staffing, I've been asked by the boss-folk to pitch in and help out an overstretched colleague. For the next few months, I'm going to be helping our education writer, Ann Doss Helms, cover the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board's struggle to close a budget gap of as much as $100 million for next year. The impact on local schools, neighborhoods, children and families could be tremendous, and the editors rightfully want to make sure the Observer has the manpower to cover it from all angles.

So, I've been asked to put my social networking/online coverage on the back burner for a while. I'll still be hanging out on Facebook and Twitter, of course, both as myself and as one of the Observer's many social networking faces. And I'll still be blogging on social networks and Web 2.0 when I can, so I'd still like to hear your story and blog ideas. I'll have to ask for your patience and understanding if I can't turn them into stories right away -- or can't get to them at all, depending on how things are going with the school board and its budget battles.

One idea I've had for merging social networking with my new duties: I'd like to build a platform for middle and high school kids to share their thoughts about how the budget challenges are affecting their schools and families. It's always tough, obviously, to get teens to flock around any sort of adult-generated social platform. If you've got any thoughts about how we might go about making that happen, I'd be happy to hear 'em!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fake TSA Twitter feed pokes fun at controversy

If you're stuck at the airport today awaiting your mandatory TSA rub-down and/or body scan, here's a fun way to pass the time. Check out the latest Twitter meme, a fake TSA feed that makes fun of the whole controversy over invasive airport searches.

The author? An "Agent Smith." Location? "London/France/Your Underpants." Bio? "We pat your groin. We see you naked. We're the doormen to the sky. Why? Because everybody is a terrorist." Some of the tweets are laugh-out-loud funny. One of my favorites: "When the man has you down ... tell him thank you."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Microsoft might finally have a mobile hit

My days with my trusty old Blackberry Curve appear to be numbered. It (and an Alltel Curve that preceded the Verizon merger) have served me well the past two years. But two years is an eternity in the wireless phone marketplace, and the old girl just can't keep up with all the shiny new Androids and iPhones (and even Blackberries) sprouting like flowers these days.

I've been testing out two possible replacements this week: the Motorola Droid Pro and the new HTC Windows 7 Surround. The Droid Pro was designed specifically for people like me -- a business user who does a lot of typing and can't imagine life without a physical, thumb-able keypad. But for some reason, I find myself more drawn to the Windows 7 phone. I test-drove one from AT&T. It has a sleek design that feels really nice in your hand and a 3.8-inch screen whose colors and images seem especially sharp and bright. For all the hype in the WP-7 commercials about the faster access it allows to social networks and other goodies (and that's true), I was more struck by the fluidity of the touchscreen interface itself. I found myself flicking menus with my finger just to watch the words slide across the screen (ok, childish. I know). Much as I hate touchscreen typing, I could get used to it on this phone.

Which brings me to my main gripe with the Droid Pro. Maybe I've just got chunky fingers, but the keypad is too cramped for me, and the letters are too hard to press. Held up next to my Curve, the width difference between the two keypads is almost imperceptible. But my fat fingers say there's a difference. I also wish the screen could be a little bigger. All that aside, the Droid Pro seems like a worthy and logical next move for more slim-fingered Blackberry addicts. If Verizon gets both the iPhone and the Blackberry Torch next year, I'll have a tough time deciding which way to go.

Suggestions, anyone?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Facebook rolls out e-mail of the future

So now that we know what Mark Zuckerberg and Co. were up to, what do you think of the new Facebook messaging system? If you haven't heard, Facebook has dreamed up what Zuckerberg believes is the e-mail of the future (though he's being very careful to say it's not e-mail as we currently know it, and it's not designed to be a "G-mail killer.").

Basically, it's more like texting than e-mailing. You could use it to send a friend a text, a traditional e-mail or an instant message from inside Facebook. Instead of having all these different functions spread around different accounts, as many of us do, you could handle all those tasks from one simple interface. It would also collect all such messages from your friends and prioritize them based on your social graph. Oh, and there will also be a e-mail address you can use if you'd like. The changes will be rolled out in the coming months.

Good ideas? Or just Facebook's latest attempt to middle-man your Web life?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Black Friday deals sprouting on social networks

Attention shoppers: if you're looking for killer deals this holiday shopping season, you might not have to brave long lines and crazy crowds the Friday after Thanksgiving to get them. Increasingly, retailers are putting deals on social networks like Facebook. Usually, you have to "friend" the retailer's Facebook page to get the bargains, but given some of the steep discounts I've seen, that's a small price to pay. The only downside: the deals come in limited quantities and people snap them up fast, so you have to be alert and fast on the "send" button.

Have you tried landing any of the Black Friday deals via social networks? Was it better or worse than the in-person shopping experience?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lowe's 90 percent off sale drawing Facebook crowds

Any 90 percent-off sale is bound to draw a crowd. Advertise that kind of discount on Facebook, and if you've got anything remotely worth buying, you've likely got a viral hit on your hands. That's just what's happening with the Facebook promotion the folks up at Lowe's Home Improvement's Mooresville headquarters have cooked up. Lowe's pegged the promotion to the run-up to Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving, traditional start of the Christmas shopping frenzy. Over the weekend, the company has been giving its Facebook fans a chance at 90 percent off coupons for everything from coffee makers to water heaters. Not surprisingly, people have been gobbling the deals up.

Some stats, courtesy of the folks at Lowe's:

  • Lowe's nearly doubled its fan base in two weeks, from 134,000 to 263,000.
  • Fans clicked on Lowe's Facebook posts more than 81 million times from midnight Saturday through midnight Sunday.
  • The All Facebook blog is listing the Lowe's fan page as the third "most explosive" on Facebook this week, trailing only People magazine and the Disney movie "Tangled."
And of course, it wouldn't be a Black Friday sale without some pushing and shoving among the frenzied buyers. Some people got steamed when they didn't get the 90 percent coupons before the deals closed, and suggested others were cheating by using computer programs to snag the coupons first.

One benefit of keeping the whole sale in the virtual world: at least nobody could knock a competitor down or throw a punch. Now that's progress.

Friday, October 22, 2010

College student completes $300 Facebook challenge

Last week I told you about Alyssa Rushing, the 20-year-old college student from Rock Hill whose mom had offered her $300 if she could go a month without Facebook and use the time toward her studies. The challenge ended on Wednesday, and her mom, Melynda Rushing, tells me Alyssa successfully completed it. "She made it to the end but was VERY anxious" to get back on Facebook, Melynda wrote in an e-mail. The story hit a chord nationally. Fox News and MSNBC asked me for the Rushings' contact information. Good Morning America and the Today show also tried to reach them, as did a number of local TV stations and radio shows. (GMA sent them friend requests and messages on Facebook). Melynda said the story was also mentioned on The View as well.

But they didn't respond to any of the requests. Critical online comments responding to the Observer story upset Alyssa. (Many commenters suggested students shouldn't need money to study harder; Alyssa pointed out that she was doing well in school, even without the challenge). "We ran for cover after the initial response," Melynda wrote. "Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined!!! When Good Morning America contacted us, I realized then all the hype had little to do with us and more to do with (Facebook) in general."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lowe's offering 90 percent off deals on Facebook

Lowe's Home Improvement's come up with a novel way to get an early jump on the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday shopping craze. The chain's launching a Facebook promotion with some seriously steep discounts. Lowe's officials are calling it their "Black Friday Sneak Peek Party," and it starts on Nov. 5. That's when they'll list some of their Black Friday deals on their Facebook fan page. The deals will be valid online beginning on Thanksgiving and in stories on Black Friday.

But as an extra attraction for fans who come to check things out early, Lowe's is putting up videos that will include coupon codes for 90 percent off "a few select items," according to spokeswoman Colleen Carbott. One of the videos was done by NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson. Those who find the codes can redeem them online immediately. Tried to get my man Jeff Elder, former Observerite turned Lowe's social media guru, to tell me what some of the hot items are, but he's been sworn to corporate secrecy.

I sure could use a new barbecue grill...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Should colleges ban athletes from Twitter?

N.C. State's decision to stop its basketball players from tweeting is drawing a thumbs-down from the Charlotte sports marketing firm that advises Penn State, the Big Ten Network, ESPN Plus and other big names in the sports world on handling social media. When I asked Liz Barrett, a consultant with Sports Media Challenge, what she thought, she said N.C. State went too far. She said student-athletes, properly supervised, should be able to handle social media.

Not sure I agree that they'll always follow marching orders and avoid embarrassing their schools, but I do think universities, normally such bastions of free speech, risk looking like free speech censors when they tell student-athletes they can't express themselves in a public forum. Barrett's firm's currently surveying student-athletes, university officials and the general public on the subject. Click here if you'd like to vote.

What do you think? Is it right for colleges to tell students on athletic scholarships that they can't use Twitter?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Charlotte school wins $500,000 in Facebook contest

The Charlotte Jewish Day School has hit a social media home run, winning $500,000 in Kohl's department store's national Facebook school-improvement contest. Kohl's made the announcement today, confirming that the tiny 111-student school had beaten out more than 100,000 others from around the country in winning its share of a $10 million pot.

Each school had to tell how it would use its winnings, and then get supporters to visit Kohl's Facebook page and vote for their project. The top 20 vote-getters would each get $500,000. Some 11 million votes were cast nationwide, and the Jewish Day School came in No. 11. It plans to use the money to upgrade its technology, buy new computers, upfit a science lab and even buy its first school bus.

The school went all out with its campaign, staging a "Vote-a-Thon" for alumni and friends, making up T-shirts, and getting help from prominent Charlotte social networkers who spread the message to thousands of their contacts on Facebook and Twitter. Principal Mariashi Groner thanked volunteers, saying they worked non-stop during the seven-week campaign. "Sometimes in a smaller school, there's more determination," she said. "We're absolutely thrilled. Euphoric ... It's going to make a big difference to our school."

According to Kohl's Facebook page, the next highest-ranking N.C. school in the contest was Liberty Preparatory Christian Academy in Mooresville, which finished 39th. Here in Charlotte, New Life Christian Academy School of the Arts finished 274th, and Mallard Creek High finished 494th.

Are you a cellphone addict?

Earlier this week, I wrote about Alyssa Rushing, a 20-year-old college student whose mom is offering to pay her $300 if she can stay off Facebook for a month and devote that time to study. Lots of people wrote to say they didn't think anyone should have to be paid to temper their passion for social networking. That story also prompted an e-mail from Dr. Nicole Radziwill, a Charlotte native who teaches about computer technology at James Madison University.

She recently wrote a book about her own "social media addiction." She wrote that she'd been checking Twitter about 130 times a day, and checking her Droid for text or Google chat messages at least 400 times a day. By her count, that was roughly 44 minutes of every day. She even dreamed about checking Twitter in her sleep! To snap out of her compulsive checking, she imposed a 42-day social media blackout on herself earlier this year. She came to realize that, in overusing Twitter, she was subjecting herself to an "interruption-driven existence." Instead of using Twitter and Facebook to keep in touch with friends, the networks themselves -- with their constant stream of random, attention-grabbing information -- became attractions unto themselves.

The experiment led her to cut back. She checks her Droid about 50 to 75 times a day now, an amount she admits some might still see as excessive. Her experience made me wonder if the problem is less about the addictiveness of Facebook or Twitter than it is about the addictiveness of smartphones. You put your entire life into the things -- bank accounts, passwords, contacts, photos, e-mails -- and you carry it all around with you in your pocket. Having all that information and communicating power at your fingertips is ... well, irresistible. I didn't think anything of Facebook myself until I got a Blackberry and saw how easy it was to keep in touch with my friends through it.

I've never kept track of how many times I check my Blackberry. But I do know when the little notification light blinks, signaling incoming e-mail, texts, or social network data, I feel compelled to check it. (I actually put the thing in my pocket when I'm busy and need to focus, just so I can't see the blinking light). If I had to guess, I'd say I check the phone about 40-50 times a day. If I didn't use the thing for work, I'd have to wonder if maybe I had a problem...

How about you? How many times a day do you check your phone? And how much is too much?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Duke student's sex list goes viral

An e-mail a Duke student intended to share with a few of her friends has become the talk of the Internet in recent days. Karen Owen (on the left in photo) sent a seriously explicit kiss-and-tell message to a few of her friends, detailing how she had sex with 13 men on campus, many of them Duke lacrosse players. She included a Powerpoint presentation complete with their photos and with graphic references to their body parts and their performance in bed. It wound up circulating among the whole Duke student body and on to Internet blogs and even the Today Show.

(Watch the Today Show report.)

Needless to say, the players are angry (some of them, anyway), and there's talk of lawsuits. It's yet another example of what I'm tempted to call the IDD syndrome -- Inadvertent Digital Disclosure. As great as all these electronic communication channels are about spreading the word, it sure seems people would be smarter now about how and what they share on them. But these things just seem to keep happening. Maybe the technology is outpacing our common sense.

UPDATE: Comments have been disabled due to multiple abusive posts.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Facebooker likes it "in the hall, by the front door"

My eyebrows shot up the other day when one of my Facebook friends, a mom and an official at a local university, posted a status update informing the world that she: "Likes it in the hall, by the front door." And that was all. I started to ask what that meant, but frankly, I was chicken. Hey, Facebook is a public forum, after all! Turns out the explanation was totally G-rated, and the latest attention-grabbing meme making the Facebook rounds. As I understand it, in this case, women are posting status updates about where they like to put their purses. (A female colleague guessed it immediately when I told her what I'd read. Guys are slow, I guess).

It was designed, apparently, by some anonymous Facebooker to draw attention to Breast Cancer Awareness month, which rolls around every October. It's similar to an earlier meme where women simply posted their bra colors so men would ask what was going on, and thus draw their attention from breasts to breast cancer awareness. As one woman points out, however, clever though the latest one is, you wonder how it draws attention to the cause. All it does it make guys think their female friends have suddenly turned X-rated on them for no apparent reason, then they get a chuckle when they discover the real purpose. A tad odd. Seems it would make more sense if all these suggestive status updates were accompanied by a link to a reputable site or organization where you could learn more or make a donation. Just sayin'...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is Facebook killing social activism?

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the best-selling "The Tipping Point," has written an article in the most recent edition of The New Yorker magazine in which he basically asserts that Facebook and other social networks are a waste of any social activist's time. Social networks encourage "weak-tie" connections between people who know each other only glancingly, he says, while powerful social uprisings like the Civil Rights movement sprout from the strong ties that bind close friends. He notes that it was close friends who sat down at a lunch counter in 1960s Greensboro, N.C., sparking the sit-ins that helped power the Civil Rights movement to the forefront of the nation's consciousness. He suggests an appeal from a Facebook friend you barely know won't convince you to risk your life for a cause, no matter how worthy.

I think he's oversimplified things. (The lack of any mention of the Obama campaign's groundbreaking use of social networks in the 2008 seems a glaring omission, for one thing). True, you won't man the barricades just because a Twitter follower you've never met asks you to. But within most of today's social networks, there are degrees of connectedness. Some folks you barely know. Others are your brothers, your cousins, your college roommates, your co-workers. It's an artificial construct to say online connections are inherently shallow. They do feature more of the who-are-you-again type encounters, but that's not all you find. It's as artificial as trying to suggest the development of the telephone made people less connected.

That said, I do see a good deal of Gold Rush-style hucksterism in social networks. And I do tend to think the discussions on social networks can too easily devolve toward the trivial. With thousands of cute pet pictures and pratfall videos and mundane musings cluttering the view, there's a lot on social networks I could do without. (Full confession: yes, my dog has made his Facebook appearance). But I generally figure the more communication between people, the better off we all are. If Gladwell really wanted a meaty bone to pick, he should have gone after the privacy issues that keep dogging Facebook and other networks. It's quite another thing all together when people you don't want to communicate with can eyeball you without permission.

What do you think? Are social networks tricking people into thinking they're making meaningful social connections when they're really not?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Censorship debate erupts around expletive-studded performance

A word war's breaking out today on Facebook in the wake of artist John W. Love Jr.'s controversial performance during last week's TEDxCharlotte conference. Love, an actor, performance artist and poet, says he was invited to perform an excerpt from his interdisciplinary work, Black Lily Billy, at the conference. The conference is aimed at putting forward cutting edge "big ideas" for Charlotte in the realms of technology, entertainment and design. Love has put up a Facebook note slamming organizer Candice Langston for pulling the plug on the conference's live Internet feed during his performance. (Caution: page contains graphic language). He said she did it because he used "a few" expletives during his performance. He said he'd asked organizers if they understood the nature of his work beforehand, and he'd been assured it was ok. He said the decision to cut the feed "reeks of cowardice," and amounts to "censorship in its ugliest of forms." Langston told me in a phone interview: "I was concerned that there might have been children watching...I'm very, very sorry that John feels we censored him or offended him or oppressed him in some way."

Comments are rapidly pouring into the page as it spreads through Charlotte's Facebook circles. Many support Love. Others are defending Langston, saying she had an obligation to cut off the feed since she didn't warn viewers in advance of the graphic content. I left to write my story on the conference before Love's performance, unfortunately, so I don't have first-hand knowledge of what he did. It's certainly causing a stir!

What do you think? Should the TEDx folks have pulled the plug?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More problems for Facebook

For the second day in a row, Facebook's not working properly. About a half-hour ago, Facebook sent out this message: "We're currently experiencing some site issues causing Facebook to be slow or unavailable for some people. We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible." Yesterday, the social network said the issue was something about a third-party networking provider causing all the trouble. Hmmm....Two days in a row. Hope it's not a sign of bigger problems for the world's favorite digital watering hole.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Facebook suffering technical problems today

If your Facebook page has been running annoyingly slow today -- or even freezing -- you're not the only one. I just shot an e-mail to Facebook's PR department and got back the following response:

"We are experiencing an issue with a third party networking provider that is causing problems for some people trying to connect to Facebook. We are in contact with this provider in order to explore what can be done to resolve the issue. In the meantime, we are working on deploying changes to bypass the affected connections."

No word yet on what third-party provider's the culprit. A (rather snippy) Facebook rep says they don't know how many of the social network's 500-million-plus subscribers are affected. Will pass more information along if or when I get it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Identity thieves target Charlotte woman

My friend and co-worker, Marion Paynter, had the misfortune recently of becoming the target of one of the most vexing crimes of the digital age: identity theft. More specifically, the old I'm-stuck-in-Europe-please-wire-money trick the scammers love. Marion learned back in July that her G-mail account had been hacked, and this message had been sent out to all her contacts:


I'm writing this with tears in my eyes,my family and I came down here to North England, United Kingdom for a short vacation. unfortunately,we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed,all cash and credit card were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us.

We've been to the Embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and our flight leaves in few hours from now but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the bills. Well I really need your financially assistance..Please, let me know if you can help us out?

Am freaked out at the moment!!

Marion Paynter…

One of her friends responded to the hacker, and he asked her to wire $1,600 to a specific account. But she, like Marion's other friends, didn't fall for it. (Interestingly, she notes, the hacker sent that message from a separate Yahoo account he'd set up in Marion's name). He'd also changed her G-mail account's password, her secret question and her secondary e-mail account she'd used to set up the account. So, she couldn't get into the account, and it took her days of work to get Google to recognize she was indeed Marion Paynter and not a hacker herself.

Almost four weeks after the hacker attacked, Google finally sent her an alert saying "suspicious activity" had been noticed on her account. Google said the attack originated in Nigeria. To this day, she says, she still doesn't know how the hacker got into her account. Her advice: change your password regularly and make sure it's secure. (Click here to get a Google engineer's advice on dealing with this common scam).

What about you? Have you had any close encounters with identity thieves? Any tips to share about how to stay safe?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wireless devices taking over

I still remember how cool I thought I was when I first used my Blackberry's Bluetooth capability to transmit pictures from my phone to the digital photo printer at Target. There's a lot more of that kind of wireless connectivity in our future, at least according to an AT&T rep who stopped by the newsroom today. Cathy Lewandowski came bearing a duffle bag packed with goodies any tech-nerd would love. She had the iPad, a couple of cool smartphones, and an interactive photo frame that allows family and friends to e-mail you pictures that automatically show up in the frame. (It runs on AT&T's 3G network with a subscription starting at $5.99).

But the Vitality GlowCap, a pill bottle cap that connects to the AT&T network, is what really got me to thinking. The fact that a pill bottle cap -- the most mundane everyday object imaginable -- can transmit data makes you realize how ubiquitous wireless technology will be in our near future. This cap is almost like a digital medical scold. When it's time for a pill, it glows. If you don't take the pill, it emits a reminder tone. If you still don't take it, it can initiate a phone call or text message to you. Anytime you open the bottle, data gets recorded and relayed to the Vitality folks. It can even keep track of when your prescription needs refilling. One one level, it's pretty cool. On another, it gets you to thinking of that Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, where technology minds every move you make.

My daughter's reading George Orwell's "1984" for school. She keeps asking me what it means. I keep wondering why she doesn't get it. It now occurs to me why she doesn't: the freakily futuristic (and potentially invasive) advances Orwell dreamed of are now just part of the architecture of every day life. Technological gadgets like the GlowCap are becoming so pervasive today's teenagers don't see them for the minor miracles they are. They're just...there.

Interesting times we live in.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Charlotte cellphone reception lags other cities

If you've found yourself cursing your cellphone (and your carrier) for another dropped call, this next bit of news won't surprise you. According to the just-unveiled 2010 J.D. Power and Associates Wireless Call Quality Performance study, Charlotte has more problems per 100 calls than any of the top 27 U.S. cellphone markets. Charlotte has 19 problems per 100 calls, while at the other end of the spectrum, Tampa, Fla., logged just 5 problems per 100 calls:

What gives? I've got a call in now to a J.D. Power researcher, and hope to round up some details on why we apparently get such crappy reception here in the Queen City. Not surprisingly, some of the wireless companies are already jumping in with their spin. Verizon was happy to point out that it ranks highest in the Southeast in call quality. AT&T earlier today shot me an e-mail touting its nearly $200 million in investments in its N.C. network.

What do you think? Does call reception seem worse here than in other cities?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Five Facebook buttons I wish existed

A while back, a fake Facebook "dislike" button scam tricked people into giving out their personal information. Users have been wanting a "dislike" button for the longest, but the friendly folks at Facebook offer nothing beyond the "like" button for one-click response to other people's posts.

That got me to thinking of other buttons I wish Facebook had:

  1. The Yawn button. Enough already with the "on the way to the post office" posts.
  2. The "Kanye West" button. For that special friend who insists on sharing raw-edged opinions about politics, religion or other touchy subjects in hopes of ticking people off.
  3. The "Tiger Woods" oversharing button. Here's an authentic, I-did-not-make-this-up example: "Thought twice was enough. She's insatiable."
  4. The "get a room" button. A Motel 6 icon for those lucky-but-annoying couples who just insist on cooing and sweet-talking each other on Facebook.
  5. The "And...who are you again?" button. (Like it hasn't happened to you too!)
What buttons do you wish Facebook had?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Average teen texts 50 times a day

If you're the parent of a teenager with a cellphone, this won't come as news to you, but a new study just out says youngsters ages 12-17 send and receive five times as many texts per day as adults. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, teens send and receive about 50 texts per day, compared to about 10 a day for adults.

Also in the report:

  • Texting by adults has increased over the past nine months from 65 percent of adults sending and receiving texts to 72 percent.
  • Five percent of all adult texters send more than 200 text messages per day, or more than 6,000 a month. By comparison, 15 percent of teens use texts more than 200 times a day.
  • The average adult cell phone owner makes and receives about five voice calls per day.
  • Some 65 percent of adults with cellphones say they have slept with the phone on or right next to their bed.
How does your (or your teen's) cellphone usage compare to the averages here? And if you fall into the 200-plus club, what in the world are you texting about so frequently??

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tweets beckon Democrats to Charlotte

Charlotte staged a hijacking of sorts on Twitter yesterday, one organizers hope will help convince the Democratic National Convention to come to the Queen City in 2012. The idea came from Desiree Kane, director of community over at CLTBlog. With the city suffering from teacher layoffs and bank cutbacks, she figured the convention's multi-million economic impact would be just what Charlotte needs.

She came up with the idea for a Twitter “hashtag party,” where Charlotte Twitterers would, from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday, effectively hijack the hashtags Democratic National Committee members use in their Tweets. (For non-Twitterers, a hashtag is a keyword attached to the end of a Tweet, preceeded by the “#” symbol).

Members of the DNC, which is holding its summer meeting in St. Louis today, often use #DNC and #DNC10, so she and her collaborators urged local Twitterers to send out tweets including those hashtags and saying good things about Charlotte. They also added their own local hashtag, #CLT2012, so Charlotte folks could track the local tweets. Some 500 people got involved, Kane said last night. Search for #CLT2012 on Twitter, and you'll find, amid official-sounding DNC tweets about delegate selection rules and regional caucus meetings, a bunch of cheeky posts about the awesomeness of Charlotte. Among the reasons tweeted: salted caramel brownies 24 hours a day, great barbecue and 20 Chik-Fil-A restaurants.

The DNC won’t pick its city until later this year – Charlotte is vying against St. Louis, Minneapolis and Cleveland – but Kane feels good about the effort. “All I did was provide the vehicle, and the Charlotte Twitter community took hold of it,” she said. “It was an unbelievably positive outpouring of affection for Charlotte.”

For more info on Charlotte's bid, go to or the official site driving Charlotte's bid,

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Facebook's new location feature: useful or creepy?

Facebook yesterday announced it is jumping into location-based social networking. I know the whole concept sounds absolutely crazy to a lot of people ("Why should let my phone's GPS broadcast my exact location? So I can help robbers and stalkers and perverts find me, of course!). But in the tech world, this is a move everybody saw coming. Smaller networks like Foursquare and Gowalla have been growing like weeds as the ever-expanding hordes of smartphone-lovers use them to tell their friends where they are and what they're doing. Restaurants and retail shops in Charlotte and elsewhere have taken notice of the advertising potential, putting out special discounts for those who most frequently "check-in" on a service like Foursquare -- thus implicitly telegraphing the awesomeness of said restaurant or shop to all their friends.

So, it was just a matter of time before Facebook joined the game. And, perhaps chastened by previous blow-ups over privacy concerns, Facebook has taken pains not to force anybody into sharing their locations. You'll have to opt into it, rather than have it happen automatically. And when you "check-in," by default, only your friends see it, not the general public. The app for iPhone went out last night. Apps for touchscreen Blackberrys and Android-based phones will be available later, though you can access the function now through those phones' Web browsers at

I probably won't jump into it right away. I've always been a little squeamish about location-sharing. Seems I'd like it a lot more if I were in my 20s and partying every other night. Plus, I, like many of you, am not sure I trust the motivations of ever-ambitious Facebook. (Read this smart CNET piece raising intriguing macro-analytic questions about what Facebook might be up to). Still, this, as everyone keeps saying, appears to be the future of the Web: mobile, location-based, real-time. Like it or not, we'll all have to deal with it.

What do you think? Are you planning to use Facebook Places? Or does it weird you out?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Facebook "dislike" button scam making the rounds

A friend of mine just sent me a Facebook message saying she'd fallen prey to the phony Facebook "dislike" button making the rounds. As much as everybody keeps clamoring for a "dislike" button to use in giving the thumbs down to annoying posts, I guess it was just a matter of time before some enterprising spammer/scammer figured out how to trick people with a phony button offer. Click here to get directions from Facebook about how to avoid it, and what to do if you've fallen prey to it. (This link is to Facebook's security page. It's a good idea to "like" it so you'll get security updates in the future).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Social media here to stay, consultant says

4:20 p.m. Update. Social Fresh Charlotte 2010 continues to roll on at the University Hilton, with more than 300 people learning how companies can use Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to improve their bonds with customers. Social Fresh Jason Keath talks about where social media is, and where he sees it heading:

Social Fresh 2010 conference kicks off

Update 12:02 p.m. Ok, this is just funny. The guys on a Social Fresh panel on using Web videos for marketing just showed a snippet of this spoof of Jay-Z and Alicia Key's "New York" anthem.

Update: A theme I'm already seeing here at Social Fresh this year: the tension for companies between pushing the envelope on social media (which is tempting for creative types, given the wide open, there's-no-roadmap quality of Web 2.0) and being more conservative and protecting their brand in an unpredictable public space. Jason Keath says he wants companies to press forward and not be afraid. Bert Dumars of Newell Rubbermaid, in a presentation just minutes later, says yes that's true, but, essentially, don't get too wild and crazy in the process. He gave an example of Einstein Bros. bagel shops, which he says did a bagel giveaway to folks who joined its Facebook fan page. They grew by 300,000 fans in a week, but many of the people on the site today are just folks demanding more free bagels or complaining that they didn't get their free bagel. "My biggest advice when you're starting out is don't go too fast," he said. "Growing fast does not equal growing well."

Social Fresh, Charlotte's home-grown and increasingly national social networking educational conference, is getting under way at the Hilton in University City. Looks like a big crowd, at least 300 people in the ballroom for founder Jason Keath's opening remarks. "We really want to improve the social media community," he tells the crowd. "I want companies to take more chances...and to take more chances, you really have to have confidence in what you're doing."

Lots of interesting panels, particularly geared for helping companies find their way through the social media maze. But with social media increasingly becoming the e-mail of tomorrow, everybody needs to understand the nuances. Keep checking back in this space throughout the day for updates and tidbits from the conference.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More Facebook changes are coming

If you use the "boxes" tab on your Facebook page, you'd better get in there and move your stuff. (Pull up your profile. If you see a tab at the top that says "Boxes," then I'm talking to you). The Facebook guys say they're eliminating the boxes tab as part of changes they're making to sites the week of Aug. 23. If you're a "Boxes" user, you should have gotten a message from them by now.

I suspect most people don't use the boxes tab. (One of my Facebook buddies just sent out a post saying he always thought the boxes tab was "dumb. Really dumb. Good riddance.)"
But some folks do use it, especially businesses with Fan pages. The Observer's Facebook page, for instance, uses the boxes tab to host polls, discussion boards and RSS feeds of news stories. And Facebook has sent us a nice little message saying our boxes tab is going the way of the dinosaurs.

Customized boxes on the left hand side of the page (often favored by fan pages) will also be going away. What do you think? Good changes, bad changes, or is this one time when a Facebook change brings nothing but a shrug?

And this public service announcement:

Calling all bloggers! Steve Gunn, an editor at the Observer, is looking for Charlotte area bloggers for an upcoming project. He is especially looking for bloggers who focus on some aspect of public life in the area, such as neighborhood news, culture, food, nightlife, sports, politics or religion. Let him know about your blog today or get more details:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Need work? Tech jobs booming in Charlotte

We hear a lot these days about how the economy's in the tank. Anybody with a job need only look around at the empty cubicles in the office to see how true that is. But not all employment sectors are struggling., a job search website for technology professionals, says its job postings in Charlotte are up 130 percent this year.

Go to the site and you'll see over a thousand help-wanted ads for tech jobs in the Queen City, from analysts to programmers to developers . While overall unemployment nationally stands at 9.5 percent, it's just 4.5 percent in the tech sector, says Senior Vice President Tom Silver. While the broader picture's still not great," he said. "the demand for individuals with specific technical skills at companies like Google, companies like Oracle, companies like Microsoft, they're all hiring."

Tech companies that put projects on hold during the downturn are starting to crank them up again, he explained. He surmised that Charlotte might be seeing such a big increase because it's a relatively small tech jobs market and a hiring spree by one or two companies could cause a significant percentage bump.

My thought: if you've got a kid in high school or college, do whatever you have to to get them to take computer science courses. Silver, dad to a 19-year-old college kid, says he sure is.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Internet-less in North Carolina?

I am wondering: in this age of social networks and instant digital everything, could it be possible that someone could be living life without the internet? No Google, no eBay, no Amazon, nothing. (Not because they're philosophically opposed, but because it's financially or physically impossible to access it).

It seems almost unthinkable, but I was just looking at videos shot in rural North Carolina by a public-interest group called Internet for Everyone that made me think it might be possible.
In the videos, people in economically struggling counties like Pembroke and Person describe how they struggle to help children with their homework research using slow old dial-up connections. Is it possible, I wonder, that somewhere out there, even dial-up's a luxury?

Just wondering...If anybody knows of someone for whom that's true, let me know. I suspect there's a story in there somewhere!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Charlotte's new AT&T Wi-Fi hotzone sparking questions

The groundbreaking new Wi-Fi "hotzone" AT&T launched in Charlotte on Monday is sparking questions from uptown Charlotte folks anxious to know if they're in the zone or not. Considering all the complaints we hear nationally and locally about people frustrated by AT&T's congested 3G network, it's just smart business for the carrier to give mobile customers an alternative entry ramp to the Web.

AT&T says the hotzone, a sort of a regular Wi-Fi hotspot on steroids, covers an area running along South Brevard Street from the NASCAR Hall of Fame to East Trade. One reader in Fourth Ward, which would seem to be outside the zone, said he saw AT&T workers installing a small tower at 8th and Poplar. He wondered if maybe Fourth Ward might be in the hotzone too.

The folks at AT&T say they can't provide a map of the hotzone, but note that the best way to know if you're in it is to simply turn the Wi-Fi feature on on your phone. When you're in range of the hotzone, the phone will automatically jump from the 3G network onto the hotzone. Here's how to make sure it's on:

  • First, activate Wi-Fi on your phone.
  • Once you are in range of the AT&T Wi-Fi hotzone, select "attwifi" from the list of available networks. Most AT&T smartphones will automatically connect and authenticate on the AT&T Wi-Fi network.
  • Then launch your browser to access the Web.
  • After you've connected to an AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot the first time, the next time you’re within range and launch your browser, you will be automatically logged on.
  • For more information on how to connect your specific device to Wi-Fi, visit

Monday, July 26, 2010

AT&T bringing wi-fi "hotzone" to uptown Charlotte

If you frequent uptown Charlotte and use AT&T's network for mobile communication, here's some excellent news: AT&T today is announcing that it has created a Wi-Fi "hotzone" uptown. The zone will provide coverage along South Brevard Street from the area near the NASCAR Hall of Fame plaza to East Trade Street. It will also be available for riders waiting to use the light rail trains.

It's only the second such project nationally for AT&T, which is using Wi-Fi to supplement its mobile broadband coverage in areas with what it calls "consistently high 3G traffic and mobile data use." (The first was in New York city's Times Square in May. A Third zone will be rolled out in Chicago in the coming weeks).

AT&T has struggled to keep up with soaring data usage by iPhones, netbooks, iPads and other internet-enabled devices. But it may be on to something -- use of the Times Square hotspot has proven better than expected.

"Our first AT&T Wi-Fi hotzone in New York City has received praise from our customers, and we're excited to introduce this Wi-Fi solution in Charlotte," AT&T senior vice president Angie Wiskocil said in a statement. "With these pilot AT&T Wi-Fi hotzones, we're examining new ways to use a combination of our Wi-Fi and 3G networks to deliver the best possible mobile broadband experience."

Cynthia Marshall, president of AT&T's North Carolina operations, added: "This is further evidence of our continuing commitment to invest in North Carolina and bring the latest communications technology to this state."

AT&T customers, is this welcome news? Or would you have liked to see the company take a different path for improving your experience on its network?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top 10 things people want to know about Charlotte

The folks at the search engine just sent me their top 10 most asked questions about Charlotte. My takeaway: We've got a lot of newcomers looking for basic info on the area, a lot of sports nuts, and a lot of pre-teen girls dying to see His Hairness, Justin Bieber. Here are the top questions, along with's answers:
Top Questions Asked about Charlotte on
1. What county is Charlotte, North Carolina in?
Charlotte, North Carolina is located in Mecklenburg County.
2. What is the population of Charlotte, North Carolina?
The population in Charlotte is approximately 756,912.
3. Who owns the Charlotte Bobcats?
Hall of Fame basketball player, Michael Jordan, is the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.
4. What is there to do in Charlotte?
Charlotte has something for everyone, from major sporting events to historic Carolina charm. Charlotte also boasts major shopping centers like SouthPark Mall and Concord Mills, as well as "NoDa" (Arts District north of Uptown), where you'll find an assortment of cool galleries and a hot lineup of live bands performing almost every evening.
5. What is the closest beach to Charlotte?
The closest beaches to Charlotte, North Carolina are Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina, and the Isle of Palms, Folly Beach and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. The nearest beach would be around a 4 hour drive from Charlotte, which is about 178 miles from Myrtle Beach.
6. Why is Charlotte called the Queen City?
The city is named for Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in Germany, who became the bride of England's King George III. In 1768, founders named it "Charlotte Town" in an attempt to win favor with the crown.
7. Will the Carolina Panthers be Super Bowl material this season?
Most experts put them in the middle of the pack, with odds of winning the Super Bowl ranging from 30/1 to 55/1.
8. Are Justin Bieber concert tickets sold out in Charlotte?
Tickets for the August 8th show at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte are sold out. However, there are still plenty of tickets available via third party resale sites.
9. How much are tickets to the NASCAR Hall of Fame?
Adult tickets are $19.95. Tickets for children are $12.95.
10. When is the next Charlotte Restaurant Week?
Charlotte Restaurant Week is Friday, July 16 - Sunday, July 25, 2010.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Facebook to users: How'd we change your life?

Facebook is expected to hit the 500-million user mark sometime this week, a milestone that's long been expected but one the social networking juggernaut plans to celebrate by asking users to share their stories of how Facebook has affected their lives. You can even share yours with Facebook using a special form they've set up, and the company says it plans to share the best stories with its entire audience. While it's still derided by skeptics as everything from a privacy risk to a waste of time to a destroyer of face-to-face interaction, it's getting harder and harder to deny that social networks like Facebook are revolutionizing the way people communicate. If you doubt it, just drop in later this week when the networking group Social Media Charlotte holds its monthly breakfast at Mez uptown. A panel of local business owners will talk about how they've used social networks like Facebook to build their brand and customer base. There are issues of real concern that the rise of social networks present -- none, perhaps, loom larger than ensuring the proper handling of people's private information. Still, there's no putting this particular genie back in the bottle, I'm afraid. There's even a Facebook movie about to hit theaters, for pete's sake.

What do you think? Has the advent of social networks like Facebook done more good than harm? Has anything happened to you on Facebook that's given you an experience or "story" worth sharing with 500 million people?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Social media lovers celebrate "the revolution"

The popular social networking blog Mashable has declared today Social Media Day, and techie-types across the country are planning Tweetups to celebrate, as Mashable puts it, "the revolution of media becoming social." Locals are planning a lunch at noon at the Area Fifteen conference center in the Optimist Park neighborhood just north of center-city Charlotte.

Whether you think sites like Facebook and YouTube and Twitter are a bunch of crock, they are having an undeniable impact on life and communications today. Check out these statistics, collected by researchers with Experian Simmons:

  • Two-thirds of Americans now use social media sites, up about 230 percent from penetration levels just three years ago.
  • It's not just kids. Some 41 percent of online adults ages 50 or older visit social networking sites monthly.
  • Nearly half of the people who visit social networking sites say they do so multiple times per day.
Individual networks will come and go, but the millions of people sharing their pictures, videos, Web links and unnecessary random musings over the Internet aren't going to give those privileges up anytime soon. What do you think? Are social networks just a fad? Or have they changed the way you communicate?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Social media: Are businesses making money?

Businesses are scrambling to get on social networks, but some skeptics are wondering if anybody's actually making money from them. The Wall Street Journal reports that a study Forrester Research conducted for the the National Retail Federation said only 7 percent of retailers surveyed cited social networks as one of their top three most effective tools for gaining new customers. (On the other hand, 90 percent cited marketing through search engines like Google). It's in keeping with a common theme I've been hearing from people who are frustrated that, despite all the buzz and the eyeballs social networks generate, reducing it to dollars and cents and measurable impact for companies is hard. It's the old ROI question -- return on investment -- that the proponents of social media marketing keep getting from prospective clients.

It's not a new question for Jason Keath. The Charlotte native is the founder of Social Fresh, a successful social media marketing conference that began in Charlotte and is now held in six cities. The reason, he says, is simple: people still aren't sure what they're doing in the space. "Most people are not seeing results because it's so new. They're still in the educating, 101 phase, how do I use these tools...But there are a few people who are the early adopters who are seeing results."

He points to Starbucks, which recently used social media to drive its Free Pastry Day campaign and brought a million people into its stores. Since you had to print out a coupon from Facebook or Twitter, or show your coupon on your mobile device, the results were easy to track. And, most importantly, the promotion also required you to buy a drink in order to get the free pastry. Starbucks' profit margin on the coffee likely more than made up for the cost of giving away the pastry. Smart. "Businesses that are investing in social media in smart ways -- they're making money," Keath says.

And so, I imagine, is Social Fresh. The conference has tapped into the seemingly insatiable appetite businesses have to try and ride the social media wave. Keath, who recently moved to New York City, says he's had serious requests from business people and marketers in 40 other cities, asking that he bring the one-day Social Fresh conference to them. His new Big Apple base gives him more networking opportunities, he says, but Charlotte and its growing business market remains important to him. Tickets for year's Social Fresh Charlotte conference, to be held August 16, are already selling briskly enough that he's thinking it could prove his biggest event yet. This year's event, he says, will have more "drill down" topics, taking attendees beyond the basics to application-type issues such as how to ramp up social media without adding staff, and forming strategy for using social media monitoring and management tools. (Registration prices jump July 15, but even with its pricey $300-range tickets, last year's Social Fresh event in Charlotte sold out).

Keath believes as the gap closes between social media's capabilities and users' skill levels, we'll see more winning campaigns and less skepticism. He's probably right. But as Web 2.0 evolves, networks and concepts rise and fall so quickly that it's hard to tell what's coming next. We're headed for territory none of us has ever visited. It's a thrilling thought. But it's also scary. Just ask anybody in the newspaper industry.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is the social web killing e-mail?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg created a bit of a fuss in the digital world recently by declaring that "e-mail is probably going away," thanks to teens' obsession with texting and social networks. Given Facebook's well-chronicled drive to "socialize" Web communications, she's obviously not an unbiased observer. Still, it's a provocative question that people in the ever-evolving tech world have been asking for a while. It formed the topic of this morning's monthly breakfast meeting of Social Media Charlotte, a club comprised largely of social networking aficionados, marketers and technology buffs.

Panelists Greg Cangialosi, Adam Holden-Bache and Jeffrey Cohen agreed that e-mail likely isn't dying anytime soon, given how heavily companies and their workers depend on it. What is happening, Cangialosi said, is that marketers are figuring out how to use e-mail and social networks in tandem. For those of you who regard all advertising e-mails as spam, that's probably bad news. Cangialosi said the practice is still in its infancy, but savvy marketers are figuring out how they can pull your e-mail address and other personal data from sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, and how they can use that to fine-tune their marketing efforts. Maybe they overlay their e-mail list with Facebook and find so many Facebookers that they decide it makes sense to set up a fan page. If you've got a huge following on Twitter, maybe you get a different e-mail from other folks. Perhaps even a nice little giveaway prize in hopes you'll extend the company's message and reach by re-tweeting it to your followers.

Like so much of what's happening with Web 2.0, though, it remains to be seen whether e-mail has a future on the increasingly socialized Web. Will we all talk to each other via Facebook or whatever comes after it? Or will it always be the case that you can't get access to anything on the Web without inputting your e-mail address? Stay tuned...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Father's Day: what it means to me

So, it's Father's Day, and hopefully, all the Good Dads out there are in for a lot more than ugly ties. If by any chance you're just curling up and doing some net-surfing today, I'd recommend you check you a site suggested by my buddy, ad-man and social media maven Jim Mitchem.

He pointed me to the online magazine for The Good Men Project, an initiative aiming to start a national dialogue about what manhood means today. As a guy raising two daughters, I can tell you a few of the first images that brings to mind for me: Friday night pizza, re-learning Algebra, mall runs, pool trips, the triumph of the rare perfect dish of baked macaroni and cheese, proving that men can do hair too (sort of), and realizing that, oddly enough, even "America's Next Top Model" can make for compelling TV. (Those girls really need to eat, though).

On a deeper level, it means realizing the legacy that survives me won't be the millions of words I've put into print over what's now been two decades of newspaper journalism. It won't be my college degrees, or any awards I've won. It will be two beautiful women -- hopefully happy, hopefully well-adjusted, hopefully married to sane and sensible men, both peering at the world through the same deep-set eyes my father left me. It will be whatever I poured into them in the time I've had with them.

Given what I see and know of my girls, I'm more than OK with that. Happy Fathers Day guys!

Androids on the March -- Can they overtake the iPhone?

I've been reading for weeks now the breathless news reports about how Android phone sales are outpacing the iPhone, but I haven't had a chance to see up-close what all the Android fuss is about. Now I have. For the past few days, I've been test-driving the HTC Incredible, one of the newer models in a growing stable of Androids. Bottom line: I'm impressed. (But then again, I own a Blackberry Curve 8330, so hey...). Still, the Incredible is a seriously nice device. Light (4.59 ounces), fits in the pocket nicely, and the resolution of its 3.7-inch HD touchscreen makes my poor little hard-working dinosaur of a Blackberry look like yesterday's news -- in grainy sepia tones. As someone who types for a living, I tend to want physical keyboards, but the Incredible's HTC Sense touchscreen is perhaps the first phone that makes that a non-issue for me. The Web browser also has one of the most helpful predictive typing features I've seen.

The battery life left much to be desired, though. Running simultaneous apps is great, but the downside apparently comes when your battery can barely make it through a day. (My Blackberry can go two days easily uncharged). Still, that doesn't seem to be hurting sales. Verizon's Web site says customers trying to buy it now online can't expect shipment until July 16. And that's all before the next big Android, the Droid X, is expected to be unveiled during a press event on June 23 -- the day before the iPhone 4 hits stores. The X appears to be drawing even better first-look reviews than the Incredible -- at least from the supergeeks at Engadget.

Apple, the king of digital media, is finally getting a run for its iPhone money -- and is responding like a champ. The iPhone 4, coming out June 24, boasts so many nice tweaks (videoconferencing capability doesn't hurt) that people are almost literally beating down the Apple Store doors to get in line for them. So many pre-orders have gone in that Charlotteans who have reservations to buy one aren't sure they'll be honored come D-Day. Some say they're prepared to camp out in front of SouthPark Mall if necessary to get in the Apple Store early.

The Apple vs. Android war is officially on. And you need only take a look at this wireless industry chart to see that we're talking about the kind of upward-spiraling revenue stream any corporation would fight to the death to dominate. So, we'll see what happens.

Who do you think will end up on top?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Internet privacy and safety: Just myths?

So, I just had a rather sobering conversation with one of our resident IT experts here at the newspaper. He was in the process of adding Tweetdeck to my laptop (no administrative privileges for me!) when he said something to the effect of, "Well, now you can access your Twitter thingy..." That made me curious, so I asked him what he thinks of social networking. He laughed and said he's never going on any social network. Too dangerous. Too many hackers out there. Actually, he said it's not just social networks. He won't put any personal information on computers if he can help it -- he won't even do online banking, despite the obvious convenience factor. I noted that the banks and social networks have security controls, and they seem to keep people protected well enough, despite the occasional hiccup. His response: most people putting their personal information online will be fine, but the few who get theirs hijacked are in for a nightmarish experience. He'd rather not take the chance at all.

I know there are others out there like him (a few make a point of telling me -- repeatedly -- how pointless social networks are). But part of us will always recoil at the notion of sharing previously private information over a public transom. I still remember thinking the Observer's parent company had lost its collective mind years ago when it decreed the end of paper paychecks and made us handle all of our pay data via a secure online site. Now I input without a second thought.

And consider this: more institutions are asking you to do your business with them online. It saves them money, it helps the environment (no paper to throw away) and it offers you convenience. The era of cloud computing and the socially-connected Web is upon us.

It appears that, whether everybody likes it or not, it's here to stay.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What's up with Twitter?

Ok, Twitter's getting on my nerves.

Tried to get on it again this morning and got the old Fail Whale for what seems like the third time in as many days, announcing that Twitter is over capacity.

Apparently the problems could continue today, since Twitter's status update site issued the following message this morning: "We're seeing periodic high rates of errors on This is the result of testing and maintenance. We expect our maintenance to end at approximately 7:30" a.m.

When I tried to log on about 9:20, though, I got greeted by the Fail Whale, so apparently the problems aren't going to end when maintenance does. I know the site's been struggling with all the World Cup soccer traffic and its own internal architectural problems, but part of what makes people like Twitter is the ease of communication -- have a thought, blast it out there. Simple.

If it's not going to be that easy, or if these high error rates become a more regular part of the Twitter experience, the site that helped revolutionize digital communications could find itself an afterthought.

Twitter users out there, are you having the same frustrations?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Gastonia native's obit: check out my Facebook page

Edith Anne Shuford Summey died May 1 of complications from open heart surgery, but judging from the obituary that ran in Sunday's Observer, the 69-year-old Gastonia native had a blast of a life. She loved scuba diving so much that she had two obit pictures -- one standard "dressed up" picture, and a second of her underwater in full scuba gear.

And, in keeping with the spirit of the times, her loved ones used her obit to invite everyone to check out her Facebook page, where you can click on a link to her website, which displays tons of pictures from her scuba-diving trips all over the world.

Looking at her pictures -- yes, those are really big sharks she's shooting -- you come away thinking: "What a great life!" And what a great use of social networks. Sharing at its best.

I sent her a friend request, just for the heck of it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

New Facebook privacy settings rolling in

So after all the fuss and furor over Facebook's privacy policies, the new privacy controls are rolling into users' Facebook pages. The alert hit my Facebook page yesterday, letting me know I had access to the new controls, and I finally got around to checking them out today.

My first impression? More of the controls have indeed been more conveniently grouped on a short series of screens, just as Facebook promised. But when you get right down to clicking through them, they didn't feel much different in substance from the old options. I also couldn't help but notice that Facebook's recommended settings, which would allow "everyone" to see my status updates, photos, posts, bio and family and relationships information, were a lot more public than the ones I'd previously customized. (I'd locked down everything except "bio and favorite quotations" so that only my friends could see).

Still, having all the information laid out in a more easily digestible format made me a little more comfortable with sharing, so I left the "instant personalization" feature on. (I'm nosy, I guess. I wouldn't mind seeing what my friends are finding interesting on sites I tend to visit).

I think because I labored through the old settings to customize them, perhaps that left me with less "new" to do when the new ones hit. And for whatever it's worth, I think Mark Zuckerberg's right -- people will share more eventually. But only if it's their choice, and only if they feel they're being dealt with honestly.

Have the new settings showed up on your page yet? Do they make you feel any more secure about what you're sharing and what people can see?