Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Could you give up social networking?

To those who don't do social networks like Twitter and Facebook, the rest of this is going to sound bizarre. But to the hardcore networkers out there, here's an interesting question: Could you go on a social network "fast" and shut down all of your services?

One blogger is doing just that, abstaining from all of the social networking candy for Lent. As Sarah Morgan correctly notes in her blog post announcing her little experiment, it's a bit of an exaggeration to call it a fast (she's still blogging). Nevertheless, she's apparently been at it for weeks.

It's hard to explain to the uninitiated, but that's no small accomplishment. Once your social networks reach critical mass, brimming with all the interesting people and ideas you love, it's like having a personalized, constantly-shifting window on the world. It's digital crack. (If you've ever had your significant other give you the "put that @#$%&* thing down while I'm talking to you" glare, yeah, I'm talking to you) .

Seeing as how it's Easter week and all, maybe this would be a good time to try Sarah's experiment. You know, give yourself more time for silent contemplation, away from all the chatter on the networks.

Too bad I can't try it with you. I use 'em for work.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Is Twitter just a "big wet kiss?"

So a friend of mind comes over this morning and says Twitter etiquette is starting to annoy him.

Too much of the service gets cluttered up by "big wet kiss" posts, in his opinion. He pointed in particular to people thanking each other for retweeting them. I had to plead guilty to a different Twitter tradition that he might find annoying. I like to tweet a shoutout to people after I see them at a meeting: ("Great seeing so-and-so at xyw today...") I know why I'm doing it -- to build relationships (Who doesn't like a public shoutout?) and because I like seeing such messages myself. Helps me feel in the loop to know who's hanging out together. Still, I always wonder if somebody out there's going, "ok...and I why would I care to know how your stupid meeting went?"

What do you think? Should all the "thank you's" and "good to see ya's" be banished to direct messages only? Or are they a necessary part of Twitter's community-building ecology?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The business of social networking

Someone raised an interesting question today during a Social Media Charlotte lunch event: With so many people jumping into social networking and calling themselves experts, how's a busy CEO to tell if the guy or gal pitching him on a potential social media campaign really knows their stuff?

After all, chances are good the CEO barely knows Facebook from Twitter, and has no idea how to use either to turn a buck.

Lyell Petersen, a longtime Twitterer who helped organize today's lunch at Libretto's Pizza in Ballantyne, offered one quick clue. "If they have the phrase social media expert on their resume," he said, "that goes in the trash right away."

Petersen and Rich Tucker, who handles social networking for CruiseDeals.com, offered several other tips:

  • It's not just about getting you set up on Facebook and Twitter. Ask if the person knows the pitfalls of social networks and can give specific tips on things to avoid. Petersen, for example, noted that companies are investing time, money and resources in big social networking campaigns, but they don't own the database behind that 10,000-fan Facebook page they end up building. "That's a huge risk," he said.
  • Look at what the person's actually doing on social networks. What kind of content are they creating? If they don't leave an impressive digital vapor trail behind, you might want to keep looking.
  • Can they show you real case studies of businesses that have had success doing what they're proposing that you do?
Good tips. CEOs aren't the only ones who should take note.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Healthcare debate rages on in social networks

The ink's barely dry on the historic healthcare reform bill passed by the U.S. House last night, but debate over what comes next rages onward this morning on social networks.

If a quick Twitter search of the #HCR hashtag this morning's any indication, Charlotte-area people supporting the bill are ecstatic. A couple representative tweets:

Reesemjc: #HCR Yes We Can!!! Yes We Can!!! RT @BarackObama: Yes we can.

Creativecje: #HCR bill to provide tax credits to businesses to help pay for employee healthcare. Hopefully this will benefit employers in CLT.

Those opposed to the bill are fired up, to put it mildly.

Scottieiland: I am so damn mad I can't see straight.

Just_trouble: Horrible news on #HCR we are all doomed!

Conservatives using the hastag #ConsNC retweeted N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper's office number and asked people to urge him to challenge the legislation in court.

NBenson59 wrote: "I called and the lady knew nothing about this. We need to keep calling ROY!"

Other opponents voiced sadness. When WBT radio announcer Stacey Simms (@staceysimms) tweeted that the station was polling people on it, twitter user Rnadvocate responded: "Liberty died last night. Met with thunderous applause."

With so much passion out there, don't be surprised to see the debate spill over into your social networks, if it hasn't already. One thing I've noticed: social network "friends" from opposite ends of the political spectrum tend to be pretty civil on Facebook and Twitter. When one side gets heated up, the other tends to politely go quiet and let them vent. Or am I wrong about that?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bloggers and the Future of Journalism

I had some interesting discussions yesterday with some local bloggers about social networks and new media during their monthly "Future of Journalism" bloggers' roundtable over in NoDa.

I got there a little late (ok, a lot late) but still caught some interesting discussions about the way the media landscape is evolving. Chatting with these folks -- most, if not all of them, in their 20s -- I got the sense that they and their laptop-loving contemporaries are quietly taking control of this country, one mouse click at a time.

Desiree Kane, a CLT Blog writer, was telling me about how her generation grew up on social networks, adopting old AOL instant messaging systems as kids, long before their parents stumbled onto Facebook. While the rest of us are just getting wind of location-based social networks like Foursquare, she's already burned out on it.

As painful as the rise of blogs and social networks has been for "old media" like newspapers, the creative ferment is fascinating to watch. Yes, people do talk about what they had for lunch on Facebook and Twitter (or dinner -- caesar salad and risotto, for one of my FB friends recently). But it's more, too.

Kane, for instance, credits her network on LinkedIn with helping her land a job. And she carefully monitors how her name turns up in Google searches. That used to be simple narcissism. Now it's "search engine optimization," and "monitoring your personal brand."

To the social media skeptics out there, I'd say be careful. The future -- your future -- might just be whizzing right by you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Charlotteans not keen on Facebook's location feature

When news broke earlier this week that Facebook may soon let users share their real-time location with their friends, the news didn't go over well with some of Observer readers.

"Absolutely not," one Facebooker responded on the Observer's FB page.

"A stalker's dream come true," said another.

"No way in Hell!!!" volunteered another.

Geo-location is the hot new "next big thing" in social networks, but it definitely raises people's red flags about privacy. Still, you have to wonder if time -- and exposure to the potential benefits -- won't soften those attitudes.

Five years ago, many people would have been horrified by the notion of putting their personal pictures on the Internet. Now it seems like everybody on Facebook's doing it. They just needed to get used to the basic concept, and to see the benefits of sharing. (Who doesn't get a voyeuristic kick out of flipping through their friends' pictures?) I have to think a similar evolution is in store for the concept of location sharing. After all, people on Foursquare, the hottest of the location-sharing social networks, are already reaping benefits.

One user told me how he went to the mall and announced his arrival on Foursquare, then noticed a friend happened to be there, too, so they met up. Pretty cool, no? So, it may take a bit for some folks -- myself included -- to get completely comfortable with location sharing. But I have a feeling that day isn't as far off as some might think.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tech futurist sees "supercities" on the rise

As Charlotte digs out of the recession and banking crisis, one of the nation’s leading digital-age thinkers is headed to town to talk about how the city can survive in what he sees as a world dominated by rising “supercities.”

Richard Saul Wurman, an architect who taught at N.C. State University in the early 1970s, rocketed to fame as founder of the TED conference, a high-profile thought-fest in California that draws big-name speakers ranging from Microsoft’s Bill Gates to “Avatar” director James Cameron.
In advance of his scheduled appearances in Charlotte on April 7 and 8, Wurman spoke to the Observer via Skype call Wednesday from his Rhode Island home. He wanted to talk about what he sees as one of the biggest trends of the 21st century: the notion that a handful of large, increasingly connected cities are dominating global affairs.
Nations, he believes, are shrinking in importance compared to huge “supercities” like Los Angeles, New York, Moscow and Toyko, where an increasingly large percentage of the earth’s population lives. He’s working on an international project called “19.20.21” that uses 19 major cities as case studies of the impact this urban population boom is having on the planet.
(The rest of the project’s title refers to the fact that some 20 million people live in these cities, and they are dominating the 21st century).
“Fifty-two percent of all the people on earth live in cities. That little tipping point happened about two years ago,” he said. “The world, basically, as far as marketing, education, culture finance, invention, healthcare, is made up of 40 cities in America, 16 in Europe and 48 in Asia.
“Those cities are the world. Charlotte’s a city and they should join the non-existent league of cities.”
He was a little less clear about how that happens.
He says leaders of any government need to give the public truthful, easy-to-understand information so they can see the contours of the challenges ahead. That’s difficult, he added, because cities around the globe don’t have a uniform way of defining themselves or sharing information.
He’s working, through his “19.20.21” project, to change that.
“Understanding precedes action. Right now we’re taking action without understanding,” he said. “I’m not trying to make better cities. I’m trying to understand them.”
He no longer runs TED, having turned it over years back to the nonprofit Sapling Foundation. He said while he tried to make it the best conference in the world, the foundation expanded its vision in hopes of changing the world.
Both, he said, are good objectives, and he’s proud of what’s happening with TED.
He’ll give two talks in Charlotte in association with Salum International Resources, a Huntersville consulting firm run by his friend Carlos Salum. His talk topics: “Charlotte as a Learning Community” and “Understanding is Power.”
“I will enjoy coming back to my old state,” he said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of expectation built by Carlos. And I sure would like to come and see the person he has hyped. I hope people don’t have awkward disappointment.”
If his audience on Wednesday is any guide, I doubt it. The small group of people who sat in on the conference call lingered afterward, discussing the ideas he’d raised.
That’s exactly what Wurman aims for, his friend Salum said.
For more information, visit Salum's Web site.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Panthers' news breaks on Twitter

You gotta love the Twitter.

It gives anybody with an internet connection a megaphone to the world. And in my line of work, we very rarely get mad at people for blurting their honest, unvarnished thoughts out loud. So, when Carolina Panthers player Chris Harris tweeted his displeasure at teammate Brad Hoover's release yesterday, that was how his more than 1,000 followers, and later the whole city, learned about it.

Want to see what else the Panthers are saying? Here's a few of their Twitter handles:

Jonathan Stewart: @jonathanstewart1

Chris Harris: @ChrisHarrisNFL
Everette Brown: @EveretteBrown
Corvey Irvin: @CorveyIrvin
Jon Beason: @jonbeason

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

So you think you can spell?

Every year, the Observer hosts a spelling bee for local students.

We thought it would be fun to let adults try some of the words the students might be asked to spell. So, with the help of Steve Sherron from ballantynescoop.com, we’ll be videotaping people spelling away on Thursday, March 4, from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Dilworth Coffee in Ballantyne Village.

Drop by at any point and we’ll put you on camera to test your skills. Some spellers will end up on charlotteobserver.com. I’ll be your genial host and wordmaster, and I’m looking forward to meeting you. An Observer editor will be on hand to talk to you, too.

See ya there!

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Best Bum in America?"

I feel like the last Charlottean online to know about this, but what's the deal with this Facebook page for William "Chilly Willy" Major, the panhandler known to frequent areas around East Boulevard and Central Avenue?

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that, in the age of social media, somebody decided it'd be cool to make up a Facebook page for a well-known panhandler. But I think I'm entitled to go "what the?!" when the page garners more than 5,000 fans!

Looking at the stuff on there, I found myself laughing out loud at one point, only to quickly add, "This is so wrong!" People comment on their encounters with Major, an alcoholic.

Wrote one guy: "Just saw Chilly @ gas station on Central Ave. He was singing " I'm Chilly Willy, I'm Chilly Willy" while in the bathroom!!!!! Funny S**t!!!"

There's YouTube videos on the site of Major, with titles such as "Best Bum Ever" and "Greatest Drinker of All Time."

Opined one commenter: "His drinking ability is super cool."

Wrote another: "I think that there is a small part in all of us that would like to be like Willy (go where you want, do what you want, say what you want), and at the same time is scared to death of ending up like him. He is our collective avatar."

Cheryl Clawson Frasier, who identified herself as a therapist, didn't find the page amusing: "This man has severe mental issues...I am horrified of those of you who record him and laugh," she wrote.

The whole thing leaves me with a ton of questions: Who created the page? Were they making fun of him, or making a tribute to him? Did Major give permission? Would it make any difference if he didn't?

If anybody knows what the deal is with this page, clue the late guy in here. Just curious.