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 @Facebook.com 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.