Friday, May 20, 2011

Why you should be on LinkedIn

Wall Street's all abuzz right now over the monster initial public offering of LinkedIn, the social network aimed at business professionals that until now had been considered something of the ugly stepsister of the social networking world. All the "cool" folks in the tech vanguard, your future Mark Zuckerbergs and Larry Pages, were chatting on Twitter. Everybody and their grandma was posting pictures of their cats and vacations on Facebook. And LinkedIn was, well, that site you joined because somebody at work said you should. And then you checked in once a month, if that. It was far more network than social.

That's changing. And I think that's why you saw Wall Street assign a monster $9 billion valuation to LinkedIn, the highest since Google went public seven years ago. The main reason why LinkedIn looks like a smart bet, at least from where I'm sitting, is LinkedIn Groups. I never checked my page much until I joined several journalism groups about a week ago. Suddenly, I find myself stopping in much more often for insights from colleagues around the country and the world on how best to incorporate online and new media tools into journalistic work.

LinkedIn's true potential value, I think, lies in its Groups. Who doesn't want to shine at work? Who among us doesn't always have the sneaking suspicion someone else in the field knows something valuable that we haven't heard about? Pretty much all of us. So, if you're already on LinkedIn, click the "Groups" tab on your homepage and then click "Groups You May Like" to get some suggestions. Or, use the option to start one yourself. One of the many local groups, Charlotte Business Professionals, lists more than 9,000 members.

A few cautions:

  • Don't join more groups than you have time to follow -- notifications from 12 groups will drive you batty.

  • You'll find interesting people in the groups. People you'll wish you knew. Don't try to join their personal networks just because you saw their profile. Some likely will find it annoying -- unless you can send them a really persuasive message introducing yourself and your reason for wanting to link to them. You can "follow" them instead (still creepy sounding, I know) and keep posted on what they're saying, without begging them to join their network.

  • And in the same vein, don't accept random LinkedIn requests from strangers -- unless they offer a credible reason why you shouldn't view them as a nuisance to be flicked away. I don't know this for certain, but I suspect spammers are starting to infiltrate the networks.

  • Don't integrate your Twitter feeds into your LinkedIn page if you're going to be tweeting crazy personal stuff that might make your Twitter buddies crack up, while professional counterparts on LinkedIn are cringing or just wondering if you've lost your marbles.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to shoot video that doesn't suck

Steve Stockman, director of commercials and films (including Sally Field's 2006 terminal-disease chucklefest "Two Weeks") gets the award for Most Entertaining Tech Book Title to Cross My Desk Recently. "How To Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck" -- that's his new book -- isn't just memorably titled, it also seems to be just what so many have been longing for: practical, non-technical help for all those wannabe YouTube stars clogging the internet with lame videos. (I'll admit, I've contributed to the problem a time or two. But to my credit, I did NOT go to YouTube with my 15-minute iPhone video of my 10-year-old starring in the church Easter play. You can thank me later).

Won't try to summarize the whole book, but Stockman offers a 12-pack of beginner tips that might make your next family vacation video a little less excruciating:

  1. Think in shots. (In other words, shoot deliberately. Don't just run the camera nonstop, like I did at said Easter play).
  2. Don't shoot till you see the whites of their (your subjects') eyes.
  3. Keep your shots under 10 seconds long.
  4. Zoom with your feet (not with the zoom function -- it produces shakier video).
  5. Stand still! Stop fidgeting! And no zooming during shots!
  6. Keep the light behind you.
  7. Turn off the camera's digital effects (leave "night-vision," posterization and such for the editing process).
  8. Focus on what really interests you.
  9. Don't use amateurish titles.
  10. Keep your video short. (The average time spent looking at a web page, he notes, is 15 seconds).
  11. Use an external microphone.
  12. Take the quality pledge (Pretty funny, but long. It begins by asking you to "promise not to inflict lame video on my friends, relatives, customers, or complete strangers who might find it on YouTube because I put something about sex in the title.").
So, there you go. A quick guide for shooting non-sucky video.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Texting while driving dangers powerfully depicted in AT&T video

This video is 10 minutes long. That's an eternity by the attention-deficit standards of the Web. But it's worth taking the time to watch, especially if you have a text-addicted teenager, are a text-addicted teenager, or love a text-addicted teenager (like my daughter). An AT&T spokesman tells me the company has sent this documentary about the dangers of texting while driving to every N.C. high school. I hope they all show it. The documentary, called "The Last Text," is powerful, sobering, and yes, sad. It will make you (or your teen) think twice the next time the cellphone buzzes with an incoming text while you're behind the wheel.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Area man charged in $200,000 eBay scam

There are so many internet schemes out there it's hard to keep up. But this alleged eBay scam caught my eye last week, if only because it involved the federal court here in Charlotte, and a routine type eBay crime that could snare any unsuspecting buyer.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Charlotte last week filed charges against a Barry Alan Younce in connection with what prosecutors described as a fraudulent scheme to sell computers on eBay. They say between March 2005 and September 2006, Younce used the user name of "sq20" to post ads on eBay saying he had computers for sale. The bill of information prosecutors filed says "he in fact had no intention of providing the merchandise to the potential buyer."

Authorities say on about 252 occasions, he obtained payment by wire transfer or otherwise, but didn't send the equipment. They say Younce engineered one of the transfers at least in part from Caldwell County. Overall, prosecutors say victims lost more than $207,000, some of which Younce refunded, and some of it he kept.

I know many folks use eBay often and love it. But I've always hesitated to buy things there, precisely because of possible situations like this one. I asked the eBay folks for comment, and a spokeswoman sent an e-mail saying:

"eBay has a zero tolerance for criminal activity and we work closely with law enforcement to prosecute anyone who attempts to abuse our services. We are fully committed to creating a safe, fair and enjoyable trading experience for all eBay users while aggressively protecting our users from harm."

She also said people should check out eBay's tips for buying safely through the site.

Caveat emptor, people.