Thursday, December 15, 2011

Charlotte's Top 10 Google searches for 2011

Well, we hate to blow our own company's horn, but Google's annual year-end list of most searched-for terms is out and the Charlotte-specific Top Ten shows "Charlotte Observer" is the most searched-for term for 2011. After several brutal years filled with budget and staffing cuts, unpaid furloughs and the like, it's nice news to get. Just a little nugget of validation that, even though we've got a long haul ahead in transitioning from the old paper-only business model, our online platform is not only keeping us relevant, it's got a little digital swagger going on.

Hats off to all the reporters, editors, photographers and producers who make the magic happen every day!

P.S.: This blog has been dark for a while as I transitioned from reporting on social media to becoming an assistant city editor in charge of crime news and coverage of philanthropy and the environment. It's a lot of work, and leaves little time for writing (and none for reporting), but I'll keep trying to update this blog with interesting social media tidbits that cross my desk from time to time.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Note to Google: Here's what I think about you

For the past couple of days, phone researchers from Ipsos have been calling me. They want to know if I'll do a 20-minute phone survey in which they'll gather my thoughts and impressions about Google. Something about them wanting to survey "leading opinion formers." Calls the accuracy of their research into question, since I've been pretty busy in the past month or so writing more about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools than online and digital stuff. I was so busy that, both times the Ipsos researchers called, I had to put them off because I was busy with a story. I've probably missed my chance to tell Google honchos what I think of them. So, I'll just tell you what I would have told them.

  • I'm liking Google+, but who has time for another social network? Keep integrating it with Gmail and search, and you might worm your way deeper into my digital life.

  • Yes, your search rocks. (But you already know that). A colleague cleaning up her desk the other day went, "Hey, I still have a phone book." I actually laughed. Now I look over at the least-used corner of my desk and see I still have one too -- from 2002.

  • The +1 button, your answer to Facebook's "like" button, isn't necessarily wowing me, especially when it comes to search. I'm so used to typing a search out and expecting the magic Google algorithm to produce the best results that I don't look to see if any of my friends are agreeing with the algorithm by +1-ing pages. Maybe +1 will gain more clout as Google+ pulls more socialization throughout Google's digital ecology.

  • Whatever happened with Google Hotpot, the Yelp-style business review project that was supposed to target some 40,000 Charlotte small businesses? Several business owners called me after this story saying they hadn't been able to get in touch with Google for follow-up. I've seen few Hotpot stickers in the windows of local businesses. Was this a success and you guys are just keeping it low-key, or did it flop?

  • And lastly, don't forget your own motto: "Don't Be Evil." It's hard for people not to fear the ambitions of a company whose market capitalization of nearly $200 billion dwarfs the gross domestic product of your average third-world nation. No matter how kind or humanitarian or noble you guys think you are, the rest of us will always have one eyebrow cocked, suspecting you secretly lust for world domination. (Might this sudden interest in what we think have anything to do with the growing interest of government regulators in your dominance of the search market?). Accept the fact that you don't get to be the quirky "good guys" anymore. Overcompensate. Give tons to charity. Launch a massive college scholarship program to train the next generation of digital engineers. Steer clear of anything that even remotely hints at privacy violations or unfairly stomping smaller competitors. And just realize even all that still won't be enough to ward off every attack. As Wilt Chamberlain so aptly put it: "Nobody roots for Goliath."
That's what I think, for what it's worth. What are you thinking of Google these days?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Google+ or Facebook?

So I've been on Google+ for a little bit now. I'm liking it. I definitely concur with the folks who say it looks like Google might have finally found a firm toehold in the social space. The Google+ circles are much easily to navigate and make much more sense for organizing the people you socialize with than Facebook's clunky friend lists. I've seen some savvy figures in social media saying they're going to dump Facebook for Google+. Might be too early for that, I think.

In any event, local marketing types and other folks who make it their business to stay on top of social media are organizing panel discussions and informal get-togethers to discuss the relative merits of the new social network. They've seen how challenging Facebook marketing can be. They figure they'd better start scouting Google+ now, before it goes from testing to general release. "To be at the forefront of the evolution of a platform gives you a real advantage when it comes time to use that platform for business," says Lyell Petersen, an internet marketing director and familiar face around local social media circles.

He's helping organize a get-together next Thursday at 6 p.m. where people wanting to know more about Google+ can explore and experiment with it together. They're calling it a "Google+ Hack Night" -- not the illegal variety, of course, but hacking in the sense of digging into the features to see what they can do. He's got questions of his own: how does Google+ integrate with the rest of the Google universe? How does your data and information, your Picasa pictures and Gmail contacts, get shared with Google+?

I also see a challenge for the new network: the simple matter of time. We don't have enough of it. How will we squeeze another social task on to-do piles already overflowing with Facebook statuses and Twitter updates and blog posts? That alone gives Google a higher bar to clear than perhaps Facebook confronted in its infancy, when teens and college students were about the only ones on social networks.

I hope Google+ sticks. Competition's a good thing. Maybe it'll even rescue the much-abused and totally degraded word "friend" from the ravages of Facebook.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Anthony verdict sparking jokes on Twitter

We hear all the time about all the good social networks have done. They've been credited with everything from helping overturn repressive dictatorships to reconnecting long-lost friends to changing forever the way information gets shared. When people talk about any negatives, criticism tends to focus on privacy risks inherent in sharing personal information across a public medium.

What we hear less criticism about is the vile behavior this newfound communicative freedom brings out in some of us. You can see a good example right now in a popular hashtag that has been trending this afternoon among Charlotte's Twitter users: #caseyanthonyplaylist. People are making jokes about what songs would be on Anthony's hypothetical iPod playlist now that she's been acquitted of murdering her young daughter. Some of the songs the internet jokesters have suggested: "You Be Killing 'Em," "All I Do is Win" and "Smooth Criminal." Someone suggested "Have You Seen Her" by the Chi-Lites and quickly added: "I'm goin' to hell for that one."

Social networks -- correction, people on social networks -- have a tendency to turn public tragedies into public spectacles, public sport. Everybody wants to join in the "fun" and show how clever they can be and maybe even get retweeted to their own 15 seconds of Twitter fame. (To be fair, the word "speechless" was also trending in Charlotte this afternoon, ostensibly from all the people tweeting about their disbelief over the not guilty verdict. That much you might expect, given the wall-to-wall coverage the case has received in the media).

Nevertheless, I suspect the Casey Anthony playlist meme is the one people will be talking about at the water cooler. "Some of y'all have me dying (no pun)," someone tweeted. "I feel terrible for laughing."

You should. We're better than that, people. At least I hope we are.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Verizon's 4G network fastest in Charlotte, study says

Verizon's 4G wireless network is the fastest in Charlotte, according to a new study out today from The survey, the second in an annual series from the respected tech magazine and website, includes road-testing of eight networks from six wireless carriers across 21 cities and four rural regions.

Verizon's 4G LTE won in 20 of the 21 cities, making it king of the digital hill in the test. It logged average download speeds topping 12 Mbps in Charlotte. That, the magazine notes, is faster than most people's home internet connection. All four of the major carriers' 4G networks did well in Charlotte, the study found.

The magazine did the research by driving around and making phone calls on Android 2.2-powered phones. The fastest Verizon spot the researchers located in Charlotte was just "east of Midtown" (meaning the old Midtown mall?), where they got 31 Mbps download speeds. T-Mobile came in second in Charlotte.

The results will perhaps confirm what my friends on AT&T have long suspected. But the AT&T guys, no longer blessed by their long monopoly on the iPhone, are running hard to build up their network in Charlotte. We'll see what happens in the long haul.

I say it's just good to have head-to-head numbers being published openly. Most of the network performance data nationally either comes from the carriers themselves or from researchers who sell the data to the carriers. In both cases, consumers rarely, if ever, get to see city-by-city performance data, and thus have no sure way of knowing which network is better. Given how intensely competitive the wireless industry is today, I'm sure the carriers who didn't come out on top here will say they still don't.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Facebook is turning into serious business

It used to be that businesses, especially small businesses, just scratched their heads when it came to Facebook. Sure a lot of people were on it, but companies were used to thinking about one main channel for reaching customers: advertising. And Facebook's advertising wasn't exactly the magic bullet -- people were so busy looking at cute kid pics that they barely noticed the lonely paid ads floating over there on the far right.

Consultants have been telling companies for years they can't afford not to be present on social networks. Now, it seems they believe them. It's not just about advertising, they've realized. It's about customer engagement, and building customer and brand loyalty. As former Observerite and social media consultant Jeff Elder says, companies can use Facebook as their own personal media "channel" to play their greatest corporate hits for their followers. He's playing host to a meetup on Monday where he'll be talking more about how companies can harness social media to connect with customers. Social media strategists Jason Keath and Corey Creed are plowing the same territory with a series of Web videos from their Social Fresh Academy training center.

All of life, it seems, is on Facebook now, for good or ill. (Even guys in the middle of causing a 16-hour police standoff). It was only a matter of time before corporations got serious about their presence there -- with or without a scientific way to measure the all-important ROI (return on investment). There's been some talk about Facebook's meteoric membership growth perhaps finally peaking. That's probably coming. But will Facebook shrivel up and go the way of MySpace? I wouldn't bet on it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

IBMers roll up their sleeves for charity

IBM employees joined their colleagues around the country today in donating their skills and services to local charities in need of technological help. It's part of the technology giant's celebration of its 100th anniversary. More than 200 individuals from 26 area nonprofits benefitted. The United Way of Central Carolinas and NPower Charlotte Region, a nonprofit technology consulting firm, helped put IBM with needy charities. In the picture above, IBMers are helping install solar panels at the Carolina Raptor Center.

"As IBM celebrates its 100 year anniversary as a corporation, it’s fitting to commemorate this milestone by sharing our technology skills across the communities where we live and work," said Anne McNeill of IBM's corporate citizenship office. "By partnering with NPower on Tech Service Day, together we are able to help make a difference in the lives of our neighbors across the Charlotte region."

Good job, guys. Now who wants to come help me figure out how to switch all my iTunes files from my old laptop to the new one?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Facebook finally hitting the wall?

Inside Facebook, a site that tracks the metrics of the world's favorite social network, is making a splash with new data suggesting the meteoric growth of Facebook might finally be peaking. After having gained at least 20 million new members a month over the past year, Facebook picked up 13.9 million in April and 11.8 million in May. Could be nothing. Could be Facebook, with nearly half the U.S. population and nearly 700 million worldwide, is finally maxing out.

My highly unscientific theory: Facebook just isn't for everyone. (Lots of commenters to this blog aren't shy about reminding me of that). And as more and more businesses get on Facebook, and more and more people play games, and more and more people "friend" people who aren't actually their friends (the bigger your network, the more impressive your social profile), the more uninteresting/impersonal clutter starts turning up in your news stream. And the more "noise" in your stream, the less likely you are to visit.

That's not to say I think Facebook is in any immediate danger of losing its chokehold on the social networking scene. But the novelty has definitely worn off. The only thing left to hold people is quality/interesting content. And Facebook has little control over that. Its vast unpaid army of content producers -- i.e., us -- decide that. If we get tired of listening to each other blabber on about current events or get weary of thumbing through friends' vacation pictures, we'll eventually stop logging on. The future of Facebook, or any other social network -- or any business, really -- is entirely up to us.

I don't think we've reached the point of Facebook fatigue yet. But if indeed there's a wall out there for Facebook, we're close to it. Mark Zuckerberg and Co. will really have to earn their money from here on.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Was uptown unrest accelerated by social media?

As Charlotte-Mecklenburg police continue investigating the recent melee uptown during Memorial Day weekend, questions are being raised about whether social networks played a role. Given the drawing power of Facebook and other social networks, such questions make sense. After all, a German teen recently had to flee her own home after some 1,600 strangers showed up for her birthday party. She'd mistakenly posted her invitation on Facebook as a public invite rather than a private one for her friends. Would it be surprising if posts on social networks helped swell the crowds uptown that night?

CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano would say only that police continue investigating all information gathered concerning the unrest "and that does include social media networks." He wouldn't say whether they've proven any cause-effect link with social networks, though. Sgt. David Schwob, who oversees the school resource officers stationed on local public school campuses, said his office has checked the Facebook pages of eight to 10 juveniles arrested in connection with the unrest, but found no evidence those youths used their networks to rally people to come uptown.

If anybody knows of any such posts going out on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks that night, post a comment. I'd be interested to hear about it.

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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Four things I wish the iPhone did better

So, after years of waiting for Verizon to get the iPhone, I finally ditched my trusty old Blackberry Curve a couple weeks ago and joined the legions of iPhone-worshipping Apple fanboys. My first impression: say what you will about the perhaps too-ardent devotion of some iPhone-iacs, but that kind of product loyalty doesn't just materialize out of nowhere. The iPhone is a terrific piece of machinery, fully deserving of all the praise heaped on it.

It's so intuitive I've been able to start using it without reading the user's manual. The retina display is killer. Everyone praises the apps, and I see why. They are so useful, effective and wide-ranging I think I could perform most major life functions from my phone. I've downloaded news apps (the Observer and the New York Times), my social networks, my bank, Verizon, ESPN (instant highlight videos!), along with a couple photo apps, the Weather Channel, Papa John's pizza (of course) and, during a lull in Easter service, the Bible. It's not that other phones can't do these same things. The HTC Thunderbolt, with its lightning-fast 4G service, does a lot of things much faster.

But somehow, with the iPhone, the experience just feels smoother. More complete. Is it "magical," to borrow Steve Jobs' term for the iPad? No, but it sure is satisfying.

Still, I'm not a total sycophant -- at least not yet, anyway. There are four things I wish my iPhone could do better:

--Zoom in and out while recording videos. (There's an app for it, apparently, Video Zoom 2. Why not just build it in?).
--Handle typing functions (that thumb-friendly physical keyboard is about the only thing keeping Blackberry afloat these days)
--Funnel notifications from all the ways people are trying to contact me (Twitter mentions, Facebook messages, texts, e-mails, voicemails and calls) into one universal inbox thread. (Correction: that's the second feature keeping Blackberry afloat).
--Upload photos from my camera roll directly to Facebook and Twitter without a third-party app.

I wouldn't be surprised if there are apps to handle every issue I've listed here. Since I'm new to iPhone-land, any of you long-timers who'd care to suggest a few, I'm all ears!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

AT&T bringing 4G to Charlotte

Sprint and Verizon already have it in Charlotte. So does T-Mobile (though some debate it). Now AT&T says it, too, is bringing fourth-generation (4G) cellphone service to its Queen City customers. The company, now trying to merge with T-Mobile, sent out a press release this morning saying it would have Mayor Anthony Foxx joining AT&T and Charlotte Center City Partners folks at a 10:30 a.m. press conference at Marshall Park on Friday.

According to AT&T, the announcement will include "key network improvements planned for this year" in Charlotte, including "a focus on faster data speeds and extra mobile broadband capacity at key venues." They plan to have the new Motorola Atrix and HTC Inspire 4G phones on hand to demonstrate.

I guess with Verizon finally grabbing a share of the white-hot iPhone market this year and just now rolling out its first 4G phone, the HTC Thunderbolt, AT&T would be crazy to sit still.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cellphone usage rates exploding

We all know smartphone usage is rising. But when you see the industry data, you still can't help but be shocked at the numbers. CTIA, the trade association representing the major wireless companies, just released its bi-annual survey tracking 2010 data submitted by the carriers. The carriers raked in $159.9 billion in wireless service revenue, up 4.8 percent from a year earlier.

Check out these other stats to see just how much a nation of wireless addicts we've become:

  • Wireless subscriber connections: 302.9 million, compared to year-end 2009 total of 285 million, an increase of 6 percent.
  • Wireless penetration rate: 96 percent compared to year-end 2009 rate of 91.2 percent.
  • Minutes of Use : 2.241 trillion compared to 2.275 trillion in 2009.
  • SMS texts sent and received: 2.052 trillion compared to 1.563 trillion in 2009, an increase of 31 percent.
  • MMS texts sent and received: 56.6 billion compared to 34 billion in 2009, an increase of 64 percent.
  • Data traffic on wireless networks in the last six months of 2010: 226.5 billion megabytes compared to 107.8 billion megabytes in the last six months in 2009, an increase of 110 percent.
  • Average wireless bill (includes voice and data service): $47.21 compared to year-end $48.16 in 2009.
  • Number of active smartphones: 78.2 million compared to 49.8 million at year's end in 2009, an increase of 57 percent.
  • Number of active data-capable devices: 270 million compared to 257 million in 2009, an increase of 5.3 percent.
  • Number of web-capable devices: 242 million compared to 238.4 million in 2009.
  • Wireless-enabled tablets, laptops and modems: 13.6 million compared to 11.9 million in 2009, an increase of 14.2 percent.

Which of the numbers jumps out at you most?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Social media 'bubble' about to burst?

Interesting debate during this morning's monthly meeting of Social Media Charlotte, the networking group where marketers, new media folks and anyone interested in Web 2.0 kibitz over coffee. I was intrigued by one of the questions put up for debate: Is the social media bubble about to burst? Adam Holden-Bache of the Mass Transmit internet marketing firm and ad-man Jim Mitchem of Boxman Studios said yes, and noted Goldman Sachs recent buy-in deal with Facebook that valued the network at $50 billion. They drew an analogy to the bursting of the dot-com bubble a decade ago. "At some point," Holden-Bache said, "this is going to have to correct itself."

No way, said Lisa Hoffman, a social media specialist with Duke Energy, and Lyell Petersen, internet marketing director with They suggested the social networking fever might be leveling off, but social networks aren't an industry (i.e., subject to boom and bust cycles). They're a means of communication. Weaker social networking companies might wither, but the media form is here to stay.

The presenters, in keeping with the format for the event, took their positions purely for debating purposes, and didn't necessarily subscribe to their assigned stances in real life. (Note to organizers: more debates please!). Still, given all the light and heat surrounding social networks, they raised a very interesting question. I tend to think there's no real bubble-bursting to come, aside from the normal rise and fall of markets and companies. Once they gain traction, mass media formats don't ever seem to go away. I'm pretty sure even newspapers, for all the hand-wringing over their decline, will still be around 50 years from now. Social media's not going anywhere, either.

What do you think? Do you expect you'll still be Facebooking 20 years from now?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Facebook e-mail coming soon

The much-ballyhooed new Facebook e-mail system is about to hit your page, according to an item posted on the social network's blog today. Facebook began letting people sign up in November, but the full rollout to everyone on the network will be coming in the next few weeks.

In announcing the new system last year, the Zuckster said he thinks e-mail is going the way of the dinosaur. This new system, complete with addresses, marks Facebook's attempt to define the next generation of digital messaging. Instead of today's fragmented system in which people use cellphone texts, instant messaging chats and three personal e-mail addresses (that would be me), Facebook's new system threads all those messages through its single portal. One messaging system to rule them all.

It all looks a lot like an e-mail killer, but Facebook keeps protesting that this isn't e-mail. "There are no subject lines, no cc, no bcc, and you can send a message by hitting the Enter key," according to the company's blog. "We modeled it more closely to chat ... We wanted to make this more like a conversation."

There's much to like about the concept. Who wouldn't want to be able to sit at your home computer and strike up a real-time conversation with a friend riding the bus home from work? We'll have to see how it actually works and if there are bugs in it, as there often seems to be with new Facebook changes. Convenience aside, I sort of like not having all my messaging dependent on one provider. And after all, the average smartphone threads all of your messages into one viewing screen, anyway. Is Facebook offering a convenience nobody really asked for?

What do you think? If you've been using it already, do you like it?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quick Facebook fix could save you from hackers

I'd be the first one to say Facebook's privacy and security settings are far too maze-like and complex. So when I heard about this quick and easy change I could make to my settings that could potentially save me from hackers, I jumped on it. (Or as the smarmy Russian millionaire in my favorite Direct TV commercial would put it, "I jump in it."). Basically, it's a change that lets you access Facebook using the same kind of secure "https" setting as you get when you access your banking account and the little lock symbol appears at the bottom of the screen. If you're going onto Facebook via a public connection at a bookstore or coffee shop, hackers can't get to your account.

Just go to "Account" in the upper right corner of your Facebook page, then "Account Settings," then "Account Security." Put a check mark on the dialogue box that asks if you want to use a secure connection whenever possible. You'll also see below it a notification telling you where your account was last accessed from, and what kind of browser and operating systems were used to do it. If you see a location that doesn't look like yours, follow Facebook's advice and click "end activity." (Mine was accessed yesterday from Greensboro, it says. I wasn't in Greensboro yesterday. Not sure if that could be some sort of server or internet service provider weirdness, or if some sleazeball's cruising around my account. But I clicked end activity, and asked to be notified anytime a new computer accesses my account. You should do the same).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Verizon's iPhone D-Day arrives

If you're one of the many long-suffering Verizon customers who have been lusting for the iPhone, your big day is finally here. Almost. At 3 a.m. Thursday, Verizon folks will be able to go online and pre-order Apple's game-changing smartphone. Is it really necessary to wake up that time of night to make sure you get yours? Who knows. But given the mass hysteria that typically comes standard with iPhone releases, you'd better set the alarm if you absolutely must have one before they go on sale at stores for the general public (read: network switchers) on Feb. 10.

I'm on Verizon. And I'm considering the iPhone. I've heard some folks say it makes no sense to get one now, since given Apple's history, a new iPhone is likely on the way this summer. Others say don't even bother with the iPhone. Wait for the 4G bad-boys coming out on Verizon, like the HTC Thunderbolt and the Droid Bionic. Decisions, decisions. (Here's a good Q&A on the quandary from CNET). I think I'm going to wait, if only to see what the 4G phones have to say about all this. Some say there are clues the wait might not be that long.

What do you think? Are you getting up at 3 a.m. to order the iPhone? Or are you waiting for the 4G phones or the next iPhone?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Michael Jackson clone struts his stuff at Bobcats game

If you've ever been to a professional sports event of any type, you know what happens when they crank up a "fan-cam" segment during a break in the action. The cameras rove around the audience, showing people's pictures on the Jumbotron as they dance, kiss or do whatever the prompt of the moment might be. Most people just look goofy. But every once in a while, somebody wows the crowd with some display of raw charm or talent. Like this kid at a Bobcats game, doing the best Michael Jackson routine I've seen in a while. (You've gotta wait until near the end, but he's worth the wait). The guys at CLTblog were wondering who this kid is. So am I after watching him in action. Anybody know who this is??

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Should companies hire 20-year-old social media managers?

Should companies use 18- to 20-year-old interns to handle their social media outreach?

At a Wednesday panel discussion on Charlotte's 2011 marketing landscape, a panelist suggested just that, and got quite the blow-back from folks in the audience, according to accounts and tweets of those present. The event, sponsored by nine Charlotte-area marketing organizations, drew some of the city's most high-profile corporate social media managers and consultants.

So when Lauri Wilks, sales and marketing manager for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, opined that companies should use 18- to 20-year-old interns to handle their social networking, some in the audience began booing in disagreement, according to tweets and blog accounts of attendees.

"It was not a mean boo," internet marketing consultant Corey Creed blogged about it the next day. "It was more like a 'we don't agree' boo. Several in the audience clearly did not want that sentiment to be accepted by the hundreds of attendees as fact."

Several tweeted their displeasure at Wilks' statement. Some even left the event early, though it wasn't clear Wilks' statement was to blame. One audience member did come to Wilks' rescue, tweeting: "'social media gurus' -Don't be pissed because it was said an 18-yr-old could do your job. (Social media) in its purest is conversation."

Wilks posted a response today to Creed's blog, saying she didn't mean to offend anyone, and that seasoned marketers should be the ones guiding corporate strategy and holding online conversations with the public. Interns, however can be "a fabulous resource" for things like monitoring reviews on sites like Yelp or updating Facebook photo albums, she said. "This generation understands what tools are out there and how to use them," she wrote.

This little dust-up underscores a bigger point: how increasingly high-stakes social networks are becoming. All media enterprises, stripped to their business models, are about gathering an audience and selling advertising. And nobody's gathering audience share these days quite like social networks. As the reaction to Wilks' comment shows, social media skills aren't just for fun anymore -- they're a marketable career asset that people aren't willing to cede to any one segment of the population.

I think it's true that younger folks who've grown up using social networks might have an edge on us older folks when it comes to casual use. That might not hold true when it comes time to analyze business problems and use social networks to solve them. If I'm the CEO and I've got a 20-something socially-savvy whiz kid and a wise 40-something veteran to choose from, I split the difference and put 'em both on the case. But, if anybody asks, the 40-something's in charge.

What do you think? Are younger folks inherently more knowledgeable about social networking than their parents and grandparents?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Verizon iPhone could be unveiled Tuesday

Either the biggest tech media Punk'd job in history is afoot, or Apple and Verizon are going to announce the long-awaited Verizon iPhone on Tuesday. Countless long-suffering Verizoners (yours truly included) are expected to go streaking to the nearest Apple store on D-day (whatever that turns out to be). Like many of my friends, I've been tied into multiple Verizon contracts, which ruled me out of the iPhone -- until now. The newest Verizon Androids sure make a compelling case for themselves (the new 4G HTC Thunderbolt is quite a head-turner) but I don't know if I'll be able to resist the siren song of the iPhone.

At least, at long last, I have the option. I think.