Monthly Archives: December 2008

forget about predictions. focus on people.

We humans sure love predictions. Whether it’s pea-brained ex-jocks on ESPN making erroneous picks or your local weatherman missing temperatures and precipitation by a veritable gulf stream, we seemingly shrug at or forget the inexactitude of it all. Same goes for the unnecessary need to predict What’s Next in Technology at the end of every year.

I don’t seem to recall any supposed experts in the mainstream accurately predicting, in a year’s time frame, the rise of the Internet itself, blogs, social media or just about any other major development. So in the spirit of The Simpsons‘ Professor Frink (who predicted in the 1970s that within 100 years, computers will be twice as powerful, 10,000 times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them), here are my top five fearless predictions for 2009 in the Web world:

1) Facebook will continue growing, with Facebook Connect bringing a whole new wave of popularity.
2) Twitter’s meteoric rise will continue, albeit not on the same level indefinitely.
3) It will become increasingly apparent that MySpace’s cultural relevancy has peaked.
4) Mobile Internet devices will become increasingly key in the marketplace (if not necessarily in the minds of Web developers).
5) Some completely unforeseen social-media community/platform/application will come out of nowhere to become the next phenomenon.

Really going out on a limb, eh? Well, why would I? No one really knows what will happen in the world of the Internet in the coming year, and most so-called expert predictions will prove as wrong as those who had the Dallas Cowboys winning this year’s Super Bowl.

But here’s my real advice: Instead of focusing on what technology may be on the horizon, anyone trying to auger the future should focus on people. Not hardware or software. What made YouTube a sensation? People sharing crazy things with other people. Why did social media like Facebook and Twitter put up big numbers this year? People wanted to connect with other people. If you want to know where the Internet is going, just look at what people find useful, helpful or beneficial. It’s that simple.

Best wishes to you and your, well, people for a wonderful 2009.

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super bowling: models of risk-taking vs. yielding to self-interest.

It’s the last Sunday in the National Football League regular season, and eight of the 16 games have implications on who will make the playoffs and compete for the Super Bowl. By contrast, NCAA DI football will stage 34 post-season bowl games this year, only one of which means anything for the national championship.

Quick: Which system do you think is more popular? Which do you think was built on risk-taking and which is steeped in self-interest?

Just as it’s clear that many more people will watch Denver and San Diego compete for the final NFL playoff spot this evening than will switch over to see Northern Illinois play Louisiana Tech in tonight’s Independence Bowl, it’s easy to see the NFL is the king of all sports in America. But it took a lot of gambles to get there.

In the 1960s, the established NFL assented to play a championship game vs. the upstart American Football League. The title game became known as the Super Bowl, almost as a joke, and the first two years the NFL winner crushed its AFL foe. But before Super Bowl III in 1969, a brash QB named Joe Namath guaranteed his New York Jets, heavy underdogs in everyone’s mind, would beat the powerful Baltimore Colts. Namath and the Jets won 16-7 and, the stigma of inferiority gone, the NFL and AFL merged in 1970. In also embracing other risky ventures like Monday Night Football, the NFL has become a model league whose 2008 Super Bowl attracted more than 148 million viewers in the U.S. (making it the second most-watched program of all time).

If the race to the Super Bowl is the Eiffel Tower, the NCAA’s bowl season is a series of small erector sets. While every other NCAA sport has some kind of open championship (including Division IA, II and III football), DI football works with the Bowl Championship Series using computer formulas to select who plays in the national championship game. This is good news for this year’s title teams, Florida and Oklahoma (who have each lost once), but bad news for other teams who lost once (including Texas, Texas Tech, USC, Alabama and Penn State).

While fans, coaches and supporters of teams who miss out on the championship game complain, college presidents, bowl organizers and sponsors keep this unpopular non-playoff format in place, giving us things like the St. Petersburg Bowl (South Florida vs. Memphis), the Motor City Bowl (Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan) and Papajohns.com Bowl (North Carolina State vs. Rutgers). Sure, 34 teams get to win their last games, but 33 of them are just earning consolation prizes. Compare this to the DI basketball tournament — known as March Madness — where 65 teams chase the championship on the court.

To my point: How many of us have worked places where we were allowed to take risks in pursuit of excellence? How many of us have worked in places where self-interest stands in the way of greater success for customers and internal stakeholders? Where would you rather work?

For the new year, I urge workplaces everywhere to take more chances, when those chances can support better customer service, happier employees and improved solutions. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gearing up for a big day of important NFL games.

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shouldn’t every day be boxing day?

[I wrote this editorial eight years ago for The Palladium-Times. In these trying times, it’s as relevant as ever.]

Happy Boxing Day, everybody!

What, you’ve never heard of Boxing Day?

You wouldn’t be alone. Though the holiday is celebrated in many countries including Canada, Great Britain, and Australia, it never registered in the States.

First of all, it has nothing to do with the sport of boxing or pugilists like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield or Muhammed Ali.

It also has nothing to do with boxing up gifts one has received and returning them to stores … an all-too-familiar American tradition on Dec. 26.

Boxing Day is believed to have started as a day of charity in England, where it is also known as St. Stephen’s Day. One prevalent theory is this post-Christmas holiday began as a way for masters to thank servants, tradespeople, merchants and other workers for their service through the year with small (boxed) tokens of appreciation. Another popular thesis postulates that the day after Christmas was when churches opened their alms boxes and presented their contents to the needy.

The exact origin is disputed, but ultimately Boxing Day became an occasion to help the less fortunate. The World Book Encyclopedia notes that the holiday traditionally included giving money and other gifts to charitable institutions, needy individuals, and people in service jobs.

And with this being a time for giving, what’s wrong with that?

For the Ebenezer Scrooges out there who didn’t help others during the holiday season, this offers a Dickensian twist for redemption — a chance for those fortunate enough to share blessings with friends, families or even strangers.

Christmas is behind us … but a New Year still looms. Wouldn’t Boxing Day be a good tune-up for being that better person most of us want to be in the year to come?

Not much is required to do your part for Boxing Day 2.0 … but consider it a first step toward extending the holiday spirit year-round. If, for example, you have leftover non-perishable food items from stocking up for the holidays, this would be a good time to give them to local food pantries, who see a decline in donations after Christmas (and let’s not forget that hunger is a year-round problem). Now that there is a respite from the holiday stress, is there anyone who could really use a bit of friendly support from you? Or, perhaps easiest of all, can you perpetuate one random act of simple kindness today?

It doesn’t seem much to ask. Since Boxing Day isn’t an American tradition (yet), there’s nothing wrong with starting small.

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wanted: college web speakers for suny cuad conference.

In a somewhat questionable move, I was recently appointed the Web track chair for this year’s SUNY CUAD Conference June 10 to 12 in Lake Placid. So I’m looking for interesting, informed, informative higher education professionals who may want to present to fellow college peeps.

Wanted: College-based doers who can discuss Web-related topics, particularly social media. Must have something to say and an ability to say it well. Perhaps have solved some common Web-related higher-ed challenge in a cost-effective way. Audience is college practitioners following such tracks as Web, marketing, PR, publications, alumni relations or development; ability to appeal to more than one track is a bonus.

The conference will take place at the High Peaks Resort in the lovely little Adirondack city of Lake Placid. The resort has a spa, a marvelous view of Mirror Lake … and even a Facebook page, Flickr tour and Twitter account (yay for Web 2.0!).

Conference organizers can cover travel and accommodations for presenters. Alas, we can not pay honoraria to track speakers due to a tight budget. I could be convinced to buy a drink or 10 for speakers if they so desire (those into microbrews may enjoy the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery). And our attending SUNY CUAD peeps tend to be wonderful down-to-earth folks and a lot of fun.

Interested? Feel free to drop me a line. Or even if you just want to suggest a good conference topic in the comment box, go ahead!

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caring collaboration > fraud on Facebook.

So I spent a couple hours Thursday night among a small dedicated band helping track apparently the biggest fraud ring in the history of Facebook, or even social media.

I surfed onto Twitter to see a link to a blog post by Brad J. Ward at Butler University. A colleague at another college had a question about multiple Class of 2013 groups. Brad did some top-notch sleuthing and found similar names starting the groups. More research revealed that a small ring of people — especially Justin Gaither, Patrick Kelly, Jasmine White, James Gaither, Josh Egan and Ashley Thomas — started hundreds of supposedly “official” Class of 2013 groups at different colleges.

There are two groups for the SUNY Oswego Class of 2013. I Googled one group’s founder to find tales of his athletic feats at his stated school, and the admissions office confirmed he applied and was early accepted. The other was created by one Kyle Krennan. A Google of Kyle Krennan found a Facebook page that, when accessed redirected to … ring member Josh Egan. And no such person applied to Oswego. I realized we’ve been had, as had about 20 of our students.

One of hundreds of fraudulent Facebook groups.

Fig. A: One of hundreds of fraudulent Facebook groups.

First we got mad, then we got organized. Brad (who, imho, deserves the first Pulitzer Prize in social media) set up a collaborative Google document where we researched Class of 2013 pages and listed creators/admins. I volunteered to search for all SUNY schools, and found the infamous Kyle Krennan also created pages at Brockport and Plattsburgh. The majority of SUNY groups we found had ties to the ring. Out 300+ groups researched by a couple dozen of us, well over 200 (maybe more) were suspicious.

All arrows pointed back to a group called College Prowler which, among other things, uses “insider student” information to compile college guides. That in and of itself is one thing, but to set up groups and to perpetuate fraud — and probably collect a lot of user personal data — on such a wide scale is deplorable and takes advantage of students looking for genuine connections and information for their future colleges.

I posted a message on our official Facebook Fans page and one student posted on the bogus page that it was a fraud, and a lot of prospective students flocked to the legit student’s page. Word spread throughout the blogosphere and into the media. And in a surprising move, the CEO of College Prowler posted on Brad’s blog and said it was a marketing project gone awry, promising a strategic retreat.

Some commenters on Brad’s blog (not surprisingly, many anonymous) poopoo the effort, whining that Facebook is open. They miss the point that misrepresentation on Facebook (claiming you’re something you’re not) is against user policy. And downright unethical … though I sometimes wonder if ethics are lost on some youth today. Moreover, college logos and property are copyrighted, and inappropriate use for financial gain amounts to theft, period. And some of us who sprung into action were quite concerned about our prospective students potentially being scammed, data mined and otherwise exploited.

I also think our effort shows the collaborative power of social media. That a small dedicated band of Twitterers and bloggers were able to uncover more than 200 fraudulent Facebook groups in the space of a few hours — and cause their creators to give a public mea culpa — is all quite amazing.

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season’s [paper] greetings.

One of the things I enjoy about this time of year is that when I get home from work (in the dark), I reach into my mailbox and there, among the junk mail, bills, circulars and more junk mail, I can pull out one or two Christmas cards. It’s rare these days to find little hand-written good tidings from anywhere in the world greeting you.

Personally, I still like the Christmas card in its paper form that you can prop up on a table to show that people call you a friend or, at the very least, acknowledge you’re still alive. I am, you might say, old-fashioned. Or, you could argue in shorter terms, old. I don’t mean to imply I dislike holiday greetings sent by email. That anyone thought to send a kind word is marvelous and likely more than I deserve.

But when I see that envelope in the mail, and I open the card to read the words and see your name (and perhaps that of your children and more often your pets), I feel part of your narrative. I can see you searching out cards with the right look, message and personality. I see you working over your list, and somehow I made it. You take a few seconds with a pen to write your names and/or greetings — and how rare is it for people to write with pens nowadays? — and then my address. You place the card in the envelope, lick and seal, then add a stamp. Most people don’t do much with their hands except type and play video games … so that you’ve gone through these steps means something.

Holiday card from the women's hockey team.

Fig. A: Holiday card from the women's hockey team.

Consider this card from the women’s hockey team, for whom I’m a faculty mentor. Somehow, the coach managed to get two dozen uberbusy student-athletes to sign their names on this card (and however many others the team sends). This time of year, that requires serious effort. Imagine receiving, instead, an email with just digital signatures. Not the same as having all those remnants of pen pressed to paper.

Again, if you’ve sent me a e-mail card, thank you. I know it’s more environmentally friendly and, in these tight times, not everyone can afford to put so much money into cards and postage. But if you’ve sent me a paper Christmas card, rest assured it’s sitting on a table in my living room, gathered with kindred spirits, and I look at it frequently and smile.

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bringing wow! back.

I was having a Viraligious© experience, reading a blog entry about Amazon exceeding customer expectations, when I thought of Tom Peters’ book The Pursuit of Wow!: Every Person’s Guide to Tupsy-Turvy Times, and why we’ve come expect poor service today. We endure long lines and disinterested big-box retail employees for perceived low prices. We become accustomed to long waits and indifferent operators in outsourced helplines. We anticipate our interactions to underscore our low view of customer service.

Why? We may as well champion mediocrity if we aren’t trying to achieve, or even inspire, excellence. If service is as poor as we perceive, shouldn’t we be all the more determined to provide exceptional service? Making customers happy represents a point of differentiation, a value-added that colors experiences in an all-too-grey time.

What about the world of higher education? When I do something nice for a student, they are sometimes shocked. Why? Are expectation-exceeding experiences really that rare for college students? Don’t we have the power to change that perception, to create Wow! on a regular basis?

Consider a prospective student who applies to several colleges, including yours. What if, in return for her considering your institution, you provide some kind of Wow! experience? Representatives of student clubs contacting her with the benefits of getting involved? A current student offering to be there, any time, to answer her questions? Some kind of premium, discount or opportunity (where legal) if she commits to your college by a certain date? If you exceed the expectations of prospective students, while other institutions treat them like American Gladiators contestants, what would that do to your conversion rate? Wouldn’t you love to have young brand evangelists before they’ve even enrolled in classes? There’s no better advertisement, after all, than a satisfied customer.

Is Wow! dead as a concept? Absolutely not. Whether you supported him or not, no campaign inspired more Wow! than Barack Obama. Gizmos like Apple’s iPhone and the Blackberry Storm provide sufficient Wow! that people want to pre-order the pricey products. Any Web surfer can stumble across a site, video or blog that injects a moment of Wow! into their day. Inspiring Wow! doesn’t have to be difficult nor expensive nor time-consuming … it just means thinking about what makes people happy.

So what have you done to make someone say Wow! lately?

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