Monthly Archives: December 2009

top 2009 lesson: twitter is other people.

I’ll consider 2009 the year of Twitter. Not everyone would understand. Blame it on the input box originally saying What are you doing? Or blame Oprah. Or Ashton. Whatever the reason, the biggest misconception is that Twitter is all about *me*.

In reality, Twitter is all about other people. It’s about what they’re doing, not what I’m doing.

The first time you really use Twitter is not when you tell people what you’re doing (or having for lunch) — it’s when you ask someone about something they’re doing (or, if you prefer, having for lunch). Twitter is not a megaphone; it’s a telephone, a party line with hundreds of people listening and talking. It’s where people can share advice or help solve problems. It’s people turning others onto new music, new developments and, yes, new places to eat.

This year, I learned about the true community-building power of Twitter. Let me count the ways … or five ways, at least.

1. #pancaketweetup. What started as #wittybanter between @lanejoplin and I evolved into a monthly activity where dozens of people share a virtual breakfast. Our #pancaketweetup Facebook group boasts 72 members from across the world, and it now seems like every Web communications conference (most recently Stamats SIMTech) sprouts a real-life #pancaketweetup.

2. #lanesintown. Lane took front in center in this Twitter-related adventure, coming to Ithaca in an episode related to @mhaithaca sending her a Jimmy John’s sub after a tweet about how she missed the distinctive sandwich. Did I mention this weekend included a real-life #pancaketweetup too?

3. The Higher Ed Music Critics Top 100 of the 2000s. Mastermind @andrewcareaga tapped a half-dozen music-minded tweeps (this one included) to count down the Top 100 albums of the decade. Andy and some other participants had previously introduced me to some of the albums I put on the list, most notably The Avett Brothers’ I And Love And You (my album of the year). Twitter probably drove my music purchases more than anything in 2009.

4. The Higher Ed Social Media Showdown. @sethodell brought together a baker’s dozen of Web collaborators (this one included) to help host an interactive trivia game that showed the power of YouTube annotations and quizzes to engage audiences. Downright clever, and educational … and another example of the Twitter community happily playing along.

5. Twitter and conferences. I wouldn’t have even known about the regional HighEdWeb conference in Cornell if not for Twitter, and likely wouldn’t have attended Stamats SIMTech if not for Twitter. I found most of my speakers for the annual SUNYCUAD Conference via Twitter. A Twitter connection with @karinejoly, and a @rachelreuben recommendation, led to presenting my first-ever Webinar. And while HEWeb09 may have included the Great Keynote Meltdown of 2009, it also saw attendees band together to raise funds via a Twitter call when a colleague had her laptop stolen, allowing her to buy a new one.

I could go on, well over 140 characters, on the many ways Twitter changed and shaped my life this year. But mostly it introduced me — virtually, and eventually in person — to some outstanding folks. It is those other people, who epitomize the essence of Twitter, that made 2009 so special.


Filed under Web

top 12 albums of 2009. couldn’t do just 10.

We’ve had such an outstanding year for music, I couldn’t get down to 10. Albums in the top 5 could have been other years’ best record. Without further ado …

12. M. Ward, Hold Time — If anyone’s gonna make money from their music playing in Bud Light ads, may as well be someone as distinctly skilled as Ward. His musicianship, offbeat arrangements and voice sounding like an old soft sweater probably deserve a campaign with a better beer. Best song: The beerselling yet ingratiating shuffle of “Never Had Nobody Like You.”

11. Dex Romweber Duo, Ruins of Berlin — He doesn’t have the voice of when he led Flat Duo Jets, but Dex’s rockabilly is way cooler than anything on the radio. He’s learn to adjust what he does over the years, but stays true to his musical influences. Best song: “Picture of You,” a jaunty yet plaintive rockabilly gem.

10. Madeline, White Flag — A fine example of songwriting in the Southern gothic tradition. Consider her Neko Case’s deeper voiced long-lost cousin from the sticks. Best song: “This Train,” a folk throwback train song.

9. Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown — I’ll admit it. The first time I heard “Longview,” I never dreamed the band would be this good and for so long. But this testament to 21st century living, the agony and the ecstasy, is a worthy follow-up to American Idiot. Best song: The most upbeat tune, “Last of the American Girls,” where they let their California roots infuse their post-punk ethos.

8. Tegan and Sara, Sainthood — Tegan and Sara albums usually take a while to grow on me, but I’m still not digging this as much as many previous efforts. Plenty of good head-bobbing riffs and make-you-think lyrics though. Best song: “On Directing,” a vintage example of their catchy licks and clever songwriting.

7. Good Old War, Good Old War — Better harmonies than even Crosby, Stills and Nash. There, I said it. This group is a revelation, a throwback to a time when honest-to-goodness vocals were more important than studio tricks. Best song: “Tell Me,” one of the prettiest songs you’ll expect to ever hear.

6. David Gray, Draw the Line — Gray felt his music was getting stale (I’d agree), so he ditched his band and started from scratch. He brings a new energy and outlook, but fortunately his usual vocal prowess remains. Best song: The odd coupling of Gray with Annie Lennox on “Full Steam Ahead,” a lot of singing skills on one track.

5. Butterfly Boucher, Scary Fragile — Between this effort and Flutterby, the British songstress has recorded two of the most overlooked albums of the decade. With lyrical, musical and vocal skills, she’s got it all, and maybe someday the world will notice. Best song: With its deep-breath introduction, ultracatchy melody line and stop-go-stop setup, “I Found Out” isn’t just the best song on this album, I’d give it the nod for Song of the Year.

4. Tragically Hip, We Are the Same — The latest from my favorite band features more great stories marvelously told by Gordon Downie surrounded by solid musicianship. There’s a deeper feeling to this release than much of their catalog, and Gordie’s vocals seem to get better with age. Best song: “Coffee Girl,” which would be a huge hit in some alternative universe.

3. The Damnwells, One Last Century — Track after track of catchy rock tunes wonderfully rendered. And did I mention the band released it as a free download? This mostly unheralded band seems incapable of recording a bad tune. Best song: Kind of a toss-up between gorgeous ballad “Dandelion” and rocker “55 Pictures.”

2. Matthew Good, Vancouver — The newest and best of a very impressive catalogue combined the cinematic sweep of Avalanche with some of the intimacy of Hospital Music. The songs are larger than life with the stories running the gamut from war (as always) to small-town frustration to his concerns about what’s happening to his hometown of Vancouver. Best song: “Us Becomes Impossible,” grammar issues notwithstanding, is a perfect example of the powerful build Good masters.

1. Avett Brothers, I And Love And You — Masterfully written, performed and produced (hat tip to Rick Rubin). The Avetts have always had the ability, but sometimes sloppiness kept this from becoming evident. Here, it’s all focused on their ability. Easily the album of the year. Heck, I have it as the #2 song of the decade. Best song: The title track, which will take residence in your head so long you’ll have to charge it rent.

There you are. Did I miss anything?


Filed under words

i finally used Google Wave for a project …

… and all I got was a mutual agreement to abandon using Google Wave halfway through. But at least I realized some of the strengths and weaknesses of this new and hyped collaborative tool.

Shoot schedule, already in progress

Our three-person team collaborated on a holiday video project where various students — individually and in groups — sang lines from our alma mater. As concept/director/talent wrangler, I had a place to post an updated schedule of shoots and ask for thoughts when shoots didn’t pan out for technical or logistical reasons.

Posting clips for review/comment.

Our cameraman/first editor could post various takes and we could collectively decide which was the best. I had most talent sing more than one line of the alma mater so that we had backups for most parts, though the idea was to build from solo to larger groups while showcasing the campus and our students.

The ability to refer to various production elements worked very well, as did the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss in real time. So why did we abandon the wave halfway through? Because of weaknesses others who try to use it tend to cite:

1) Lack of notifications. It was quite possible someone would reply to one of my questions, or that the other two collaborators were having an important conversation, but I may not know unless they contacted me another way. Yes, I know there are plugins and the like that can enable notifications, but if Google Wave is all that and a bag of chips, shouldn’t it come standard?

2) Lack of anchoring. When I revisit any wave, I find myself arbitrarily plopped in the middle of the conversation, not where I last read. If figured out nearly a decade ago how to anchor so you could resume where you last read a discussion, you’d think the leviathan that is Google could have built it in too. The lack of anchoring particularly confuses when combined with …

3) Lack of adequate marking. For some larger waves, I can read the whole conversation and it will remain bolded in my list of waves. So unless you’re memorizing time stamps you don’t always know which waves have new comments. Worse is that once you hit a new day, waves are marked only by date and not by time. Our team works late and often has discussions after 11 p.m., but if I last looked at a wave at 10 p.m. Dec. 9, when I’m on Google Wave the next day, that wave is only marked Dec. 9, no time. And since even waves I’ve read are bolded, the lack of adequate marking means I rush back to check waves that are not updated.

In terms of user experience, the most common response among those who waited and waited for that Wave invite would be: Is that all? After all the hype, many just refer to it as a glorified chatroom and all kinds of waves started with subjects like Trying A Wave sit wrecked and idle like ghost ships. For a user experience analogy: Imagine working at a college where your prospective students, upon visiting campus, say: Is that all? Safe to say, we wouldn’t feel like we’re doing a good job.

But I come to neither bury Google Wave nor to praise it, but to merely provide a status report in its beta existence. Like Thursday’s child, the Wave has far to go. The ability to collaborate in real time while incorporating all kinds of media and documents points to a bright future. But the development team — and I’m sure it’s a large one — has a lot of work to do until it reaches a user-friendly level.

PS: I forgot! Here is the finished video project!


Filed under Web

on a lighter note: top 100 albums of the decade?

Reading higher ed blogs, you may get the feeling we’re a serious bunch. Nothing could be further than the truth. We like to have fun and many interests … music among the most common. So I was quite flattered when Andrew Careaga asked me to join his Magnificent Seven Higher Ed Critics Top 100 albums of the 2000s poll.

We’re releasing those discs favored by our seven picky music fans in 10 exciting installments over at this blog. Check it out!

Here’s the top 10 from my list, with a bit of commentary. I only consider new studio albums, not compilations or live records, releases since 2000. Of all the great music I bought this decade, I found these the creme de la creme:

1. Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism — I played this album more than any other this decade. Nuff said.

2. Avett Brothers, I And Love And You — Masterfully written, performed and produced. Easily the album of the year.

3. O Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack — Not only an outstanding collection, it did the seemingly impossible by making bluegrass cool in the mainstream.

4. Tegan and Sara, So Jealous — The Quin twins have produced a lot of great music, but this is their masterpiece to date.

5. The Killers, Hot Fuss (Bonus Edition) — And to think some critics don’t like The Killers? Just jealous of Brandon Flowers’ looks and charisma, I guess.

6. Radiohead, Kid A — This album was a kick to the head to the world of rock’n’roll … in a good way.

7. Arcade Fire, Funeral — An record that seemingly came out of nowhere to become loved just about everywhere.

8. Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope — But when will the SUNY Purchase grad produce something else rivaling this gorgeous effort?

9. Feist, The Reminder — 1,2,3,4, I wanna play this album more.

10. Matthew Good, Vancouver — The newest and best of a very impressive catalogue.

Interested in more? Here’s my entire Top 100. What do you think?


Filed under words

running = making an argument for INconvenience.

Our modern world is all about convenience. Remote controls. Delivery food. An Internet where you can do anything, any time. Maybe part of what I like about running is there’s nothing convenient about it. It’s inconvenient and challenging … and makes us really have to work, both physically and mentally.

There’s nothing convenient about forcing yourself to get up an hour early to do a workout. To greeting cold weather by spending extra time dressing in layers. To dealing with all the soreness that comes later.

Dressing up in leggings, holiday socks and a Santa Claus cap on a freezing Saturday morning to go run with a few hundred other crazy people is much less convenient than sleeping in, watching TV or surfing the Web. Maybe that’s part of the reason I enjoy doing things like the weekend’s Reindeer Run 5K. There’s nothing easy about it.

Because while convenience is a good business practice, I could use another word for it: laziness. It’s too convenient to take the easy way out too often. To sit on the sidelines. To do the bare minimum. To life a safe, conservative life. There’s nothing convenient, after all, about trying new things.

But if you’ve ever had to summon the energy to make it to the finish line — especially when your lungs are burning, your muscles are screaming and it’s you vs. the urge to throw in the towel — you know the feeling of achievement from overcoming the all-too-convenient inertia of modern living. Pushing ourselves to meet challenging goals expands our existence. Doing something inconvenient once in a while can be a wonderful thing.


Filed under writing

campus (dis)engagement: student organizations and facebook.

We hear much about the generation in college now being digital natives, readily and easily negotiating the Web world. But in an earlier freshman focus group, I learned students think of Facebook as a method to connect more than a information tool. Taking this one step further, I decided to research how student organizations at SUNY Oswego use Facebook as a method of communication. While 64.4% percent of our registered organizations (94 of 146) had an official Facebook presence of some type, the vast majority:

– Don’t use it often.
– Don’t use it to engage.

The 94 organizations had a total of 101 presences I counted as official, some with both pages and groups, three posing as a personal account in addition to groups and/pages. The 101 also included 89 groups and nine pages. I used the term connections as a cross-type term to define either a) members of a group, b) fans of a page or c) friends of a personal account.

Using that rubric, I found the average connections for each presence to be 98.7. But this is slightly misleading, modified way up by one personal account, a media outlet posing as a person with a whopping 1,034 connections (by comparison, the second-highest was Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, with 551 members in its group). Take away that anomaly, and the average Facebook presence had 89.35 connections. Highest connections were among Greek organizations (which have more formalized and selective membership) and media outlets, for which communication is an inherent imperative. The majority of presences (70) had 100 or less connections, while only 11 had 200 or more connections.

Most striking was the lack of engagement among the groups and pages (the personal accounts were very engaged, although Facebook frowns upon fictional individuals). Discarding the 11 private groups (mostly Greek organizations), out of the 90 public presences of our registered student organizations, 27 of them — 30 percent — made 1 or less Wall or other updates in the past year (since 12/1/08).

Nine of them (10 percent) never made an update of any kind — ever — while 14 had made one update total, eight made just two updates during their existence. Thus more than one-third (31) made two or less communications during their complete existence. Of the 90 public, only 37 had done at least one update within the past month, 55 within the past semester, 68 within the past 12 months. Students obviously lead busy lives, and this is not an indictment of their habits as much as pointing out a missed opportunity.

The level of organization-to-user engagement appeared almost universally low. I only found one (Rainbow Alliance) with recent evidence of answering Wall questions on a timely basis. Some other Walls consisted entirely of questions from members with absolutely no responses. None! Most common were groups using their Wall chiefly as a one-way communication tool: announcing special events, results of board elections, upcoming meetings. Often orgs began the academic year with the best of intentions, but updates soon abated. Only around 10 percent of organizations opted to create Facebook events or post photo galleries — among the best ways of creating engagement among connections.

Conclusions: While this only provides quantitative data (summarized and contextualized in this document), and qualitative information in the form of student interviews would shed more light, I draw three preliminary conclusions:

1. Abandonment runs rampant. This study followed a Twitter conversation on data rot on institutional Web pages as some entities, including student groups, moved their presence to Facebook. Yet stale pages and outdated information run rampant on Facebook as well. In amassing data, I chose to discard older versions of organizations’ official groups in favor of more current ones. I decided doing so was most fair to engagement measures and membership totals (which could wane toward a more current group). Not an ideal solution, but it indicates abandonment rates even higher than stated measures.

2. Interface is underutilized. One of Facebook’s greatest advantages remains media-rich engagement tools like events, photos, videos and discussion forums. It proved very rare to find organizations posting even the most rudimentary group photos or creating Facebook events, let alone uploading videos or inviting conversations on Walls or in forums. The vast majority used the Facebook Wall mainly for simple announcements.

3. A learning curve remains from connecting to engaging. Our students have mastered the art of using Facebook on a personal level to make connections and carry out conversations. So why are student organization presences so rarely updated and engaging? I think partly it comes back to my initial finding with freshmen that they think of social media as first and foremost a connector, and less so a tool. I’m one of the few people I know who regularly speaks to student groups about using social media as a promotional/marketing avenue, and reactions indicate this idea represents a bit of a paradigm shift. Perhaps most student organizations are still feeling out the process of changing hats to using it for more official communication. In fairness to the students, their results are not atypical of global use: Most businesses, non-profits and other entities are nowhere near mastering the use of social media for engagement.


Filed under Web