Ode to the Smartphone… Sort of

The fourth post in our summer-intern blog series was authored by Samantha Hauser from Arizona State University. Posts by Forrest Hanson, Meaghan Davison and Kristen Marchus can be found here, here and here, respectively. Have at it, Samantha!

– Bri and Dave

My Blackberry and I have been together for about six months, and already I can’t imagine life without it. We do everything together: eat, sleep, work, watch TV, hang out with friends, you name it. When I’m lost, my smartphone is my compass. When I’m hungry, my phone finds the nearest restaurants and kindly sorts them by price, cuisine or customer ratings. My phone even helps me manage my workout routines and keep track of my calorie intake. But most of all, my smartphone has my back with social media. Nobody touches my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Skype or Gmail accounts without my phone finding out about it… And I mean nobody.

My phone works hard around the clock to keep me up-to-date with what’s going on in my little cyber universe, blinking, beeping and buzzing every time it sees some action. But lately I’ve been finding that I’m just as much a slave to my phone as it is to me. Each blink, beep and buzz is like a little teaser, begging for my attention. And the more it blinks, the more curious I become. Did my professor finally post the midterm grades? Did my boyfriend just text me? Maybe it was just my roommate responding to my wall post. It doesn’t take long for the uncertainty to overwhelm me, and I have to give in and pick up my phone.

Recently, I’ve had to consciously keep myself from rushing to check every notification my phone gives me. It’s not always appropriate to be staring at your phone, and I have to remind myself during these types of situations that I can check my phone as soon as a more appropriate opportunity presents itself. Otherwise, I end up responding to e-mails at the dinner table and checking Facebook in the shower.

But it’s not just my own internal pressure to stay connected that leads me into a state of mental anguish every time my phone’s little red light starts blinking. There’s an increasing pressure from the outside world to be connected and available 24/7. If I don’t answer a text message right away, I get another in five minutes that just says, “???” If I don’t respond to an e-mail within a few hours, I get a text asking, “Hey did you get my e-mail?”

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on corporate culture, but I know these concepts translate into the professional world as well. And with all of this pressure to stay connected coming from both work and home (often through the same laptops, phones and networks), I wonder if it will ever become too much.

The bottom line is that while being connected 24/7 is fun, it’s also exhausting. With every futuristic new tool my smartphone offers me, my life gets a little more complicated. At the moment, this constant flow of information into the palm of my hand is new and fun and exciting, but I sometimes wonder if — and when — the novelty will wear off.

What do you think? Will there ever come a day when we all throw in the towel and jump back on the Paleolithic bandwagon? Or will we always be slaves to the newest technological wonders that developers throw our way?

Related articles:

Ryan Seacrest is addicted to his Blackberry, too! Here he talks about it with Larry King:

– Samantha

Social Networking or Networking Socially?

The second post in our summer-intern blog series was authored by Meaghan Davison from Gonzaga University. The first post, written by Forrest Hanson, can be found here. Take it away, Meaghan!

– Bri and Dave

We all see them. Perhaps we are among the guilty ones. We see them at restaurants: Families at dinner; each member plugged into his or her iPad, iPhone or iPod. We see them at work: Colleagues texting and checking statuses on social networking sites while simultaneously attempting to engage in a conversation with a co-worker. While it is important to embrace new avenues of communication, I can’t help but wonder — What ever happened to face-to-face communication?

This past weekend, Americans across the country celebrated our independence and freedom. Families and communities gathered at barbecues, baseball games, parades and fireworks to commemorate our founders and the American Revolution with American traditions. However, amid the festivities, I realized many people failed to put aside the technology to enjoy the family and friends around them. Is this the new American society? Do we prefer virtual (and often anonymous) communication to real personal contact? Does technology intended to facilitate connections disrupt actual human relationships?

Coincidentally, a few days earlier on June 30, the world celebrated another revolution with Social Media Day. Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore proclaimed Social Media Day as “a day to celebrate the changes in media that have empowered us to stay connected to information in real time, the tools that have enabled us to communicate from miles apart…” (see embedded video below). While a day dedicated to the appreciation of social media seems harmless, it also seems pointless. Americans celebrate Independence Day to focus upon the freedoms we often take for granted. By contrast, a social media commemoration seems unnecessary when technology is so omnipresent in our daily lives that we sleep with Blackberries and check Facebook and Twitter every half hour.

Indeed, in response to Mr. Cashmore’s holiday, Jay Dolan, a self-proclaimed Anti-Social Media blogger, urged a counter celebration of June 30 as Anti-Social Media Day. Dolan understands and appreciates the importance of social media, but mocks society’s dot-com addiction. Perhaps Anti-Social Media Day is an excessive and harsh response to Cashmore’s focus on the benefits of the technological revolution. Yet, Dolan offers some easy suggestions, which can be adapted in the office to facilitate personal connections and build a team mentality.

  • Call someone on the phone: Instant messaging a co-worker is certainly easy, but can lead to miscommunication and confusion. The lols, nps and smiley faces all possess ambiguous meanings. Pick up the phone, dial the extension and listen to the person’s voice to obtain nuance and emotion. If uncertainty exists, or you receive a voice mail…
  • Walk over to your co-worker’s desk: Have a face-to-face conversation. Conversation offers a nice change of pace, and you might gain a clearer understanding of what task must be accomplished, what needs to be changed, and how to tackle a problem. A person’s expression can convey confusion or doubt lost in e-mail. Additionally, a short walk and change of environment might stir your own creativity.
  • Leave a note: If a colleague is not at his or her desk, leave a message. A handwritten, delivered note suggests a sense of urgency and reflects a special respect for your colleagues’ opinions and expertise. A note demonstrates comfort with your relationships as well as a commitment to diligence about producing quality work in a timely fashion.

Undoubtedly, modern technology offers incredible and unparalleled opportunities to rapidly acquire and disseminate information, expand knowledge, and establish global contacts. So, too, technology, social networking and integrated communications are essential to successful public-relations campaigns. Twitter, Facebook, texting and e-mails are all integral and necessary components of our efforts to stay connected and current.

Yet, in a field in which effective networking and communication is necessary, a dedicated professional also must maintain healthy relationships with clients and co-workers. Face-to-face conversations offer invaluable opportunities to glean emotional reactions to our ideas as well as to build trust and collegiality essential to success on future projects. Teamwork will be enhanced only to the extent social networking does not displace networking socially. At the foundational level, public relations must begin with networking socially, that is respecting clients and co-workers, while employing social networking to service these relationships. Technology should be a tool to enhance our lives, not a new reality to replace humanity. An emphasis on networking socially maintains a focus on the importance of teamwork, customer service and strong personal relationships. Such an approach ensures social networking serves our values and goals.

– Meaghan

How to preserve literary treasures…and your users’ sanity

Looking for a way to irritate the heck out of visitors to your website? Make them decipher one of these garbled, cryptic CAPTCHAs during the registration process:

I pulled the image above from the registration page for an online ice hockey forum. (I’m in the market for some new gear and needed advice from other players.) After a few minutes of squinting, some cursing and several failed attempts at typing in the correct series of letters, numbers and hieroglyphics,  I gave up and moved on to a competing forum, where I got the information I was looking for.

What a lost opportunity.

I understand the value of these CAPTCHAs, a hilariously nerdy acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.” In other words, they screen out spammers.  But there’s no reason to subject your users to such torture.

Check out the version of CAPTCHA used by sites like Craigslist:

See? Nice and legible.

The best part? This newer version, dubbed reCAPTCHA, is more than just a spam bot screener: it’s part of a global effort to help digitize books, newspapers and old radio shows.  Each time someone completes a reCAPTCHA on a site like Craigslist, they’ve actually helped digitize a small piece of scanned text from an old book or other piece of content that computers can’t always recognize.

So do your users – and the world – a favor and upgrade your site.  Here’s the pain-free registration form.

Mike Pilarz

TEDTalk: SixthSense Technology

The below TEDTalk video of Pattie Maes demonstrating new SixthSense technology still amazes me. There’s not much I can add that the video doesn’t capture. It will be very interesting to see how our future is shaped by technology and devices that are capable of pulling digital information directly from the physical world we live in.

Follow @tedtalks on Twitter.

– Dave

Twitter Adds Lists, Retweet Features

First it was lists, now it’s retweets. Over the past couple months Twitter has gradually rolled out these features to its users, and they’ve garnered a lot of online chatter. The new capabilities are perhaps most noticeable when using Twitter via its Web platform, though third-party applications are starting to add support as well (for lists, since practically all of them previously supported retweeting).

Are you using these new features? If so, in what ways? Have they enhanced your Twitter experience, or complicated it? We used our @HaroldsKids handle to start a list of our team members who are on Twitter (speaking of which, if you’re on Twitter and we’ve missed you please let us know!). Among other benefits, lists can help you keep tabs on a group of users with a common interest. Mashable, for example, has a list of all its news writers here.

As far as far as retweets go, I’m still getting used to them — actually, probably more accurately, the way in which retweets are denoted in Twitter Web. I keep looking for “RT” which we’ve all become accustomed to (most people are still using “RT,” by the way), but now there’s the new retweet icon and an option below it to see who else has retweeted that particular tweet.

So much. So fast! And all so new. We’ll see how this goes…

Try checking out “10 Ways You Can Use Twitter Lists” and “HOW TO: Use Twitter Lists” for some helpful information on lists, and “Twitter’s Retweet Feature: Love or Hate?” for retweet commentary. Come to think of it, Mashable’s “Twitter Guide Book” is pretty darn resourceful, too.

On one of our recent team calls someone mentioned that, while these new features are cool, it’s pretty amazing that Twitter is just now officially embracing capabilities and nomenclature that users created and have relied on for years, and that third-party applications have been quick to integrate.

– Dave

Example of Lists Feature:

Example of Retweet Feature:

Web 2.0 Summit Replays

If you didn’t get a chance to attend or tune in to the recent Web 2.0 Summit (#w2s), check out the organization’s YouTube page for some great video footage from the event. John Battelle hosts in-depth interviews with executives from companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter, in addition to many, many others. Here are the Facebook and Twitter interviews, which I enjoyed.

– Dave

Cision Presents: “Twitter 101”

Yesterday Cision put on a “Twitter 101” Webinar, and compared to the plethora of virtual crash-courses that cover the same subject I have to say it was one of the best I’ve attended. The hosts (@storyassistant and @hksully) provided some great social-media statistics and didn’t waste time covering Twitter basics. They also focused on the business application and impact of all the presented content. Not too common!

Below are some notes from the Webinar.

Social media:

  • Social networks/blogs are the fourth most popular online activity, coming in ahead of personal e-mail. The only three things that are more popular than social media are: search, portal sites and PC software that uses the Web. (Nielsen Online Study, March 2009)
  • The biggest increase in visitors to social networks was in the 35-49 age range at 11.3 million people. (Nielsen Online Study, March 2009)
  • 67 percent of the entire online community uses social networks. (Nielsen Online Study, March 2009)
  • One-third of all time spent on the Internet is on social networks/blogs. (Nielsen Online Study, March 2009)

Twitter:

  • @PRsarahevans created #journchat for improving interactions between journalists, bloggers and PR pros, a good example of personal branding.
  • Look to @ocreggie for a great example of how to use a Twitter handle with multiple Tweeps while remaining transparent.
  • Once you create a good core following (approximately 200) using the right tools, your number of followers will grow organically simply through the interaction that happens with those who are most relevant to you.

Some useful Twitter tools:

  • Find People for easy connections via the Web interface.
  • Search.Twitter.com for crawling profiles and Tweets.
  • Tweet Later for monitoring keywords and getting automated keyword reports mailed to you on set intervals.
  • Twellow for a Twitter Yellow Pages, with categorized groups of Tweeps to find and follow.
  • Mr. Tweet for a personal networking assistant that works to link you up with similar Tweeps based on your Tweets.
  • TweetDeck for a good desktop application that provides a better Twitter experience. You can categorize followers by lists, use multiple handles, one-click RT/@replies, smooth interface, easy URL shorteners, etc.
  • Seesmic Desktop for another solid desktop application (less of a resource hog than TweetDeck).
  • Twitpic for sharing photos.
  • BudURL for URL shortening and collecting data on that link (some features are fee-based).

Cision also offers some Webinar downloads, available here.

– Dave