Archive for September, 2011

September 28, 2011

New Facebook timeline: Love it or hate it? [screenshots]

Substantive changes have been made to Facebook, and at first glance it looks like an improvement. I’ve spent the last week or so experimenting with the developers’ release of Facebook timeline to get a sense of what’s new, and what works. With this update going Facebook-wide at the end of this week (September 30, 2011), here are a few things that caught my eye.

Unbalanced three-column view: Before, we were faced with a three-column view, each column given roughly one third of the page, that featured left-navigation with your content in the middle and advertisements on the right. Your content, and daily interactions were concentrated in the centre and only given about 40% of the screen. The new timeline layout expands the content section and drastically reduces the emphasis given to navigation and advertisements.

Old:

New timeline:

When I first saw the layout I thought “Where are the ads?” and it took me a little while to notice they are now much smaller and tucked away in the bottom corner on the right-side of the page.

The timeline: A logical design move, with a long memory. Not only can you interact with latest and popular news from others, but you can also easily “creep” your own content by scrolling back through your timeline. You won’t just see the posts and friends you have made over the years; the timeline uses much of the other information you have trusted to Facebook to extend your timeline back to the day you were born. It’s fun to see what you were up to a few years ago, what music you were listening to, and how disappointed you were when the Toronto Maple Leafs lost.

I also like the “featured post option” in the timeline. You can now give certain items greater visual prominence while hiding others. Just click that little star in the corner of one of your posts and you can feature the items you think will be of most interest to your friends.

The cover: This spot for a large photo at the top of your profile is the first thing you will notice. My initial reaction to seeing this big, open area, was “this is great!” Then I quickly thought…”what the heck am I going to put there?” You can choose to display a photo that is currently in one of your albums, or you can upload a new one.

Be careful what photos you choose to include as your cover. If you use one of the previously uploaded photos you have shared with just friends, the privacy settings are automatically changed to public. If you are designing something custom for this space, 1030px  x 380px is your best bet for sizing.

Surrender more personal information: Now with a couple of clicks you can easily share many more personal details.  They are now asking for information about when a loved one died, when you got your driver’s licence, when you bought a home, when you broke your arm, when you had surgery, when you completed your military service, etc.

I chuckle each time I see these fields come into play, but knowing this type of information is important for Facebook. With these details, advertisers can now display better ads that are most likely to be of interest to you. Improving the success of these ads helps to keep Facebook free. Before I surrender any information to my social networks, I always ask myself “How does sharing this information enhance my experience?” If I don’t have a good answer, I often pass.

Facebook gets my  for this update, but what do you think?

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September 22, 2011

Do you STILL hate the new Facebook? [Video]

I’ve written this post before, at the end of 2010, the last time Facebook made a significant update. Every time Facebook unveils their new innovations, users get up in arms and turn to Facebook itself to vent their frustration. I can understand the shock that some people feel when the login to see that their photos, news, friends, and lists are not in same place. Facebook has updated their service a lot over the past few months, including new subscriptions, news feeds, mobile versions, games, photos, lists, and more. Change is good.

Here’s what I see:

News ticker: It’s that little box on the top-right side of the page that follows you as you navigate around the page. It keeps me posted on the minute-by-minute updates from friends and I don’t have to click back to the main news feed to see the updates. I like it.

Better lists: We have Google+ Circles to thank for this upgrade. Facebook has gone one step further and has started to suggest how to categorize our friends. Though, they can’t get it 100% right with their suggestions, I like to have a place to start from.

Subscribe button: This is another page out of the Google+ (and Twitter) playbook. You can now follow anybody on Facebook, without having to be their friend, as long as they have enabled their subscribe feature. I’m still experimenting with this and don’t know if I’ll keep it.

Privacy: They claim to have added a “new suite of safety tools” to the network, including advanced security settings, and tools for families. Before you go any further with the new Facebook, it’s a good idea to revisit your privacy settings to make sure nothing has been unknowingly changed. I do this after every Facebook upgrade.

User backlash: It happened in 2008, it happened in 2010, it happened in February of 2011 with the photo viewer update, and now it’s happening again. People are freaking out about the upgrades. I would encourage those who are upset to take a breath, give the new features a try, and then decide if they work for you. If you don’t like them, don’t use them – that sends a message to Facebook.

Remember, this type of upgrading is essential. If we were faced today with Facebook as it existed in 2006, surely we wouldn’t be satisfied. Yes, they are “keeping up with the Jones'” in some respects (Google+ and Twitter), but that’s a good thing. The more pressure these companies put on each other the faster they are forced to innovate and improve their services. At the end of the day, it’s the user who benefits most from these perpetual upgrades. You may not love them all, but we’re definitely better off today then we were way back in 2006.

What do you think about the new Facebook? Love it? Hate it? or meh? I would love some thoughts on this one.

Here’s a quick video from Facebook explaining some of their new features:

September 14, 2011

Don’t make anonymous online posts, you drunks!

Do you ever get frustrated when you come across a posting that you passionately agree, or disagree, with and want to find out more about the poster, but you can’t? The problem doesn’t lie with your research skills, it lies with the fact that the post was made anonymously. Now, because that person used a pseudonym, and didn’t enter any additional information, it is almost impossible to find out more about that user to establish credibility, connect with them socially, or follow-up on other related topics.

I can just picture this “anonymous” person sitting behind the keyboard thinking “I don’t want the whole world to know my name” or “why would I ever want to add a ‘profile picture'” or “I’m not telling you who I am: what if my boss see this?” But this person goes ahead and shares his/her opinion thinking that “the world NEEDS to hear my opinion!”

If you don’t tie your individual comments back to your own personality, it’s very difficult to establish credibility on the subject you are commenting about. Without credibility, comments and subsequent replies have the tendency to turn into a virtual bar-room shouting match rather than a productive conversation between opinion leaders, experts, industry, educators, students (I use the term students to include anybody wanting to learn more about a topic), etc.

In my view, anonymous posts not only provide the ideal conditions for people to aggressively (offensively) broadcast their opinion and pick fights, but also they effectively stifle the conversation by polluting it with a lot of words with little substance.

A lot of academic research was conducted around the turn of the millennium (1997-2003) on anonymous postings on the internet. Most of the research suggested that this anonymity is a good thing and should be protected – after all it was the “natural state of the internet”, they thought. But this was over a decade ago, and things have changed.

The biggest change is the introduction of social networks. Many of these networks require users to provide a real name to participate (Google+) or to get the best value out of the service (Facebook). Now, the “natural state of the internet” is a place where many of our accounts are linked, creating a consistent online footprint that aggregates and tracks much of the content we have generated or interacted with. If I am intrigued by a comment you make, I can usually follow a series of links and get a general understanding of who you are, which helps contextualize your comments and posts.

Another significant change is that “online worlds” and “offline worlds” are now so interconnected that they can be considered one, and not two separate places. Instead of splitting our personalities into several different performances based on work, home, family, friends, online, and offline, we are recognizing that who we are in one element of our lives should be reflected in others.

Current research paints a very different picture from the research conducted just a decade ago. In a recent study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, researchers concluded that the thrill people get when making anonymous online postings can lead to impaired judgement similar to that experienced by those who get a kick out of abusing their power or are intoxicated by alcohol. This mask of anonymity lowers the users’ inhibitions, ulitmatly encouraging them to pay less attention to social norms, and act more impulsively.

Here’s a brief overview from the Kellogg School of Management’s news release:

“When people lose their inhibitions — from being drunk, powerful, or acting anonymously — there can be significant behavioral consequences. In effect, disinhibition can both reveal and shape the person, as contradictory as that may sound…[this] disinhibition can lead to behavior more consistent with one’s true underlying motives or dispositions…”

These researchers stop short of saying that we should eliminate anonymous postings, but that is exactly what I’m suggesting. Let’s get rid of the option to post anonymously and ensure that all content is properly attributed to the content creator. We would then be able to view all comments, discussions, blogs, and posts in a context related to the users’ experiences, employment, education, post history, and so on. Reducing, or eliminating, these “impaired” comments would enhance our online experience.

If you have an opinion you feel strongly about, why not have it attributed to you? What are you worried about? Let’s take responsibility and stand behind what we say online and offline – If you’re not willing to share your name, don’t bother sharing your opinion.

Now the question is over to you.…Should we work towards eliminating anonymous postings? Or is it something that should be preserved as it is vital to your internet experience?

September 6, 2011

Social media can be your key to better grades this year [Infographic]

Today is the unofficial end of summer in Canada, and many places around the world, as students from kindergarden to post-secondary return to school for another year of study. Social media is often demonized as a classroom (and workplace) distraction that negatively affects students. Early research from the Whittmore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire shows that this isn’t the case at all. It turns out that social media doesn’t mean lower grades; it actually helps create the environment that encourages discussion and knowledge transfer, ultimately resulting in higher grades for students who engage in social media the most.

This research has been captured in the infographic below, thanks to mastersineducation.org, and a few things really jumped out at me when I first saw it:

1. Better grades: It is interesting to note that this research suggests that better grades aren’t simply tied to whether you use social media or not, but it found that the more hours a student spends using social media the more likely it would be that they had higher grades.

2. Increase of peer-to-peer learning: When teachers integrate social media in the classroom, this research shows learning through discussion increases and students achieve higher grades. Often, this can be as simple as a Facebook page where students can discuss course content and assignments, Twitter accounts to send students reminders, or even YouTube videos of past lectures.

3. Use for education: After social media’s social and entertainment value, this research indicates that the third most common thing students use social media for is education.

Have your grades changed since you began using social media?

September 1, 2011

Seller Beware: What your business needs to know about Social Coupons and Community Buying [Interview]

One of the best take-aways from the Social Capital Conference this summer was the connection I made with Vivian Chang, Owner of BlendCreations.com (contemporary jewelry designers). Vivian had used a series of social coupons to drive business development, and I wanted the dirt. Of course, the main reason she decided to offer a social coupon for BlendCreations.com was to attract new customers, but it turns out that there are some other unexpected results you should think about if you are considering offering a social coupon for your business.

Vivian agreed to a quick interview to dive a little deeper into her social coupon experiment. During our conversation, she touches upon the quality of customer these sites attract, having to honour expired coupons, tips for other businesses considering social coupons, and more. Here are some of the highlights from the interview:

Q1 – What was the perceived benefit, and actual outcome, of offering a social coupon?

The perceived benefit was reaching a large, new customer base in cities where we had never had much exposure. While this was true — we did get an increase in traffic from the targeted cities — the resulting number of sales was disappointing. In hindsight, it’s not surprising because our product is quite niche. Remember, not everyone in the Groupon customer base will be interested in your product.

Q2 – Tell me the worst part about offering a social coupon?

Getting the less-than-ideal customer. This would be someone who is a bargain hunter, who has saved up enough referral money to spend the minimum value on your deal. These people often have no intention of buying again. By using ‘referral money’ (the kickbacks that many social coupon sites give customers for referring others), it further devalues the perceived value of our product.

Q3 – Was there anything unexpected that other business owners should know?

It’s easily overlooked, but in Canada gift certificates cannot expire. So a social coupon is essentially selling a discounted gift certificate — it has a monetary value that the customer has purchased. Once the social coupon has expired, the deal price is no longer valid, but the customer is still entitled to use their coupon for the amount they paid. In other words, if the coupon was $10 for $20 worth of merchandise, once the coupon expires, the customer can still use their coupon for $10 worth of merchandise. In that sense, you still have to deal with honouring expired coupons.

Q4 – Would you do it again?

While our experience was “okay” — we did not lose money in doing social coupons — we have decided not to continue this type of marketing. Part of the reason is that there are just so many social coupon sites out there. The novelty of the social coupon has kind of worn off for the average consumer, so getting your deal noticed in a sea of a dozen or more daily deals is getting harder.

The other reason is the prevalence of the “bargain-hunter” — someone who has no intention of repeat business —which makes it hard to want to do more social coupons since it can be the same bargain-hunters who repeatedly only buy with a steep discount. In many ways, doing more social coupons would result in exposure to an audience who has either already seen us, or is only interested in us as a ‘bargain’ and not as a business they’d otherwise patronize.

Q5 -Would you encourage other small business owners to offer social coupons?

I would encourage other small business owners to go in with their eyes wide open — read the fine print and calculate whether or not there is a good return on investment. Make absolutely sure that selling a large number of social coupons does not actually cost you money. Also know that you are going into a social coupon as a marketing venture and not a way to make money off each sale.

About Blend Creations Contemporary Jewelry Designers

Blend Creations seemed like a fitting name for a contemporary jewelry line when husband & wife team Eric Jean-Louis and Vivian Cheng decided to partner in an artistic business venture. Together, graphic designer Eric, and industrial designer Vivian, combine their divergent design approaches to create a contemporary jewelry line that is clean and modern in aesthetic, yet also blends their respective cultures in East meeting West. Find out more at BlendCreations.com.

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