Sunday, June 23, 2013

Instavideo: Adding Versatility + 9 Additional Seconds of Glory

Instagram released video capability within their app earlier this week.  The video feature allows for 15 second videos, or a 15 second combination of video clips.  This enhances Instagram's competitive edge in the photo and video sharing space.  Instagram, owned by Facebook, has been growing in popularity particularly over the past several months.  However, many Instagram users were also downloading Vine, Instagram's competitor's app, to share videos.  Now those who want to share both photos and videos have the convenience of being able to do both through one app with Instagram.

An additional benefit of Instagram's video feature is that it allows for videos that are 9 seconds longer than Vine's videos, which are only a maximum of 6 seconds in length.  The question may linger of whether 15 seconds is still too short for some users, or on the flip side, whether 15 seconds is too long to hold the interest of viewers.

Although Instagram has the powerhouse of Facebook behind it, it is surprising to hear that the Instagram app is only ranked as the #17 top downloaded app in the Apple app store, whereas Vine is ranked as #3.

The phenomenon of sharing photos and videos is undoubtedly exploding, so adding video capability was an obvious move for Instagram.  It was a smart strategic move to allow users to share both formats of content, and a great competitive move to help fend off Vine.  Personally, I really like Instagram's ability to use filters and select a cover image for each video, whereas Vine automatically selects a cover image, which is generally the first clip of the video.

Monday, June 17, 2013

#Facebook Unveils Hashtags

Facebook users have been using hashtags for quite some time, although those hashtags essentially did nothing.  While they were cute and/or funny, they did not actually link to #anything.  Users were accustomed to using them on other social media platforms, including Twitter and Instagram, where the hashtags were actually links that "tagged" their content as part of the larger discussion around particular topics.

For example, last night during the NBA finals, Twitter and Instagram users could use the hashtag #NBAfinals on their posts and their content would be searchable under that hashtag.  Additionally, if users wanted to follow the conversation surrounding the NBA finals, all they had to do was search for #NBAfinals in either platform, and all tweets/Instagram pictures that had that hashtag would appear.  Hashtags are efficient and and organizational tool.

Last week, Facebook unveiled hashtags on their own site.  They must have figured that as long as users were using them, they might as well actually do something, right?  This was an interesting unveiling, as the general consensus was "it's about time," and it was also one of the first times that Facebook has been late to the party.  Facebook has consistently been ahead of the curve in introducing new features, but this time was unveiling the feature as more of a catch-up move.

I believe that releasing the functionality for hashtags was a necessary move, but still see work that needs to be done to make the hashtags more useful.  For example, in Twitter you can see the "trending topics," which helps users to see what the popular hashtags are to use.  With Facebook, you essentially have to search for hashtags that would seem logical, as there is not a trending topics area.  Additionally, Facebook users tend to be much more concerned with privacy than Twitter or Instagram users.  Facebook is claiming that the same privacy rules apply to hashtags as the remainder of our content on the site, but it is still an area of apprehension for many.

So, the question remains.  Will Facebook users jump on board with using hashtags as they do on Twitter and Instagram?  Or will they #remainascrazylongfunnyhashtagsthatdon'tmeananything?  Or #as #short #one #word #hashtags #that #are #pointless #also?  What do you think?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Social Media: Making Old Things New Again

Coca-Cola is respected as one of the companies who is tops in terms of having social media marketing "figured out."  They do a great job of marketing on their Facebook page, Twitter, and so forth.  However, one of my favorite innovative uses of technology is seen in their "Give the World a Coke" campaign that was re-released last year.

The beverage giant released a commercial, referred to as the "Hilltop" commercial/song back in 1971.  It opened up the concept of giving the world a Coke, but at that time, it was merely a dream.

Last year, the ad was re-introduced, but with the added feature of vending machines that were strategically placed around the world.  From these machines, people could select various locations to send a Coke to, and even record a brief video message for the recipient (who was a complete stranger). Through this campaign, Coke and its customers were now literally able to "give the world a Coke."

This is a great example of a company dusting off a great campaign that was created decades ago and taking it to a whole new level by incorporating today's technology.

Here is a link to the full creative brief for the project, and here is the link to the original commercial.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Does Social Media Inspire Fitness?

The world of apps and gadgets that track our fitness progress is growing at lightning speed.  We have transitioned from a time when the most advanced ways to track our progress were with pedometers that contained a watch battery inside, to a time when the spectrum of gadgets includes everything from wristbands that track our distance, to apps that tell our friends how far we just ran.

We have all seen the friends who use apps such as Nike's that post to Facebook when they start a workout, so that we can "cheer them on" during the run, and then the app posts the completion distance and time for all the world to see.

But do these gadgets really make a difference?  And what is the impact on our fitness goals when we know that our whole network of family and friends can see the intensity level and frequency of each of our workouts?  Is it really contributing to healthier, more fit lives?

I would argue that the people who were going to work out anyway are likely the same ones who are using these tools and sharing their data with their social networks.  I don't believe that they gather a huge new population of fitness fanatics, but I do believe that they provide motivation to those who are working out to push themselves harder.  If you know that everyone will see how fast you finished that run on the treadmill, you're less likely to take a walking break in the middle or end the workout early.

The slew of new gadgets really is pretty cool, and I admittedly really want to try a couple of them out.  This CNN article provides details on 7 different fitness tools, but here are two that I am particularly eyeing:

1. Run Keeper - this app allows you to find runners that are of a similar fitness level and who live nearby.  I am just getting back into running and this would be a fun way to meet some new running buddies, if used in a safe manner!

2. Nike+ Fuel Band - this is a tracking device that is worn as a wristband and connects to an app on your phone.  It tracks your own workout progress, and also shares the information with friends.  Nike has been a leader in the fitness gadget space for a few years now, and I love the idea of not only tracking my data with a wristband (rather than something clunky to carry around!), and having the option of sharing the data.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Google: Women in Technology


Google is arguably one of the most innovative companies.  Now, for their next challenge, they are taking on the issue of unequal percentages of men and women in the technology space.  The company holds an annual developers conference, and in past years, the percentage of female attendees has been in the single digits.  This year, they made it to the teens in percentages.  While it is a measurable increase, there is still a long way to go to bridge the gender gap.

The company is tackling the issue in a number of ways, including scholarships for women and recruiting efforts.

The article that is linked below indicates that Google has been trying to reach girls at a  younger age, but I believe this is where the hope lies in capturing girls' interest in the technology space.  Trying to attract girls to the field once they are already in college may work in some instances, but solely ramping up recruiting efforts towards females is futile and too late in the game.

If Google truly wants to bridge the gender gap, they need to sponsor science and technology camps for young girls starting in elementary and middle school.  They also need to invest in the US education system and reach students while they are still in their early years of school.

Additionally, software engineering careers need to offer the flexibility that many women are seeking in terms of work life balance.  If a woman knows that options exist to have a flexible schedule while they have young children, more women may be interested in entering the field.  This is seen in many other career fields, such as nursing or teaching, where girls and women know that they can have time off to be home with children, but still have a great career.

Here is a link to a CNN article that provides more detail about Google's efforts in this space.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Facebook: Content Overload

When Facebook first launched, it was merely profile pages where users could update their personal information and link with friends.  Then it added the ability to post status updates and pictures, which led to users logging in more frequently to see what their friends were doing.  Now it is a flurry of statuses, pictures, ads, and chaos.  Somehow I used to be able to feel fully caught up on the Facebook world in about 5 or 10 minutes.  Nowadays, I catch myself spending 30 minutes or longer, browsing largely unimportant content, and content from people I might no longer even recognize if I passed on the street because I haven't seen them in real life in so long.

While Facebook has its pros, and I love the ability to see pictures and updates from family members and close friends who live far away, I have been giving some thought to my personal Facebook strategy.  Frankly, I am wasting far too much time on the website.  Time that is spent on virtual friendships is time that is lost from real life, genuine friendships.

So - how can I get this situation back under control?  I have thought about (and tried) going cold turkey.  But honestly, that usually ends after about a day.  I've also tried limiting myself to logging in only once a day so that it does not drain my productivity.  But then I get stuck at a long traffic light, am bored, and that idea goes out the window.

The best strategy that I have found is to use the "hide" feature in the News Feed.  By allowing only "important updates" from a large number of friends, I am able to receive the most important updates, and updates from people I am closest with, rather than a ton of content that is not valuable and sucks up my time.

It is crazy to think that a social media platform that did not even exist ten years ago has infiltrated our lives in such a profound way.  I never thought I would need a "strategy" around how to manage my use of the site.  It also makes me realize how important the site is to advertisers, because we are all logged in so frequently and for such a large amount of time.  Compared to than buying billboards on roads where we may never read them, or buying ad space in a newspaper where readership is down, Facebook is prime real estate.

I'm curious how other people manage their Facebook lives.  Are others concerned about being as efficient as possible in gathering important updates, but screening out the rest?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Bloggerverse: What Does It All Really Mean?

Now that I am a few posts deep in this blog, I have been reflecting on the reasons why people blog and how blogs impact those who read them.  I have had a huge love for blogs for several years now and have frequently daydreamed about having my own.  But let's be honest - it could be compared to that feeling of looking out the window at your neighbor's wonderful dog every day and thinking, "man, I want a dog myself" and then one day, you go, adopt one, bring it home, and wake up the next morning only to think, "uh oh, what now?!"  You watched someone else do a great job with their own, you admired them, it brought joy to your life, but now it's time to do it yourself.  This puppy is now yours.

The amount of advice about how to handle it is endless, and you know there are definitely things to avoid.  But where do you start with this brand new space?

I believe the reasons why people can be blogged can be categorized into two distinct buckets:
1. As an outlet for compiling their ideas/thoughts/life in written format.
2. To be heard.

For the first one, I think of the example of moms who blog about their daily life with a baby, so that once they reach a point where they are no longer sleep deprived (ha!) they can remember those precious moments.  Also, so that grandparents who live far away can sneak a daily peak at the grandkids.   This category also includes brainstormers, creatives, and innovators who want to gather all of their thoughts on a specific topic in one location, which becomes their blog.

The second category includes those who want to have a platform where others can read their thoughts.  The purpose may be to viewed as an expert in a particular field, or to have a platform where the blogger can share his wisdom and thoughts, then gather feedback in the form of comments.  Blogs also provide credibility for the writer, as it adds to their digital footprint in their realm of expertise.

Blogs impact people by providing a community that is centered around a specific topic of interest, where the blogger provides content, but the readers add life to the posts by commenting and interacting.  They provide ideas, evoke thoughts, and can create both personally and professionally.

Here are links to a couple of blogs that I follow regularly & highly recommend:
Joy: Defined - by Joy Phenix
This blog is written by my pastor's wife, who works at a professional full-time job here in Atlanta.  She is truly a role model to me, and writes on a wide variety of topics, from family to faith to reviews of local restaurants.  Definitely a great read, particularly for women!

Musings - by Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff is a motivational writer and speaker who encourages readers to chase their dreams.  His posts  combine humor with the hard truth that we need to hear in our lives about being complacent.  This is a great blog for anyone looking to further their career by developing their passions.

I am still defining the goal of my blog.  Since this is an interest I have had for years, I want to maintain this blog long after the class is over, so I need to have direction and a focus.  This will likely involve moving to a new format where I can categorize posts into a small handful of different categories, similar to Joy's that I linked above.  My reason for blogging fits into the first category above, as I would like to have a place where I can record life and ideas as it happens, then be able to look back later to reflect.  Stay tuned.  I want to move from the "new puppy owner" to the "owner whose dog has clearly been to obedience school"!