I Found Out on Facebook…

In the past two months I’ve learned of two pretty big news items on close family members…via Facebook.

And I recognize that I’m not alone in my experience. As we continue to share more and more of our personal lives via social media, plenty others of you are undoubtedly in the same boat.

“Did you hear so-and-so was expecting?”

“No, that’s great! Did they call you?”

“Nope, I read it on Facebook.”

It’s become commonplace, almost expected that formal announcements that were once reserved for pen and paper, and then replaced by phone calls, now happen on Facebook. The thought struck me as I reflected on all of this, “Wow, how incredibly special it is to receive announcements such as these via mail. Imagine how special it will be in two years? Ten years?”

The Big Picture

In a larger sense, it’s interesting to wonder if consumer behavior and economic forces will collude to drive print media toward higher-end, luxury formats. Think Wired magazine with its beautiful spreads and high-quality paper versus Reader’s Digest.

From a marketing perspective, it’s an interesting time to be looking at print media. With people receiving so much less mail, your piece may actually rise above the clutter and be read.

As for me, I’ve decided to set a goal for myself to draft a personal, hand-written letter at least once a month to a friend or family member. (I know, it’s sad that once a month is daunting in its ambition.)

We’ll see how it goes…

The American Girl Place and Content Marketing Perfected

While in Chicago this weekend I brought my seven-month-old daughter to the American Girl place. I’m pretty against the kind of commercialism that American Girl dolls encourages, so I figured it’d be good to take her there now while she won’t remember it.

I didn’t know a whole lot about the American Girl phenomenon, and I won’t pretend to be an expert after having visited one store. But I will say that I am amazed at how well that brand has perfected content marketing.

If you know anything about American Girl dolls, then you know I’m not saying anything new. You’ll just have to forgive me. As a new dad, this whole franchise was foreign to me.

For those who don’t know, American Girl dolls are, at first glance, simply grossly overpriced toys. But take a second look and suddenly you get it.

It’s not the doll.

It’s the story.

Each American Girl doll comes with a story. Kitt is from New York and wants to be a writer when she grows up. So-and-so grew up during the Great Depression and is working as an actress to help pay the bills. Etc. Etc.

American Girl’s primary value isn’t in the doll. It’s in the story. But because they’ve invested so much in the stories, they’re able to spin off a hundred different products from it.

And once you’ve visited the American Girl Place in Chicago, it all clicks. Books. Videos. Movies. A magazine. You name it.

They probably have an iPhone app.

(UPDATE: They don’t. But they do have an online university where girls can go to play games and different activities online.)

Facebook, Spokeo and the End of (Online) Privacy

So I received a chain email that’s been going around warning people about Spokeo, a website that aggregates public information on people. (If you search for yourself, you’ll probably find your name, address, maybe even your home value and a few relatives. Spokeo isn’t new, and there are others out there, so I’m unsure what prompted the alarmist chain email in the first place.)

But the email did prompt a discussion amongst me and some family members regarding how much information is available about people online. Basically, Spokeo left quite a few of my family members spooked.

Of course, all of the information that Spokeo finds about you is already public. Your phone number and address were in the phone book. Your home sale price is on record at your county clerk office. You get the idea. Spokeo just pulls it all together and puts it at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection.

The problem with blaming Facebook…

Inevitably, the conversation turned to Facebook, the 800-pound gorilla in the room of online privacy. As the conversation evolved, I found myself defending Facebook for two reasons: first, people join Facebook and divulge personal information freely, and, second, the trend I’m seeing toward sharing more information isn’t unique to Facebook and, therefore, I’d rather be on Facebook framing my own personal narrative rather than allowing other people to share information about me without my knowledge.

Then again, I live and breathe digital media for my day job, and long ceded any semblance of online privacy by joining every social network I could and starting a personal blog. So it was interesting to hear the perspective from people who can say, with all honesty, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

To use the Spokeo example again, that website specifically, as well as others, haven’t done anything illegal, unethical or in any way suspect by providing the information they aggregate. Rather, the Internet in general has completely redefined the concept of “public information.”

And the $64 million question is…

So are we comfortable with that? Is our society better off for it? Is that a price that we collectively pay to enjoy the numerous benefits such openness provides (easier access to information in education, better accountability in government, the ability to do my Christmas shopping a month in advance on Amazon in my pajamas)?

I don’t have the answers, but it did inspire me to check my Facebook privacy settings again.

January NAMA Luncheon – The Future of Mobile Apps

I attended the January NAMA luncheon this past week and got the chance to hear Tim Moses, CEO of Sitemason, a web development and CMS-provider here in town, give a talk on the future of mobile app development.

He set up the talk by giving the status of the mobile app landscape: Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android pretty much dominant the market while Blackberry users only check email. In other words, if you’re a marketer, you’re going to want to focus your efforts on those two markets.

But one of the most interesting things I think he did was to pull a quote from Matt Cutt’s blog, supposedly penned in 2008, but published January 3rd, 2011:

“More people will realize the inevitable truth that Bill Gates saw years ago and that Apple has chased since the introduction of the ROKR: of all the devices in your pocket, the only one you’re not willing to give up is your phone. Therefore, all personal gadgets will eventually be subsumed by your phone. Camera? Already part of your phone. Pen and notebook? Quite close. Video camera? Almost there, give it a couple more years. Car keys, wallet? It will come. In five years, your phone will have fingerprint authentication and be able to start your car or pay for groceries with contactless/RFID chips. It’s all coming. In 10 years you’ll use your phone to authenticate yourself at the doctor, authenticate prescriptions, and store your personal health history, not to mention all your desktop preferences, bookmarks, browser add-ons, and keys to which music you have permission to stream or download from the cloud.” I call this TRUE. Most people now agree that your phone is a personal computer in your pocket. Back in 2008, not everyone realized this.

I think that was (if true) a great prediction. Moses also followed that up with a stat that the most frequently used camera to upload photos to Flickr is the iPhone.

It’s amazing how we take all of this granted now. “People use an internet-enabled device that is with them at all times more often than their $1,000 (with lenses) Canon Rebel? Duh!”

Moses also shared a great anecdote of how his 7-year-old son asked to use his phone the other day because he lost something under the couch. It’s perhaps unsurprising that phones have become our cameras, our computers, our internet connections and, yes, our flashlights.

The two trends I keep hearing more and more about, as far as smart phones go, are the implications for e-commerce and augmented reality (AR). I hear less about accessing and managing personal medical records, but those implications are interesting as well.

How Clay Shirky Inspired My Nashville Flood Relief Efforts

In early June I watched the following video in which Clay Shirky, a professor and consultant who writes and speaks on all things Web-related, talks about two broad ways people use new media tools to contribute.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

It is 13 minutes long, so if you don’t have the time to watch it, here’s my summary and takeaway.

Shirky uses two examples of participatory media: LOLcats and Ushahidi, to distinguish between two ways people use new media tools to collaborate. The first, of course, are the incredibly adorable kitten photos with captions, such as “i can haz cheezburger?” added on top:

LOLcat

That kind of participation is communal. It adds value (how much value is debatable) to a community of people who find LOLcats funny. And, arguably, no matter how seemingly inane it is, it beats the heck out of sitting on the couch and watching television because, hey, at least you’re doing something.

Ushahidi, on the other hand, is a free, downloadable open source platform that allows people to collaborate by contributing information that is then added to a map. It was created by a few developers in the violent aftermath of 2008 elections in Kenya, but has since been used more generally in crisis management situations all over the world, including the earthquake earlier this year in Haiti. This kind of participation, Shirky argues, is civic. It generates value that can be enjoyed by society as a whole, not just a small community of folks.

The West Nashville Flood Recovery Network

The reason I wanted to make mention of this now is because the above talk was a main drive that inspired me to pitch in help build a website for The West Nashville Flood Recovery Network here in my neighborhood in West Nashville.

I used a day off from work to build the site (and, admittedly, some extra time on nights and weekends), and I have since wrote up some more about it on our company blog here.

I tip my hat off to Shirky, because he poses a great question. How do we as a society collectively decide to spend more of our free time on collaborative efforts such as Ushahidi, or establishing networks for sustained flood recovery, rather than LOLcats?

Nashville’s MAD Mixer and an Indigo Press

AMP Logo

Just wanted to give a shout out to everyone at Advocate Marketing & Printing for their mixer Thursday night: Marketing + Advertising + Design.

I never know what to expect as a young, Nashville nonnative when I attend any kind of networking event. This one landed quite well in the middle of the spectrum from overly stuffy to too laid back.

Plus, owner Matt Sims gave me and a friend a tour of his Indigo Press.

Thanks, Matt!