Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 552 – Right to Privacy vs. Right to be Forgotten

Right to Privacy vs. Right to be Forgotten

In 2014, a European Court of Justice ruled that there is a right to be forgotten on the Internet. Essentially, older information can be removed from searches if –

…the data appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.

The ruling is vague and passes the individual judgment calls regarding relevancy and adequacy from the courts to the search engines themselves. In practice, because of its dominating market share, this means that this European Court of Justice has almost ceded jurisdiction to Google.

There is no such ruling in the United States. As Jeffrey Toobin put it in The New Yorker

In Europe, the right to privacy trumps freedom of speech; the reverse is true in the United States.

But why?

The Balance Tips Toward Privacy

Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 552 – Right to Privacy vs. Right to be Forgotten
English: Courtroom at the European Court of Justice Deutsch: Gerichtssaal im Europäischen Gerichtshof (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Europe, the balance tips in favor of privacy (and at the expense of the freedom of written and oral expression) because of recent European history. On a continent where the memory of the Holocaust is still fairly fresh, courts are reminded that the Dutch government kept a comprehensive listing of its citizens. The list was gathered under utilitarian motives, in that there was a desire to maximize benefit, e. g. to provide a better delivery of social services. But when the Nazis came, they used that self-same list to track down Jews and Gypsies.

Furthermore, under Communism and its surveillance state, European individuals found their privacy rights being violated, particularly by the Stasi in East Germany. Personal information was used to harm individuals and to pry into their private lives. Hence there is an overall mistrust of data gathering.

The Balance Tips Toward Free Expression

The opposite is true in the United States. Here, where the Holocaust did not directly come, and where the history of free expression goes back to Peter Zenger, the balance spills toward free expression. There is no ‘right to be forgotten’ law in America, and it seems unlikely that such a right would ever become recognized in the law. Instead, the push is in favor of expression, and if a request for an article, image, or website to be taken down is made, it is made on a copyright basis. Aggrieved parties are encouraged to seek a remedy of asking a webmaster to take down an image, article, or link as a courtesy. Barring that, parties also will attempt to take over copyright and demand a take down that way. This was the strategy employed by lawyers when unauthorized photographs of actresses Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence were leaked.

When Worlds Collide

Or, at least attitudes do. Without a world court or global consensus about the Internet, Google and other search engines are going to have to comply with differing and potentially conflicting rulings about what can and cannot be indexed. As more courts get involved, and dissimilar legal philosophies are imposed, Google’s attempts to be in compliance will get more and more complicated. There is a very real possibility that search will splinter even more, and searchers in, say, Tijuana, Mexico would see different results from searchers 30 minutes away in San Diego, California. And, potentially, those searchers could cross the border and find suppressed (or not) information online.

For an international phenomenon like the Internet, this sort of parochialism probably won’t last long.

The Weird World of Being Published

The Weird World of Being Published

I suppose, in the back of my mind, when I was first starting to write (age four or five or thereabouts), I had an idea about becoming a published author. I also wanted to, at times, be a cowgirl, a veterinarian, an archaeologist and other things. Becoming, for real, published, is one weird world.

Let me tell you all about it.

The Weird World of Being Published

Origins Story

No, I was not bitten by a radioactive spider.

For probably any aspiring author, the road is a long one. When I first started writing, it was what you’d now refer to as graphic fiction. I was a child and so I would draw little figures in addition to a few words. As I got older, the words began to dominate, and I have never written, as an adult, a graphic novel.

I wrote fan fiction for a while and then began to migrate over to wholly original fiction. I had wanted to write for NaNoWriMo back in 2012, but I did not have a decent idea that year. I also wanted to make what I wrote wholly original fiction. In 2013, I was fortunate enough to come up with a great idea and so Untrustworthy was born. I submitted it to a contest being held by Riverdale Avenue Books and was lucky enough to be chosen as the winner in February of 2014. My thanks, of course, goes out to the wonderful people there, particularly Lori Perkins and Don Weise.

The Start of the Wild Ride of Publishing

I took a few months for things to really start clicking along. Lori was busy, there were other submissions, plus of course they had a business to run. I was in school at Quinnipiac and so, while I noticed the time passing, I was okay with it.

In November, Lori contacted me and we started to get down to the nitty gritty. This included editing the manuscript, getting together a blurb about me, getting an established person in the business to review my book (a thousand thanks to Cecilia Tan!), and deciding on a cover. I felt that the aliens in my novel would be too difficult to draw, and making up a model like them would be costly (such things are at issue if you’re a first-time author, folks) and wouldn’t necessarily evoke my vision. Hence I instead suggested an image of broken glass. Adding to that effect were the concepts that (a) the moon, Wecabossia, would be nearly the same size as Caboss, so it would be rather large in the sky and readily observable during daylight hours, and (b) the Cabossians breathe methyl salicylate, or wintergreen oil. Those gave the cover designer (the incomparable Scott Carpenter) some design elements and ideas to work with. I truly love the cover and how the huge moon gives a sense of foreboding as the one broken window amidst a mass of perfection is a nagging hint that something’s not quite right.

Nuts and Bolts

There are a ton of strange things that go along with being published. For one, you need an Amazon Author page! But you can’t make one until your book is actually for sale on Amazon, in any format. Furthermore, Amazon’s many domains have different rules. Author pages can be made and tended to on Amazon.com (the US), Amazon.co.uk (the UK), Amazon.fr (France), Amazon.de (Germany), and Amazon.co.jp (Japan). Amazon Author pages exist on Amazon.ca (Canada), but you can’t change them! For Amazon.it (Italy) and others, there are no Author pages. My hope is that Amazon makes this feature more uniform across the board.

As for what to put into your Author page, you need a good recent headshot of yourself (mine is from two years ago; I could use a newer one) and links to things like your Twitter stream and your blog RSS, if any. For works that are available in countries whose native tongues are not English, you might want to have a trusted friend help you with translations (or do them yourself, if you’re able to). Trusting Google Translate is not in your best interests. Get a native speaker.

Dealing with autographing books is interesting when you’re being asked to do this by someone hundreds of miles away. I’ll pass along this tip from New York Times bestselling author Dayton Ward: arrange it all through PayPal. For him, the best way to take care of this is collect the cost of the book and two types of postage: one is to his home or a post office box, and the other is to the fan’s location. I’ll add to this – if it’s a person you know, and you don’t mind giving out your address (or if you have a PO box I suppose your relationship with them would be moot anyway), have them have Amazon (or Barnes & Noble, wherever your book is available in dead tree format) ship the book directly to that location. Then all you need to collect is return postage. Conceivably, someone who doesn’t want to work with PayPal could even supply a money order and slip it in the mail to your PO box.

Reviews are gold and you need them. How do you get them? If your friends are buying your work, once they say they’ve finished, ask them to write you a review. Reviews can be short – a five-word sentence is better than nothing. There are also book bloggers. Do your research and find some that are (a) semi-available, (b) write decent, unbiased, honest, and constructive reviews, and (c) read your genre.

Upshot

It’s all rather satisfying but also a tad freaky. Every now and then, I just want to run around screaming – I’m a published author!

‘Cause I am, you know.

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 552 – Privacy and Big Data

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 552 – Privacy and Big Data

The Price of Handing Over an Email Address

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 552 - Privacy and Big Data
The old MSN Hotmail inbox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got when I was first surfing the Internet and beginning to understand the online community was to get a private throwaway email address. The idea was to use an online provider (I originally used Hotmail, and then moved over to Yahoo!) and not give out the address my husband and I had gotten when we signed up for our Internet Service Provider, Brigadoon. Brigadoon is long gone, replaced by several iterations and that service is now provided, in my home, by Comcast.

Eighteen years later, the Yahoo! account is one of my primary email addresses. Although my husband still uses the Comcast address, I almost never do.

It was an odd thing, back then, to use a separate address. We didn’t do this offline, e. g. neither of us had a post office box. Was it an unreasonable push for privacy in a marriage where we had vowed to be open with each other? Or was it a reasonable need for a separate space, almost like a separate set of friends or a man cave?

Of course, as we began to be spammed, I learned why this was such a good idea.

Throwaway Email Addresses

In fact, I also learned that using Gmail was better for activities such as job seeking. Now my resume sports a Gmail address, even though I still read most of my email via Yahoo!

But the throwaway address itself has become a more predominant one for me. And so now I am finding I don’t like it quite so much when it’s put out there.

LinkedIn and My Email Addresses

Once again, LinkedIn is a bit of a bull in a china shop when it comes to email addresses. I currently have several addresses on my account, some of which are no longer active. However, if I attempt to apply for a job through the LinkedIn site, a drop down menu appears where my email address will be added. There is no opting out. You have to pick an email address to be sent along with your application, even though it’s possible to communicate on LinkedIn itself. Your telephone number can be altered or deleted, but not an email address. You have to send one along to whoever posted the job.

Does this compromise privacy? I think it does, as there are a lot of reasons why I might want to remain a bit hidden when applying for a job. Employers are able to post jobs anonymously, but potential employees aren’t being given that luxury when it comes to applying for those same openings. It’s just another example of potential employees and their possible future employers not being on anywhere near the same level.

And maybe, just maybe, LinkedIn should rethink this policy, and give job seekers an opportunity to hide themselves better, at least when the initial application goes out.

CLUMPS of SEO

CLUMPS of SEO

It is an ugly acronym and I apologize profusely for that. But if you want to build and promote a website and improve your SEO (Search Engine Optimization), you should think in CLUMPS.

CLUMPS of SEO
A clump of day lilies

What are CLUMPS?

I will explain.

Content

C is for Content, and Content is King. Don’t believe me? Try looking at a site – any site (this one is fine) – and picture it instead as a framework with lorem ipsum written all over it. And that’s kinda silly.

How to Search Engine Optimization
How to Search Engine Optimization (Photo credit: SEOPlanter)

So, people need something to read. Or listen to. Or download. Or play. Or discuss. Or purchase. Or any other of a number of things that they would want to do with a website. And they need it from you! So make up your mind as to what you want. Plan your content and work on it. Brainstorm what you want to cover, and keep records of that. This is help for when the rubber really meets the road and you’re stumped.

For example, let’s say you want to create an episode guide for the old television show, Quantum Leap. The show aired 97 episodes. If you post a new episode every single day, you’ll be out of content in less than three and a half months. If you instead post twice per week, you’re set for 48 and a half weeks – almost a full year. Good, but what do you do after that?

There are a few options. One is to post less frequently. Another is to churn up the content and repost it. However, what you could also do is branch out. Post about the actors’ work before and since the show was on the air. Cover convention appearances. Add photographs. Post or critique fan fiction. Open up the floor for discussions of the show’s philosophy. Find a related show to write about, and compare it to the original. It doesn’t matter. Just, recognize that your content might have a finite end to it, so you’ll need to work on extending that.

It can also help to look around the online world. What are others saying about your topic? Make a Google Alert for your topic or, better yet, make several, with variations. Follow the news and see what you can comment on. Don’t copy others’ work outright, but commenting on it, linking to it, and expanding on it are all fair game. Always, always, always link back! Speaking of links ….

Links

L is for Links. You’ve got to get your link out there, and have it linked back to by other sites. Now is not the time to keep it to yourself.

This does not mean spamming! Rather, you need to launch a bit of a campaign. Find like-minded individuals and ask for them to link to you. Offer to link to them in return. Now, it’s better if you’re linked to by pages with good, large followings. How do you find these sites? One way is to do a search on the backlinks for your closest competition. Who’s linking to them? And target those sites.

Another option is directories. Some are, of course, better than others. Look for directories which match what you are attempting to accomplish. For our sample site about Quantum Leap, you could search for science fiction directories, television show directories, nostalgia directories or even directories about the actors, writers and other personnel responsible for the show.

And be patient! Rising in search results takes some time, although you can promote yourself by buying search, if you like, by using Google AdWords. But if you don’t have a budget to buy listings, don’t worry.You can still have good external visibility. What matters is not being number one. What does matter is getting onto somewhere on the top three pages of search results and then working from there. Of course, the higher the better. But the difference between page 100 and page 1000 of search results is a moot one.

Usability

U is for Usability. If people cannot find what they are looking for, if your site is slow and unresponsive, or you’re just missing too many vital things, people may come, but they will not stay.

Case in point. I spent some time a few years ago investigating linking certain nursing job sites to various places where backlinks would be welcome. Research was done, and of course nursing schools are a prime potential source of backlinks. However, for some colleges, finding the link to either their nursing school or their placement office was akin to searching a hay field for sewing implements. I had, more than once, to resort to searching on Google rather than inside a particular school’s own pages, in order to find what I wanted. Sometimes, the pages were poorly named or written (e. g. placement office pages which didn’t have the word “jobs” anywhere in sight). Others had too many unrelated or poorly related or obscure key words (e. g. referring to such an office as the painfully generic  “Student Services”). It would have been far better to make sure that these pages were dense with correct words that people would use when searching, such as jobs, placement, careers, employment or internships.

Other sites had what I wanted but were painfully slow (that was often a server issue). Or the web developer was so in love with flash that the site has pretty scrolling pictures but it was hard to find where I was actually supposed to be clicking.

So look over your site. Or, better yet, have others do so. And find out from them what works, and what doesn’t. It’s not an occasion for them to tear you down or give you unstinting praise. Rather, it’s an occasion for you to learn what works, and what doesn’t.

For formal investigations, try using A/B testing methodologies. A/B testing is essentially serving up one version of a site to one person, and another version to another. And then you check their click behaviors. If these are people you know, talk to them. The difference between the “A” and the “B” versions of a page can be as small as a new color for the background or a different location for the logo versus a complete site overhaul. But it’s the smallest changes that are the easiest to process. Make small changes before you commit to larger ones.

This also goes into the idea of keywords. Keyword stuffing is, of course, a black hat strategy, and it’s the last thing you want to do. But white hat strategy isn’t just setting up a site for the benefit of search engines – it’s also setting it up for the benefit of people.

Metrics

M is for Metrics. If you’re going to do A/B testing, or if you care about whether anyone is visiting your site, you need to start looking at all of that. The best and easiest to use such analytical site is Google Analytics. Google Analytics provides all sorts of data, everything from which is the most popular page on your site to how long users are hanging around. Like many other things, take a little time and get to know the program but also allow it to gather some data. You aren’t going to get a terribly good picture of your site in a month. You need to let this percolate for a while.

Promotions

P is for Promotions. Again, I am not advocating spamming. But I do suggest that you put your link out there via your own Twitter stream, your own Facebook account, via Reddit and Stumbleupon, etc. For this hypothetical Quantum Leap site, you might want to find like-minded tweeters using a service like Triberr. You could look up science fiction, or television nostalgia, etc. and join tribes (groups of tweeters) with similar interests who would be likely to retweet your content. Use Social Oomph or a Google Alert to run regular keyword searches on Twitter for various related terms. For people who are using those terms, they might have an affinity for what you’re doing. Perhaps you can follow them, and see if they will follow you back. And if they are reading your tweets, they are seeing your links. Look for reasonable hashtags and follow them, and start using them.

But check Google Analytics after a while, and budget your time accordingly. If most of your time and effort are going into Twitter, but you get most of your readers from Facebook, you may need to rethink your Twitter strategy. Or, you could even try dropping it for a while, and only concentrating on Facebook.

Again, this is an exercise in patience. These things do take time, particularly if you have a shoestring budget and are essentially only using free services. For not paying, you will need to, instead, invest time.

Shiny New Stuff

S is for Shiny New Stuff. What I mean is, sites that stay the same, year in, year out, are just not that interesting. Plus, things change. Development proceeds at a far rapider pace than most of us know. Take a look at what’s out there, and see if making some changes will help.

For me, I started off creating a site completely from scratch, using HTML. I wanted to learn the language as well as possible, on my own. However, one area where I certainly needed help was in aesthetics. This went on for a couple of years as I had a site with good content, I was working on promotions and garnering linkbacks, and I was keeping it usable and was checking metrics.

I eventually moved the site to WordPress, and used their templates (the content, of course, is wholly my own). The site looks better and functions better. It also gives it a newer look. Plus WordPress fixes a lot of issues with key words. So long as your post is on point and mentions the keywords you want to tout, those key words will be in the page, and will be searchable by Google’s spiders.

Upshot

It’s still a lousy acronym. But I hope you’ll find it continues to hold true. The way to get your site out there, noticed and loved, is to make it as good a site as possible. Consider the sites you love. What they look like, how they work, what content they deliver and how they keep things fresh and interesting. Follow the metrics for your own site but take a leaf from those other sites’ pages. Not to out and out copy, of course, but rather to be inspired. And you can make your own quantum leap to better SEO.

CLUMPS of SEO
Quantum Leap
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Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 552 – Net Neutrality

Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 552 – Net Neutrality

It’s been in the news, on and off, for the better part of a decade. It’s all about equal (maybe) access to the Internet for all. It’s Net Neutrality.

After all this time, it’s still a difficult concept to get across. So here’s what it is, according to Stuart Leung of Forbes:

“Net neutrality is the principle that suggests maintaining what we have now—an internet that, according the FCC’s own Open Internet page, ‘uses free, publically available standards that anyone can access and build to, and [that] treats all traffic that flows across the network in roughly the same way.’

Net neutrality proponents want to keep the internet as free and democratic as possible.

Those who are against net neutrality argue that businesses—like Comcast and Time Warner—have every right to offer enhanced services to those who want to pay for them. In fact, the FCC’s proposed updates to allow just this kind of ‘two-tiered’ system sparked the current debate.”

The concept is, essentially, that cable companies and other gatekeepers should not be in charge of deciding who gets which message faster. All Internet data should flow freely, smoothly, and in more or less the same way. My million-person interstate Candy Crush tournament should be delivered as quickly as your local town hall political debate as should our neighbor’s logging into his local unemployment website and as fast as a person on the other side of the country bidding on old comic books on eBay. Plus, of course, there’s your Aunt Sylvia who’s streaming Netflix.

Who’s for it?

Nearly all consumers, it seems. According to Forbes, a good 76% of those surveyed by Ask Your Target Market were in favor.

“76% of those surveyed said that internet service providers should not be able to differentiate between high-bandwidth services and other online data.”

However, some of the questioning was weighted rather heavily in favor of Net Neutrality. Survey respondents were also asked the negative, e. g. whether they thought that ISPs should be able to “block, slow down, or charge extra for high-bandwidth services.” When it was worded that way, understandably, only 10% of consumers thought that was a good idea. But what if they had been asked whether it was a good idea to charge less for lower-bandwidth services?

At the Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel came out in favor of it. Per vanden Heuvel,

“The importance of preserving net neutrality should be obvious. A tiered {faster speeds for the rich, slower speeds for the poor} Internet will be great for the profits of telecommunications companies, but terrible for entrepreneurs, stifling the kind of innovation that can build massive followings before ever leaving the garage. Not only will big corporations gain an advantage, but also a small handful of them will have the ability to actively interfere with their competition: An Internet provider that offers its own phone service could block access to Skype, for example, or a cable company could disrupt Netflix’s streaming service. Worse yet, sanctioning the creation of ‘fast lanes’ could lead to online discrimination, with the providers choking off controversial views to protect their financial or political interests.”

However, vanden Heuvel doesn’t seem to be taking into account that this stuff’s not free. Speedy Internet needs maintenance, engineering, and good old electricity to run. While a slower ‘net also requires that, the wealthy can (and possibly should) shoulder more of the costs of it. But shouldn’t they get something for their troubles? Or should the cost be spread to everyone? If that’s the answer, then look for your bills to rise.

Who’s against it?

Probably the best-known face of the opposition is presidential candidate Rand Paul. But so is Forbes‘s own Joshua Steimle. Steimle notes that the new Net Neutrality rules essentially add governmental control (hence Rand Paul’s main objection). Steimle also says that one of the bigger issues is a lack of competition. Consumers generally have Internet choices that devolve to a phone company or a cable company (per Computerworld, over half of Americans have only one choice for high-speed Internet access). Verizon FiOs only exists in some major markets and it’s unlikely to be expanded. But whose ‘fault’ is this? If cable and phone companies, or Verizon, are having trouble competing in some markets, isn’t that how the free market is actually supposed to work? Better competitors stay in business; those which can’t compete, don’t.

But getting back to the government’s involvement. Per Steimle, putting the government squarely in the midst of how the Internet is delivered could turn into a privacy issue – and the US government doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation for preserving people’s privacy (in all fairness, neither does Facebook). But since when did evening out data speeds translate into online snooping?

Steimle also feels that freedom is being curtailed, and that the government, which has started unsupported wars and even placed people into internment camps in the past isn’t necessarily the greatest guardian of individual liberties. But citing FDR’s policies, which were in force over 70 years ago, seems like Steimle is clutching at straws. Yes, the government’s done some rotten things. It’s also done some great ones. Anyone can cherry-pick this argument as they please.

What Makes Sense?

Perhaps the two most vital ways to address this matter are –

  1. Even out the playing field when it comes to hardware. Yes, hardware! This means digging up the ground and putting in state of the art fiber optics all over the place, and not just in major cities. Does this help out FiOs? Yes and no – it would certainly better make their case for them. But if the hardware isn’t available out in, say, rural Kentucky, then the free market isn’t serving the people. If the hardware playing field is more level, then other playing fields can level out. After all, if someone who has the cash to purchase faster Internet speeds but the tools are just not there for them to buy, then it’s as if they’re unable to afford them. The effect is identical.
  2. Make it easier for companies to compete. This should happen with access to better hardware all around. As Steimle says, a lot of this situation is the fault of telecoms not competing in a truly free marketplace. If consumers have choices, they will vote with their wallets, and for better service. But right now, too many consumers have no choice, or an illusory choice (between two large companies) in the matter.

Upgrade the infrastructure. Add consumer choice. And, I feel, a lot of the fight about Net Neutrality will go away.

Content Nation by John Blossom, A Book Review

Content Nation by John Blossom

For Quinnipiac University‘s Social Media Platform’s class (ICM 522), this book was assigned as required reading.

John Blossom, Author of Content Nation
John Blossom, Author of Content Nation (Photo credit: HowardGr)

Blossom sharply and compellingly puts forth his case – the Internet is becoming home to more and more content creators all the time.

And this is a very good thing indeed.

As publishing becomes push-button fast and friendly, publishers stop being gatekeepers. Suddenly, anyone with an idea and a connection can potentially become a publisher.

 

One of his most interesting takeaways is on page 136, where he lays out Content Nation Enterprise Rule #1: “Social media isn’t about technology; it’s about adapting to more effective patterns of communications being adopted by competitors.”

For Blossom, the key benefits are –

  • Effective social media tools enable people to choose who they want to be in their circle of communication
  • Effective social media tools make it easier to collect and organize communications from internal and external sources
  • Effective social media tools make it easier to collaborate internally and externally to build and update valuable knowledge more effectively.

I have to say that I agree with this. So much of what we read about social media is about the platforms. The technology seems to overrule everything else, including common sense. Blossom essentially disagrees with Marshall McLuhan.  The medium isn’t the message.

The message is the message.

 

4/5

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM 552 – The Future of Big Data

The Future of Big Data

What is the future of so-called ‘Big Data’? Big data is defined as being characterized by a large volume of information being (or able to be) analyzed by computers in an effort to comprehend human behavioral patterns. More often than not, the behaviors that are being observed and studied are related to either spending or voting.

I spent over a decade of my career as a data analyst so here are my predictions. Come along with me and we’ll go to ten years from now.

Special Prices

The Future of Big Data
English: first-degree price discrimination Español: Discriminación de precios de primer grado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever struck up a conversation with a stranger on an airplane? If so, then at some point, you might have compared what you paid for airfare. For your trip to, say, Albuquerque, you might have paid $450. Your seatmate might have paid $250. The people in the two-seater across the aisle from you might have paid via frequent flyer miles, and those miles might have been obtained via flights that cost $1,000 or as low as $100. What’s going on here?

Everybody on the airplane is subject to what’s called ‘first degree price discrimination‘, which, according to Adam Ozimek of Forbes, “involves charging every individual customer a price based on their individual willingness to pay.”

Now,  you probably would have preferred paying $250 to $450, particularly when it seems that your seatmate’s experience is identical to your own. But you might not have been given the opportunity to do so. Or maybe you were, either by the time you were booking, or where you were booking from (either your IP address or where you surfed in from), and you didn’t know it at the time.

But here we are, ten years from now. And guess what? First degree price discrimination is the rule, and not the exception. You go to buy groceries, and you are shown choices. Green bananas cost more than yellow ones, because you can store them longer, and so can the supermarket. A mixed salad costs more than the fixings not only because of the labor involved in putting it together, but also because you are willing to pay extra for the convenience. You are offered the choice between a whole chicken and one that’s cut into pieces. Combine it with broccoli and pasta and you’re presented with offers for soy sauce or tomato sauce, and the prices are dependent not only on what you paid last week, but also on your spending habits. Are you more likely to cook Italian or Chinese style foods? That will also determine which prices you’re offered, as will the supermarket’s stock and the expiration dates for the sauces.

You can really throw a monkey wrench into things if you step out of character and throw a party, and shop for it. Suddenly the system might think you have a dozen teenagers, based on all the pizza and chips you bought.

In some ways, it’s the electronic equivalent of an outdoor market. But instead of people haggling over rugs or spices, it’s the use of big data, as the supermarket attempts to predict what you’ll pay, what you’ll buy, and what will keep you coming back. How do you beat it? Current conventional wisdom is to clear cookies, surf privately, and be patient and watch for changes. But what if you need it now? And what if this is all happening in the grocery aisles or at the checkout counter? About the only things you can do are to pay in cash or put your purchases back, thereby opting out completely.

More Unfairness

Here we are, still ten years from now. And there’s even more social stratification. The rich are richer. The poor haven’t budged much. The middle class is even more squeezed. Why?

This is another issue with big data – biases. So much attention is paid to the quantity of data that its quality can sometimes be overlooked, as can its relevance, or the reason for the quantity. Take the tweeting that goes on after a disaster. During the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber, all sorts of tweets came from Boston and Cambridge. But how many tweets are there currently about a tsunami (these disasters often occur in poorer countries, although not always) and Germanwings?

The bias is heavily in favor of more tweets about the Germanwings air disaster, versus an unspecified tsunami. When just looking at raw numbers, Germanwings looks like a far more important news story. But is it? Or is it just being tweeted about more because (a) it’s new (as of the writing of this blog post) and (b) it happened in the West, where there’s more use of Twitter?

The Future of Big Data
Mentions of Tsunami on Twitter versus Germanwings, data taken from Topsy, March 31, 2015.

It’s a bit of a selection bias, too, as readers might select or retweet information about the Germanwings crash as they’ve heard of it, and then more retweet and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that the information will continued to be spread at a more rapid rate than news of tsunamis.

Ten years from now, we might not even notice the selection biases going on around us, or that we ourselves have made. After all, we’ve told Facebook or its successor, and all news outlets, that news about, say, dolphins, is important to us. Hence we are served up more and more tales of dolphins, whereas stories of famine or elections or the like aren’t served up quite as quickly as we, and a statistically significant portion of our peers, continue to choose fluff pieces and familiar storylines over hard news, particularly if it’s about faraway places.

Make Big Data Smaller

How do we get off this train? Let’s come back to the present time. Let’s deliver hard news even if it’s not necessarily requested, because it matters. Let’s make pricing more transparent to consumers. And let’s look for reasons for data quantity and popularity that go beyond numbers. Just because there’s more of something, doesn’t make it better or more important. It just means there’s more of it.

Twitter, Social Media and Professionalism

Twitter, Social Media and Professionalism

This post is a riff on Be careful who you hire to manage your business’ Twitter account, which is a post on Social Media Today.

Twitter, Social Media and Professionalism
Follow me on Twitter! @woofer_kyyiv (Photo credit: Slava Murava Kiss)

In the original article, the author talks about, essentially, how to tell whether a Twitter feed is being handled professionally, or not. Here are their “5 Points to consider before hiring a service to manage your Twitter account.”

1. Before you even look at the different tools for measuring a Tweeter’s level of influence (which can be misleading and in some cases manipulated) you firstly need to check the individual’s own Twitter stream.

  • What type of language are they using? – agreed. Branding involves, among other things, speeaking the language of your customers. Are you a hip hop record label? A travel agency catering to retirees? A diamond jeweler? All of these businesses are going to have different customer demographics. There is no “one size fits all” here. I am not saying that people cannot adapt to communicate properly with everyone they do business with (after all, you need not hire a child to market to children), but the Social Media Specialist needs to get the message across so that the target readership is receptive.
  • Are they SPAMMING their own followers by sending lazy Tweets for example? #FF @Tweeter1 @Tweeter2 etc. – I’m not so sure I call this spamming. I think, at times, it’s useful to do this. But overdoing it (and you’ll know it’s overkill if tweets like this – or quickie retweets – dominate the stream) is definitely not a good way to do business.
  • How are they using their own account, is it professional or sloppy? Are they Tweeting late into the night and have no professional boundaries. They are over mixing professional with personal Tweets. – agreed. And with useful tools such as Social Oomph, tweets can be scheduled. There’s no excuse for late night tweeting, and no need for it. If the stream is meant to engage internationally, it might be a good idea to split it up into more than one account, so that one stream is for North America and another for Asia.
  • Are their own Tweets all over the place so you are not able to pick up a clear message. – this is a good point, and not just when it comes to Twitter. A clear message is key – for the Robotics company where I work, the message is about sales, it’s about education and it’s about robots. NASA, for example, is only mentioned in the context of robotics, not in the context of space launches. There’s a lot of information out there. Consider it to be a bit like a garden – usually it needs weeding and thinning, as opposed to fertilizing.
  • Are they acknowledging where they are taking their material from or just duplicating what they see their competitors doing? – ah, this is big. It’s why the original source for this article is listed. And it is a big part of how the ‘net works, or at least is supposed to. You post a blog entry. A competitor sees it. If they riff on it and post it and give you a linkback. that’s good for you. And you thank them and do the same in reverse and yeah, they’re still a competitor, but you’ve got common ground and there are areas where you can cooperate. Or they don’t acknowledge you, and everybody digs their heels in and the world becomes a slightly more miserable place. Hey, you make the call, but I prefer cooperation pretty much every time, myself.
  • Do their Tweets make any sense to you or are they just full of self promotion they hold no real value other than grooming their own ego. – true, but I think sometimes this can come from Social Media marketing folk not being properly trained. If the marketing manager is unsure of how much promotion should be mixed in with information, the marketer might be similarly confused.
  • How much negativity comes across in their stream – not everything is or should be positive, but I do get this. The idea is, well, are you promoting to people who want to buy your company’s organic brownie mix, or are you just going to sound petulant and whiny? There is, though, I feel, a way to be too perky. But I think if there are errors in this area, they should probably fall on the side of more, rather than less, perk.

2. Ask to be given the name of one of the business accounts they are managing, go through this with a fine tooth comb. Keep an active eye on the account and monitor how they are managing the business’ online profile.

  • How many Tweets are there and what type are they sending? – it’s a quantity and a quality game on Twitter. You need to get across some seven views before people start to consider buying. And consider Twitter’s international, 24/7 appeal – people may be checking at 4 AM. This, by the way, goes against an earlier statement about the marketer not tweeting into the wee hours. No, they shouldn’t – but unfortunately, sometimes, that’s when the readers are online. After all, if you’re tweeting for people playing World of Warcraft, they’ll be on at 4 AM. As for quality, that goes along with the above statements as well – are the tweets worthwhile, or are they dull self-promotion?
  • How are they engaging with the client’s audience? – some of this is in the form of retweeting. I think that retweeting and replying have a place, as it is a give and take type of engagement, so long as the retweeting and replying don’t crowd out the original content.
  • How is the call-to-action placed and worded? – this is fairly self-explanatory. There is a difference between what looks like a hard sell, and what has more of a friendly “Hey, check this out” vibe. Does the marketer know the difference?
  • Are the articles relevant to the client’s industry and audience? – this harkens back to my NASA example above. Content is necessary, of course, but irrelevant content is worse than no content at all. Better that the marketer pump out less content if it’s not relevant, yes?
  • Are they adding any value? – the $64,000 question! Can you tell without having access to measurement tools?

3. Ask for a number of references and call them.

  • How has the business level of influence grown? For sure if they cannot achieve this for themselves, they are not going to be able to do it for the client. – try objective measurements if you can get them, like Google page rank, bounce rate, etc.
  • What have been the benefits? – only your industry will have the specifics for this. Increased sales may or may not be the actual benefit. After all, sometimes social media is used for damage control. If that can be performed more efficiently and inexpensively – that might be the benefit.
  • What difference has it made to your online brand? – again, this is a specific question.
  • How good is the level of communication? – hard to say what this means without context. After all, the car dealer and the online cancer support group are going to have different needs in this area.
  • What results has the business seen? – again, objective measurements are best, whatever you can get.

4. Ask what Twitter measuring tools are they using to provide their clients with monthly reports.

  • While there are some good free tools around they do not come close to paid analytical tools for managing Twitter accounts. – agreed, but sometimes that’s how things go, particularly if the Tweeter has been working for startups or nonprofits.
  • Ask what recommendations they have made to the client that have enabled the business to grow based on the findings. – these should be in whatever reports the Tweeter provides.

5. Ask how much time they intend to spend on your account over the week.

  • How will this time be managed with all their other projects? – this is a good question for any sort of a freelance or offsite working relationship.
  • What elements of account management does this breakdown in to? – again, this is not confined to social media; it’s a good question for any potential employee who’ll be working remotely, or not exclusively with you.
  • How will they keep you informed and up to date with relevant Tweets and conversations? – reports? Emails? What is manageable and relevant?

And now a few of my own.

  • What do the tweets look like? Are they interesting? Relevant? Grammatically correct within the character limit? Or are they just slight variations on a theme?
  • Do any provided links work, or do they go to dead ends? Do the links have any sort of measurement behind them, even if it’s just simple click metrics? Do they lead to generic pages, or to any custom pages for Twitter users?
  • What’s the follow/follower ratio? Does the person follow everyone, or are they, at least seemingly, a bit choosy in this area? We all know that there are junk follower accounts – does the Tweeter even follow those or seem to use auto-follow?
  • How often does the person tweet? Daily? Monthly? A monthly Twitter stream is barely this side of useful. Tweets need not come every five seconds, but it is a fluid, evolving medium and needs more attention than that.
  • And finally, and this is a question for the person (and you may not get an accurate answer, by the way), does the Tweeter actually like what he or she is doing? Do they have a passion for it? Or is it, like, Time to make the doughnuts? I’m not saying that we can (or should) always love what we do. But plenty of people love doing this. Why not hire someone who does?

You can get a professional, passionate Social Media person, to handle your Twitter stream, do your blogging, manage your online community, promote your Facebook page and more. We really are out there.

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Quinnipiac Assignment 09 – ICM 552 – Content Moderation and Ethics

Quinnipiac Assignment 09 – ICM 552 – Content Moderation and Ethics

Content Moderation Principles

Ratings systems are not new. Even before the Internet, film reviewers like Siskel and Ebert would routinely award stars or thumbs up or down. Book reviewers would favor a work with placement in a well-known periodical, such as the New York Times Review of Books.

But there’s been a change. Reviews are now big business. Under social technographics theories, Critics encompass over 1/3 of all users online.

Quinnipiac Assignment 09 – ICM 552 – Content Moderation and Ethics
Critics (Social Technographics) – Image (http://image.slidesharecdn.com/vamsocialmediafinalcombined-100317211719-phpapp02/95/virginia-association-of-museums-vam-2010-conference-museums-building-communities-through-social-media-combined-presentation-11-728.jpg) by slidesharecdn.com and use of Social Technographics verbiage are claimed under fair use for educational purposes.

I believe that there are differing ethical considerations, depending upon the type of content being critiqued. There are fundamental differences between works of art and consumer goods and services.

Rating Consumer Goods and Services

For the rating of consumer goods and services, a lot of the measurements are quantitative ones. E. g. a size 10 shoe is supposed to be within certain length parameters. Those don’t change if the shoemaker is a large company or a tiny one-person cottage industry. The same is true if the manufacture of the shoe is promised within a certain time frame. Either it’s delivered on time, or it’s not. The one-person operation and the huge multinational conglomerate both have the same seven-day week. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the contractarian ethical theory, whereby ethics are based on mutual agreement. The shoemaker tells the consumer that the shoe fits a size 10. The consumer purchases the shoe based upon reliance that the shoemaker is providing a product that is within the accepted length parameters. If the shoe is too long or too short, then the shoemaker is in breach.

There are subjective qualitative measurements as well. Is the shoe stylish and comfortable? Is it in fashion? Some of those variables are under the control of the shoemaker. Others, like the whims of fashion, are not.

But the reviewing of consumer goods and services is generally in the objective and quantitative realm. If the shoe doesn’t seem to be in fashion, or the consumer doesn’t like the color, the consumer doesn’t buy it in the first place. Reviewing after the fact is usually of fit, durability, and other measurable considerations. That’s not quite the case with works of art.

Rating Works of Art

For rating works of art, there is virtually nothing that’s measurable or objective or quantitative. While a film critic might dislike, say, the Lord of the Rings films because of their length, that’s generally not the only reason a professional critic will supply. Instead, the critic will mention whether the plot held their interest, whether the characters were true to the source material, whether the actors’ performances were credible, and whether a parent can safely take their children with them to the picture. About the only one of these review elements that is quantitative is the latter, and even the question of suitability for children is a subjective one.

Further, a bad review for a consumer good or service can (and should) lead to improvements as the company attempts to make amends. According to Beth Harpaz’s article, Debate over ethics of deleting negative reviews, companies should actively try to improve their customer service after a complaint.

TripAdvisor spokesman Kevin Carter said businesses are instead encouraged to reply to reviewers publicly on the site. It’s not unusual to see a negative review followed by an apology from a business detailing what’s been done to make amends.”

But no such option truly exists for works of art. A reviewer who doesn’t enjoy the scenes of the burning of Atlanta isn’t going to get an official new version of Gone With the Wind unless the reviewer personally edits the work. Even then, the edited version would be seen as unofficial and unsanctioned (and likely a copyright violation). All that the reviewer can do is (a) dissuade people from voting with their wallets for certain works of art and, possibly, (b) convince the artist to try better next time.

For works of art, it’s more of the Eudaimonism theory of ethics – the well-being of the individual has central value. Does the work entertain? Does it enlighten, uplift, or inspire? Gone With The Wind can. The Venus de Milo can. Shoes, however, cannot.

Sharing Less

Sharing Less

There is something to be said for mystery.

Sharing Less
Buchaechum, one of the Korean traditional dance for Royal court of Joseon Dynasty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For a fan dancer‘s artfully concealing fans, if you will. For a dark corner where the camera does not go, and where we do not allow others to see. Perhaps not even our lovers, our mothers, our children and, most assuredly, not our government.

This post is a riff on Learning Not to Share, an article by Rich Barlow in my alumni magazine, Bostonia.

Wait a second, oops! I just told you where I went to college. Better cover that up, and sweep it out of the way.

Oh no, wait! I just told you it was undergrad. Good thing I didn’t tell you one of my professors studied under Wittgenstein.

D’oh! I probably just gave away that I majored in Philosophy! Wait, I’ll come in again.

It is like this, over and over and over again online. We share. And we share again. And then we overshare. While the above few tidbits probably don’t tell you too much about me, there is plenty of additional information out there. There are plenty of minefields where I might accidentally drop something whereby someone could steal a password, stalk me, take my identity, burgle my house while I’m away, etc.

Stephen Baker, the author of The Numerati, talks about what is essentially digital nosiness — too much information out there, and we’re all inviting it in, in the name of greater security, or peace of mind. We want to make sure our teenagers are driving safely so we agree to put a black box in the car. We want to know that our elderly parents are all right (but we are not committed enough to move them home with us, or move to their homes or cities, even briefly), so we install sensors in their beds to make sure they get out of them every day. And, as privacy is eroded, we accept more and more of these intrusions until they are no longer seen as intrusive, and a privacy (and shame!) tradition that harkens back to biblical times is canned in favor of The Age of TMI.

Is it possible to shut the barn door, when the horse has hightailed it for the next county? Sadly, probably not. But this oversharing is nothing new. I well recall, when I was practicing law (uh oh, another identifier!), prepping witnesses for depositions. E. g. if the opposing counsel asks, “Were you driving?”, the answer is yes, no or I don’t remember. It is not, yes, and the car is blue. If the lawyer wants to know the color of the car, she’ll ask. Don’t volunteer anything.

Yet, inevitably, people would do just that — they would volunteer all sorts of stuff. The vast majority of it was completely harmless. But every now and then, it opened up different things, and drew others into question. Or it got the whole thing onto some wacky tangent and it then became hard to throw a lasso over the proceedings and get them back to the matter at hand. A deposition, once, which was going to take maybe 45 minutes took the better part of a week as a witness and opposing counsel kept feeding one another more digressions — even after I repeatedly told the witness to just stick with getting the actual questions answered and nothing more. This tactic, by the way, did not, ultimately, harm my client or help the opponent. All it did was make the matter stretch out that much longer. And, I am sure, it nicely increased my opponent’s bill (I was salaried — a deposition could take three years and I would not be paid any extra. Dang, there I go again, oversharing!).

Some sharing, particularly in the face of things that have been taboo for too long, seems to be, to me, to be a very good thing. Take, for example, the physical demands and changes that go along with weight loss. In the interests of full disclosure, this is a subject rather near and dear to my heart as I have lost substantial weight in the past few years. So I put it out there — the fact that stretch marks don’t really go away and what post-weight loss plastic surgery is really like and how sometimes, no matter how much you want to convince yourself otherwise, the oatmeal just does not taste one bit like fried chicken.

I think that this kind of oversharing can have a true benefit. Give hope, or at least some amusement and information. And trample away shame until it’s gone.

But there is plenty more out there where that came from, and it is often all too much, and it can be damaging. Give away too much and you are the naked fan dancer, all out of fans.

So my suggestion is: tread lightly, and as wisely as you can, and ask yourself: will this information do more harm than good? Will it hurt me or my family? And even if the answer to both questions is no, my advice is: consider it and weigh it anyway, and decide, one way or the other, based upon reasoned understanding and not on expediency, or going along to get along, or trying to be cooler than everyone else in school. Above all, do not sleepwalk and step backward into these kinds of giveaways. If you are going to toss aside that last fan, at least look your audience in the eye when you do so.

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My leap into a Social Media career

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