Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky, A Book Review

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky really has something here. Because I have to say, I just plain love this book. I am a fan! In addition, this book ended up tying with Groundswell for being my favorite of the six books that we were assigned to read in my first Quinnipiac University social media class, Social Media Platforms (ICM 522).

Clay Shirky: Here comes everybody!
Clay Shirky: Here comes everybody! (Photo credit: ChimpLearnGood)

At the time, I started classes thinking I would only get a certification and nothing more. However, I ended up staying long enough to get my Master’s of Science in Communications in Interactive Media (social media). And a part of that decision can be traced directly back to reading this particular work.

Philosophy To Go

Furthermore, I really liked the philosophical and sociological aspects of his work. Essentially, what he ended up saying was – society is changing. It’s not just the Internet; it is happening to humans ourselves. We are in the process of becoming new, and different. Hence there is a seismic shift going on, in our society.

Of course, that is likely to just be the wealthiest slice of society. Because heartbreakingly poor people in Third World countries simply aren’t going to be adding to online or offline content any time soon. Or, if they are, it is far more likely to consist of content that is survival-based. Hence this would be items for sale, rather than the products of truly creative pursuits.

Amateurs vs. Professionals

In addition, I really love what he had to say about amateur participation. Because in Chapter 5, on page 154, Shirky persuasively writes:

“As more people come to expect that amateur participation is always an option, those expectations can change the culture.”

So here’s to amateur participation. Because it is here to stay and I suspect it will never, truly go away.

Rating

Review: 5/5 stars.

Community Management Tidbits – Superstar Users

Community Management Tidbits – Superstar Users

Superstar users? Some people just seem to be born with it. If you’ve ever spent some time on forums, you immediately know who they are.

Superstar users
Screenshot of phpbb in use on a games forum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their topics rarely go without a response for long. And their contributions are routinely applauded (either using available site software or via written praise) by the other users. Their absences are lamented (and noticed!). Their returns are celebrated. In addition, people rarely forget their birthdays and membership milestones.

They are the superstar users.

They can be made by the community or they can be nudged along by you, the Community Manager. The community can sometimes choose stars that don’t promote your company’s vision very well. But you can combat this by selecting some superstars of your own.

Converting Users into Superstars

How do you make superstar users? Almost the same way that the community does. However, you may have some added tricks up your sleeve. First of all choose, choose a few likely candidates. Go into your member list and sort by number of posts, from most to least. Select your top 20 posters.

You probably know who they are already. But if you don’t, if you have a posts/day statistic, copy that down. Put all of this into a spreadsheet. Add in the dates each user joined the site and the dates of their most recent posts (which may be the day you compile this information).

If anyone has overwhelmingly negative social signals (vote downs, ignores, complaints or reports against them), if you can put your hands on that information quickly, discard that member from your list and replace him or her with the next one. Ignore sock puppets and second accounts, if you have good proof that two accounts belong to the same person. Again, just move to the person with the 21st-most posts/day, etc.

Now look at your list. Who is the member with the most recent post (gauge that by day, not by hour, so if two posters have a last post date of October first, consider them to be tied even if one posted at 1:00 AM and the other posted at 11:00 PM), with the highest number of posts/day, who has been a member the longest? Rank that person #1 and rank everyone else in order behind him or her. Ties are fine.

Research

Now you’ll need to do a little more research. If you have this data readily available, use it: the section(s) of the site where your 20 users spend the most of their time. This could divide into tags or subforums or categories. It really depends on however your site is divvied up. However, if this information is not readily available, research it by investigating everyone’s last 10 posts. Of course their most recent 10 posts could potentially not be perfectly characteristic of their behavior on the site. So you take that chance. Nothing is set in concrete; you can always revisit this later.

If your #1 user’s last 10 posts are all on message or in the section(s) of the site devoted to your company’s message, that person stays at #1. But if not, weigh them as against their 19 competitors. And if #2 is close to #1 but a lot more on message, switch their rankings. Also use this measurement of being on message (or not) to resolve any ties.

Continuing

Now look at your list again. #1 should be the user who is most on message, with a lot of posts and recent activity, who has a long history on the site and whose negative social signals (there are usually some, particularly for long-time, popular posters. That’s fine; just try to stay away from universally reviled people). This is the first person you want to approach.

And, how do you approach them? Handle this both indirectly and directly. Indirectly by promoting their posts, topics and replies, with up votes, applause, positive ensuing comments and making their topics sticky – whatever your software allows which provides them with attention and positive reinforcement. Don’t do this all at once – spread it out over time. You’re in a marathon, not a sprint here. Provide the same indirect positive reinforcement to your other candidates, but less as you go down your list.

Directness

The direct approach: engage them, both openly on the boards and in private messages (most sites have the means to do this). You should out and out flatter them. Instead, offer encouragement or point out their posts that you find interesting. Or tell them about others’ posts that you feel might interest them. Again, don’t do this all at once. Offer these little tidbits gradually.

Every few months or so, review your list and consider whether to add or drop anyone. If you’ve made friends with these users then of course don’t drop them from your personal life just because they’ve gone off message too much! But certainly curtail your official Community Manager messages to them if there are others who would be more receptive.

Why do you want to do this?

Superstar users can help to bring your site out of a funk. They can (and do) make you aware of spam. Superstar users create and promote good content. They help trolls lose their power. They can help to calm the site down and ease it into and out of transitions. You can count on them.

However, they need to feel valued. And, even more importantly, they need to feel that you don’t just call on them when you want something. Provide positive reinforcement when there is no crisis and you’ll be able to call on them when there is one. And the corollary is true as well: superstar users, if unappreciated, will leave, and other users will follow them out of your forum. Ignore them at your peril.

Next: Cat-Herding

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen, a Book Review

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen is a beginning design book. And I purchased it because I definitely need assistance with design. While I (at least I think I do) have something of an understanding of which color goes with which, it is sometimes difficult for me to make something look good. Seeking some inexpensive professional help, I turned to this book.

Practical Help

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen

So apart from the obvious title, the book offers tips on color combinations, font selection, focal points and even how to prepare a document for a professional print job. And the chapter on design sins really resonated with me. I have seen poorly designed advertisements (both online and offline) and websites, and have never really been able to adequately articulate just why they were so hideous. So now I can.

Exercises

The exercises in the back of each chapter seemed, I thought, somewhat superfluous. However, I did find myself beginning to look at designs with a more critical eye. For example, I noticed a print advertisement where the background photograph was of varied colors. Some were light, some, dark. The print, however, was pure white, and cut horizontally along the middle of the photograph. Hence this would have been fine, except the copy crashed straight into a white space, so some of the print was invisible. Which part? The company’s name. Epic design fail.

Foolproof

Another extremely helpful chapter: the one on the “works every time” layout. This layout is all over the Internet and all over print media, and for good reason. It is, essentially, a full width photograph or other graphic across the top third of the screen or page, with the remaining two-thirds divided into two vertical columns for text. A cutline (caption) goes directly underneath the visual (if appropriate; some visuals don’t need a cutline), with a more prominent headline directly below that.

Break up the columns into paragraphs and beware widows and orphans (one or two short words on a line). Place tags (these aren’t Internet meta tags), which are the logo, company name and small nugget of information such as the URL or physical address, in the lower right-hand corner. In addition, round it all out with generous margins all around. Voila! An instant beautiful (albeit somewhat common) layout!

If nothing else, that chapter has a greater value than the price of admission.

Learning Creativity

Creativity cannot, truly, be taught. But the peripherals around it can, such as how to gather ideas and nurture them, and how to place those ideas together in a coherent format. It’s like teaching pottery and smithing but not cookery: you get enough so that you can set the table, but not nourish anyone.

For that, you need to be an artist. And that, sadly, no book can ever teach you.

Rating

5/5

Demographics for Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest

Demographics for Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest

Demographics change over time. Hence the specific numeric percentages could be off, but the gist of these measurements remains on target. Part of this has to do with crowds. If a platform already caters to your demographic, you are probably going to be more interested in it than in a platform that does not.

At Agile Impact, Hilary Heino compiled some impressive statistics about who really uses these image-based social media platforms.

Tumblr

First of all, Tumblr reportedly has loyal users highly dedicated to the site.

And two-thirds of all users are under the age of 35. In addition, nearly forty percent have not yet seen 25 summers.

Finally, there are about 300 million monthly unique users; the site grew by 74 percent in 2013.

Pinterest

Demographics
English: Red Pinterest logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, as of July of 2013, there were 46.9 million unique monthly users. And women continue to dominate the platform; around a third of all women online have Pinterest accounts. In addition, two-thirds of all Pinterest users are over the age of 35, making it a near opposite to Tumblr.

Furthermore, a good three-quarters of its traffic comes through mobile apps. Hence if you post to Pinterest, make sure that your content is visible, clear, and comprehensible on smart phones. Finally, 80 percent of total Pinterest pins are repins. It’s probably the sign of a strong community. In addition, the site boasts 2.5 billion monthly pageviews.

Instagram

So with 150 million active users, Instagram reports 1.2 billion daily likes.

Demographics
Instagram-logo (Photo credit: JAMoutinho ( almost photographer ))

And 18% of smartphone users in the 30 – 49 demographic report using it. However, the majority of users are teens and young adults.

Furthermore, the site ties with Facebook as being the second-most popular site for teens. Yet Twitter is the first for that age demographic.

So know your image-based social platforms. Because they are not the same!

Community Management Haikus

Community Management Haikus

Community Management Haikus are – I will be the very first person to admit this – a rather silly topic. This is a Friday topic, a bit of fun as this can, often, be a rather fun sort of a profession and industry. After all, you are spending your time tweeting, posting to Facebook, and using Google+. You are making videos, and you are writing blog entries (much like this one, actually).

The truth is that, although it can also, sometimes, be a laugh riot, community management and the overall discipline of social media marketing can sometimes be rather serious. We may need to cobble  together some sort of a response to rather somber news, such as a death in our industry or our community or our company. We may have to address angry customers, disillusioned share holders, or the bewildered folks among us who just need a little help and then they can be on their way.

We are deadly serious, as we do our best to cut down on the number of technical support calls, or increase customer engagement and satisfactions. Or maybe we just want to create a memorable experience and, in the meantime (assuming that the stars and the planets all align absolutely perfectly), get someone to bookmark our link or subscribe to our RSS feed.

Come back, we cry. Come back and we will dazzle you with even niftier content.

But I’m rambling here. Maybe we just, sometimes, want to write something that can only charitably be referred to as pseudo-artsy.

Haiku for You

Community Management Haikus

Fun with the topic
feel free to add more in the
comments section, please

Community is
four syllables, so comm is
abbreviation

Fear, uncertainty
doubt commingle with robot
avatars and posts

Small things can blow out
of proportion, as there’s no
tone emoticon

Social media –
substitute for life? Maybe.
Or just leisure time

SEO, continued

SEO continued (Search Engine Optimization) Strategy)

Yesterday I put together more of an SEO strategy.

SEO continued (Search Engine Optimization) Strategy)

This is tabs and tabs of an Excel spreadsheet as I think about what I really want to do with all of this.

It’s becoming more obvious is that I’ve got major ambitions and there aren’t enough hours in a day in which I can accomplish them. To really make a good site, a beautifully designed one with awesome SEO and kick-bun content, means engaging something like 50 people to do it.

Egad. I’m organized and I’m energetic and I’ve got time these days, but I’m not 50 people.

This is a source of a bit of stress, to be sure, but it’s also a challenge. How can I leverage what I’ve already got? How can I use my organizational skills to make things easier on myself? How can I set up some things which will run on their own, thereby saving me time? What’s the timing of, well, of all of it?

I’m very excited about this whole venture. I actually got a little Google traffic yesterday! Yay!

I’ve only been on Google for maybe 3 days. Holy cow. This stuff really works.

I have a billion things to do. Oh and I’m running in a 5K in a week. If I could do web development while running, I would.

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Robot Building for Beginners by David Cook, a Book Review

Robot Building for Beginners by David Cook

Robot Building for Beginners by David Cook serves, as to be expected, as a beginner’s guide to building a small working robot. In this case, the robot’s body is mainly constructed from a sandwich container, so the robot is named Sandwich. Its intended usage is to follow a line. I purchased and read this book in an effort to understand more about my colleagues and work at my employer, Neuron Robotics. It did not disappoint.

Do It!

Robot Building
Neuron Robotics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In order to construct Sandwich, Cook walks the reader through various aspects of not only robot building and design, but also basic electrical engineering concepts. While the book is certainly no substitute for even one semester of Electrical Engineering, it does help to bring some understanding to a layman like me. In the interests of full disclosure, I majored in Philosophy in college. However, my father and father-in-law are both engineers, and my husband works as an engineering draftsman. I have heard some of these terms before. Cook explains terms like multimeter, capacitance and resistance fairly well. This is in a lively and engaging style that never talks down to the reader.

Entertaining

Cook’s good humor extends to a section showcasing equipment that he’s fried by making various mistakes. He makes it clear. Be safety-conscious and budget-conscious (he provides specifics and current pricing for most of the items used and referred to). However recognize that, sometimes, stuff is just going to happen. You’ll break or burn things, or just not get them right the first time. Shrug it off and move on – it’s all a part of the learning experience.

The book is large and difficult to digest except in small bites. It is intended as a step by step guide to Sandwich’s construction, but I think a better usage – in particular for laymen reading the book but not actually building the ‘bot – comes as a reference and resource guide.

It almost makes me want to try soldering again – but I’ll have to fight my coworkers to get to the soldering station.

Rating

Review:3/5 stars.

Alibaba looking for a $1B IPO

Alibaba looking for a $1B IPO

According to Boston.com, Alibaba GroupChina’s leading e-commerce company, filed papers on May the 6th of 2014 for an initial public offering of stock seeking to raise at least one billion dollars.

Alibaba looking for a $1B IPO

This would be the technology industry’s biggest initial public offering since Twitter, which was back in the autumn of 2013.

As ecommerce has taken hold in China, it has brought with it access to consumer goods. This has proven to be quite a change for a society that, in the 1980s, sometimes still required ration tickets for some supermarket goods.

Alibaba IPO Could Net 150 to 200 Billion Dollars

While the timing is not necessarily the greatest, as investors are skittish, the Alibaba Group’s initial public offering is still expected to earn its investors at least ten billion dollars. They will likely then sell stock at a price that will give the fifteen-year-old company a market value of $150 billion – $200 billion dollars. If these predictions hold water, Alibaba Group will rank among the biggest initial public offerings of all time. 

And if that is the case, the a $1 B IPO could very well look like a bargain, in retrospect.

Look to the east.

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Quinnipiac Assignment #1 – A Day in My Life in Social Media

A Day in My Life in Social Media

This was my first assignment for Quinnipiac University‘s Social Media Platforms course, with Professor Eleanor Hong. I had not made a video in years and was anxious to get it right. This was also the first time in several years that I had taken any sort of a class where I would be receiving a grade.

This class was the first of three for Social Media Certification.  Or it can count as an elective for Masters’ Degree in Communications  with a Social Media concentration. As of the original writing of this blog post, I was not sure whether I wished to continue all the way to a Masters’ Degree.

I need not have worried about this grade. And, it turned out, I need not have worried about nearly all of my grades in the Social Media Platforms class.

A Day in My Life in Social Media

A Day in My Life in Social Media

I ended up creating two separate videos, as the first one was too long, and I hadn’t mentioned podcasts, Tumblr, or Pinterest.

So you tell me – which one do you think is the better video? I handed in the shorter one.

I think this second video rambles too much, it jumps back and forth a lot, plus I missed a few things, as I mentioned above.

But these are, essentially, the social media hangouts that I go to the most. And of course neither video takes into consideration the non-social media work that I do on computers, such as reading homework, fiction writing and editing, and dealing with the ever-present onslaught of email.

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Lynn Beighley’s Drupal for Dummies, a Book Review

Lynn Beighley’s Drupal for Dummies

Lynn Beighley’s Drupal for Dummies is a beginners’ reference for learning the basics of Drupal. Frankly, after getting through the installation, it all seemed rather simple, which I suppose is a testament to Ms. Beighley’s skills as a writer and an educator. I don’t mind reviewing a book with the word “Dummies” in the title.

Drupal logo
Drupal logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The book is written in the standard Dummies modular format, whereby you can skip around if you wish and not lose too much by not taking everything in order. A good thing, as the chapter on setting a strategy inexplicably comes after the one on installation. To my mind, that is placing the cart before the horse. Don’t we want a strategy before we go to the trouble of purchasing a domain and starting to put content out there? After all, a poorly conceived site could financially harm a company.

The book is also a little confusing when it comes to differentiating pages and stories. Stories seem to be aggregations of pages, or they might be more frequently updated than pages, but that’s tough to tell at first read.

The book discusses forums a bit but does not go far into community management as a whole. There doesn’t seem to be anything in here about, for example, restricting user access or even out and out denying a user access to any given site. While banning users is not the only function of a Community Manager, it’s still an important one, and it can be one that needs to be performed rather quickly. It’s outside of scope to talk about community management theory, strategy or values, but a quick how-to when it comes to banning users would be a fine (and small!) addition to this book. However, using a Captcha to eliminate auto-joining bots, and Mollom to detect spam, are covered.

 

The main features of Drupal come out when Ms. Beighley talks about themes and basic site modules, such as blogs, image galleries and storefronts. The reader begins to see why Drupal might be a good choice for creating a website. There’s little to no coverage of the Open Source culture that created Drupal, but that’s probably beside the point.

The main purpose of the book is to get an Administrator started with setting up and using Drupal, but there’s very little on modification, shy of basic changes such as swapping out themes. One never gets into the guts of the application and the hood is never lifted. There are links pointing to websites where a user can learn more about the application, but they seem to be tacked onto the end of the book. Even a pointer to a more advanced Dummies book on Drupal (even if there’s an attempt to bundle two books in order to increase the profit to the enormous Dummies empire) would be of some help.

It just feels like, when you get to the end of the book: now what?

Rating

2/5