Entries Tagged 'Brain dump' ↓

A question of privacy

There were incredible discussions of privacy during SXSW this year. Dana Boyd led the entire event with a keynote speech about privacy. (You can read what she told the crowd here… It’s worth the read.) Since then, I’ve seen more and more people discuss and post thoughts on privacy. Even Craig Newmark of Craigslist threw his thoughts into the ring earlier this year. Dana wrote an incredible blog post yesterday. Her thoughts and collection of ideas encouraged me to start blogging about privacy.

I have had a chance to get involved in great conversations about privacy as well. A long time ago, privacy was easier. The majority of our actions were behind closed doors and they stayed there. Work activity stayed at work. Home life stayed at home. But with the ease of sharing and communicating, we are all much more connected. That means we are also a lot loss private. So what is privacy now?

I am okay with parents at my kids’ schools knowing that we spend a lot of time participating in sports and other after school activities, but I wouldn’t be happy if Nike and LL Bean knew about it without my permission because I talked about hiking boots or a soccer game on Facebook. I get creeped out any time strange businesses try to tweet me about services just because I mentioned server space on Twitter. But I know every word I see and every action I mention on Twitter is public. I’m more aware and I’m careful with what I say in that social space. So I’m learning about a new level of privacy. And I think many people are starting to realize there’s a new level of privacy that we may not have control over.

That’s why the changes in Facebook’s privacy structure scared a lot of people. I’m fascinated with the Like Button site… and I have shown it to many people who were shocked by how easy it was to see what our Facebook friends “like.” I added the “like” buttons to this blog and my mommy blogs. But now I feel like I may have made an error jumping into the “like” craze so quickly. Am I invading my readers’ privacy? My fascination may be a privacy invasion to another person.

I have not decided where I stand in my opinion about Facebook. I’m deeply involved in that space. I joined in 2005, I teach my students how to use it as a tool to connect with my newsroom’s audience and how to stay in touch with potential contacts that can help get them jobs someday. I use it to link to people I would never stay in touch with but Facebook makes it possible. I do feel a bit used by the Facebook leaders. But I also feel like I am willing to give up some privacy for the service it provides… I’m just not sure Facebook is transparent enough about what privacy I’m giving up by using the site. Have you seen the New York Times graphic that shows all 170 steps to customize your privacy? Wow.

Where does the news business play in all of this? Well, we need to understand how the general public feels about privacy. The challenge right now is each person has a very different opinion about privacy. Our audience/readers/viewers/whatever you want to label people who consume information you produce are in the middle of such an amazing shift of privacy that we are serving them while privacy expectations range from “Not in my house” to “Please make sure you tell me before you share anything to advertisers” to “Aw heck, I don’t mind.” We need to be mindful. We need to participate in social spaces while being aware of these many different perspectives. We need to be as transparent as possible. We CANNOT do what Facebook is doing. We have to be open at every step. As Dana Boyd wrote as a follow up to yesterday’s blog post, Facebook is a utility. Journalism is a service. There’s a difference there. I think it’s an important one. And it’s a conversation that we need to talk about a lot. And Facebook is just one element of a much larger shift in our culture.

(Image courtesy of Horia Varlan‘s Flickr page)

Is life getting in the way?

We all know journalism is at a turning point. Financially speaking it’s difficult to keep a newsroom running in a traditional sense and journalists have always been underpaid. Add in the lack of profits these days and you’ll find more and more people leaving the industry. Quite often the people who leave are the people who are established, excellent journalists. But they leave because they’re officially in the zone of being called “grown ups.” You know, people who have kids, a spouse, a house, dogs and/or cats. These are people who have to continue to work towards a consistent salary to keep their family under a roof, clothed and eating. It’s hard to stay in an industry that is increasingly unstable.

I keeping thinking back to Kent Fischer who was at the peak of beat blogging for the Dallas Morning NewsDallas ISD Blog – the paper’s beat blog on the city’s public school district. Last year he announced he was leaving because he didn’t feel the newspaper industry was stable enough for his comfort. The site beatblogging.org quoted him saying:

“But the news business no longer provides stability or financial security. If I was young and single and didn’t have two kids under 3 and no mortgage … I’d probably stick around to see how this all ends. But I got all those things and more. So, I’m out…”

Often I talk to people in this industry and we talk about our dreams. It often revolves around the idea that we would work in an untraditional environment where we can try and fail or succeed until we find a way to do good work while making enough money for those shelter, clothing and food needs. But if I was offered a chance to experiment with a new career in an unsure economic environment, I’d probably say no. I have a job that lets me play with technology a bit while working in a traditional news environment AND I can make enough consistent money to pay for most of our core needs. Jumping away from that is scary.

So who gets to play with experimental news environments? Who gets to come up with the greatest and newest ideas and put them into fruition?

It’s those people Kent Fischer talks about who aren’t tied down to responsibilities.

I’ve had a chance to talk to a lot of these people. Most often they are men in their mid to late 20’s who were able to get enough of an investment to launch a small (or big) idea while being able to at least survive with shelter, clothing and some food. Most of these guys are skinny mind you. Either way. They have my dream. They’re brave enough to jump outside the norm and try their hardest to make something work for this industry that we love.

I guess I’m not brave. I can talk a great talk and I’ve tried to take a lot of my ideas into my traditional environment. But if I really walked the walk, wouldn’t I jump and try something new?

I’m not sure.

I know I have the itch to expand into unknown directions. The more I think and try to change my traditional setting, I know more “new” settings need to be created before we all know what is really going to happen to journalism. But I also know my kids need their piano, swimming, baseball, dance, soccer, football… Whatever. And that may keep me away from any of the real industry changes.

Is this fair? Are there solutions? Who can step forward and help big thinkers like me who want to take action, make a difference and make sure I have healthcare for my family? If someone knows, sign me up.

UPDATE: I have heard from a number of current soon-to-graduate students who take this blog as a negative and scary outlook as they head into their career. Please don’t think of it this way. Back when I graduated innovation was me trying to bring a TV newsroom to work with a local newspaper. Now innovation is beyond my wildest imagination. Your imagination is open to do anything and everything. Take this time right out of school to make a change, save the art of journalism in this changing world. Be strong, be brave and have fun.

Are we ready?

I am constantly trying to find ways to bring the knowledge I have to my community. Any time I talk to someone who I don’t work or teach with on a regular basis, I end up talking about a little tool or tip that I find is a easy way to use technology in a more efficient way. Twitter lists, little tools like Seesmic or coTweet.

That’s why I tried to launch a Foursquare Day in Columbia last week. It was worth the try to create a “swarm” and get 50 people to gather in one place. It didn’t work – but it was fun to have an excuse to visit spots in my town where I don’t normally hang out. Plus, I had an excuse to bring a bouncy ball and chalk downtown and start a game of foursquare. Silly? Yes. Fun? Certainly. And I hope it shows I really do want to find fun ways to bring the social media community together.

But I’m not sure if my town is comfortable with instant gatherings. We live such a scheduled and busy life juggling work and life (and our kids’ lives). But I’d love to find ways to create social meetings that are fun and I could offer skills and knowledge that I teach daily with my students and employees in my newsroom. The knowledge we have translates on so many professional and personal levels and I want my community to know more. The end result is a bit self-centered. A more savvy community will participate in sharing with the journalists in our community. It would help our changing newsrooms transition into using a more socially-minded and sharing news process. Is that greedy? Or am I just trying to move our town a little closer into a vision of community I expect will happen naturally just in a longer time frame? These are the thoughts that ramble through my head at times.

(Photo courtesy of @justex07)

What’s next?

I’ve had some wonderful conversations about my community before and after our local Twestival event… And it makes a number of us think that we have something growing in town. There’s a level of understanding that social media is a key to improving our town and our relationships inside and outside of our town. The success of Twestival is just proof that we have a diverse group of people who care about doing good and care about taking our conversations online and putting them offline and in person.

So that had me talking to my Twestival partner Scott Wendling about what we can do next. During my time in Austin for SXSW, a number of people were encouraging me to bring Ignite to my town. The idea is to let people pitch their favorite topics five minutes at a time. The premise is sharing the thing that gets you motivated and out of bed each day… What lights your spark? What ignites you? You have 20 slides and five minutes to run through it. The more I read about it, the more I really want to do this in Columbia. I met a bunch of folks from Arizona who take part in Ignite Phoenix. They had an event last week. Check out their site to see the fun topics presented. Their events are HUGE. I’m thinking a little less produced for my town… But if it grows, and I think it could grow, it could get as big as Phoenix.

I’d love to hear from folks who put together Ignite in their towns… And what people in mid-Missouri think. This could be fun!

Speaking of fun. I forgot to share a fun conversation I had during the last night I was in town for SXSW. It’s on the RenMen Show about the “Cool Kids” of SXSW. I had a blast chatting with everyone that night and I recommend checking out the RenMen – Very cool ideas on cutting down your work load so you can spend more time with your family.

Enjoy the conversation:

Putting a brand into games

So I’ve already proved I really like Foursquare. I joined in on the fun the moment I could… But not long after that I started hearing rumbles about Gowalla.

My initial reaction was

“Wow. They have cool graphics but I can’t join in on another location-based game. I’m a busy person.”

But as I got closer to SXSW Interactive, I decided I should at least check it out since there was a party during the conference. On its face value the fun is collecting stamps for various locations in your town and earning pins in a “passport” that tracks your activities. When compared to Foursquare, Gowalla is a lot stricter about your check in location. There’s no fudging and checking in after you’ve left the location. And randomly you pick up “items.” They’re little graphics of things like cowboy hats, running shoes and coffee cups. I didn’t understand the point for a while. I’ll explain it in a moment.

When you play Gowalla, you get a pin for creating location and founding locations. A founder is a person who takes one of those “items” and leaves in a location. Here’s how it works. Say you checked into work and you decided to drop a cowboy hat into the location. If another person checked into the location, they could swap the item and/or drop an item. A founder helps extend the game in that location.

So trading little items sounds silly, right? Well, what if those items were cool things like coupons or discounts for businesses? What if you didn’t want one of those items and wanted to trade with a fellow Gowalla users?

Here’s my story. One morning of the SXSW conference I was talking to a person I had just met about Gowalla. He mentioned he didn’t understand the point of the items. So I offered him my item that was a One Taco coupon. Yup. I had an item that allowed me to go to the One Taco truck, show the item and an employee would hit the “redeem” button. (I took a great screen shot of it on my phone… But I dropped the phone in an Austin cab. It’s sad that the thing that bothers me most about losing my phone is the various Gowalla screenshots I had on that phone. Gone!) I convinced my new friend to check into our location, I dropped the taco coupon and he was able to trade out one of his items for the coupon. He was free to enjoy a taco when he was hungry.

Social sharing with a location based phone game? That’s cool.

But I haven’t even talked about my favorite location-based element of Gowalla. It’s called trips. When I got to the Austin Convention Center for the first day of the conference, it was a beautiful day and my friends and I had a few hours before any of the sessions started. We decided to give a Gowalla walking tour a try. It was a chance to see spots in Austin that we had never seen before.

As we walked, we took pictures and checked into additional locations in the city for the fun of it. We saw neat spots and had a great time. When we returned to the conference center, my team of three were honored to become the first people to complete the walking tour! Our Gowalla passports earned a Chevy Walking Tour pin and we even won little Chevy Hot Wheels cars. It was fun and we had a chance to see portions of the city that we would never see without Gowalla. I talked to a member of the Chevy team who grew up in Austin. He said that was exactly what he had hoped to do with the walking tour. He picked spots that a regular tourist would miss.

That’s when I started thinking about journalism. Why shouldn’t newsrooms get involved? So here’s what my newsroom is working on: We are working on a New To Columbia Trip. (I’m thinking about calling it the Noobie CoMo Tour.) A person who is new to town will get all of the locations that are worth visiting. Once a person checks into all of the locations, they will earn a Columbia Local pin and feel a lot more knowledgeable about their new town. What if I took it up another notch and added hidden QR Codes to give the noobie a chance to learn more facts about the location.

I realize there are dozens of location-based tools that are emerging, but since I work in a newsroom with a small budget for online innovation, I’m excited to play with games and tools people are already using. The depth of Gowalla is a lot of fun and I look forward to finding new ways to enjoy the game and insert my newsroom’s content in fun ways.

Location and community

A year ago when I went to South by Southwest I heard about this thing called Foursquare. It was all about checking in at various locations from your phone. I looked at it online and didn’t join in on the fun since Foursquare wasn’t happening in my town. It seemed like a lot of work for something I couldn’t actually play.

But that changed in January when it opened up to everywhere. So I jumped in feet first. Why? Because I was curious. And after I added locations and checked in during a busy day or three, I was quickly a points leader and a mayor of every location I visit the most (work, preschool, elementary school, grocery story, ect.). Silly and fun right? There didn’t seem to be too much of a point beyond competing with my fellow community members.

I’m having fun and when I have fun in social media, I start looking for ways to bring a newsroom to the fun. How can KOMU join in? Well, with Foursquare, you can leave tips for people who check in nearby locations. For example, Columbia has a well-known restaurant that burned down a few years ago. It was rebuilt and looks almost the same except for the patio on the roof and the lack of a very old cigarette smell that always lingered. It would be cool for our newsroom to leave tips like that around town. The newsroom could encourage a local swarm. That’s when 50 people get together in the same locations and check in with Foursquare. You get a badge in honor of that experience.

(By the way, there was a SXSW badge that required 250 checkins. I got it at my first conference party) Businesses have had a lot of success with coordinated swarms. Why not a newsroom-sponsored swarm. Meet people from the newsroom! Get to know members of the community. Sounds great to me. I also like seeing how a number of companies are teaming up with Foursquare for brand-specific badges… Including Starbucks, Bravo and even the city of Chicago.

I clearly like it… and I see great potential here. And I’m obviously a Foursquare addict. But during my time at SXSW, I found some awesome ideas for Gowalla – another location-based game. I’ll blog about that next. But I figure I’ll stop this rant and take a break!

Can a village find a phone?

I decided to ask that question in honor of Clay Shirky who had wonderful things to say during the SXSW 2010 conference. On my last day attending SXSW, I decided to go on an impromptu trip to a cowboy store to buy hats for my kids. During that trip, my iPhone dropped out of my pocket and onto the floor of an Austin Yellow Cab. Bummer.

My friend and I called the company and were told that maybe I’d hear from them in a week.


I guess I could have gotten really upset, but I’m lucky to connect my phone through MobileMe. I complain about the $99/a year but it’s suddenly worth it since a lot of the information I had inside that phone is also available online and in my personal computer. I lost photos from SXSW. I lost great notes I had taken in my little iPhone notes section. (Hey MobileMe – could you sync that too someday?) It’s just technology, right? My friends and family are way more important. What hit me in the face was how I don’t have the funding to get a new phone.

So I started a crusade in honor of Shirky. In his first chapter of Here Comes Everybody, titled “It Takes a Village to Find a Phone” he explains how a woman in New York City got her phone back from a teenager thanks to an organic online uprising of pressure that saved the day. I realize I may not have a good enough story to get an entire city to support my error. But it was worth a try. So, during my last night in Austin, I launched I Lost My iPhone @ SXSW (or http://sxswlostphone.com). I wanted to share my story, explain why I really need my phone back and see if I could awaken enough of the SXSW village to help me out.

So I tweeted about it just before I disconnected and drove to the airport. I noticed a few retweets almost immediately. My first came from Ryan Sholin (thanks Ryan).

I hopped into a car toward the airport completely disconnected and hoped for the best.

Disconnected is something I should do more often. I look more people in the face. I actually bumped into people I knew at the airport without needing phone connections (of course they happened to read my Facebook and knew I’d be in the airport disconnected – so they kind of looked around for me).

Right before hopping on board my first plane, I decided to log into the wireless on my computer and started a Twitter campaign: @sxswlostphone. It was worth a try, right? It also made it easier for me to send people to the website URL. It doesn’t have many followers but it gave me a way to drone on about my lost phone somewhere other than my @jenleereeves Twitter page. Sure, I’ve retweeted most of the @sxswlostphone posts… But I kind of feel better separating the two.

In the end, did I find my phone? No. But it was an efficient way to get the word out that I’d be tricky to find for a few days. I currently found my old 1G iPhone (you know, the original that was 4gigs) and I’m trying to get it to connect to my iTunes and actually work. (I snagged a new SIM card from AT&T) I’m hoping to save up some money to get a real replacement. I honestly don’t have the money so I started a little crowdfunding experiment with my Facebook friends. I’m collecting $.50 per friend I can see face to face (because Paypal charges wouldn’t lead to much of a collection). It feels a little wrong… but with the healthcare expenses in my personal world and an already expensive year due to fun trips, I thought I’d give it a try.

Thanks to the many people who have checked in to see if I found my phone and the amazing number of people who were just curious about what the heck I was doing with this little Shirky-esque campaign.

The high and low tech of SXSWi

I’m just wrapping up my stay in Austin after almost a full week of geeking it up with some of the most amazing minds in the world during the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference. I had a chance to mingle with people from thousands of different interests and niches. This wasn’t just a conference with journalists. This wasn’t just a conference with coders, or marketers or promoters or CMS designers or graphic artists or people who are Internet famous. They were all there… along with so many other people.

My big take away from this HUGE experience is there are so many things happening in different niches… But there is a similar conversation.  (You can see the list of all of the panels here) I took the advice of Thom Singer who told a small group of people at the start of the SXSW Interactive conference to make sure we spread out and speak to people outside our circles. I did just that. I went beyond my comfort zone of journalists and journalism researchers. I went beyond marketing professionals. I met people who are a part of the Open Source movement, bartenders, event planners, members of startups… I could go on and on. I met people randomly in lines, in the hallway and at a couple of social hang out spots on the first floor of the conference center.

I also had a few ways to meet people thanks to a little pre-planning. I brought a power strip and plugged it in as often as possible to keep my iPhone charged (I was obsessively playing around with Foursquare and Gowalla). Any time a person plugged into my power strip, I asked for one thing – to have that person introduce themselves to me. I didn’t require a card swap or official networking. But I did at some point decide to declare a hashtag in honor of some cool people plugging in: #powerfriends. It was silly, but I had suddenly discovered a new way to network with people. Less pressure, but we could easily find one another if we followed the hashtag. Silly? Maybe. But I met people who may want to chat with me again some day. (Including @schneidermike who I met randomly and shared a Gowalla OneTaco coupon with)

I met people I’d known a long time but never in person (@JessicaKnows) and got to know people who I’d seen in passing on the Internet but I didn’t really know how great they were until I saw them in person (@gawthrok, @jodiontheweb) and I got the meet some really wonderful new friends (including @inmikeswords, @moniguzman and @bradflora). And beyond that, I saw people I adore and have met at conferences and through the Internet before. (That list would go on and on)

I learned a lot of things in panels and outside of panels. But in the end, while some people say SXSW stunk, I think it’s a once a year event I hope I don’t miss. The opportunities for random meetings and discussions are unlike any other conference or meetup. It’s the low tech side of SXSW that wins me over. All of the face-to-face meetings mean the world to me.

Expect a number of postings where I hope to brain dump ideas and thoughts. But I wanted to summarize the experience itself before I start on my ideas.

Here are a few pictures to share from the fun and nerdiness of it all:

It is possible to go offline

In the last year I’ve gone offline for two different five-day stretches. The first was thanks to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and its lacking cellphone service in Crawford Notch’s campgrounds. This past week it took a cruise into Central America to turn off my phone and computer habit. I think the time away is healthy… But catching up online is going to take a while. the one thing I did notice was how my tools page caught a lot of attention after a recent IRE conference. I welcome all new ideas and links you can find. Share your links here or feel free to tweet me: @jenleereeves

Off topic or on the right track?

I spend a lot of time talking to my students, former students and colleagues about personal branding. And the more I talk to them, the more I start thinking about younger users of the web. I have had a chance to speak to high schoolers a number of times about the changing world of journalism and social media. I remind them that a simple Google search (and Bing and Yahoo) can show you a lot about your personal brand. And I tell them that you should think about your personal brand now, not later. But that got me thinking about my children. I blog about each of them, they have their own gmail accounts (and thus Google profile and Buzz accounts that I haven’t activated) and I plan to help manage their Facebook (or whatever social media tool is cool at the time) profiles until they are 18 (probably against their will). I think parents need to think of ways to jump in and think about personal branding before that brand is established. That way I don’t have to help them fix it by the time they are in high school or college.

How early is too early to worry about a person’s brand? If you search for my kids, you’ll find a picture of my son from the local newspaper and nothing about my daughter unless you know the name of her blog. In this searchable and cached world, how early do we need to worry? Do I just spend too much time talking about branding and parenting in separate venues that I’m merging these two topics because I’m obsessed? I just thought I’d throw it out there. I might be off topic for this blog but at the same time I wonder if I’m on the right track.