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Check-in Spam

August 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Perhaps it’s the big storm rolling through, but I’m in the mood for a good rant!

Email spam has always been my biggest problem with the Internet, but to be honest, I’m finding check-in spam to be even more annoying.

Social media apps like 4Square, Gowalla etc. all provide the option to post your check-ins to your Facebook and Twitter feeds, which some have taken to extremes. Both of these apps allow followers, so if I want to know where you are, I’ll follow you there – no need to spam my Twitter feed with the same information.

Many people cite services like Twitterfeed as ruining the experience of Twitter, with essentially ‘fake’ automated posts being credited to the feed owner. I don’t see that as a fair complaint, since it may be information I am not getting elsewhere, and is not necessarily just a repeat from another app. Automated posts from check-in apps are not the same, and are far more annoying.

To make things even worse, we now have an app like GetGlue, which allows virtual check-ins for activities like reading a book, or watching a TV show – even THINKING about something! At least with location based check-in apps, they verify the check-in is legit, GetGlue is a joke. Some users are checking in tens of thousands of times, having ‘read’ thousands of books … right! I would hate to follow some of these liars on Facebook or Twitter, since of course the app allows cross-posting.

I thought XBox Achievement Whores (see previous blog) were sad and somewhat pathetic souls, but at least they work for their achievements. With search engines trying to include more social date in search results, I can only imagine how these useless automated posts are taxing search databases, much like email spam taxes mail servers, and ruins email for legitimate online marketers.

Hopefully common sense will prevail with these spammers, but that hasn’t been the case on the Internet so far!

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Camping 2.0

August 12, 2010 2 comments

I just got back a few days ago after a full week camping (at Point Farms Provincial Park, on Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada – great site if you are interested).

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It was more fun than this, really!

For me, camping is all about a tent, the odd tarp, and having to scrub the smell of wood smoke off you when you eventually get home. I don’t buy into using trailers, small or otherwise, if you’re not at least somewhat exposed to the elements, why bother? The main appeal is that it’s just you and the family, no TV, internet, or other distractions. A good chair or hammock, and a good book is also recommended – I got through 2000 pages last week, loved it! I read “Order In Chaos” (book 3 of the Templar Trilogy from Jack Whyte), and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (by Stieg Larsson), and highly recommend them both. Cards and board games by lantern, sitting around the camp fire, and days on the beach (well, beach for the women folk in the family, I just burn, so avoid beaches!)

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Did I mention the S'Mores? Or the Beautiful Lake Huron sunsets - free with each site!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Les Stroud (Survivorman), or Bear Grylls either, but I do like my camping reasonably authentic. That’s why I read with some consternation recently, that Ontario Provincial Parks are looking to introduce WiFi to the campsites. In fact they are trialling it at The Pinery, near Grand Bend, not far from where I was in fact.

My wife works remotely now, so has her laptop and Blackberry, and she is on both constantly. I’m also on my iPhone ALL THE TIME. This was a week where we could not worry about those devices and really get away, with no temptation to go online, since there was no signal – neither her Blackberry (on Telus) or my iPhone (Rogers) got even a single bar 🙂 I’m a Twitterholic, and a big gamer, but I didn’t miss my Wii, Xbox, or PS3 for the week. The kids are big online addicts too, especially my older daughter, yet I don’t recall seeing her laid in the fetal position, twitching, with withdrawal from Facebook… I don’t think she even mentioned it. If your kids are bored while you are camping, you are doing it wrong!

The Provincial Parks are citing a loss of customers to private camp sites that offer free wireless service, specifically mentioning the KOA ones. Every time I see a KOA site they look like a bed episode of Top gear, with trailers parked in some field somewhere right next to each other – waiting for Richard Hammond to set them on fire! The Provincial Parks on Lake Huron are great, with spacious lots, many of them quite private, and easy access to fantastic beaches. Why do people need wireless?

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A few more camping pics

Web 2.0 – Technology & Social Media

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Technology almost sounds counter to the principles of simplicity discussed in the last blog, but it often takes a lot of work to look like you’re coasting. At its heart, Web 2.0 is about giving the user control, about making it easier for them to interact and engage with your site, or with data online. The result of this is, hopefully, seen in the metrics you use to measure success – whether that is sales, downloads, page views, comments, productivity, lower costs, whatever!

Something as simple as not forcing your page to have to reload all the time can have a great impact on user interaction. Having as much content as possible client-side is great, but can make the initial download of your page slower. Asynchronous calls to your web server, or the use of the iFrame, only replace portions of your page on the fly, and mean a much improved user experience. Ajax is probably the most recognizable ‘technology’, but it is just a group of underlying technologies that act together to provide a framework for the communication and display of asynchronous information to your visitors. If you are familiar with JavaScript and HTML, you’ll have no issues with Ajax.

One of the most effective ways to disseminate information these days is through RSS (currently referred to as Really Simple Syndication). With RSS, your visitors don’t even have to physically visit your site to get new updates, they simply subscribe to a data feed that lets them know when new content is available. They can read the content in an RSS browser, or link to your site and read it directly – either way, pushing information to them like this means more interaction, and a more consistent level of interaction.

It’s not just individuals benefiting from the simple interactivity provided by Web 2.0 technology though. Many businesses are utilizing online software services instead of installing and maintaining expensive software packages. Google Apps are one such example of this ‘cloud computing’, where a simple interface is all that is required – the data, and the software required to manipulate and present it, are maintained online. While some may question trusting your most vital business information to a 3rd party, the cost savings can make a compelling argument.

Social Media has become synonymous with services like Facebook and Twitter, but social media is really just a catch-all phrase to describe any web-based technology that allows social interaction between individuals online. Services like Facebook, which recently surpassed 500 million users, are so prevalent now, that the internet is truly accessible to just about anyone. If you can think it, you can publish it – via blog, YouTube video, podcast, tweet, or Facebook update… however you choose!  Web 2.0 isn’t just about making data on the internet more accessible, it is about enabling users to become contributors. We aren’t just providing our own content either, but are validating existing content from others through retweets, diggs, and other social markers. In essence, we are now determining what is important on the web, not being told what is important.

Businesses have also begun to embrace social media, and realised that it is an effective way to interact with, and influence their users. Social media can become an effective viral delivery mechanism for your message – it can spread exponentially. How many tweets or Facebook posts did you see recently about the Old Spice campaign? Don’t fret if you are a small company either, social media tools level the playing field somewhat, and provide you the same tools and opportunity that the big guys have.

Web 2.0 isn’t a technology per se, it is a philosophy that has driven a whole new generation of tools and technologies. We are only about 5 years into the Web 2.0 shift, yet it has already heralded a fundamental change in the way we use the web, access data online, and how we interact with each other. Exciting times are surely ahead as well.

What does “Web 2.0” mean to you?

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I had a discussion recently with someone that claimed to be a “Web 2.0 expert”. First of all, I am always skeptical of anyone that declares themselves to be an expert, or a “guru”, I think it’s my job to decide if it’s warranted. Secondly, he steadfastly believes that Web 2.0 is really just a collection of technologies and software (e.g. Twitter, Flickr, Facebook etc.), displaying a decidedly social media bias.

This inspired me to re-evaluate my thoughts on what exactly I thought Web 2.0 was. It’s almost a throw-away term now, often bandied about by marketers, but is there a single answer to “What is Web 2.0?” I don’t think so. In coming up with some notes on the subject, I couldn’t narrow it down, so decided to do a series of three blogs, each addressing one aspect of what Web 2.0 means to me. This is the first in that series.

My feeling has always been that the term Web 2.0, which has really only been around about 5 years anyway, reflects a paradigm shift in the way The Internet was perceived and is now being used. Back in the days of Web 1.0, for the sake of a better term, users accessed the internet in much the same way they read a magazine. It was a very passive pursuit, and pretty much a one-way conduit. Yes, we entered information, but usually only for the benefit of the site owner, not for our benefit.

With Web 2.0, the philosophy changed. No longer were we passive observers, we were actively contributing. Our visits and habits drove search engine rankings; our videos and blogs meant that we were also providing content; our need to be engaged led to more interactive content, tailored to our needs and wants; and Social media meant that we were using the internet for our own purposes, not just as a means of driving business to online retailers. Businesses are of course harnessing social media, and people are still monetizing blogs, but at the core, they are still our tools, and represent our collective consciousness. Webmasters use web analytics to determine our every move, how we interact with their sites and services, and whether they meet our needs – but the fundamental shift is how quickly that data now leads to change. In many cases, interactive sites change content on-the-fly based on how we use the site. Perhaps more than anything else, the Web 2.0 shift means that the tail is now wagging the dog.

In response to this Web 2.0 shift, web site designers and developers have gone back to grass roots, with principles and practices that reflect a more simplistic approach (I’ll address this in more detail in the next blog in this series). No longer is design meant to show off the capabilities of the designer, or the sophistication of the platform, but it is meant to make our life easier, by allowing us to navigate, learn, and act more quickly. Granted, many of the technologies required to make our lives easier require great underlying sophistication – but that’s their problem! Internet marketers have also been forced to re-evaluate how they reach their audience. You can’t simply rely on a single medium to tell your story, or to reach your audience. Strategic plans are now required that integrate many styles and communication channels, and if you don’t unify your message across those channels, it simply won’t reach your audience – it won’t rank highly enough, and it will just be more noise.

Marketers and internet users are no longer adversaries, they are partners in the new Web 2.0 revolution, each driving the other. The last five years have been an exciting time for those of us who work in the internet industry, but much more than that, it has been a Golden Age for the user. Now, Web 3.0 ?

go directly to the next Web 2.0 blog …