Sunday, March 29, 2015

SeaWorld: Monkey Sea, Monkey Don't

Katherine's blog about SeaWorld  discussed the problematic situation where controversial companies invite the public to make controversial comments through social media. SeaWorld recently did this when they started the #AskSeaWorld. The conversation was quickly dominated by activists who'd rather see #TheTanksEmptied.

I think Katherine's assessment of the social media team's handling of the negative comments was accurate: quite frankly, it sucked. If you're receiving negative social media attention, the best PR move certainly isn't fighting back, lest you reveal yourself as an aggressive idiot.

Sea World had the audacity to blame the negative tweeting on PETA, and didn't stop there. They blamed their opponents for ruining their publicity stunt. Complete lunacy.

If you're representing a company and a publicity stunt backfires, the best thing to do would be to squelch the fire--to stop the campaign. When a company fights back on social media, they are fanning the flames of controversy, which is really bad PR.

Some people think there is no such thing as bad publicity, or bad PR, but this certainly isn't true. Bad publicity, leads to public outcry, which leads to policy change, corporate action, or other serious consequences.

But as Katherine suggested, maybe an end to SeaWorld is deserved.

The Tinder hack

An interesting piece of news concerning social media has been the Tinder hack, which caused men to think they were flirting with attractive women, but in reality, they were flirting with other men.

Such a cruelty.

However, there is a lesson to be learned from this hack. Many of the guys who were targeted by the hacker, according to the conversations posted on Huffington Post, were ready to meet up with the "women." And in many of the conversations, the Tinder users were even referring to themselves as "men." I think this shows how people trust online profiles a little too much. 

We put so much trust in pictures and profiles, sometimes we fail to see the truth. 

In reporting, our professor always said, "If your mother tells you she loves you -- check it out!" If someone on a dating app says he/she loves you, then you should most definitely check it out. Ironically, dating apps often cut out the "dating." They shorten the amount of time couples spend getting to know one another through small, casual dates, which means couples are going on longer dates--or connecting intimately--without knowing very much information about the other person. 

Everyone should learn a lesson from this cautionary tale. On social media, people aren't always who they appear. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spotify and the future of streaming music

We talked in class this week about the future of streaming music. Our professor said he thought that the current model--Spotify offering unlimited streaming for free and paying artists only pennies in royalties--is unsustainable, so eventually more streaming sites will offer freemium services or start charging users.

However, I think it this were to happen, then illegal downloading and streaming sites like "Napster" and "Limewire" would be resurrected from their 2010 executions. (Well...actually courts issued injunctions against these companies, so it would be more of a rebirth rather than a ressurection.)

Which would be the worst thing to happen to the music industry. With the file sharing model, artists made $0 on royalties. At least with Spotify, artists--even when Cee Lo Green's "Happy" earned him only a few thousand dollars after several million people streamed the song--are still making some money.

I also feel we unfairly criticize Spotify when YouTube is offering the same service just with an attached video file. And artists are CHOOSING to make their content available on these sites. That means that everyone, save Taylor Swift who pulled her music from Spotify, feel they are benefitting by making their content "free."

Taylor Swift also said in an OpEd in the WSJ:

"Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is."

Unfortunately, saying something should be valuable doesn't make it valuable.

Once people start getting any commodity for free, they feel entitled to that resource. It would be unrealistic to expect people to pay for music like they did through the 1990s. It's no secret that Digital has made media content cheaper, and media industries--and record labels--have experienced declining profits ever since. Musicians and producers will inevitably have to accept the decline or invent a new way of listening to music that requires people to purchase physical objects. Sadly, we can't reinvent the record player. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The fun of editing Wikipedia

When I'm bored, instead of turning to an iPhone game or scrolling through Reddit, I'll edit Wikipedia articles. You may not realize it, but Wikipedia is full over errors, those extra spaces, misplaced commas and double-spaced periods that are consequential of over hasty writing.

Next time you're scrolling through a Wikipedia page, read it like and editor. The mistakes will drive you crazy. 

But it's not the errors that amaze me about Wikipedia. I'm inspired by the great writing, analysis, organization, and sourcing that have come from volunteer contributors. Wikipedia is a fantastic resource because it allows anyone – particularly experts – to share their knowledge and update the world's largest collective encyclopedia. 

Experts are not always crusty scholars sitting in their dimly lit offices poring through academic journals. No, what's great about Wikipedia is it allows smaller experts to contribute their knowledge. I've worked at Körner's Folly, a historical house museum in Kernersville, N.C., for four summers. I've given several tours, and one summer I helped rewrite the informational storyboards, and over this time, I became an expert (well to some degree) of the house's history. 

Last week, I noticed the Körner's Folly Wikipedia page was inaccurate and rather scant, so I gave it an update. Hopefully, my additions will benefit someone interested in learning the history of the house museum. 

It's awesome that several thousand people, mini experts like me, can contribute to one resource. 

It's amazing what can happen when you aggregate so much knowledge. Truly, Wikipedia is among the greatest societal accomplishments to happen in my lifetime, and we, the people of the world, have accomplished it. Not that the crowdsourcing has been without problems – yes people have vandalized the site, but when you trust people with the pen, it's amazing what can happen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The blessing of social media

I read Jenny Surane's blog post how news media should be making it easier to share their content on social media, which made me think of a problem social media has fixed  – the forwarded email of a bygone era.

Long ago when email was the primary form of online communication, I remember receiving really long sensational emails from family members, often containing strange pictures and jokes. There were emotional stories of disease and suffering, cat photos, political messages and religious testimonies. 

Here is one of the first emails I received in 2011. It's one of those "forwarded" messages that guilts people into sharing the email through statistics saying things like, "93% of people won't forward this message." 

 Friday is world cancer day - I'd appreciate it if you will forward this request 


93% won't forward

A small request.. Just one line.

Dear God, I pray for a cure for cancer. Amen 

All you are asked to do is keep this circulating, even if it's only to one more person.
In memory of anyone you know who has been struck down by cancer or is still living with it.

A Candle Loses Nothing by Lighting Another Candle..

Please Keep This Candle Going

OK so the email was well intentioned, it just doesn't belong in by Gmail inbox. Fortunately, social media has provided an outlet for the Grandmas, second cousins, and crazy aunts who can't resist sharing such emails. Occasionally, the spamming still happens, but fortunately many of these junk-emailing relatives have migrated their habits to Facebook and other social media sites, which is really good. 

Because on Facebook I can hide their posts.

Traveling with the media

Over spring break, I travelled to London and Scotland -- by myself. Traveling alone would've been  terrifying, had I actually felt alone. My iPhone was my travel companion, which was capable of connecting me with continents of people. Ten years ago, my spring break trip would've been a lot scarier. Without a smartphone and access to the internet, social media, and helpful apps like "CityMapper," traveling alone in foreign countries would've meant more asking strangers for directions and wandering around lost.  

Our access to media and or our ease of communication, has made international travel so much better, and less anxiety inducing. Navigating the spaghetti noodles of London streets would've been impossible, had my phone not been there to save me. It was truly my right hand man. 

Media also enhanced my tourist experience. 

Apps like "Trip Advisor" helped me decide which museums were worth seeing, and what I'd be better off just skipping over. This crowd sourcing of content was infinitely helpful. In the same way, Wikipedia also enhanced my experience. Before, we relied on information from signs and the knowledge of tour guides for the history of foreign places. But not anymore. I could search "Trafalgar Square" -- using the free internet on Trafalgar Square -- to learn about the square. 

Once, after using "City Mapper" to tell me which bus I needed to ride, I accidentally picked the wrong one. The bus I picked terminated at a station in London quite far away from my intended destination. It was rush hour in one of the biggest cities on earth. No worries -- GPS knows where I am, and helped me find another route. Although I was technically lost, I never felt lost. 

Mass media has certainly enhanced the travel experience, and although I haven't traveled by myself before the era of smartphones, I'l pick Google Maps over its paper predecessor any day. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The importance of privacy

Our professor surveyed the class yesterday, asking our class how much we valued privacy. I was surprised at how little the class seemed to value it. "We have nothing to hide," was the main response. If we have nothing to hide, then we shouldn't care if the Federal government barges in, sweeps though our house and empties our trashcans on the floor. Right? 


I disagreed with the class. I think we value privacy, whether we realize it or not. As humans, we like to have the choice to withdraw, knowing we aren't being monitored, watched or judged, which is why prison is such horrible punishment. Inmates don't have privacy. They can't withdraw into their cell, and they are constantly subject to invasions and strip searches by prison authorities. 

Privacy is an important part to living a happy, healthy and meaningful life. I'm glad some stuff I've written on Facebook were private because if they weren't, well, I wouldn't have a chance at being President. Not that my messages were illegal, they were just are not representative me. They were representative of my growth as a person, or my ignorance in youth. 

That being said, I don't think the internet is completely without privacy. A Facebook post is public and a message is semi-privae. An email is even more private. It's important that websites clearly express how they will use information. In the real world, I know what I can say in my house verses a public space. I think the internet, social media in particular, should have similar transparency. 

Tinder's not so smooth move

My roommate asked me if I would pay $10.00 a month for Tinder. I said no. He said it would "seem desperate" to pay for the app, I agreed.

I admit that I've used Tinder in the past (with varying degrees of success), but deleted the app after finding the endless swiping and trivial conversations exhausting. Maybe I'm just bitter and single, but the app isn't that great.

A redeeming feature, however, is that apps like Tinder, Grindr, OKCupid, etc., have usually been free to download and use, so at least you weren't charged for any unpleasant psychological effects induced by the apps. But Tinder recently revealed it would start charging users for a premium service and would charge more for people over 30 -- $20.00 a month.

That really adds up, and I'm certainly not willing to pay $120.00 a year for mediocre app dating. Ultimately, this will be a bad move for Tinder. People won't pay for premium service--especially on they can get for free--unless the premium service is substantially better.  Tinder's upgrades aren't that much better. Premium allows users to "rewind" or swipe right when they meant to swipe left, which (to me) is not worth a monthly fee. When people use Tinder, they aren't looking for serious relationships, usually just chatting and the occasional date.

If people, especially those of 30, are serious about online dating, then they'll probably use a more legitimate service like eHarmony. And since other apps and websites, like Craigslist, are providing the same mediocre and slightly creepy experience for free, I'd be shocked to see many people jump on the premium bandwagon.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Dress

I'm going to talk about the dress. The dress that has divided celebrities and politicians. The dress that local news stations have broadcast like their mascot. Yes, the dress that some say is ugly, some say is blue and black and others says white and gold. The dress, the dress, the dress.

Why did this -- as my friend Tyler's mom would say -- damn dress make national headlines anyways?

The answer is simple. Oddity makes something newsworthy. The dress, we can agree, is odd. Whereas most optical illusions that show multiple colors and images in the same image, the dress divides us. It's nearly difficult or impossible for someone to see the other set of colors. People are captivated by the extraordinary.

The dress afflicted the internet Friday with a viral voracity. The image appeared on Tumblr in a remote Scottish island, and quickly blew up Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Buzzfeed, any news station not preoccupied with snow, and cable networks. It became the talk of the town. My parents were even calling me asking me about the dress. Yes, my parents.

A lot of people were annoyed about the seemingly endless conversation about the dress. (Which I'm aware my meta-commentary is contributing) A lot were fascinated and captivated. But what I find most interesting about viral content is that it connects humanity. Globalization is most visible through viral episodes, like the Alex from Targets, that for a moment catch the world's attention. My friends in London were even tweeting about the dress.

Jorge Feb 27
I couldn´t give a shit about this dress anymore
1 favorite

Yes, across the Atlantic, people were annoyed about the dress. And although it may be a stretch, maybe--just maybe--viral content could show people that although we may look different, speak different languages, and worship differently, when you get down to it, we're all captivated by #TheDress.

Snapchat Strippers

Nick Bilton wrote a successful column "Strippers Go Undercover on Snapchat" in the New York Times last week. By successful, the column makes you think differently – it gives a new perspective on technology and the porn industry.

The article's title is basically its thesis. Bilton talks about how strippers use social media to connect with clients in ways not possible before the smartphone, and smartphone apps now have built-in pay features, lending themselves to the business of sex.

Contrary to what the article may suggest, however, Snapchat maintains a pretty good image. When describing how Snapchat works – users taking photos, sending them, and then they're automatically deleted – it seems the app would have the reputation of, say, "Omegle" or "Chat Roulette," but this hasn't happened.

Snapchat has maintained a good brand. Focusing on messaging and news, they actually banned sexual snapping. Here's their complete community guidelines:

What not to Snap:
-Nudity or sexually suggestive content involving minors (people under the age of 18)
-Minors engaged in activities that are physically dangerous and harmful
-Invasions of privacy
-Harassment or Bullying

When Snapchat first hit the app store in 2012 and was popularized in 2013 and 2014, people associated it with sex, and in the early days, it probably was more of a Sexchat than a Snapchat. I remember colleagues at work scoffing when I described the app."Hmm, wonder why anyone would want that?" they said, shaking their heads. 

Really, just for chatting.