Living in a Glass House

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Perhaps because it was announced on Google +, which I, like most of the universe, don’t really follow much anymore, I was unaware of Google Glass until a week or so ago. One of my news feeds had an article about a Seattle Dive Bar (really? Dive Bars in Seattle?) that had banned Google Glass, saying that “an a** kicking will be encouraged for violators” who dared to wear them at the 5 Point Cafe.

stylized image showing google glass and an eye with a red slash across it.

“Google Glass is Banned” sticker used at the 5 Point Cafe.

My first thought was ?? Who in the heck does a** kicking in Seattle? followed by ?? What in the heck is Google Glass? After a bit of research, I’m reasonably sure that if I were to visit Seattle soon, there’s very little chance that I would have my a-double asterisks kicked, at least for wearing Google Glass.

So what’s all the hubub about, Bub? Well, Google Glass is yet another weirdly innovative project from the Googlians down in Silicon Valley. It’s actually a pair of glasses that both send out what you see and provides you with information overlays. You can  look at it as a way to expand your internet presence and reach, a horrible invasion of privacy, a loss of our humanity, a further melding of humanity and technology, or a physical manifestation of ADD. I suppose that it/they are all that and more.

photos of people wearing Google Glass

Here’s how dumb people look when wearing these things.

So what are these things? They’re actually glasses, with a prism attached to the right bow on the glasses. This nifty little thing is basically a webcam, microphone and browser all rolled into one.

In use, you are sending data in sort of a cinema-verite way, and based on what the camera sees, you’re receiving datasets. If you’ve ever seen movies showing fighter pilots looking through helmets or windows that contain integrated data displays,

Google Glass

Google Glass

you might know what I mean.

But there’s more. “OK Google” you say, “what’s the weather?” will trigger an on-screen weather summary. “OK Google, email Jerry– Are you busy this afternoon?” supposedly sends an email to Jerry, and his response will appear in your vision. “OK Google, Tweet “Google Glass seems kinda stupid, and not funny-stupid in the “Big Bang Theory” kind of way.

Now there are a lot of things related to Google Glass that don’t seem to make much sense to me, including why it’s called “Google Glass” instead of “Google Glasses.” There are also the obvious privacy issues, which is why the 5 Point Cafe wants nothing to do with them, but honestly, the 5 Point Cafe isn’t a dive bar in the way that I understand them. For one thing, I’ve never heard of a dive bar that has a website, and when I look at their photos, it’s not much of a dive. But aside from that, how intrusive do we want social media to be in our lives? I suppose that it’s ultimately up to the end user, but homo sapiens is a pretty weird species, and I’m not sure if I can trust all of my fellow man to understand when to turn the darned things off.

There are also safety concerns for wearers. Imagine trying to drive with all sorts of data coming into your view whether you like it or not. Even pedestrians could logically be at risk– there are known issues with pedestrians being injured while texting and even talking on the phone, and I’m one of those who gets pretty peeved at people who talk while driving. Google Glass would be a lot worse.

Now I know that I sound pretty negative here, and that as this kind of technology progresses, our social norms, legislation, social pressure and other issues will follow along with both good and bad results, but right now, I think that Google is giving us yet another example of “just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.” On the other hand, Google glass is very ripe for parody. If you want to see the official video, go to www.google.com/glass/start/ but I prefer the video below:

 

What’s in a meme?

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The word meme has been around a lot longer than LOL Cats, or, for that matter, the Internet. We tend to think of memes as only occurring online—specifically through social media—because they spread so quickly in that venue. In its simplest form, however, a meme is just an idea or concept that is propagated through a culture. It could be anything from boot-cut jeans to the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to the catch phrase “Hey hey hey!” from the ’80s TV show What’s Happening!

The term meme has its origins in the Greek word mimeme (“to imitate”) but was popularized in 1976 in the book The Selfish Gene, in which author Richard Dawkins compared the spread of an idea through a culture to the passing along of genes in the process of evolution. Today, though, when you hear the word meme, you think of this:

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(I am compelled to note this here: I told my highly educated wife that I was writing about the lofty origin of the word meme and how today the word conjures up images like the above. She scoffed slightly and said, “Seems like a step down,” then spent the next 30 seconds laughing hysterically about how funny the image above is.)

I have written several times about my attempts to build Facebook audiences through what I think of as the “George Takei Approach,” which basically boils down to passing along memes. Takei regularly shares quick or funny status updates or images that generate reactions, which then show up in lots of Facebook news feeds, which gains exposure for his page, which generates new followers for him. (See “George Takei is a Social Media Genius.”)

In one article, “Getting Facebook Likes: Lessons from Two Experiments,” I wrote about how one page that I maintain, Countdown to Spring Training, racked up new page likes every day with little to no effort on my part, while another, Bloggers To Be Named Later, struggled to gain new followers, even though it took more of my time and energy.

I learned through experimenting (and reading George Takei’s book) that I was making two primary mistakes on the Bloggers To Be Named Later Facebook page: I was not posting often enough (we only had two or three posts a week) and I was only posting links to an outside website (the accompanying blog). In short, I realized I had to stop thinking about the Bloggers Facebook page as a mere companion to the website—and I had to start thinking of it as its own individual presence.

So I enlisted the help of some of the other bloggers (there are a lot of us) to moderate the Facebook page with me, and we set to work creating content that would appear only on the Facebook page. The idea was, if we build up the Facebook page using the George Takei Approach, then that drives traffic to the blog when we post links to articles.

We tried to be witty, with text updates like “New Olympic event: Sequestrian, in which horses argue with each other and accomplish nothing” and “They found horse meat in Taco Bell’s ground beef. And that’s the GOOD news.” Some of these were relatively well received, garnering 10 or 12 likes and the occasional comment, while others generated a lot of silence. (My all-time favorite status update so far is this: “Team Netherlands has taken the field. #Neditude,” even though it generated practically no reaction at all. It was doomed from the get-go, because for it to make any sense at all required knowledge of both the Dutch World Baseball Classic team and the Twitter hash tag the Washington Nationals use to rally their fans.)

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528193_380801358684016_224544673_nWe also created images using the visual vernacular of the modern meme—that is, a photo accompanied by text set in the horrible typeface Impact in white with a black outline, sometimes in all caps. (Basically, it’s everything we would have told you not to do back in the days of our Interpretation By Design blog.) We try to be topical and funny, with varying degrees of success.

The examples here play on an over-the-top reaction to the Detroit Tigers’ new Spring Training caps and a little bit of Photoshop fun inspired by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady signing a contract extension. (Of course, these images tend to get downloaded and “reappropriated,” so we’re sure to include our name on the actual image.)

The reaction to these has been okay, and we even gain a new Facebook page like every once in a while. Every time a new page like comes along, I think, “The George Takei system is working!” Just as with genes in biology, the more carriers there are to propagate Internet memes, the more likely they are to get propagated. Every time your page gains a new fan, your chances for exposure to a wider audience increase.

So last Sunday morning, I was lollygagging around the house, finding ways to procrastinate rather than do the things I was supposed to be doing, and I put forth what I described later as “the most pandering meme ever”:

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 10.01.39 AM

I was startled by the reaction. Within 20 minutes, it became the most-viewed post ever on our page (and we’ve been doing this for more than a year). At the time of this writing, this image is roughly 90 times more popular than our previous most popular post—it has been shared more than 780 times and has reached almost 90,000 Facebook users. We’ve gained a bunch of exposure and a handful of new page likes out of it. (And creating it took just a small fraction of the time it takes to write a blog post.) These numbers are nothing if you are George Takei, but they’re a big deal to us.

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68300_488771351155571_2047432449_nObviously, Internet memes don’t have to be about sports or photos of funny animals. If you follow our friends at Interpretation Canada on Facebook, you’ll notice that they’ve done a meme campaign specific to interpretation, including the gem above, which received 25 likes and was shared 13 times. The Facebook page for McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Arizona has posted a few of these as well, including the very simple and pleasant message here (featuring a photo by Friend of the Platypus Amy Burnett).

The Internet meme is part of the vernacular of Facebook. Seeing that photo with the white text conjures that same feeling that seeing a hand-drawn comic strip used to. You know someone is trying to make you laugh or make a quick emotional appeal, and it draws you in. And once it draws you in, if that image succeeds in connecting with you, you might just share it with your friends. And they might share it with their friends. And before you know it, it’s a real, live meme.

The Wedding Ring Return: The Internet Mob Rules Again

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I wrote last June about the case of bus monitor Karen Klein, who was verbally abused by children on a school bus, then became Internet-famous when a video of that abuse went viral online, then became wealthy when an online Indiegogo fundraising campaign raised more than $700,000 to “Give Karen -The bus monitor- H Klein A Vacation!”

I wrote at the time that it was a victory for the Internet mob, because punk kids got their comeuppance, and a kindly old lady benefited from the kindness of thousands of strangers. But then I had second thoughts, because while it was nice that things turned out well for Karen Klein, there had to be better reasons to pull $700,000 seemingly out of thin air. But then I felt better because Karen Klein used some of that windfall to found an anti-bullying foundation.

Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 11.34.37 AMNow the Internet mob is at it again. Billy Ray Harris is a homeless man in Kansas City who saved and returned a diamond engagement ring that was accidentally dropped into his donation cup by a woman named Sarah Darling. The story went viral, and Darling’s husband Bill Krejci started a fundraising campaign on the website Give Forward, which at the time of this writing has raised more than $170,000 from almost 7,500 donors. (Here’s a story from CNN, where I first learned about it.)

Of course, this is a feel-good story that fills us with hope for the human race. A man who clearly could have benefited by taking advantage of a mistake instead does the right thing and benefits even more. I hope the money that’s pouring in for Mr. Harris makes his life considerably happier and that he finds a way to use the windfall to help improve the lives of others.

If you manage an interpretive site, you surely can’t help but look at these stories and think, How could I get thousands of people to recognize the good we do and donate $5 or $10 apiece? What interpretive site couldn’t make their community a better place with a few hundred thousand dollars suddenly landing in its organizational lap?

Could a site like Indiegogo or Give Forward be used to help build a new nature center? So-called crowdfunding is a terrific, inexpensive way to raise funds by word-of-mouth, but what’s the damage to your organization’s reputation if you set a goal of $20,000 and raise $350?

Obviously, the two wildly successful crowdfunding campaigns I write about above took off because their stories went viral. They tugged on heart strings and made us want to do good for people whom the Internet mob felt deserved a break. So here’s the question for an interpretive site that could use a break: How does an organization create the emotional connections necessary to make an online crowdfunding campaign a success?

So this week, I end with question: Has your site tried to use this fundraising method? If so, what have the challenges been? And most importantly, were you successful.

It’s a brave new media world out there, and crowdfunding may be the nontraditional answer to an age-old question: How are we going to pay for all these great things we want to do?

Linear Communication in a Spatial World

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photograph of shiny Christmas ornaments

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve either been in training, interviewing and evaluating candidates, or earlier tonight, conducting training. Frankly, I’m exhausted with the concept of a) understanding how people think and process information; b) realizing that I’m certainly not as good at a) as I  want to be; and c) being utterly astonished at how people respond in some of the training and interview interactions that I’ve been focused on lately. Whew!

One of the things that particularly interests me about communication interactions is understanding how many people are linear- or spatially-oriented in how they process or express information. The stereotype that I’m familiar with is that engineers are linear thinkers (and very rigid) and artists are very spatial (and difficult to keep focused.) When I’ve been tested, I’ve discovered that I have elements of both linear and spatial thought patterns. This drives a friend of mine utterly nuts, and she often gets quite frustrated with me. She’s a university professor, very talented and very linear, and sometimes when we talk, I will go way off topic just because something seems funny or interesting to me (look! It’s shiny!)

photograph of shiny Christmas ornaments

Look! Shiny things at a Christmas Ornament Museum in Austria

But I’m also capable of returning to the topic at hand. My friend thinks that I’m bored and changing the subject, but I’m not, and she thinks I’m being disrespcctful, which is not my intent.

On the other hand, I have a colleague who is very similar to me in being both spatial- and linearly-oriented. We have great conversations and generally accomplish what we need to accomplish, but at the expense of anyone else within earshot. We’ve had people complain that we seem to speak our own special savant language (perhaps true) and that we are very silly (definitely true.) Honestly, my interactions with him are often very productive, albeit a bit slower than they might be, but we do have the good sense not to sit together at meetings so as not to disrupt the larger flow of the meeting.

Trust me, I do have a point here, and it ties a lot of the last three weeks together. I’ve been in three distinctly different head spaces in a row, as I’ve received a lot of training, evaluated the training and capabilities of others, and then giving training this week. Some of this is very, very linear. Some of it is very, very spatial, but to stay in the mode for each experience, I’ve had to stay in the right “head space” continually, which frankly I find difficult. When I self-analyze, I realize that I tend to slip between linear and spatial orientations many times per day, Some of it’s purposeful and some of it is convenient or unconscious.

Tonight I did an intro to Interpretation for a new docent group, using PowerPoint. PowerPoint is classic linear media, and the phrase “death by PowerPoint” always noodles around the the back of my head. It’s a very real problem. And since I’m visually oriented, I prefer a demonstration:

This brings me to a spatially oriented presentation tool that I saw a demonstration of during my training, called “Prezi.” You’ve perhaps seen Prezi in use, even if you’re not aware of it. Here’s an example:

http://prezi.com/vmvomt3sj3fd/this-is-anthropology/

Prezi is best described as putting a visual presentation on an infinitely sized canvas, and then zooming in and out of different portions of the canvas scrolling or traveling in virtually any direction, flitting hither and yon, doubling back and circling around in any direction you want, as opposed to a PowerPoint, which is very linear.

Prezi, at least for me, is a fascinating tool to experiment with, though I haven’t created any presentations yet. I need to do some planning and thinking about how to handle content. Because you can go in and out, around and around, Prezi can easily misused, and some audiences report vertigo and nausea from viewing Prezi files, but done well, the viewer can take a journey that is far more visually compelling than PowerPoint can be, and more directed in an artificial way than, say, a sequential motion picture or video could be. I think that for people with a non-linear mindset and learning style, and audiences who are properly primed for a more mentally energetic learning experience than yet another PowerPoint, Prezi or an alternate presentation tool can have its uses.

The unexpected ability to zoom right over and around content, to infinitely zoom in on detail to find text or comment, to circle over related content, is exciting to me for its possibilities. This technology is being used by some TED speakers, and I’ve seen the analogous concept used in television commercials and some other media. Whether they’ve used Prezi technology or not, I don’t know, but the ability to move across other content rather than through it is kind of cool if used properly. The danger is, what I like and what appeals to me is not necessarily what might appeal or be most effective to my audience. This is a challenge that faces all of us.

So what’s my point here? The conventions of our tools and training lead us toward linear instruction and regurgitation of information. PowerPoint, bullet lists, regurgitation in testing situations are all examples of this. However, for a lot of us, our brains run and process information in spatially discrete ways. We do follow shiny things, we do alternate our focus in and out of what might be “officially” the idea at hand, and in many cases this helps us problem solve. I know a little bit about learning theory, but not enough to intelligently comment here, except that I think that if we’re more aware of these learning styles, and if we consider expanding our tools and skills available, we can become better communicators and listeners.

Having said all this, I’m very interested in hearing from you. Have you thought about linear versus spatially oriented information dissemination and processing? Do you use tools or techniques that help you with any of these learning and presentation styles? I think that this is very fertile ground for discussion, and goes right to the heart of what interpretation and good communication is all about.

A Perfect Tweet

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I’m not a fan of the SuperBowl. No, it’s not because I’m Canadian. I just figure that any show where the majority of the viewers are watching mostly for the commercials has real problems. That being said, something very exciting happened. And, I’m not talking about the power outage. I’m talking about what happened as a result of the power outage.

Oreo did what most companies are unable to do. They sent out a perfect tweet. Why was it perfect? It was immediate, timely, relevant, and very witty. Take a look:

Oreo tweet

The response to this tweet has been tremendous. It has been retweeted thousands of times, and is still all over the media. While other companies spent millions of dollars for ad space, Oreo arguably received the greatest amount of publicity – for free. Why? Because it was clever, and was done in the moment.

You see, Twitter was designed to be immediate. People are supposed to tweet in real time – what they are doing, where they are, and what their thoughts are. Millions of companies try to harness the power of Twitter for their advertising ambitions, but they mostly fail because of their lengthy internal approval processes and their lack of immediacy.  Successful attempts at this kind of marketing is referred to as “Real Time Marketing.”

In order to be successful with this type of marketing, your organization needs to be willing to let you respond to events immediately, and it also has to be willing to take risks. Oreo did both these things. They authorized a marketing firm to send tweets that are edgy and free of the regular approvals. As a result, Oreo is really the big winner in this year’s SuperBowl. A perfect treat with a perfect tweet (and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don’t write slogans).

Negative Feedback? What is Facebook Doing to Me?

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There I was, watching the Super Bowl last Sunday from the comfort of my sofa, and everything went dark. At first, I thought I might be blacking out from the ingestion of one too many pretzel-breaded buffalo chicken strips, but everyone else in the room noticed it, too, so I figured I was okay. As you may remember, if the Super Bowl is the sort of thing you watch, the lights in half the stadium had gone out, forcing a 34-minute delay in the game. As I witnessed this unusual turn of events, I grabbed my iPhone and thought, “Look out, world. Here comes a snarky Facebook comment.”

As I have written about before on this blog, I have been learning a lot about the ins and outs of social media through a Facebook page I maintain called Countdown to Spring Training. (See “Getting Facebook Likes: Lessons from Two Experiments.”) So when the lights went out on the Super Bowl, I went to my baseball-centric Facebook page, and wrote: “Lights are out. What’s on the MLB [Major League Baseball] Network?” I don’t mean to brag, but one Countdowner named Rusty commented that it was the best Facebook post of all time.

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The next day, I logged on to my Facebook Pages app (different from the regular Facebook app) on my phone to check out the metrics of my recent posts (under “View Insights”). On the first panel, you can see that the post in question reached 706 people, 572 in the news feeds of people who like the page and 135 who are friends of Countdown fans (zero paid reaches, since I don’t pay to promote posts). The middle panel indicates the number of people who interacted with the post (including zero link clicks, since there were no links to click), and the panel on the right indicates the number of likes, comments, and shares the post generated.

Glancing back at the middle panel, some very small type at the bottom jumped out at me. Here it is enlarged:

photo 2

Negative feedback? What the heck does negative feedback mean? Could Countdowner Rusty have been wrong about it being the best post ever? As a person who simultaneously invites and withers from unsolicited criticism (a “blogger”), I was more than a little horrified to learn about this metric. It’s unpleasant, but it can be very useful. A post gets negative feedback if one of four things happens when your fans see it in their newsfeed:

  1. Your Facebook follower hides your post. This means you’ve done something in that one particular post that your follower finds distasteful enough that they want it out of their news feed, but they still want to see future posts from you.
  2. Your follower hides all of your posts. This means they still show up in your count of total page likes, but they never see anything you post.
  3. Your follower unlikes your page. Now you’ve done it.
  4. Your follower marks your post as spam. This means you’re posting too much self-promotional stuff.

The reason this is important is not just that one or two people might hide your content or unsubscribe from your page. If you get negative feedback too frequently, it affects your Facebook EdgeRank, the mysterious secret sauce that Facebook uses to determine whether your posts will make it into your followers’ news feeds. So if you’re constantly posting that you want people to donate to your organization or buy stuff from your store, and enough people start hiding your posts because of it, you’re less likely to make it into your fans’ news feeds when you post the stuff your followers really want to see from you.

Facebook provides incredibly detailed information that allows you to see precisely what your fans are doing with your posts. To get this information, go to the page you manage, be sure that your admin panel is showing, click “See All” next to “Insights,” then click on “Export Data” and be sure to select “Post Level Data.” This will generate an Excel spread sheet that will show you statistics on every one of your recent posts. If you go to a tab called “Lifetime Negative Feedback,” you can see numbers tallied for all of the negative feedback your individual posts have generated—hides (in a column called “hide_clicks” in the spread sheet), unsubscribes (“hide_all_clicks”), and spam reports (“report_spam_clicks”). (There’s a fourth one call “”xbutton” that used to mean something but it really doesn’t anymore.)

I did just this for my Countdown page and was relieved that nearly all of my negative feedback incidents are single hides, rather than unsubscribes, and there was not a single report of spam.

In the future, this information will be invaluable for analyzing not only what content my pages’ followers enj0y (measured in all of the engagement metrics like reach, likes, shares, and comments), but also what’s turning my followers off. Obviously, you can’t please everyone all the time, but if you’re consistently ticking people off and making them hide your posts, that’s probably good information to have.

Cyark– holy moly this is cool!

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photograph of Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant in "North by Northwest"

It’s really a blast when part of your job is to investigate new technologies for interpreters. In the past few weeks, I’ve gone to Minnesota to play with hydraulics and pneumatics, been stunned by being in an airplane fuselage during a simulated parachute mission over France on D-Day where I totally believed that we had been strafed by a German fighter, and have seen one of the world’s largest and most amazing Nativity creche scenes in Austria, literally powered by bicycle gears with a musical accompaniment created with a grind organ, like organ grinders used to play in the background in those 1930s Warner Brothers gangster pictures.

photo of carved wooden figures in a Nativity Scene at a church near Styre Austria.

Detail of the amazing animated Nativity scene in Austria.

Still none of this really compares to the cool factor that I’ve seen in learning about Cyark.

“Cyark, you say? Hmmm. Tell me more!” Uhh, okay. Cyark (for Cyber-Archive) is a non-profit foundation whose mission is “digitally preserving and sharing the world’s cultural heritage sites.” I ran across a news article about Cyark a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been kind of obsessing about it ever since. See, what they do is to make very (I mean VERY) detailed topographic surface maps of cultural sites with laser imagery. How detailed are they? How about an accuracy measured in single millimeters for Mt. Rushmore? Even better, their data is OPEN SOURCE, and available to anyone who wants or needs it.

Engineers Ben and Barbara Kacyra formed Cyark after learning about the Taliban destruction of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan in 2001. For reasons that most of us find unfathomable, they were simply blown out of existence after 15 centuries, with

Before and after the Taliban destroyed the 6th century Buddhist statues in Afghanistan

Before and after the Taliban destroyed the 6th century Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.

scant documentation that they ever existed. It was one of the great crimes against culture, but this event caused Ben Kacyra to realize that 3-d scanning technology they used and developed for construction and industrial uses could create far more accurate and detailed documentation of cultural objects and features than could archaeologists using tape measures and notebooks, and that documenting important cultural sites around the world could help preserve these sites for all time, even if they were to physically be destroyed. All it takes is skill, money and a dedicated passion, which the Kacyras apparently have, in spades.

So what have they done that might be familiar to you? How about a Mt. Rushmore smartphone app that lets you explore the monument in incredible detail?

photograph of Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant in "North by Northwest"

Cyark sees more detail about Mt. Rushmore than Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant did in “North By Northwest”

How about a digital exploration of all of the California Missions– not just the exteriors, but interiors, including statuary, altars, even hidden spaces that Cyark discovered during the scan process? How about a total digitization  of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park, the “place of refuge” on the island of Hawai’i (and one of my favorite places in the world) How about Qal’At al Bahrain, an ancient Portugese fort in Bahrain, built in the 14th century. How about Manzanar, a WWII Japanese-American Internment Camp near Lone Pine CA?

I won’t belabor the point, because I can’t really do justice to the subject, but as a kind of geek, I’m delighted and enthused that Mr. and Mrs. Kacyra have put their time, money, skill and dedication into saving significant sites on the planet that I like best (sorry, Jupiter,) plus I can dream of what could be done at the parks that I work at and the places I’ve been. As an historic interpreter and a person with a deep passion to understand the past so that I can cope with the present and the future, I feel a kinship to their work, even if I’m not physically involved. Our craft as interpreters depends on effective communication, which of course involves information. Cyark has found an amazing way to collect, preserve and disseminate some incredible information that benefits the entire world.

Take a look through the links. I think that you’ll be glad you did.

The making of Cyark (KQED)

AP story on Orange County Register website

http://goo.gl/I15jX

 

 

 

 

George Takei on EdgeRank, Links, and LOL Cats

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book_cover_graphics_0I wrote back in April about how social media sensation George Takei was taking the internet world by storm by posting images of cats. When I wrote that post, he had 1.5 million followers on Facebook, and today, about nine months later, that has more than doubled to 3.2 million.

Takei has since published an eBook, Oh Myyy! There Goes the Internet, which tells the story of his successes and failures in social media. (I did not know that he started out on Twitter, where he built a large following, before switching to Facebook.) The book addresses how and why he posts what he posts (99 percent funny pictures of cats, 1 percent interesting and poignant social commentary), how he deals with internet trolls (let them have their say), his disappointment in not being able to help fans who want him to help publicize causes (it’s disappointing), and what he has learned about the inner workings of Facebook (more on that below).

Takei’s observations in the book are just that—observations. Facebook is famously secretive about its EdgeRank algorithm, which determines which posts show up in which news feeds, so they would never release that secret formula to the public. (They’re even more secretive about it now that they’re asking page owners to pay for increased visibility of their posts.) But Takei carefully analyzes his posts using Facebook’s “Insights” tool to measure their reach (number of people who see an individual post), engagement (number of people who comment or like a post), and virality (percentage of people who interact with a post after seeing it).

Most of what he says is common sense. People like funny images more than they like text updates. Some people will react negatively to any political stance. And the more followers you have, the more careful you have to be about inadvertently offending people (purposefully offending people is okay). If you post regularly (several times a day) and your posts garner likes and comments, your EdgeRank goes up and future posts are more likely to show up in fans’ news feeds.

And while his formula for cultivating a following is effective, you have a little bit of a head start if you starred in a science fiction TV show with a rabid following.

One of the important observations he makes is this: When you post something on Facebook with a link to an outside website, it is less likely to appear in fans’ news feeds. He writes, “When I have tried to promote something else on my Facebook page by creating a link out, Facebook appears to penalize that post with a lower EdgeRank.”

I wrote less than a month ago about about two experiments I was conducting on Facebook, and these experiments seem to bear out what Takei is saying in his book. I maintain a page called Countdown to Spring Training, which posts quick, simple text updates and images twice a day about how many days there are until Major League Baseball’s preseason begins. These updates garner lots of comments, likes, and shares. When I wrote that post, the page had 523 likes. At the time of this writing, it has 757. (Not quite the pace George Takei gets on his page of 25,000 to 50,000 new likes per week.)

Another page I maintain is called Bloggers To Be Named Later, a companion to a sports/humor blog I write with friends. On that page, we post links to our blog articles once or twice a week. Not only has our number of page likes flatlined at 285 for the last three weeks, but I can tell from our stats that we’re not reaching nearly the same percentage of our fans as the Countdown page does.

Both of these examples bear out what Takei says in his book. Frequent text or image updates with no links are proving far more effective at reaching fans than occasional posts with links. Now that I know all this, I just need to get a starring role on the Star Trek series and I’ll be an internet sensation, too.

Google Floorplan: That’s A Name, Not A Search Term

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photograph of the google indoor camera equipment

One of the interpretive sites I work at is pretty large compared to many interpretive sites—the primary campus for the California State Railroad Museum is over 200,000 square feet. Of course, this is nothing compared to, say, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg Russia, the Louvre in Paris, or any of the units of the Smithsonian, but it’s large enough.

We are also well-known, so there are entities who want to partner with us for increasing their visibility. Politicians, historians, railroad companies, even bands often come to us wanting to use the venue to make a visual and emotional connection. Google is not one of those entities who need us.

After all, Google pretty much rules the search engine business. Google owns YouTube, the most widely used video platform. Google maps pretty much rule the roost. Heck, “google” is both a trade name and a verb, and it achieved that status much more quickly than, say ‘Kleenex’ or ‘Xerox’ did. In fact, just as I’m writing this today, Google has released a new Google maps app for the iphone to replace Apple’s really poor substitute, and Google rose 1.3% while Apple dropped another percent.

So imagine my surprise when I received not one, but two emails from actual, verified Googlians. They are suddenly very interested in coming to the California State Railroad Museum. And get this– they wanna map the inside of the facility!

This is actually pretty cool, and there are two things going on. First of all, Google wants to map the interior of our public spaces, and we’ve already given them our floorplan maps so they can show the interior of the building. For us, this will work because, like I said, the main campus is HUGE. As we continue to use and possess more and more smart devices– phones, tablets, perhaps ankle bracelets for some of my “friends” (ahem,) then you might be actually able to find, say a child who’s wandered off inside a museum or art gallery or shopping mall. You could arrange to meet your friends at the Mona Lisa, or even specify which table they can find you at in a restaurant. Google indoor views have already been added to some of the large casinos on the Vegas strip. Compare the view of New York New York between the satellite view and indoor map view. Imagine that you’ve never been there before. Which makes more sense?

Satellite view

Map view

Full disclosure– I’ve increased the saturation of the Google map portion in Photoshop to make it easier to read. The contrast is actually pretty low in the actual map view. Setting that aside though, which one do you think would be more useful for a newbie to navigate with?

I thought so.

Of course, compared with a casino, whose floorplans are widely thought to be consciously designed to prevent you from ever seeing daylight again, our facility is much, much simpler.

Basically, to provide a floorplan, all you have to do is to upload it, and match three anchor points over a map view of the facility. We’ve done this. The next step, of course, is the paperwork. We have to certify to Google that we are the owners, we are responsible for the content, and that the content is accurate. We also need to work with Google to ensure than non-public areas are not shown. Google will then send out some Googlians to collect some data points with GPS units so that they are sure of the accuracy, and they will redraw what we provided in a manner that’s consistent with their standards.All of this makes sense. I hope that we get this done soon, but I work for a governmental agency, and deliberation and delay are part of the decision process. I’m pretty sure that we’ll get there though.

Photograph of a car with Google Street view cameras on the roof

Google Streetview car receiving a ticket.

photograph of the google indoor view camera

The Google ice cream cart/indoor camera.

The second thing that’s going on is that another portion of Google maps has contacted us about doing street view inside the museum. Have you ever seen the Google vehicles shooting streetview images? The indoor streetview does essentially the same thing, but with an ice cream cart.

We have a few more hurdles for this one. Logistically, we’ll have to arrange probably several evenings after we close so that visitors aren’t in the images. This will make the dataset cleaner, plus eliminate any privacy issues that might pop up. The second issue that I foresee is to have our curators check on any copyright issues for visual media that we have. We display historic signs, paintings, photographs, trade labels, company trademarks, and original visual media that we need to check on, just in case we don’t have the rights to show them in this new way. If there are any issues, Google will simply blur the object to make it unrecognizable, just like they do for me when I keep jumping in front of their cameras as they cruise town.

I’m not exactly sure when we’ll get to this step- I’m still working on coordinating our staff and the Google reps, and then they’ll have to make one or more trips here with their equipment, but I’m thinking that this will be pretty cool. I’m not a shill for Google, and I’ve had my own difficulties with them, but this is pretty cool.

Or it’s another horrible example of losing privacy, of reducing the joy-inducing unknowns that I and many others have when we come to new places, or it’s part of the homogenization of the world. I suppose that it’s whatever you want it to be, like most new media that we talk about here. Part of me has that lingering dread of cheapening and dumbing down of our society, but hey, these are all just tools. They can be used for good or bad purposes. I prefer to see the exciting possiblities, and yet another new way of connecting with our audiences.

If you’re interested in learning more about this, then read about it on Mashable at mashable.com/2012/11/23/google-maps-floor-plans/ , try maps.google.com/help/maps/floorplans/ for some general help and an overview, or take a look at some of the places where there are floorplans available, at support.google.com/gmm/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1685827 . Since Google is the owner of the Android operating system, the technology so far seems to be skewed toward Android users, but there’s a desktop app, and I’m pretty sure that an iphone app will appear eventually.

And in the meantime, happy holidays everyone!

 

 

 

Getting Facebook Likes: Lessons from Two Experiments

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One of the things social media experts like to tell you is how to attract followers on your social media outlets, as though we just have to follow this simple three-step process and we’ll all be George Takei. Here’s the thing about social media: It can be infuriating. It’s unpredictable, it’s highly excitable, and it’s temperamental. It’s basically me after drinking three Dr. Peppers on an empty stomach. As with most fields, social media expertise comes through trial and error, and knowledge grows with experience.

I have been conducting two simultaneous social media experiments for roughly the last year. Both of these experiments—Facebook pages and their accompanying Twitter handles—are manifestations of my interest in sports and my borderline obsessive personality. The first is a Facebook page called Countdown to Spring Training, which I started in October 2011 after my beloved Phillies were eliminated from the Major League Baseball playoffs with a pop of Ryan Howard’s Achilles tendon. The second is the Facebook page for a blog that I write with friends called Bloggers To Be Named Later.

I don’t make any money on either of these ventures, though I have parlayed the Bloggers To Be Named Later site into press passes to two baseball games.

On the Countdown page, I simply post the number of days left until the first Spring Training game of the baseball preseason, usually accompanied by a weak attempt at humor. That’s all I do. I started the page on a whim, with no ulterior motives whatsoever. In fact, I put so little forethought into it that I didn’t even consider what would become of the page when Spring Training actually started. On Facebook, you can’t change the name of your page once you have 100 likes—which occurred before I realized I should call the page Baseball Countdown or something like that.

On the other hand, I put a lot of time and forethought into the Bloggers To Be Named Later page. Over the course of a couple months, I recruited friends whom I knew to be good writers, funny people, and sports fans, to be contributors. I established parameters for content on the site and finally set up a website for the blog. We have roughly two to five posts per week from six to eight authors. Each post is the result of at least an hour or two of considered effort from the authors.

Neither of these pages has exactly exploded in popularity (both are in triple-digit Facebook likes), but as I’m sure you’ve guessed, there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of effort I put into each page and the success it’s realizing on Facebook—in short, the Countdown page is performing far better than the Bloggers page. The graphs above show new likes per day for each page in the last month. The Countdown page gets as many as 10 new likes per day (though usually it’s more like three to five), while the only new like the Bloggers page has gotten in a month was my brother Dave, and that’s just because hew was new to Facebook and I was showing him how to like a page. (The graphs above also chart “unlikes,” the Facebook equivalent of a break-up, tracked in horrible green. The only unlike the Countdown page has had in the last month was an accident, and the guy re-liked the page right away. The Bloggers page, had one unlike back in early November, and I’m still taking it personally.)

With the Countdown page, I do practically no promotion whatsoever. Its new likes come primarily from people seeing that their friends have liked or commented on a Countdown status, then liking the page themselves. The page’s weekly “reach” (total number of Facebook users who saw at least one of the page’s posts) is more than 2,600, most of which is reflected in the “viral” line in the chart here. That means Countdowners (as they are affectionately known) interact with the page, their friends see that they’ve done this, then they like the page too. It’s a slow and steady way to build a page, but it’s working.

On the Bloggers page, on the other hand, I practically beg people to like it (slightly under half of our likes are already my Facebook friends). Each author on the blog has invited friends and family to like the page, I put a link to it in my personal email signature, and I even have a business card that directs people to it. (I remind you that this is all for fun. I have no hope of ever making money off this, regardless of what I tell my wife when I have to excuse myself from doing dishes in order to finish a blog post.)

The thing is that I don’t think the lack of a Facebook following means that Bloggers To Be Named Later blog is a failure. It gets regular traffic and has built a small but devoted readership. But I do think these experiments speak to the nature of social media.

The Countdown page asks very little of its followers. I post a short comment every day; the page’s followers can like it and maybe offer a short comment themselves and everyone gets on with their day. The Bloggers page asks people to do a lot more. Almost exclusively, our posts are links to an external site with an article of anywhere from 500 to 1,500 words. When we do get comments, they’re usually on the blog rather than on Facebook. Also, the Countdown page has one, singular focus (it’s a support group for baseball fans in withdrawal) while the Bloggers page has a wider scope (recent posts cover everything from podcasts for interesting people to the murder-suicide that rocked the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend). The Bloggers page also features photos of all 88 unique items in my collection of souvenir ice cream helmet sundaes, a small portion of which are pictured here.

I’ve learned from these experiments that social media users react to quick thoughts about a specific thing that matters to us, and we like to feel that we’re part of a group of like-minded individuals. I’ve also learned that people will unfriend you on Facebook if you ask them to like the same page over and over.

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