Tag Archives: Twitter

Connecting in our Parks


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There’s a major controversy in Canada right now. No, not Mayor Rob Ford’s new crack cocaine video. No, not the bloated dead whale in Newfoundland that is a ticking timebomb of exploading gases. No, not the U.S.’s fight with Canada over who should have to claim responsibility for Justin Bieber. This controversy came to my attention when looking at the “What’s trending” box on Facebook.  It said, “Now Trending: Parks Canada”

“Parks Canada? Trending? Seriously?” I asked myself.

Yes, our government agency that manages Canada’s national parks and historic sites was suddenly in the news and all over social media. Why? Because they are looking at installing wifi hotspots at 150 locations throughout the system.

wifi parks

Now, just to be clear, there are a couple of key points to understand. We are talking about wifi hotspots – areas of a few hundred metres where people can access the internet on their devices. Just like a coffee shop. Or an airport. And, these hotspots will only be in specific locations where people gather – such as visitor centres, townsites, and some campgrounds. It will not be available across hundreds of kilometres of wilderness.

Regardless, this story has exploded, and there are very strong comments about it. Here are just a few I pulled from Twitter:

“If you wanted proof that city folk are ruining the world, they’re installing wifi in Canada’s national parks.”

“I think the fact that Parks Canada is even considering wifi in our parks shows what our society values more.”

“Wifi does not grow in parks, so wifi should not go in parks.”

Even 92-year-old author Farley Mowat chimed in with this subtle comment: “It’s a disastrous, stupid, idiotic concept and should be eliminated immediately.” Of course I responded on Twitter by saying, “Funny, I hear the same response from people his age about the internet in general.” But, I digress.

Celebrated Canadian Author Farley Mowat is 93 years old

Celebrated Canadian Author Farley Mowat is 92 years old


At first, I was quite taken aback by the controversy of this issue. But, after reflecting on it overnight, I can see a few reasons the issue has generated such a strong, guttural response:

Story Framing by the Media

In almost all of the media treatments I’ve seen (newspaper, television, online), the story begins somewhat like this: Imagine you are enjoying the serenity of one of Canada’s pristine national parks, when suddenly the silence is interrupted…” The media has purposely framed the story to cause conflict. They suggest that the mere presence of wifi will prevent others from enjoying the solitude and peace of nature. Well, of course people are upset. The media is inciting the public by creating a conflict where one doesn’t actually exist.

Clash of symbols

The public outcry may be a result of the personal symbolism of national parks. Many people see national parks as pristine wilderness – small islands of purity that have to withstand the constant onslaught of human presence and activity. They naturally see this as just another modern intrusion that threatens what a park means to them. Rational or not, this is viewed as a threat to something they hold dear.

Cell phone vs. Wifi

Much of the controversy revolves around cell phone use.  And towers. Comments are flooding in about people not wanting to hear a phone ring 50 kilometres into the backcountry trip or massive cell towers on top of every mountain. Even one of the large television channels had this as the story title when reporting: “Call of the Wifi? The Government plans to erect cell towers in national parks.” This shows a real lack of understanding of the issue. Wifi and cell networks are different. There are no towers going up for a wifi hotspot, and people’s phones are not going to suddenly start ringing because they are in range of wifi.

Need to control

This is where I have a hard time understanding much of the reaction. So many people are rejecting the idea because it doesn’t fit into their opinion of how people should connect with nature. I have heard and read comments saying that if someone needs the internet, they don’t belong in parks. Parks are about disconnecting. People shouldn’t bring that stress with them. The only way to experience nature is through solitude. You get the point. I may agree with some of those feelings on a personal level, but I would never impose that on someone else. Much of the negative reaction I’ve seen shows a bizarre need to control how others connect with nature. To me, it reeks of arrogance and elitism: “The only way to experience nature is the way that I like to experience nature. If you don’t like it, stay away.”

People’s travel habits have changed. The ways that people connect and learn have changed. And, there are many groups of people that are underrepresented as visitors, that may come if their needs are addressed.

How will wifi help? Someone can check the weather to decide what activity to partake in. They can book a canoe rental or a hotel room online. They can download a Parks Canada app that they didn’t know about before arriving. They can use birding apps or plant identification apps on their smartphone or tablet. They can take photos of and report sighting of rare animals. They can let their loved ones know they arrived safely. They can post a selfie to show what an incredible time they are having in nature. They can send a digital postcard. A work-at-home parent can take their kids to a park and still check in to the office. The list is endless…

As I have said before, maybe we should be less judgemental about how people should connect with nature, and just be happy that people connect at all.


Lorde! New Zealanders talk funny … ah where is that again?


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“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” William Shakespeare

Lorde performs on September 28, 2013 at Showbox at the Market during the Decibel Festival in Seattle, Washington; photo Kirk Stauffer.

Lorde; photo Kirk Stauffer.

Our whole country has gone Grammy-mad this week, after Kiwi teenager Lorde won two awards. All our news programmes, radio, social media networks are a buzz with this achievement.  There’s no mistaking the fact that she has become world famous in New Zealand. Even her fingernails have their own twitter account.  There hasn’t been this much hype around one person since… well since Peter Jackson won his first Oscars!

Watching the awards show I learnt three things:

  • Americans really know how to put on a good show.
  • Celebrities are experts at using twitter
  • Being famous does not automatically make you funny.
  • Music is the one universal language.

OK so that’s four things. But the last one got me thinking. It got me thinking about culture and communication. And the challenges of getting it right when your audience potentially is the whole world.

How does an awkward teenager from a group of islands somewhere near the South Pole co-write a song that explodes across the globe, in a way she described as mental”? (Yes New Zealanders talk funny). Well, you can read how she did it in this interview with her manager; “How to make it big online”.

Social media has bought people around the world together, regardless of cultural differences and geographic boundaries – creating a global village. It exposes us to new ideas and differences of opinion. It encourages interactions, conversation, debate. It’s a powerful tool. No wonder interpreters are drawn to it like moths to Tilden’s flame.

The downside to all this sharing is that sometimes its hard to maintain a unique voice. Despite the distance, NZ is heavily influenced by all things American, especially in the entertainment industry. This point was bought home to me when listening to my five-year-old talk to her friend during imaginary play – they were talking for their make-believe characters with American accents! Bits of our own culture are being ‘acquired’ too – there’s an American company called Kiwi, unashamedly named after our national bird, and someone in Germany trademarked the name Moana – which means ocean and is a popular girl’s name for our first peoples – Maori.

A lot of the content shared online by interpreters is written and this is tricky too – with slang, colloquialisms and spelling differences even between countries that use the same language. You may have noticed I like to spell programme with two mms and colour with a u.

So with all these extra challenges, how does an interpreter communicate successfully via social media? The advice from Lorde’s manager is that success for a musician starts with a good song. The same goes for interpreters.

Start with core principles.

  • Make it enjoyable.
  • Make it relevant and meaningful.
  • Make it organised and thematic.
  • Make it personal. After all, if its not personal, its not interpretation.

Lorde has struck a chord that has resonated around the world, by writing about what she feels and what she has experienced. But she is a real person, and that’s where it starts – she’s keeping it real. And we are prodigiously proud of her.

Check out some other kiwis doing their own version of her Grammy-winning song. (I didn’t say it was good.)

Lorde's home town sign is altered in a play on the lyrics of 'Royal'.

Lorde’s home town sign is altered in a play on the lyrics of ‘Royal’.

This just in! How social media campaigns can be successful


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I am often a great supporter of procrastination. Not a proactive supporter, just a passive one. In fact, I often find that the mere act of doing nothing has the unintentional effect of encouraging procrastination.

So, I was busy procrastinating from writing my latest blog post for Media Platypus. I guess I was just waiting for something to happen on its own, when – ding! – something suddenly appeared in my inbox. It was a report from Ipsos, a worldwide market research firm. But, this isn’t just any report. It is a report about social media campaigns. Bingo! Procrastination 1. Hard Work 0.

This new report (from Ipsos’ UK office) attempts to identify ways that social media campaigns can be successful. It is something that I fully intended on coming up with myself, but how about I just tell you what the report says instead?

In a nutshell, this report identifies three things you must do to be successful with your campaign:

1. Play to the strengths of each platform. They are all different. I can’t stress the importance of this one enough. Just because they are all grouped together under the umbrella of social media, it doesn’t mean you should take the same approach with each platform. They are all different and have different users. And, these users have different behaviour and reasons for using those platforms.


Social Media – as explained by the act of peeing

According to their survey of UK users, Facebook is about sharing enjoyment with friends, Twitter is about discovery and connection with like-minded individuals, and YouTube is about entertainment and relaxation (like TV). The implication? Your content for Facebook should be focused on bringing friends together, your content for Twitter should be about discovery, and your content for YouTube should entertain and inform.

2. Deliver content people want to engage with. This seems obvious, but I see a lot of examples of content that either isn’t engaging or is on the wrong platform. When surveying how people interact with brands on various platforms, Ipsos discovered that people look for promos and offers on Facebook, and news on Twitter. Linkedin was more for learning from experts.

3. Be relevant and add value.  If we want people’s time, we need to reward them for it. 45% of people that “like” a brand on Facebook subsequently unlike it. There are all kinds of reasons for this, but often it is because there is some immediate one-time reward or contest, and there isn’t enough relevant and rewarding content to continue.

If you would like to read the entire report (it isn’t very long), you can check it out here. As for me, I have some serious procrastination planned.

Sirocco kākāpō – a social media success story


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Sirocco-kakapo twitter-avatar

He has all the trappings of a superstar. Friends in high places, a viral YouTube video, over 20,000 online Twitter followers and Facebook fans, and a tell-all biography. He has his own catch phrase. He’s charismatic, smells good, chases tail and is generally only seen after hours. And he’s just won an international popularity contest.

So how exactly did a flightless, nocturnal parrot beat out tigers, meerkats and African elephants to win the title of world’s favourite endangered species?

world's favourite - arkive.org.

ARKive celebrated their 10th birthday with a world’s favourite endangered species competition, and kakapo won!

Through the power of social media and a powerful online persona that rallied support from his followers to gain 9% of the total 14,000 votes from 162 countries.

Sirocco the kākāpō is a real bird, and not just a cleverly created anthropomorphic character dreamed up by marketing geniuses (although real humanoids do help Sirocco craft his online content).

sirocco-online, copyright Department of Conservation.

Copyright Department of Conservation.

He found fame on the BBC TV series ‘Last Chance to See’ when he was caught on camera trying to mate with zoologist Mark Carwardine – while presenter Stephen Fry watched and helpfully provided commentary.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) seized the opportunity to harness this viral attention, and leapt into the then-new world of government social media. In 2010 his role was officially recognised by New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key, when he was appointed the ‘Official Spokesbird for Conservation’.

Sirocco is not only a valuable ambassador for kākāpō (of which there are only 124 left – and are found only in New Zealand, on offshore islands) but he also helps spread the wider conservation message to his worldwide fan base.

So what is the secret to the success of Sirocco?

At first glance, he’s an avatar. An avatar is often referred to as your online brand; a small, square image that tells others who YOU are. A good avatar is both eye-catching and memorable – you want people to notice it, and you want people to associate it with you. Sirrocco is a beautiful bright green – so yeah he stands out from the twittering crowd.

The most successful avatars are the ones that help people connect with you (and your brand) on a personal level. To do this well, it has to have a face; it’s been well proven that humans are wired to recognize and remember faces. Sirrocco has got this down too. His owl-like face portrays a sense of wisdom beyond his species but this is tempered against a cheeky characterisation that has earned him dedicated fans such comedian Stephen Fry.

Sirocco avatars.

Sirocco on Twitter and Facebook

But go deeper beyond (or behind) the avatar and you find; “Sirocco uses social media in the way it was originally intended,” says Elizabeth Marenzi, one of Sirocco’s online minders.

“Social media is about individuals, not brands and companies. It’s a place for relationships and conversations. For a big and quite complex organisation like DOC, social Sirocco provides a simple way for people to connect and build a relationship with us. He’s real, he has a face, and he’s charismatic, unthreatening and fun. People really do love him. Establishing a community around him is easy because people naturally feel an affinity and loyalty to him,” she says.

Sirrocco’s online content is about his own adventures, and of other quirky or nationally significant conservation issues. He also makes a point of tying his messages into wider trends, like celebrity weddings, big national events and viral videos, thus spreading the conservation message in a fun, hopeful and culturally mainstream way.

Life of Pi.

Sirocco stays abreast of cultural events

Sirocco not only works his own popular Facebook and Twitter accounts but, importantly, also contributes to conversations happening elsewhere in the social web.

“This approach has captured the heads, hearts and hands of large new communities of people who now engage with conservation in a way that they enjoy and understand,” says Elizabeth.

But does social-media savvy Sirocco actually make a difference to conservation? How can a like or a share contribute to the cause?

living legend; copyright Department of Conservation.

World famous in New Zealand, Sirocco tours the country at least once a year

Just ask 13 year old Natalie Shaheen. This US girl, who has never been to New Zealand, sent DOC over $3,000 to go towards saving the kākāpō . She asked for money in lieu of gifts at her Bat Mitzvah. Why? Because she connected with Sirocco online and wanted to help. It’s as simple as that.

Sirocco keeps us up-to-date with how hard saving the world really is. His top post for 2012 was the devastating news that there was one less kākāpō in the world. “Too sad to skraarrk”, says Sirocco.

Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden once said “the first step toward change is awareness.” He was talking about self-esteem, but as interpreters we are often just looking to achieve that first step in people. From, raising awareness that might lead onto understanding, from understanding to action. Once we have got people to take that first step, we need to guide them to the next. In social media terms it might be donate now, sign this petition, become a virtual kākāpō, share this story. After that it could be lobby the government, volunteer, become part of the story. Who knows, Sirocco might end up skraarking about you!

Welcome Home, Commander Hadfield


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15 years ago, I met the now famous Commander Chris Hadfield. I was creating a Space Camp at IMAX Theatre in Winnipeg in conjunction with the film, Mission to Mir. Yes, it was a neat project, but to me, it was just an excuse to legally spin kids in a “spaceball” until they vomited.

Well, Chris Hadfield was passing through town, promoting the film and the Canadian Space Agency (the agency responsible for the “Canadarm“). He was on a fast promotional tour, with very little spare time. Yet, he took the time to meet with me and film a personal message to the Space Camp participants, instructing them on their “mission.” I was pleasantly surprised that this busy astronaut made time for a group of children in Winnipeg.

Today, Chris Hadfield is a household name. Earlier this week, he returned to Earth after a four month mission as commander of the International Space Station (ISS). During his time in orbit, he amazed and inspired people from around the world.

We watched him discuss life in zeroG, including how to go to the bathroom, clip nails, and try to cry in space.

He answered questions from students through live feeds, sang songs with the Barenaked Ladies in real time, and posted some of the most beautiful images of Earth I’ve ever seen.

One of Chris Hadfield's stunning photos he tweeted from the International Space Station

One of Chris Hadfield’s stunning photos he tweeted from the International Space Station with the caption “The Greek islands, like delicate, shattered eggshell pieces.”


One of Commander Hadfield’s great achievements is that he demonstrated, better than anyone I can think of, the power of using interpretive techniques through social media. His videos, photos, and vivid descriptions of life on the ISS brilliantly connected people with space (and Earth), and turned on a whole generation to science. He built strong emotional and intellectual connections, related his messages to his audience, used drama and surprise to provoke us and maintain our interest, and connected everything to the higher messages, or intangibles, of the resource.

As a result, Commander Hadfield skyrocketed to social media superstardom over the last four months.  He currently has over 90,000 subscribers and 11 million views to his YouTube channel and almost one million followers on his Twitter account. In addition, the Canadian Space Agency has been posting most of the videos of Commander Hadfield, with over 25 million views on their channel. In essence, he has shown how to harness the power of social media the way an interpreter would – to connect us, inspire us, and make a difference in the world.

Before returning to Earth this week, he posted one last video – a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”  The video has since gone viral, with over 10 million views in just three days. It is a beautiful rendition, but also a fitting summary of his time in space, and a wonderful example of how he used the arts to connect people with science.

This mission to the ISS wasn’t just about station repairs and the numerous scientific experiments performed in zero gravity. This was also about connecting millions of people to the wonders of space and science, and showing the world from a new perspective.

Well done, Commander. Mission accomplished.

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).

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.

A Few Minutes Late, But With Just Cause: NAI National Workshop!


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Photo of Region 9 members in front of the Hampton Convention Center, also showing the Hampton Coliseum in the background.

Greetings from Region 9!

It’s Thursday morning here in Hampton, and I’m obligated to post for the Platypus this Wednesday, which ended on the East coast about 35 minutes ago. A couple of weeks ago I traded with Cal Martin, for what seemed like a perfectly good reason at the time, but now after midnight, I’m cursing Cal for being such a slacker. Dang you Cal! And the horse you rode in on!

In earlier posts on Twitter, here on the Platypus and on our Facebook page, you’ve seen us brag that this will be the most social national workshop ever,and I’m happy to confirm that this is coming true. Perhaps not in all the ways that we envisioned, but one should never let one’s reach exceed one’s grasp, whatever that means.

What it means to me is that if you search on Twitter (or Google for that matter) for #NAI2012, you’ll find content that’s relative to your interest in interpretation. Some of it silly, some not too deep, but also a lot of good comments on the sessions here in Hampton. Additionally, this is the first national conference that we’ve done that includes webinars so that people in other locations can live vicariously, and presenters can remain in their home locations yet still contribute to our professional development. Sure, it hasn’t been perfect, but we’ve gotten good feedback for a lot of the content, and the technology and our user skills will increase over time.

Social Media and remote connections aside, there’s nothing like having the opportunity to network with colleagues, meet new and exciting people, see some of the up and comers and incredibly talented people that we share professional interests with in person. It is truly one of the weeks that I look forward to annually, and if you haven’t come to a national (or regional) workshop, what’s stopping you? NAI will have one somewhat near you in the rotation, but frankly I think it’s worth it to fly across the country, regardless of location. I get to learn, share some things that I know, but mostly I see close friends that I love, even if I only see them annually, and I get energized and feel smarter by being in the same room with some of the genuine giants of Interpretation.

This year, social media is acting both as a remote connection to the workshop, but also helping people who are here network and share tidbits of goodness that they are hearing in sessions, except for Lynda Doucette, who may be the last person in the United States who refuses to use a cell phone for some reason. But wait! Even Lynda has a twitter account, so she can’t be all bad. Just don’t ask me about how we ended up at the wrong restaurant 20 minutes away from where we intended to go…

I think that the only problem with documenting the workshop is that while we’re tweeting or facebooking, we may lose some details of what we’re listening to, but I’m frankly heartened to see the proliferation of netbooks, tablets and smartphones. Almost universally, people are sharing information rather than playing Farmville or something like that.

As I keep saying, social media is one of the tools that interpreters can use to communicate with our audiences, and this includes our internal audience– our fellow interpreters and managers, and hopefully more than a few people back home. A few of us are even collaborating on a custom Google map of the conference area. You can see it at http://goo.gl/maps/wSPuV and if you have a smartphone, you can even download it to your home screen and use it interactively. Cool!

It’s a bit of an experiment, and I suspect that it’s not quite ripe for this year, but we continue to move forward, looking for ways to communicate, to enlighten, to document, and look for ways to involve you with the national workshop, but to find ways to continue to relate to our visitors and remain relevant.

If you’re here in Hampton, I’m delighted to share some time with you! If you’re not, I hope that you can interact with us virtually, and I hope that you can join us in Reno for 2013 or (I think) Denver for 2014 and so on.

The national workshop is an extraordinary event for our weird, specialized profession, and I just can’t explain how important it is to me, and should be for you, so I guess I’ll stop now and get some sleep.

I think I just made my Wednesday deadline for our Mountain and Pacific and Hawaiian audience. Whew!

Just Lovin’ Them Tiny, Tiny URLs


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The title I created for this post makes me a little nauseated, just to be honest. Perhaps Mr. Caputo feels the same about the Phillies being at the bottom of their NL Division while my sentimental favorite, the Dodgers, are riding high. Ever since the Dodgers were sold by Frank McCourt, they’re playing like a professional club again, I’m just sayin’.

But I had intended to write about URL shortners, and why I like using them. Maybe I should start with doing URL-101, “What is a URL?” The acronym stands for “Universal Resource Locator.” It’s really just an alias that is supposedly more convenient for analog humans to remember than the actual, digital IP (internet protocol) address for a website or some other online content. IP addresses, which are just a series of numbers such as, are unique for each site. Because they’re unique, they are anchored to that actual, physical location of the server. URLs, on the other hand, are portable. They can be reassigned to different servers. This is convenient for people who own websites but don’t own the servers. If a small business or non-profit moves their web presence to a new internet provider, they can move the URL by having it reassigned by people who sit in cubicles such as the one I’m stuck in right now. Crud.

Back in the old days of the internet, say the 1990s, this was how this stuff worked, but a lot of people smarter than me started mucking things up with the internet, like creating content management system databases that allowed you to look up things and have websites create content that is somewhat customized for you. Amazon is maybe the best-known example, but they are ubiquitous, and many interpretive organizations, such as governmental organizations and large non-profits also use content management systems or other web technologies that result in non-logical and unwieldy URLs.

If I wanted to have a page on Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels, I might want it to sit at www.philsexton.com/spermophilus but if I used a content management system it might actually be www.philsexton/com/resources/3mbly7t4fmylb/ohmanthisisabunchofgibberish which makes no sense to us biological units. Even worse, it’s not possible to use an address like this in Twitter, and it really looks stupid in print, plus if you’ve ever tried to copy a URL on your hand with a pen, you might find this one going all the way to your elbow. Wow, now I’m remembering when we used to write on plaster arm casts when I was a kid. Where was I? Oh yeah. URLs!

Enter the URL shortener. There are several of them, bit.ly, goo.gl, tinyurl and others. They also create gibberish, but it’s tiny gibberish, and at least on tinyurl you can do some customization. I’m not sure how they make their money, probably by mining data on click-thrus, but I’ve done some checking and I can’t find any compromises to user privacy or threats to computers from creating or using URL shorteners.

I started using a URL shortener for a Twitter account that I create content for, but I quickly discovered that by using it for Facebook and emails and some other stuff, I can generate some use data about how well I communicate with the world in general. This is important, because so much of what I put online or have printed in my various endeavors just goes out somewhere, and it’s very difficult to get feedback from the end users. Since the URL shorteners generate data on this, I can put them online and in print and emails, then I can get some idea of whether there’s any use of them.

Because it’s the most useful for me, I’ll show some stuff from Google’s URL shortener, goo.gl, but this is really just my personal preference. To preserve and track use of your shortened URLs, you need to register with the service, and goo.gl ties in with my Google account. Here’s the home screen:

screenshot of a goo.gl screen showing a list of URL information that's been shortened

goo.gl home screen

This is a pretty straightforward list. It shows the long URL, date of creation, short URL and click-throughs. If you click on one of the items on the list without clicking on the links, you can get a preview thumbnail of the page, so you can ensure you’re using the correct URL:

goo.gl screenshot showing the visual preview off to the right. This shows a page link to a death notice for Doc Watson, the greatest flat pick guitarist ever

Doc Watson was the greatest flatpicker ever!

All is good so far, but just like that weird compulsion I have to examine what I dump out of the shop vac at home, I want to know more, so by clicking on the details link, I can look a little closer. Here’s a detail window

screenshot of a detail screen showing details about the use statistics for a goo.gl shortened url

goo.gl detail screen showing stats about a shortened url.

This screen shows when my shortened URL was clicked, what browsers were used, the computer platforms used, the source of the clicks, and the geographic area where the clicks came from. It also generates a QR code of the shortened URL, and I could copy and use that in print or on a sign for other uses.

For me, the most useful information is the browser and platforms that are being used. We’re seeing more and more users who are visiting our pages from smartphones or tablets, and this is important from a design perspective for web pages and photographs. The browser type can be important for web designers and managers, because different browsers may render content differently. A photo may not align with the content you intend it to be with, or font may be different than what you might intend. A good designer/developer will know this, and will test designs on different browsers and write good code that will do what you want, but for many small institutions who use volunteer web developers, you may get unexpected results with some software. I link to external sites occasionally, so I don’t have control over how they will render for our users, but if I’m aware of what our visitors are using, and by testing links with different browsers and phones, I can choose whether to use a particular link or not.

As I review what I’ve written, it sounds pretty geeky, but I think it’s important. If our job as interpreters is to do effective communication, we need to understand how our content is delivered, whether it’s in person or through the internet. I monitor how my links are used, because it helps me evaluate my success. One final thing. I actually do work in a cubicle environment right now, so maybe tiny URLs also help with my psychological need for space. I think I had better go stretch my legs now.

Facebook and Twitter: What’s the Difference?


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I suspected for some time that one of the “authors” of this blog, one Mr. Shea Lewis (zero posts and counting!), was dead. No one had heard anything from him for months on any of the social networks, and a series of texts taunting him for his irrational affinity for the New York Yankees passed without response. Then one day not too long ago, I saw something that gave me flickering hope that perhaps he was still alive: His wife had checked him in at Nom Noms Mexican Grill-N-Chill in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on Facebook.


Of course, this could be an elaborate Weekend at Bernie’s-style hoax perpetuated by Mrs. Lewis, but I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s still with us. (He’s sort of the Snuffleupagus of Media Platypus: “No, seriously, he was just here!“)

So here’s one difference between Facebook and Twitter: If you follow Shea on Facebook, you have some hope that he’s still with us, likely enjoying a strawberry, jalapeno, and avocado ice cream at Nom Noms. If you follow him on Twitter, you last saw him looking for a specific hash tag on March 5, and you fear that he’s since moved on to that great burrito bowl in the sky.

Asking What’s the difference between Facebook and Twitter? is like asking What’s the difference between a high school reunion and the floor of the New York Stock Exchange? One is populated by your aging, expanding, balding friends of old (the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook since 2008 is those 65 and older); the other is a never-ending stream of 20-somethings screaming brief messages in cryptic codes that you really have to focus on to extract what’s meaningful to you.

The most important statistic I’ve heard comparing the two social media outlets is that Facebook users average 12 minutes per visit when they log on, Twitter users just three.

Twitter’s fast pace is an advantage and a disadvantage. The primary disadvantage is that in most cases, as soon as you tweet something, it gets pushed rapidly down the feed until it basically disappears. An advantage of Twitter is that it tends to be where breaking news hits first. (I found myself going to Twitter for hockey scores when the Flyers were still in the playoffs.) (Hey Cal, how about that? I hockey reference!)

Last year, I was Skyping with a friend in Japan when the devastating earthquake hit. The image on my screen started shaking, my friend said, “It’s an earthquake—a big earthquake,” and the connection dropped. I immediately started jumping from one news website to another. After about a minute of seeing nothing on the news sites, I went to Twitter, where the terms “earthquake” and “Japan” were already trending. (“Tsunami” would follow shortly thereafter.) The news sites got on it quickly, but it was all over Twitter first.

The main advantage of Facebook is that it’s way easier to have a conversation there than on Twitter. After a few exchanges on Twitter, a conversation can be hard to follow, especially if more than two people are involved. The main disadvantage of Facebook, in my opinion, is that third-party apps want to know everything about you and Mark Zuckerberg is an evil genius who knows everything about you and is happy to sell that information.

Twitter is great for reaching users who don’t follow you. (Using hash tags or getting retweeted are great ways to find new audiences.) On Facebook, your communication is more likely to reach those who follow you specifically.

For a really detailed analysis of the difference between Facebook and Twitter users, have a look at this 2010 infographic from Digital Surgeons (please try to disregard the infuriating misuse of “everyday” where they mean “every day”).

Ultimately, what interpreters—who specialize in knowing their audiences and not making the medium the message—should take from this entire discussion is this: Twitter and Facebook are different. They require different kinds of communication styles and even different kinds of messages.

And if you see Shea Lewis, don’t go looking for Gordon or Mr. Hooper to prove that he’s real. Because he’ll be gone when you get back.

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