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Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

The Google+ Redesign Looks Oddly Familiar

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Google+Of all my social media platforms, I think I use Google+ the least. Well, technically, I use my old Myspace page the least, because it has been years since I even logged in.

That makes Google+ the second least used of my social media platforms. So it was with a bit of skepticism that I read the news that Google+ has done a big redesign of its site.

My first thought was “if a social media platform fell in the forest, and no one was there, did it make a sound?”

But after watching the video, and then logging in to the site, I realized there was something about the new look that was very familiar.

The way the wide-format images appear at the top of the page, the way status updates are displayed, it all looks suspiciously Facebook-like.

There are definitely some innovations, such as a customizable “ribbon” of moveable icons in the left-hand navigational column instead of static images or text. This is the kind of fresh design concept that Google will have to depend on if it wants to continue competing with Facebook.

But if the next Google+ redesign starts looking suspiciously like my old Myspace page, that’s when I may have to call it a day.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

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Written by Charles Primm

April 12, 2012 at 7:22 pm

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Trying to Stay Focused? Don’t Check Facebook

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Although I have occasionally criticized Facebook in this space, for purposes of full disclosure, I hereby state that I do enjoy logging in to Facebook and looking at pictures and status updates from my friends.

The “stickiness” of the site is like a siren song, calling me to scroll down further, further, just a little further, down into the bottomless well of information. As you might have guessed, this is by design: the longer we stay, the more revenue we generate for Facebook as we look at ads on the site.

But just because it is good for Facebook does not mean it is good for us. As it turns out, new research shows that checking Facebook just once is enough to distract us from being productive while we are trying to work.

This recent story in Psychology Today discusses a study of how people were able to maintain their focus in the midst of electronic distractions such as the Internet and smartphones.

It turns out that checking Facebook was a major momentum-killer for those trying to focus on a task and be productive. It did not matter if they checked Facebook once or a dozen times: the damage was done and concentration was lost.

I think I already knew this, but the best science often tells us what we already know. Now comes the hard part: actually refraining from checking Facebook when I am under tight deadline pressure.

I’ll let you all know how that turns out.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

April 11, 2012 at 7:29 pm

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Facebook Buys Instagram But Not Its Coolness

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When Facebook announced this week that it had purchased the photo retouching and sharing app Instagram, much of the news coverage was accompanied with sidebar articles such as “Deleting Your Instagram Account? Here’s How to Save Your Pics.”

The snap-judgment implication was that, by purchasing this small, cool company, Facebook was about to ruin it forever, prompting those “in the know” to head for the door. But the larger implication was that Facebook was so obviously uncool that one could be tainted just by association with it.

What a fascinating change. Just a few years ago, Facebook was the cool thing, the new thing, the David to Myspace’s Goliath: the one you rooted for. Students at universities in the US could not wait until their campuses were allowed to participate.

Where did it all go wrong? Was it all the times Facebook got in trouble for changing its users’ privacy settings? Or was it FarmVille?

We may never know, but to me, it’s clear: the thrill is gone. Oh, the site will be with us for a long time yet to come. But if cynicism about Facebook’s motives runs this deep, the company has more of a public perception problem than it may realize.

And even the best Instagram filter can’t change that.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

April 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm

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Find Your Next Job Through Social Media

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Changing jobs or finding new work after a period of unemployment is never easy, even in the best economic times.

And as we all know, the last few years have not been the best. I have seen many bright, hardworking, talented people in my industry struggle to find work following layoffs or shutdowns.

I know it’s a hackneyed cliché, but just as no good gig lasts forever, neither does a bad one. And unemployment is among the worst gigs there is.

Social Job SearchThe good news is that social media, the great change agent of our day, is now having an impact on getting a job. There’s a great infographic on Mashable about how social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are booming as a way to connect candidates with job openings.

LinkedInI can see the difference myself, in the kinds of ads and job suggestions displayed on my LinkedIn profile. The site seems to be doing a good, careful job of mining my resume and connecting it to open jobs I might be interested in, some based on my work background and some apparently based on compatible careers that match my education.

I like how the job suggestions are acting as a kind of surrogate career coach, encouraging me to consider possibilities I may have never considered.

For all those looking for work, or for different work, it’s clear that social media networking is an investment of time and energy well worth making.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

April 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Google Goggles? I’m Waiting for the Contact Lenses

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Project GlassI try to keep an eye on the latest consumer technology news, since it’s probably more likely to have an impact on my life than the more esoteric sciences I come into contact with at my day job at a large research university.

So it’s been a lot of fun following the “Google goggles” story. The development team at Google Labs recently posted a blog and video on “Project Glass,” their conceptual project to bring the visualized, social media-enabled, mobile Web to everyone via a pair of special glasses.

There’s the professional, dispassionate, level to the story, where tech experts hash out how likely this is, when it might arrive, how good it will be, and the many implications for personal privacy and the dangers of distracted multi-tasking.

But on the other hand, I can’t stop imagining how cool it might be to walk around campus, connecting to a synthesis of the physical world and the location-based Internet, enabling my stream of consciousness in a way I never dreamed of.

My reveries usually end when I recall how much I dislike seeing people walking around with a Bluetooth headset in their ear all day, and I think with a shudder, “don’t go there.” I think I’ll feel better once Google manages to get their goggles down to contact-lens size.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

April 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm

“Pink Slime” Gets PR Assist

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An effective crisis communication response plan has always been part of successful public relations. It seems obvious to state this, but for many years, good crisis communications was like a well-kept secret, slowly trickling out to the wider industry over time and, seemingly, only in response to historic PR disasters like Exxon’s response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the decision to launch the Challenger space shuttle, as well as in recognition of crisis communication success stories like the Tylenol cyanide poisoning response.

So it’s tough to watch the Beef Products Inc., a Texas-based company, in the PR fight of its life in the wake of the recent “pink slime” controversy. This PR Daily story by Gil Rudawsky summarizes how social media powered the efforts of parents to get the beef products banned from schools and removed from grocery store meat departments.

The company, which uses industrial processes to retrieve tiny scraps of trimmed beef that otherwise would be discarded, launched the beefisbeef.com website to explain why the meat is perfectly safe and nutritious, and to argue why the term “pink slime” is wrong, misleading, and libelous.

Get The Facts infographicThey even include an effective infographic that explains why the use of ammonia in the process, one of the problems cited in the “pink slime” protests, is actually common throughout the food processing industry.

I use the word “tough” to describe this campaign because, on a technical level, while the company seems to be doing everything about as well as it can be done to address the critics and try to set the record straight, I suspect that the power of the phrase “pink slime” may be too much for them to succeed in the long run.

The Center for Media and Democracy’s famous PR industry expose, “Toxic Sludge is Good For You,” ascribed wondrous powers of persuasion to the practice of public relations. But nothing, not even PR, is totally invincible. In the end, the public does get to decide what they like and what they don’t like. And, if they don’t like “lean beef trimmings” or “pink slime,” they will vote with their dollars and reject the product.

— Update: April 2, 2012: The Consumerist reports that AFA Foods, another manufacturer of “lean beef trimmings,” has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, blaming the uproar over the “pink slime” news coverage.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

April 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Social Media – Naughty or Nice?

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It’s a given that social media’s usage and influence have grown wildly beyond what anyone expected just a few years ago.

According to a report by Navneet Kaushal of PageTrafficBuzz, as of January 2012, Facebook by itself was the destination for nine percent of all online visits in the US, and twenty percent of all online page views.

That’s not counting Twitter, Google+, and the many other social media destinations available online.

What’s interesting to me, though, is not that social media is huge, but that’s it’s huge enough to have sparked a discussion of what it means to be social.

Blogger Steve Sonn writes that a growing number of individuals are using social media in an antisocial way, by brazenly self-promoting their business and their personal brand in a one-way direction, rather than being “open, transparent, helpful and engaging.”

I like this concept, because it says something about the aspirational nature of why we communicate in the first place, and why we all seek out communities in which we can grow and thrive.

On the other hand, just as the music world has room for punk rock, there are those who want to bring the same “smash ’em up” sensibility to social media.

This Chronicle of Higher Education story by Jeffrey R. Young highlights just such a rule-breaker: Dean Terry, the director of the emerging-media program at the University of Texas at Dallas, who is committing what he calls “social-media blasphemy” with his new Facebook plug-in, “EnemyGraph.”

The service lets Facebook users identify their “enemies,” which then appear in their profiles. The report states that Terry originally wanted to use the word “dislike,” but that word was specifically banned by Facebook, in order to maintain a positive atmosphere for its users.

This “blasphemy” may be a tongue-in-cheek rejection of the idea that being nice, kind, and positive is the best way to approach social media. But I think it has the potential to create a lot of damage. Practical jokes may seem funny in theory, but in reality, they’re just mean.

So while I’m generally in favor of a little rule-breaking now and then, when it comes to social media, I prefer playing nice.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

March 29, 2012 at 8:00 am