A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Do you really digg your town?

Some people really dig their town, and Manor, TX is trying to tap into this passion through its crowdscouring site Manor Labs.  The site has many social media features from sites like Digg.  It seems fitting that its CIO Dustin Haisler, who is 23, spearheads this effort; perhaps this is what you get when you give a millennial authority.  He is doing something bold.  Check out the May 2010 Government Technology profile of his efforts titled "City 2.0."

Like Digg, Manor Labs enables people to vote up or down each idea, and the more popular an idea is, the more likely that the town will take action on it if it is reasonable and feasible to do so.  Participants are also given "Innobucks" that they earn by contributing to the site.  They can cash them in at the site’s store for privileges like the opportunity to serve as a honorary mayor for the day (complete with lunch and dinner with the mayor and city manager), a ride with the police chief in his car for an entire shift, and — my favorite — the opportunity for the town to officially name a week after the person through proclamation. It is important to give participants incentives — even if it is an ego boost like getting a week named after you, which comes at very little cost to the town.  Further, I wonder how many boys between between the ages of 3 and 10 years old who are begging their parents for a ride in a police car…  Very clever.

There’s little need to touch upon peddling and purchasing influence since the spirit of the effort is to encourage improving the town for everyone. ;)   Another advantage to this type of crowdsourcing is that it is done in a venue that promotes transparency.

As I have noted before, there are participation inequality issues.  Not everyone has the ability (whether access or competency) nor the desire to participate in such an effort. What happens when the digitally savvy and excited over represent themselves?  That was the case when the Utah State Legislature passed a school voucher bill back in 2007; many pundits attributed some of the success to a discussion about the bill on the Politicopia wiki set up specifically discuss political issues in Utah.  After the bill’s passage, the bill was killed by a voter referendum.  Thus, even though people get excited about an idea online, it does not mean that most of the other affected people agree with the direction of the discussion.

However, it is important not to throw out the baby with the bath water.  Organizations that use social media to gather opinions and feedback from their constituents must acknowledge that their entire constituency likely does not use one channel of communication and participation.  Thus, they must take such feedback and participation in context and solicit feedback through other means to involve a more diverse group of stakeholders.  If Manor, TX does this, it likely will avoid what happened to the Utah State Legislature. 

Reclaim your Facebook Privacy

Matt Pizzimenti is concerned about how Facebook’s privacy policies and settings have evolved over the last little bit; that is why he started the ReclaimPrivacy project.  He has created an application that people can easily use after they login into their Facebook account. 

The application scans their privacy settings and provides alerts about several settings that one can use to hide various aspects of their account from anyone’s view.  One of the things that I particularly like about this application is that it provides instant links to the place where a person can adjust their settings to ensure that their information is only shared with those with whom they desire. 

Pizzimenti links to several recent articles that explain that Facebook’s recent actions have aggravated privacy advocates.  One thing that has irked them is that in some cases new settings have default values that allow the site to share account holders’ information with the public. Pizzimenti’s application will help individuals better understand all of the privacy vulnerabilities that they face.  It appears that it will flag any setting that is set to share information with Everyone (versus "Only Me" or only friends).  However, the application does not change anyone’s settings; it simply alerts them to vulnerabilities.  I think that this is an excellent idea since some people may want to have some information publicly available as this facilitates people finding them.

Regardless of how one feels about Facebook’s actions towards privacy, it is a good idea to continually examine one’s account settings on a social networking site.

2010 Politics Online: Top Ten Known Unknowns

"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.”- Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

With the sheer quantity and overall quality of information presented at this weeks 2010 Politics Online Conference, choosing just 10, or even 20 or 30 of the most insightful or unique comments is no easy task. Although Mr. Rumsfeld was obviously not referring to social media, and his comment here was widely criticized, keeping in mind exactly what you know, what you don’t know, and what you might never know are important principles to keep in mind when designing or managing a social media campaign.

For anyone who could not attend or might have missed a few sessions, all of the panels on track D were covered by CSPAN and are available here. Keynote addresses in the main ballroom were broadcast live via Usteam.Tv and are available on the Politics2010 channel.

Top Ten Known Unknowns

10. One panel predicted that Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon and Google Buzz will not be here next year. I have written previously about the multitude of location based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla and how I doubt that they all will survive.  Is Social Media a zero-sum game? Will the pie keep expanding as access to broadband expands and new users come online?

9. "It doesn't matter how many people you have as fans on Facebook. You only need the right 5." While it is easy to focus on the sheer number of followers and fans one might have on Facebook or Twitter, as this blog has pointed out before, quality always trumps quantity.  Finding those key fans or linchpins is the key. Broadly speaking, there is a certain intangible benefit to social media that is not always easy to identify. What will the new measures of success be?

8. Nic Adler gave an excellent presentation on his experience using social media to help save his nightclub, the legendary Roxy on Sunset Strip. Rather than ignoring or antagonizing his competition, Nick worked with competing venues like The Viper Room to reinvigorate the music scene, even going so far as to organize Tweet-crawls where he would actually encourage his customers to visit other businesses! Will social media make business and society more equitable? 

7. During the Bush administration, a single blog post by an independent blogger was ultimately responsible for pushing the administration to redesign the White House’s website. Another panelist remarked that compared to corporate customer service, the level of customer service people expect from government organizations is unattainable. While technology is certainly streamlining many interactions citizens have with government agencies, how willing should we be to outsource government functions?

6. Given the already explosive growth of the mobile internet, what does the future have in store for augmented reality applications? If you had an application for your phone that showed exactly what your local government has done or not done- potholes fixed, how much that bridge cost would you use it?  How about an application that pointed out a problem? In Washington DC you can report potholes via email or Twitter.

5. “Email is the hub around which Facebook, Twitter and other social media revolve.” – Colin Delaney. Email is still king. Businesses and organizations should focus on having a strong email program before branching out into social media. When and if this will change is still a matter of some debate.

4. “Social Media is nothing less than the reinvigoration of American democracy." -Rod Martin, Founder of Paypal. What exactly this reinvigorated democracy will look like, and whether or not it will improve government services and perceptions of government is tough to say. Considering that a small minority of Twitter users are responsible for a majority of the content, many have noted that the internet and social media tend to amply the loudest and most extreme viewpoints.

3. Microsoft’s Campaign Ready Suite. Despite a rocky demo that was plagued by an overtaxed WIFI system, Microsoft’s TownHall is something to watch. As a veteran of several campaigns, I can attest to the reluctance of some candidates and consultants to embrace new tools. One aspect of their program that was largely overlooked was the fact that it is open source. Does this represent a shift in Microsoft’s approach to designing software?

2. “Very likely to see independent Presidential candidate in 2012 that will make Ross Perot look like a joke.” – Joe Trippi. As we get closer to the midterm elections in November, many candidates are facing primary challenges from candidates whose campaigns would not have been possible without the internet. Will social media lead to a multi-party system?

1. The biggest threat to the future of the internet is filtering or censoring by governments, otherwise known as 'vulcanization'. Although pretty much everyone agrees that actions taken by China and Iran to censor content and limit access are egregious afford to freedom of speech, there was a surprising amount of disagreement among panelists about the potential fallout from the FCC’s recent attempt to force Comcast to stop managing its customers bandwidth on the per-per service Bit Torrent. Are regulations preventing ISPs from prioritizing internet traffic an unnecessary intrusion or necessary reform?

King of the Location Based Mountain- Foursquare vs. Gowalla, Loopt, Yelp, RallyUp, Plyce…

Since their 2009 launches at the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW), two unique startups-Foursquare, and Gowalla have become the biggest players in the still emerging niche of location based services.  While it remains to be seen whether or not the market will support more than one location based service, judging by the number and growth of users, participation by large corporations (Starbucks ), celebrities (Ashton Kutcher ) small businesses (DC’s own Town Tavern ), politicians (Patrick Kennedy, D-AL) and usability across mobile platforms, Foursquare is the leader of the pack. Other competitors include Loopt , Yelp , the more privacy conscious  Rally Up , Europe’s Plyce and whatever Facebook decides to do.

For a quick primer on Foursquare in 118 seconds- Checkout this excellent video from HowCast:

As for the long term potential and adaptability of Foursquare as a useful tool for public relations campaigns in business or politics, with Morgan Stanley now predicting that mobile internet will be bigger than desktop internet in 5 years, any business, public relations professional or political candidate who fails to utilize location based services may soon find themselves at  a significant competitive disadvantage when it comes to building and maintaining relationships with the tech savvy linchpins among their clients, customers and constituents.

In terms of why Foursquare came to become the leader of the pack, three often overlooked factors have come together in their favor:


I.   Branding Matters. One of the most overlooked factors in Foursquare’s success is the name itself.

Considering the success and popularity of anything associated with the 80s and early 90s- Just about every “Millennial” has at least one story of Foursquare glory on the playground. In this regard, Foursquare’s awarding of badges, (think merit badges from Cub Scouts / Girl Scouts) points and mayor-ships were brilliant ideas. As a Millennial myself, I can attest to the fact that by activating these positive associations of childhood playground fun versus ones current ambitions, and desire for future success and recognition  among their peers , Foursquare starts off with a significant advantage over Gowalla for the simple reason that it is much easier to understand, explain and most importantly remember what Foursquare is.  “Have you tried/ are you on Gowalla?”  Is awkward to type, let alone explain in casual conversation.

II. Cross platform availability. Foursquare is available on Blackberry, Palm, Iphone and Android based devices, Gowalla is not.

As 42.1% of smartphone users have a Blackberry, it is astonishing and possibly fatal that Gowalla has not launched a Blackberry application of their own. Although Gowalla does have a Blackberry optimized mobile site, which does load on my Verizon Blackberry Storm2, the interface is choppy and less user friendly than Foursquare’s Blackberry app. Gowalla’s messages boards are also full of users complaining about compatibility with older Blackberry devices. (To their credit, Gowalla does provide an open forum for complains and responds too many of them.)

III.  On Creativity, Foursquare wins.

Wouldn’t you like to be the first, or maybe second to check in at the North Pole?

How about reading the Financial Times for Free?

Feeling shy or lost on your first day of school?

Enjoy a free cup of coffee?

If the answer to any or all of these questions is ‘yes’, well there is an app for that.

IV.    Loopt, Yelp, Rally Up, Plyce, etc…

In terms of the number of users and overall buzz, Foursquare is in the lead. Of the competition, particularly interesting is Rally Up- which seeks to overcome some of the issues raised by sites such as PleaseRobMe.com by eliminating Twitter integration in favor of connecting you to your ‘real’ friends on Facebook. While Loopt and Yelp are compatible with the Blackberry, Rally Up is not. Plyce has some taken some of the better aspects of Gowalla and added features such as a wall to post pictures and video as well as the ability to chat with your friends inside the app.  While these new services are certainly worth watching, in the meantime adding Foursquare to your social media portfolio is an easy and effective way to promote your business and improve public relations.

Social TV Draws Developers’ Attention

tv Many attempts have been made to blend the electronic “hearth” of most living rooms – the television – with the computer, and Saturday’s release of the iPad may have brought us one step closer to a child-hybrid of these two lifestye home-bases.

With the massive iPad release, developers at every level of the iPhone app hierarchy are vying for ways to capitalize on the new gadget and its market share, with some speculating on how it will change the game for social TV.

MTV networks is working on branded applications that will “capture the social-media chatter around TV and awards shows and apps for video on the go,” according to AdAge.

The apps will also allow users to log on to a forum while watching the same show. MTV is hoping the iPad’s lightweight size and mobility will make it easier to access than a laptop, and allow for more flexibility and visual display than a smart phone.

"People will be more receptive to typing. It’s early, but you’re going to see in the next 12 to 18 months a series of start-ups experimenting in new ways to layer digital on the TV experience," said Somrat Niyosi, CEO at the app developer Bazaar Labs, in his interview with AdAge.

Of course, other attempts at creating a catch-all media center have been in the works for quite awhile. This year, voice and chat giant Skye, which is already edging out the need for LAN line telephones, will launch Skype-enabled televisions, which will allow you to type, talk and video conference right on your TV.

Despite most cable providers and even gaming consoles allowing ways to access the internet (or parts of it), it seems the efforts to ad comprehensive computer and web tools to television is a slow-moving field.

Advances such as the iPad, the TVChatter App for iPhone, and streaming options from major networks and Netflix, indicate the computer world is likely to overthrow its wall-mounted media opponent, unless the two can parent a functional combination that works for all.