Monthly Archives: March 2013

Facebook News Feed Redesign

The great Facebook overlords have struck again. On March 7, it was announced that the News Feed section of a user’s Facebook page would be getting a redesign in the next couple of months. The third and final change promised in 2011, the News Feed redesign follows the introduction of Timeline and Graph Search.

Personally, I think the redesign of the News Feed is long overdue. As soon as Timeline was rolled out, the two layouts never matched up in design or function. Timeline was a complete overhaul of the previous layout, now favoring visual media over everything else. While that was great for individual user profiles, the separate News Feed to view everyone else’s content did not share that aesthetic. It was still clunky, text-heavy, and reminiscent of past designs. The new, media-heavy design will make the News Feed cohesive and organized as well as consistent across all devices.

The deeper reason for the redesign, however, is most likely to better display media from Facebook’s recent acquisitions, namely Instagram. Instagram accounts connected to Facebook will automatically post to users’ News Feeds. Facebook has also hinted at more developments like this in the future, possibly in the audio and video fields.

Regardless of Facebook’s intentions, it’s a very nice change and an overdue spring-cleaning for the social media site. Time will tell if it will help increase retention or subscriptions to the site or its partners. But in a world where things move quickly and everyone wants a piece of the market, it’s good to know Facebook is not just sitting on its hands.

To make the change more exclusive and to create a little stir, there is a waiting list to sign up for the slow rollout of the design. To be on the waiting list for the new News Feed design, sign up at :

https://www.facebook.com/about/newsfeed

Author: Zack Smith

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Can Being Too Green Actually Be Bad?

In today’s market, everyone is focused on being “green.” Has anyone ever stopped to ask, “Are we being too green?” In some cases, I think we are. In the hopes of impressing our peers with how green we are, we might actually be losing touch with the basics of living a sustainable life.

Paper: It’s a race to see how many logos you can get on your printed piece. Is it FSC-, SFI-, or Rainforest Alliance-certified, printed with soy inks, powered by wind energy, 100% PCW recycled, carbon neutral, printed by a man wearing recycled shorts, and not printed on Earth Day? We are going to need business cards that are 8.5″ x 11″ to hold all these logos on the back. But have we ever thought about if we need those printed materials or not? (Jump back to my previous post for more info. on paper and “greenness.”)

Transportation: If you’re an actor in California, more likely than not, you drive a hybrid. My first question is: Why? If I had that type of cash, it would be a Bugatti Vitesse. Sure, it’s not cheap––just 2.5 million––but it goes like hell! It’s considering their “public image” that persuades all affluent actors to buy a hybrid and drive around in the most boring cars that have ever existed. I would argue that new, clean-burning turbo diesels are better for the environment than the best hybrids out there––and you can actually enjoy driving them for more than 100 miles!

I would challenge everyone to take a step back and evaluate your green initiatives. Consider what you did before. Younger generations are learning more about sustainable initiatives but are losing sight of their day-to-day activities that produce the most waste. We have turned into a very waste heavy society.  What happened to reusable milk and beer bottles, paper shopping bags that we used as trashcans or book covers? Think before you print, ask yourself, how many do you really need? Try taking public transit to work, it gives you time to think and reduces your inner road rage!

Author: John Mehl

Tighten Up Internet Security

Over the past month, there has been a strange phenomenon. Companies, both large and small, started revealing that they had fallen victim to hackers who had compromised social media channels, websites, and online security. Everyone from Evernote to Microsoft had a story to tell. So the question is, are companies forgetting the importance of Internet security?

The surge started on social media, specifically Twitter. As most people with a Twitter account noticed, the beginning of February brought with it a fresh, new phishing attack. Through direct messages and the ploy of a possible questionable picture (“Did you see this pic of you? lol”), plenty of passwords and information were captured from both experienced social media professionals and the casual user.

Then another surge occurred, this time involving hacking into corporate Twitter accounts, such as those belonging to Burger King and Jeep. Whether due to poor passwords or expert hacking from accused group @DFNTSC, it was a PR mess for both companies. Naturally, as is the way with the Internet, parodies arose, with MTV and BET leading the charge and pretending to hack into each other’s accounts in a similar style to the legitimate hacks. Maybe they hoped to get a larger following (Burger King gained 30,000 followers in the hour following its hacking incident), but it was a rather obvious PR move regardless.

On a more serious level, companies like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Evernote have all recently reported security compromises. Some, like Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, claimed that no data was stolen, but all reported symptoms that suggest the attacks originated in malware from China. Twitter and Evernote, on the other hand, feared their own hacks so much that they had users set new passwords to make sure nobody fell prey to the attack.

The bottom line is, it seems that both companies and individuals might need a reminder that Internet security is not to be taken lightly. With the spotlight shining brightly on big data, companies with private information cannot afford to be hacked. So spend the money on better passwords, stronger firewalls, and a well-trained IT team, because this will not be the last wave of hackers. Consider this your warning.

Author: Zack Smith

Neck-Deep in Procedures and Gasping for Air?

The Procedures Manifesto 

They are all around us: procedures. By definition, a “procedure” is an “established way of doing something.” From the time we are children, we learn different procedures, such as how to brush our teeth, how to make a phone call, and how to order food at a restaurant. As adults, we learn procedures like how to file taxes with the IRS or how to renew our passport or driver’s license. All of these procedures are comprised of smaller series of tasks, and each task might follow a given best practice, required sequence, or be improved upon by the addition of a tool.

Seems simple, right? Not so fast––like many things, after one procedure is established, other procedures can dilute the original idea. Let’s look at a common example, the prized possession of virtually every teenager: the driver’s license.

We have to jump forward to the point where you actually know what you have to do to renew your driver’s license, so let’s assume you looked up all the details online or received a piece of direct mail on the topic. In many states, this procedure can be accomplished by mail or online, but for an unlucky bunch this means a trek to the motor vehicle office with hordes of other unlucky souls shackled by the same procedure. At this point, you have gathered your necessary documentation in order to prove to the state that you desire to maintain the right to operate a motor vehicle. You then present your documentation, pay your fee, possibly sit awkwardly for another unflattering photo, and––poof!––out pops your driver’s license, an identification device used in likely thousands of other procedures in our lives. The procedure of renewing your license, as painful at it may be, is a necessary evil to ensure general driving safety, but all the other procedures that are designed to leverage a driver’s license add to the requirements of the license-renewal procedure.

At this point you should be wondering why we let other procedures rely on yet other procedures as prerequisites. The answer is often efficiency or cost savings. If every time you went to purchase something that required a proof of minimum age, like alcohol or cigarettes or, heck, even spray paint in some areas, you would have to prove your age to the store to get some sort verification of proof (like a shoppers club card from a grocery store that allows you to pay with a personal check). That would not be efficient, so stores rely on your state-issued ID in its most common form, a driver’s license, to indicate your age, and after a little mental math on the clerk’s side, you walk away with your age-restricted purchase.

Now let’s talk about tools. In recent years, purchasing some cold medicines has now required use of your ID/driver’s license. This was a measure put in place to limit the amount one could purchase in a fixed period of time and relied on your driver’s license to prove age and identity. Some merchants leveraged their checkout systems to scan the barcode on the back of your license to extract the necessary personal information. This made the procedure more efficient for both the customer at the counter and the other customers waiting in line. The merchants who chose to use the tool weighed the procedural efficiency and cost savings of not having to key in customers’ personal information and upgraded their purchase systems accordingly.

Reality-check time. Procedures are around us constantly––we are simply stewards of information at various points during the procedure. When we don’t understand how a procedure works or don’t know the requirements for any given task or are not using a tool properly, the procedure breaks down. You, as the steward of information in a procedure, have failed.

So whether you are the information steward or the procedure innkeeper, do your job well. Strive for perfection and settle for nothing less. Keep the following principles of process improvement in mind as you continue in your role as a steward or innkeeper:

Rules!
Don’t shove the wrong secondary procedures or requirements onto other core, relatively efficient procedures. Be sure to keep an eye on the core purpose of the original procedure.

Measure, measure, measure.
If you can’t quantify key steps in your procedure, you are doing something wrong.

Beat down the status quo to constantly improve.
Apple doesn’t make design that redefines product categories by assuming the first draft was sufficient. Think like an agile developer.

Leverage existing standards.
Someone else sat around before you did to determine the best practice or most efficient data model, so use it––at the very least––as a starting point.

Tools must be usable.
You would likely not buy a hammer whose handle was too wide or narrow for your hand for use in the procedure of building a house. The tools you use to accomplish your procedures therefore must, must, must be usable, first and foremost. Close behind should be accessibility (mobile, desktop, off-site), extensibility, and scalability.

Transparency will set you free.
Knowledge is power, and sharing what you know about a procedure can pave the way for others to learn and for the process to improve in the future.

A clean procedure supported by the right tools and monitored by the right analytic platform is a recipe for success.

Author: John Carew

Mozilla Mobile OS

At the Mobile World Congress, Mozilla introduced its new operating system, featured on the ZTW Open phone. Mozilla worked with Telefónica to create a mobile operating system that is low-cost and open-source, and phones with this operating system are geared toward Latin America and developing countries.

Mozilla does not aspire to world domination, but it does want to change how people and developers interact with their mobile operating systems. This new operating system is HTML5-, CSS-, and JavaScript-based and can be changed on the fly. Once an app has been developed for the Mozilla mobile OS, its distribution will not be limited to a closed ecosystem, like the apps of Android and Apple. Apps can be downloaded from the Mozilla Marketplace or from any web-based site, creating what Mozilla believes will become a healthy competition between developers. The new operating system has some big-name partners––Disney, Twitter, and Facebook, to name a few––as well as eighteen mobile network operators and four phone manufacturers backing it. The first phone featuring this new operating system will be released in the second quarter of this year in countries including Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia.

Author: Susan Hallinan

The Last Dinosaur in the Forest Drinks Yoo-hoo

Growing up in the Bronx meant that being a Yankees fan was a birthright (especially if you were Italian). Also, at the age of eight, my favorite drink was Yoo-hoo. Why are these two things related? Talk to anyone who loves the Yankees and grew up in the Bronx from the late 50s to the early 60s and ask him or her: Why did you drink Yoo-hoo?

The answer, of course, is Yogi Berra. Yogi, a famous catcher for the Yankees, joined Yoo-hoo in 1955 as a spokesperson for the drink during a time of poor sales, later being promoted to a vice president of the company. It was his idea to brand the drink with his beloved Yankees, convincing his teammates to help him endorse the drink, with several of the players from the era having thumbnails of their pictures on the bottle caps.

I recently was at a sports-themed flea market and saw some of the caps for sale for seven to ten dollars each. (The Yogi cap was ten.) I often wonder how much marketing credit Yogi received. Was Yogi ahead of his time? Would you want Yogi in your social media groups for business?

Since then, Yoo-hoo has seemed to know how to connect with younger audiences. When I asked a twenty-something at Vanguard Direct for his first memory of a Yoo-hoo advertisement, he recalled seeing Yoo-hoo product placement in popular 90s sitcoms like Friends. As a fan of the particular character who consumed the drink, he was inspired to buy the drink to be more like that character.

Whatever the advertising tactic of Yoo-hoo is, it’s strong enough to take root in children at a young age. Starting with Yogi, Yoo-hoo has had a knack of making strong connections that will be long remembered, allowing them to stay with us as consumers.

As a vice president at Vanguard Direct, I insisted that Yoo-hoo be put in our vending machine. Even my clients ask, “Why Yoo-hoo?” I tell them to move to the Bronx in 1967! I still drink Yoo-hoo at 64 and smile when I hold the can. Because as Yogi, or any good marketer would tell you, “It’s not over till it’s over!”

Author: Joe Corbo

Bill Gates Reaches Out with Reddit AMA

No matter where you stand in the Apple vs. PC war, the name Bill Gates means something. Actually, it means a lot of things, and being able to talk to the cofounder of Microsoft in real time about his current thoughts on technology and philanthropy is priceless to the many people who have grown to idolize the tech giant. So when Bill Gates appeared on Reddit to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything), the online community was ready with the questions they always wanted answered.

To make sure as many people knew about the AMA as possible, Gates posted a picture of himself announcing his handle and the soon-to-happen AMA. Additionally, a YouTube video was published to raise awareness of the event that answered some of the more popular questions, from “How much money is in your wallet?” to “Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?” ($100 and a horse-sized duck were the answers, for those of you who are wondering.)

Gates immediately weighed in on SOPA and similar proposals, giving his opinion but not taking a side. When asked about the ongoing Bing vs. Google competition, Bing was obviously his favorite. When asked to compare Windows 7 to Windows 8, the answer was “higher is better.” Other tech responses revealed that Gates’s current computer is a Surface Pro and that he still occasionally codes C, C#, and Basic. One of the most poignant responses of the session was Gates’s wondering why code has not gotten simpler and urging kids in school to start learning these programming languages.

But the bulk of the session was focused on Gates’s philanthropy work. On measuring the success of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates cites the progress that the foundation has made in reducing the deaths of children under the age of five. He considers the foundation’s greatest achievement to be the distribution of vaccinations for diarrhea and pneumonia. Half of the foundation’s money is contributed to global health issues like these and others, such as polio vaccinations. Following the thread, it is obvious that Gates’s passion lies in continuing his work to improve worldwide health and quality of life.

Gates is one of many famous people to participate in a question-and-answer session over the past year. Reddit’s following exploded during President Obama’s AMA before the Presidential Election in 2012, showing its communication value. Since then, the public eye has been fixed on the site, and influential people are using it to reach out to their fans and followers.

The Reddit AMA was a good portal into the mind of one of the most influential people this century has seen, and it showed both Gates’s tech savvy as well as his momentous work in improving the world. So what did the man who has it all sign off with when asked what was left on his bucket list? The only thing left to do: Don’t die.

We tend to agree. There is so much work left to do.

Author: Zack Smith