Thursday, October 01, 2015

Unfriending is Unprofessional and Unnecessary

According to a recent Australian regulatory decision, unfriending a coworker on Facebook can add up to workplace bullying. There were other actions leading up to this, but unfriending was key (see CNET for details).

Just recently, and without provocation, I was similarly bullied!

I noticed this when a friend posted something to Facebook and tagged another person. When I went to go to my "friend's" page, I couldn't access it. I checked my friend list and sure enough I had been unfriended!

I probably have been unfriended by others before. In the early days of social media I, like most people, wantonly sent friend requests to people I barely knew or knew from long, long ago in a galaxy far away.  I did end up interacting rather regularly via social media with some of those people, but by and large these very weak ties were not maintained. Of my 200+ friends on Facebook, I probably only interact with less than 30 in a given month. So if people unfriended me over the years, I really didn't notice.

I did notice this person unfriending me, however, as we have had a continual workplace relationship and collegial ties that have persisted for years. I thought we got along really well both offline and online and we never had any incidents. Possibly, this person just accidentally unfriended me or went through some massive friend purge in which I was engulfed. Or maybe I'm just a creep and I don't belong there.

Either way, considering that I must have continual business dealings (albeit limited) with this coworker her action is therefore quite unprofessional.

I wouldn't call it bullying - but it definitely seems mean-spirited, and more importantly it is unnecessary!

I'm going to give this person the benefit of the doubt and assume the unfriending wasn't personal and was possibly an accident. Otherwise unfriending someone is sending a direct and unequivocal message that you refuse to have further interactions with this person. This is not appropriate workplace behaviour. This is only acceptable if it has based on some sort of horrible dealings, which would be better dealt with by talking to your Human Resources department.

Facebook is a dominant form of social interaction (and likely THE dominant form) among friends, family, and coworkers, so closing this off is sending a very strong message of hostility. I don't believe most people realize how powerful a message it is (including digital media experts, as this case may be). I have often heard people talk about unfriending people very casually. We may not like how Facebook and other social networking sites have pervaded the workplace and so many spheres of our life, but we have to find ways to deal with this reality.

Some people choose to avoid social networking sites altogether. This is an effective tactic, but it is a blunt option that blocks one from lots of interactions that could be beneficial to one personally and professionally. Others choose to have multiple accounts or use pseudonyms to keep their lives and people apart - but this becomes unwieldy and too much effort to maintain.

Instead, there is a solution that achieves the same ends, but in a low-key and diplomatic fashion. People just need to take a few minutes to make use of the excellent privacy and group settings that Facebook and similar sites offer. Consequently, there is no point nowadays to unfriending someone (barring heinous acts) ever again.

First, set up various "list" of Facebook friends. I suggest having different lists for close friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances at the very least. Facebook even has preset lists for some of these. You can then designate what members of a list have access to - as little or as much of your stuff as you decide.  You can then target content to list by by type of content (e.g. all photos) or a specific piece of content (e.g. okay, even acquaintances can see this picture of me meeting this big shot). Facebook has a preset list called "Restricted" which only receives access to content you make public.

Then when you post status updates, photos, anything to Facebook it can be easily and quickly targetted to lists. Facebook even remembers your preference and makes that a default.

You can thereby easily and regularly segment portions of your life. Coworkers don't need to see family photos and your close friends don't need to hear about that interesting new article of interest to only those in your esoteric profession.

There is no need therefore to unfriend someone!  Instead you can send someone down to restricted purgatory where they receive and can view little or no social media content from you.

And if you don't want to hear from them, you can remove them from your news feed via Facebook's "Unfollow" feature. You still remain "friends" but they are now dead to you in your social media stream. The great thing is that the person will likely not notice any of this and a working (or family) relationship can be peacefully maintained without the person ever knowing any differently.

To successfully pull this off, I recommend posting some stuff for all groups to see. There are many types of posts that you can benefit from more people seeing - such as promotional posts about an event, accomplishment, or company. For this reason, I also recommend making some Facebook posts public.

I am a little shocked that a digital media expert has behaved this way to me and didn't know enough about her field to make astute use of the website. It will be hard for me to not think much less of her personally and professionally as a result.

So learn from her mistake!

And if I am a creep, don't let me know that I don't belong - just make me "Restricted" and I'll never be the wiser.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Blogging @ Home

Today is the ninth anniversary of me starting this blog and blogging in general. Over the years on the anniversary of my first blog post, I have written a reflexive piece on this blog and my feelings to blogging in general.

The title of my first blog entry ever is Nothing to blog home about as I feared I wouldn't have much to blog about. It turns out I was very wrong on that account.

Webslinger is my first ever blog, but over the years others have come and gone. I had a blog about my daughter's hijinx when she was a toddler; now she is a preteen and we blog together about her artworks. I have public blogs, like this one, and private ones, such as those I set up for clients. I have guest blogged for other blogs and had my blog syndicated by Backbone Magazine. I blog about serious stuff (such as digital media - as what is more important than that) and less serious (but possibly more fun) topics such as my postcard collection. I blog via Blogger, WordPress and have tried others, such as Tumblr and Yahoo 360.

Today, the topic of creating a new blog for one of my current jobs came up and I'm leading the charge for setting up yet another blog that I'll be working on. (I had wanted a Facebook page or static website - but blogging software can be used creatively to achieve both those ends.) This is an interesting coincidence as on the fourth anniversary of me creating my first blog, I created my second one (see post about that) - based on the outcome of a meeting with a client.

Over the years, my interest in blogging and posting frequency has ebbed and flowed and ebbed again. It is hard to maintain interest in something when it takes a lot of time to do and doesn't have immediate (or ever) compensation. But blogging has opened up doors for me and lead to some exciting opportunities. For awhile, I was even making some money selling ads on this blog - although my Google ads have still not resulted in enough money to take my family out for a pizza yet.

There are also ancillary benefits to blogging, such as providing an awesome venting source. For example, it is a continuous pleasure to me to see my post on a horrific customer service experience with Bell Canada continue to get hundreds of views. Blogging has also introduced my research and ideas to more people then traditional academic publishing has ever done and helps my SEO too.

I find I do have a fair amount of things to blog about on my various blogs. I don't really have the time to do it, but I find it useful to post something here or just plain fun to post about my postcard collection that I find time to do it. No doubt, blogging is also a procrastination crux for me and help to alleviate the unending pressures of my PhD process.

The biggest change with my blogging is that I am doing almost all of my blogging at home. Now that I'm working almost entirely remotely in both my studies and employment, I work from my office at home. Although isolated from others, blogging gives me an excellent outlet for sharing my thoughts, experiences, feelings and postcards in a way that continues to be very personally rewarding.  So despite all the writers blocks and time-vacuums that hit me, I think Webslinger and other blog team will rage on!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Motive to Make Locative Media Better

If you've read more than one post here you would quickly come to the the conclusion that I love locative media (a.k.a. location-based services).

However, you'd be a bit wrong. I love the potential of these apps, but too often it is just potential. Existing apps are scratching the surface of possible interactions and experiences that mobile media can facilitate between people and their physical world. To give a cinematic analogy - if locative media were films, it would still be the silent era.

There are a lot of elements that need to be in place to build a killer locative media app. In addition to the standard user experience and technical proficiency factors, locative media developers need to be able to create interactions with a device's geopositioning abilities, incorporate online maps, and access or create a library of geocoded content. In my experience and in talking to developers, they spend a lot of development time working on getting these last elements working.

Having worked in digital media for many years now, I have found that when technical development is difficult or overly laborious, it often results in an organization's energies being focused on that - opposed to front-end elements such as creating an intuitive and pleasing user experience, offering sophisticated narrative or informational structures, promoting organizational or branding goals effectively, or differentiating itself from similar services, among other issues. Alternatively, technical hurdles can scare people off and prevent people from even trying their ideas.

I was contacted this summer by a company, RocketChicken Interactive, that is addressing the challenges locative media developers face. Naturally, my interest was instantly piqued. All the more so when I learned the company is based on Canada. Over the past couple months, I have had the chance to talk to company founder and president Ryan Chapman and senior executive Peter Wittig.

Their company has created several location-based games, such as the popular Code Runner. The game was a hit. But it was during their lengthy development process that the founders realized that there could be an easier way to do this. So they created Motive.

Motive offers a platform service for people to build and launch locative media applications from games to guides - without needing to know much code. This offers organizations the new ability to not only launch products more quickly, but ideally to focus their energies on innovating, differentiating themselves, and making killer new apps.

As Ryan states:
People are reinventing the wheel in the development of locative apps. They are struggling with the same technical obstacles and having to build everything from scratch. Motive gives you the programming mechanics so that you can focus on the story and the user experience. You can create a compelling experience without writing a lot of code. 
Through a web-based, authoring tool, Motive allows people to choose the types of interactions desired to build an app. You plug into an existing dataset of geocoded content, such as OpenStreetMaps or Foursquare, or use your own. Then, through Motive's visual interface, you choose from menu items to enable interactions with specific places or types of places in proximity to a user. So one could choose a piece of content to display when a user is near a specific restaurant, any restaurant, or a type of restaurant (Indian vs. Italian). Scenarios can be prioritized with conditional responses added in accordingly. Developers can also choose whether to make their app online or offline (and thereby avoid incurring roaming costs).

Another challenge that Motive addresses for organizations is that it can help reduce the silos between back-end and front-end. Ryan summarizes the problem:
Content producers are still kept at arm's length. For example, it could take a week to update a few words, but with Motive, the writers or graphic designers can work in parallel to the developers. We are injecting content into the pipeline using Motive's tools - content can be updated on the fly and be live instantly. 
As with a content management system, Motive can enable one's apps to be updated via their hosted web-based tool. Clients can upload their digital assets (e.g., design elements, images, music, videos) and content and update it as they wish without having to request a programmer to do it for them.

Although Motive was developed based on a location-based game, the notion of interacting with place is not confined to gamers. Museums, historic sites, tourist attractions, theme parks, and schools, among other businesses, may want to offer an app to direct, guide, or encourage play between their customers and their places.

Currently, the service does require some programming effort to launch an application, but Ryan notes,
The vision of Motive is for someone to be able to sit down and launch a locative app without writing a single line of code. If you are creative, then you won't be hamstrung by all that - you don't have to solve the problems over again and over again. Just take this and run with it. With that, I think there will be an explosion of apps. 
It is this vision that is so engaging. By opening up the sphere to those otherwise unable to code and overcoming herculean tech hurdles, more people and a more diverse variety of people will be able to try something out. To make this vision more of a reality, the company is working on offering a series of templates targeted to various types of businesses with associated interactions further facilitated.

Through their beta and alpha testing with Motive, Ryan has been surprised by some of the new things people are doing, as their testers have built options into their apps that he hadn't envisioned. The initial crop of locative media apps offered a lot of novelty, but check-ins, friend finding, and place reviews are rather limited forms of interacting with our world. I am excited at the possibility of seeing really sophisticated and innovative projects in this area. As Blogger did for blogs, I think Motive has the possibility to facilitate and spur some amazing developments in the locative media field.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Let's Get Loaded

I am not afraid to admit I love coupons. I don't understand what people have against them? Who doesn't love having more money or getting stuff for free?!
I'm not talking about your grandma's coupons to save 25 cents. I've gotten coupons to save several dollars, get stuff for free, 2 for 1, etc.

For me, couponing is still largely a print act. I get some direct mail from companies I do business with and some mass mailers that I quickly scan for deals.  Occasionally, I check for coupons online but this so seldom nets anything that I don't bother often.  So like housewives of old, I merrily clip my coupons and put them in my wallet.

Where they remain abandoned and expired until they pile up en masse and force a purging.

Given that I love saving money and free things, this makes me both mad and sad.  For years, I have wondered when the digital revolution will get to coupons to save my day. 

Sure there's been forays into digital deals. I've found some online coupons from websites such as Red Flag Deals for e-commerce sites - although these sources have been drying up for me over the years
I have also had a few coupons emailed to me for purchases in bricks and mortar stores with the promise that I just had to show my mobile device to the cashier to redeem. I don't think this ever worked once at any business, but ones that I printed out have generally worked.  But, I still had to remember to (try to) redeem them.

So it was with no small excitement today that I eagerly followed up on an email offer from Shoppers Drug Mart to load coupons to my store loyalty card, Optimum.

I love loyalty rewards programs even more than I love coupons. So so showing my loyalty card is something I will not forget to do.

To load coupons to one's Shoppers Optimum card, one has to sign into their website. It was pretty easy to load the coupons even if it did take a few steps (which would be a bit cumbersome on a smartphone). I understand that coupons can't be automatically preloaded onto a card as one does need to be made aware of the promotions.  Something to make this process a bit easier would be great - but not an app. I do not want yet another business-specific app to clutter my device and never be used.

I love this idea - no more clipping ever again! However, I still need help when roaming the aisles to remember what amazing offers are awaiting for me one scan away.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Email Etiquette: Things We All Should Know by Now

Email was invented in the 1970s and ubiquitous by the 1990s. Yet it seems that people still have trouble using it appropriately for professional communications.A few weeks ago, I experienced five breeches of email etiquette within two weeks:
  1. someone refuses to answer my emails after a few weeks (no vacation response either)
  2. someone replied to an email I sent to my supervisor and not me (nor did they cc me)
  3. someone replied to all regarding a matter that only involved two people (causing unnecessary worry and chaos for the others recipients)
  4. someone send me a snarky email chastising me for not doing something that I had already emailed them about to indicate I had completed (prompting the "sorry I missed that one" response)
  5.  someone c.c. me on an email without explaining why (so I was left to unravel the mystery)
I've committed some email violations before in my day. But in these cases all these emails I wrote were definitively relevant to the person's job duties and were polite and brief.

I actually thought that after many years of email usage people would be committing  email crimes with much less frequency. But email crimes continue to happen far too often.

And, I'm guilty too. The worst email crime I did recently was not checking spell check closely enough and it changed a person (thankfully one with a sense of humour) name to urine.

So since there are still evidently so many criminals here is

Email Law for All Lands

1) Reply to all emails that indicate a reply is needed
With the exception of emails from crazy people, there is no one too great that they can't type even a few words of a reply. I've emailed CEOs, deans, and government officials and received replies - so I refuse to believe that those managing the middle and such are more busy than them.  If you are too busy to reply to your emails then you need to delegate or reassign your responsibilities.

Note some slack can be given to really big, big shots. By this I mean at the level of heads of state and Hollywood superstars. But the same excuse is not acceptable for entry level administrators

2) Read up before sending out
It's easy to quickly send an email to follow up on a topic - but don't channel your responsibilities to someone else by not knowing the current status of an issue.  Before sending an email, it only takes a few moments to check your prior emails on a topic and familiarize yourself with the status of items before sending an email exposing your ignorance.

3) Watch your tone and take sensitive stuff offline
Email is a lean medium unlike talking in person, so tone or humour can be easily mistaken. Better to compose emails with a neutral tone unless one has an established relationship with a person.

4) Be careful of "reply all", CC, and even more careful of BCC 
It's really easy to add that extra person, or two, or three, or ten - but don't! Everyone experiences email overload nowadays so don't compound the problem. Also, never send an email to someone if they don't be to know why they are receiving it.  BCC has the same problem, but is even worse as now you've done something secret and sneaky,

Finally, if you are adding someone to an ongoing email thread state this to the email group. Explain to the group and individual why they are being included.

5)  Check before you send
Taking at least a few quick moments to reread your email before sending it out can help you avoid the above problems and more.  It's a great idea to have spell check set to automatically check emails before sending them, but spell check is not always your friend as my email to "Urine" proved.

There are more email crimes than I have listed here, so feel free to add to the list.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Kids Doodle App

My young daughter just got her first ever mobile device earlier this month. Any advice on how to manage this is greatly appreciated. So far she's only been using it at home and hasn't connected with any of her friends with it (I wish it could stay this way for a few years.)

We promised her a mobile device for her birthday last month. Many of her classmates already had a device a grade or two before her, so we figured it was time. I got my new smartphone at the same time (a LG G3, which I LOVE) so we got a great deal.

Along with my kid getting the new mobile, we got her some apps. She's particularly fond of playing various games, texting (me and family members only so far) and YouTube. She also loves a digital art app called Kids Doodle.

My daughter wrote a review of Kids Doodle for her own blog, so I wanted to post it here (the picture explains why).


When I got my new smartphone, I wanted to make a nice picture for my dad. My mom found an app for me to make pictures with.

She heard of the app from an online list of best free apps for kids. The app is called Kids Doodle.

The app lets pick colours and effects to make pictures. You can choose different colour backgrounds. You can add in images of fireworks, hearts, bubbles, and stars.

 Here's one I made for my dad:

I love my daddy doodle

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fatal Error: Neglecting Error Handling

For a long time, I've heard great things about Airbnb. Friends have recommended it for making travelling to places, such as Europe or New York City, finally affordable and as a good way to meet locals.

I have been eager to try Airbnb, but haven't had the opportunity until earlier this month. I was travelling to Vancouver for a conference and was put off by the B grade hotels in B grade locales charging on average about $300 a night.

Upon checking Airbnb, I was delighted to find a few great listings. I narrowed it down to one that sounded perfect. I was a bit nervous that the place didn't have any feedback from prior guests, but I decided to go ahead and book it. I was excited because not only was I getting a good rate, but it was in a great location.

But due to fatal errors with Airbnb and their partners, I won't get the chance to book any rooms with them any time soon or perhaps ever. Their site has an error that blocks the process of booking and they offer no workaround.

As a former web developer, the issue doesn't seem like a huge problem. Yet it is a necessary step that without completing stops a traveller worst than a wicked case of Montezuma's Revenge.

In brief, the problem is that some Airbnb's room renters require a guest to be authenticated. This process requires uploading a photo of government-issued identification. Suffice to say, my wife and spent over an hour trying every permeation offerred to do this several times and it never worked. Airbnb offers no error message to inform me of any problems on their or my end. I had no idea what was going wrong, instead I'd just be redirected back to where I started with no word from Airbnb on how to proceed. No alternatives are offerred nor is any way to contact customer support. As booking lodgings is often time sensitive, access to very fast, preferably live, customer support is essential - another one of Airbnb's problems.  So despite finding a great room, I could not book it.

The problem is so prominent and fatal that it should not have been overlooked by the company. The fact that it was missed speaks to a lack of adequate quality assurance that throws their whole service into disrepute.

I don't mean to pick on Airbnb - but this case is a great example of a company that has done very well developing a great online service, designing an attractive and generally usable website, and achieving a critical mass of users to make the service viable.

They obviously put a lot of very skilled work into all those crucial components of any digital media business. The business analysts, developers, designers and marketers should be proud.  But the the company obviously hasn't done an adequate job of error handling and user testing.

Having worked in this field for many years, this is not surprising as testing is often neglected. In the rush to get products live quality assurance testing - let alone user testing - is frequently sacrificed. Sometimes it is not done at all.

Testing is not the most fun part of launching any digital media product (it might actually be the most boring and certainly the least sexy). But neglect it at your peril. All the hard work of launching a great product comes to a grinding halt when a simple bug is overlooked.

P.S. I ended up only be able to get an overpriced room in Vancouver's "entertainment district". It turned out to be next to strip clubs and peep shows and be smaller than most hotel bathrooms (and didn't include a bathroom either). Staying at a gleaming new condo in a trendy neighbourhood for less money would have been MUCH PREFERABLE!!!