Author Archives: catherinelangford

‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ Teaches Me How to Google

It’s true, I enjoy the weekday game show “Millionaire” with host Meredith Vieira. It’s pretty much a guilty pleasure for me and I blame my mom for getting me addicted. But watching the show has helped me hone my Google skills. It’s a challenge to find answers to questions before the contestant has time to answer, especially those that don’t seem to have any simple search characteristics. And my goal is to get the answer in the text included with each search result, preferably in the top three.

This is how I found out that the Blorenge is a “mountain” in Wales (I live in the Rockies so “mountain” seems like an exaggeration; see the photo below). I also found out that despite the game’s claim that “Blorenge” is the only word in the world that rhymes with “orange,” there is another word that also rhymes: “sporange.” Take that, “Millionaire.”

One that totally stumped me was a hairstyle with an artist’s first name. I’m trying to remember which artist it was and can only remember that it wasn’t Salvador Dali. Maybe it started with an “M”? When I did get the search result I wanted it was because I used my mom’s guess in the search, which turned out to be correct. A search with the other three names got me nowhere.

But all this leads me to what often happens when I do a search: I end up on Wikipedia clicking from one piece of trivia to another. Just as an example, one day I started with Calvin Coolidge, went to his predecessor Warren G. Harding, then found out that many political historians attribute Harding’s success in first newspapers and then politics to his wife Florence Kling DeWolfe. The couple is buried in the lovely Harding Memorial in Marion, Ohio, but not with Harding’s dog Laddie Boy. Despite rumors, the favored pet is buried elsewhere.

All this demonstrates some of Wikipedia’s finest qualities: narrative and interactivity, which add up to “discoverability.” In her article “You Can Get There From Here,” Amber Simmons talks about the importance of narrative to learning, particularly with Web sites. As she says, “All human communication revolves around storytelling,” and I think my Wikipedia searches demonstrate that. I begin with one piece of information and then end up clicking link to link, looking for a story. The way Wikipedia embeds links allows me to choose my own adventure, so to speak, to create my own narrative.

You don’t have to be on Wikipedia to enjoy discoverability; you can also get it with random links you may find on blogs (like mine, hint hint) or on friends’ Facebook and Twitter accounts. Or with many online news stories.

What are some of the ways you enjoy learning online? And does anyone know what hairstyle I’m trying to remember? Guesses? Maybe I should call Mom and ask her. Before the Internet she was my own personal Google — that is when she wasn’t sending me to the dictionary or encyclopedia. : )

Viral Marketing: Have You Caught the Bug?

I watched Yogi Bear cartoons when I was a kid. And I laughed. Really, I did. But then I saw it was being made into a live-action-mixed-with-animation movie. In 3-D. And I sighed. Ah, that my childhood should come to this.

Today I saw animator Edmund Earle’s parody. And I realized, I’m grown now. I can appreciate Yogi and Boo Boo in a clip styled after the movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It made me smile. But I wouldn’t let the kids see this. They’re probably not ready.

Now, this isn’t the kind of viral marketing you necessarily want for your company. According to an article in the New York Times, Warner Brothers, which is producing the 3-D movie but doesn’t have anything to do with the parody, is “monitoring the situation.” That said, it is a way to get the word out, even to adults who are sad to see real people acting like cartoons and cartoons trying to look like real bears.

“Going viral” was something that used to happen via e-mail, but now you find out about these things on Facebook and Twitter and probably still via e-mail if you don’t have a Facebook account. Before it was something marketers didn’t expect, now they hope … and call it “buzz” when it happens. Find out the brands with the year’s top ads, which all owe their places because people spread the word electronically. But what makes one video more likely to go viral than another? They’re often funny, usually “edgy” by someone’s standards, often there’s innuendo.

But here’s my personal favorite. It’s been around for a while, but I laugh whenever I see it. And it proves that two negatives (Walmart and clowns) do make a positive. What’s your favorite?

Find Out What Kind of Tech User You Are

You’ll notice my blog post title isn’t in the form of a question this time. It’s a little awkward, but the questions were getting tiring. Anyway . . .

I read an aritcle in Schumann and Thorson’s book Internet Advertising: Theory and Research by Rodgers, Cannon, and Moore (2007). They put Internet users into three categories: phobics, passionates, and pragmatics.

  • Phobics are the least experienced with computers, and use the Web less than anyone. They mainly use the Internet for e-mail.
  • Passionates are most experienced and are the most likely to use the Internet for researching, surfing, e-mailing, shopping, etc.
  • Pragmatics mainly use the Internet as a research tool and for school-type tasks They do the same things online as Passionates, but in more moderation.

My question is for how much longer will these categories apply? I mean, who’s really a phobic anymore? And what about my grandparents who are in their 90s and have never even been online? They’re just oblivious.

Then there’s the work of John Horrigan, associate director of research at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. He developed a way of classifying Internet users, dividing them by mobility, so you have those who only operate via desktop computer verses those who are supersavvy about mobile technology. Apparently 39 percent of Internet users are “motivated by mobility” while 61 percent remain in the “stationary media majority.” Take this survey and find out where you fall.

I’m an “ambivalent networker” but even after reading what that means I’m not sure I agree with the term “ambivalent.” That feels negative and I don’t feel negative about mobile tech. Maybe it’s because I can’t afford the data plans that accompany smartphones so I’m not as attached to my cell phone. There’s certainly a subtle difference between some of the categories. According to the information, mobile users are mostly male. I wonder if that’s because there are more men in the workplace where mobile technology is increasingly a job requirement with BlackBerrys and the like provided by employers. What do you think?

Is “Do Not Track” a Good Idea?

The FTC is recommending a “Do Not Track” option for Internet users, but will it work for the public good or against it?

Current solutions include an “opt-out” option of receiving behavioral ads using “opt-out cookies,” but these cookies get deleted when users clear out their Internet caches, so they have to opt out all over again.

Other options include browser add-ons that require administrative access to a browser, meaning the add-on has access to otherwise inaccessible user data. And what happens if hackers turn those add-ons into targets?

Some who object to “Do Not Track” as the FTC is proposing it fear that turning it on would effectively prevent them from doing anything on public Internet, like at an Internet café. Others fear it would throw a wrench in the convenience of having cookies to remember login and auto-fill information. So who’s right? I read one comment that said if you prevent advertisers from targeting Web surfers, you make it highly likely that those currently free services, like e-mail, will have to start charging to compensate for the loss of information. And how important is it that marketers effectively target consumers based on history tracking?

Are online ads really that bad? Do you really mind an ad knowing you’re in a certain zip code or that you frequently visit I’m not sure I do, as long as ads continue to be ignorable. I’ll start objecting when I’m forced to view ads, whether they interest me or not.

Microsoft, Mozilla, and Google say they’re working with the FTC; Apple (maker of Safari) declined to comment. Interesting.

Would a Smartphone Make Me Smarter?

That’s the question I asked myself this week. And looking around, everyone has an opinion about it—although most sources I found said it all depended on how a smartphone is used. Duh.

But then I thought about how much I depend on a calculator to do my math for me or my cell phone to remember phone numbers and I wondered . . . If I had a smartphone, would I stop retaining information because it was so easy to look things up? Does that make me dumber?

There’s also the problem of how much a smartphone can distract parents, for example, from what their kids are doing—which makes them look stupid, even if they’re not. And there’s an increasing problem with how technology is preventing kids from learning. I found this New York Times report on the conflict that often arises between teens learning from technology vs. being distracted by it:

VIDEO: Fast Times at Woodside High

Voice: What Do I Do?

So for my blog this week I really wanted to investigate voice and what kind of voice specific types of blogs use. I was interested in this primarily because I don’t feel I’ve found a voice yet for my own blog. I mean, how do you explore emerging media as a relative newbie without getting academic or even stuffy?

But there must be a way to share what I learn without getting too technical . . .

I found a couple blogs that address emerging media, the first focusing on “Emerging Media Audiences & Tech Devices.” Looking at it I wonder what the author, Kim Garretson, gets in return for the companies she features on her home page and why it appears that she hasn’t updated the blog since 2009? More importantly, what is her voice? It seems to be talking like you would when giving a presentation to people you know well and who don’t make you feel threatened. If I remember right, I found this blog when I did a Google search for “new media.”

Another blog I found focused on social media, Social Media Examiner, which claims to be “Your Guide to the Social Media Jungle.” This one was recommended to me by a post on West Virginia University’s Integrated Marketing Communications site on LinkedIn. It also has posts about commercial products, such as BlogWorld and an interview with Mark Burnett about the new TLC show Sarah Palin’s Alaska—well, actually, the interview begins with a focus on social media as the new water-cooler conversation. Anyway, the voice is informative, probably closer to the journalistic style you often see on blogs that represent a news forum of some sort. Like BBC’s blog The Editors, only the Social Media Examiner isn’t quite as sophisticated as the BBC blog.

American Express has an Open Forum site that includes a variety of articles on different things and I found an article by Erica Swallow about corporate blogs. She lists 15 blogs with a variety of things to learn from, including design, content, and feedback. Among the blogs included was one by Dell, which featured a landing page with a variety of blog topics to follow. When it came to voice, I found the blogs I read here to be rather technical in scope, although I guess that’s what you would expect. Fortunately, the blog on an Android 2.2 upgrade was accompanied by a lot of screen shots and graphics to help you through the step-by-step upgrade process.

Then there was Disney’s blog that features various entries that take you behind the scenes at the Disney resorts. But I think the voice is more informative than personal. The entry about the new menu at Steakhouse 55 was full of details that I would only appreciate if I had watched more Food Network programs.

Starr Hall’s article “The Dos and Don’ts of Blogging” talks about the importance of engaging over reaching and I think The Counterintuitive CEO blog does this admirably. Pay particular attention to the comments on his blog about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The comments posted elicit just as much response as the blog entry that started it all. Forrester CEO George Colony begins with the statement: “Quickly: Mark Zuckerberg’s skills as a CEO are overrated.” and it goes from there. Really good stuff.

So what did I learn about a blog’s voice? Mostly that it depends on who you write for. If it’s a corporation, it depends on the topic and who you are in the organization—although I should note that the Forrester CEO seems to write with a lot more freedom than the Marriott CEO.

But going back to Starr Hall’s article, “DO write with personality” with the caveat “Authenticity is key.”