Spoofing, Clicking, Hacking and You

Recently a friend of mine posted something on my Facebook wall that gave me pause. She said “I think you’ve been hacked. I just got a weird email from you. If it was from you, forget the ‘weird’ part.” While funny, it was also really concerning. Mostly because I try hard to have good passwords in place in most of my email accounts. And, since I work in the technology space, and specifically in internet technologies, it would be particularly concerning for me to have emails being sent from my accounts to my contacts potentially infecting them too. Needless to say, because of my profession, my blood pressure sort of increased. I immediately responded to my friend and asked about the email – but she was offline. So I sent messages to other friends asking if they’d received anything weird from me. No one had. I sent my friend who’d received the email an address to forward it to and I’ve yet to see it. But, it’s been a couple of days and no one else has reported anything weird. Which lead me to believe – my friend received a ‘spoofed’ email. 

Spoofing is becoming a pretty common practice and I think it’s a good thing to know about. Especially since spoofed emails are usually trying to accomplish one of two things – they either want to scam you out of information or money or they want you to click on a link in order to infect your computer with something. Spoofing is simple – it is the sending of an email that appears  to be from someone that it isn’t from. You can pretty much use anyone’s name, or any organization/brand name to send an email. Because the authentication protocols involved in sending and receiving mail do not require any authentication of the name associated with the email. To be clear, there are all kinds of spoofing. But it’s becoming more of a problem because it’s easier to just spoof a name and gain access to people, their money and their information. Think about it – if you are on Facebook you have a publicly available list of ‘friends’ that is viewable by criminals too. So spoofers can get the names of people you would recognize and trust, associate those names with emails that they send to you to gain access to your computer.

Here’s the thing though – more often than not you have to actually *give* them something for them to get to you. And you do that by ‘clicking’ – on links, on forms and filling them out, on images, on something. Most of the time viruses happen because we click on a link, and people gain access to our computers because we click on something to let them.

Just this week my friend and colleague, Matt Gray, clued me into the news about Miss Teen USA having had her webcam hacked. Turns out she was being watched and photographed through her own computer’s camera and she had absolutely no idea it was happening. I happened to channel surf into a morning talk show that was covering this story and they demonstrated how this ‘hack’ could have happened. The example they used showed a ‘computer expert’ sending an innocent family an email that said ‘your secret admirer has a message for you’ and beneath that was a link to click on. Sure enough the daughters clicked the link and voila – the ‘expert’ had visual access – he was watching them through their own cameras. And they had no idea. When the talk show wrapped up that segment their recommendation was – close your laptop or shut it down at night when you are not using it, or put a piece of electrical tape over your cam. I was disappointed that they didn’t recommend anything preventative.

Yes there are hackers in the world who spend their time trying to access computers and networks without anyone knowing. And yes there are scammers that are getting more and more sophisticated in their ability to fool us. They are trying to get into our homes — to break in. But we have to think about our home networks in the same way we think about the security of our homes. I don’t know about you, but I always tell my little boy, don’t let anyone in, or go anywhere with anyone, even if you think you know them. We need to talk about it first. And I think the  same thinking has to apply to how we review emails and Facebook posts.

So here are some simple ways to decrease the chances of someone accessing your stuff, giving you a virus, or using your own webcam against you.

1) Don’t open emails unless you are SURE the email address matches one with which you are familiar. A name is not enough. If you have to – pick up the phone and call the person you received the email from. But if it looks weird – it probably is. Check the email address carefully.

2) Do not click on links unless you are absolutely sure of what you are going to view. A link hidden behind some enticing words should not sucker you into action. Again – if you need to confirm that your friend sent you some earth shattering video – ask before you click.

Coding Camps for Kids

Last week, I got an email from a dad who was looking for ways to introduce his 1st grade daughter to coding. I had a few suggestions (not all of which were specific to coding), which I thought others might be interested in as well.

The Works: https://www.theworks.org/events-and-camps/
More about engineering in general than coding specifically, but some cool options.
[Disclosure: The Works was the non-profit that my colleagues in Team Pegacorn were assigned to for the Overnight Web Challenge. Though I was a fan of the organization before that!)

Coder Dojo TC: http://www.coderdojotc.org/
Some co-workers of mine are just getting this up and running. Keep an eye on it (or become a mentor!).

Science Museum: http://www.smm.org/classes

Code Academy: http://www.codecademy.com/
Some of the lessons might be advanced for a first grader, but could be a good activity for parents and kids to do side-by-side.

DIY: https://diy.org/
A site for kids to complete Maker challenges, and earn badges. Just signed my daughter up for it.

She’s Geeky: http://shesgeeky.org/
An annual unconference for women and girls. Not coding-specific, but all about STEM. Encourages both professional women and school-age girls to attend.

LittleBits: http://littlebits.cc/
This is a toy, not a camp (and it’s a little spendy) but my kids love these. We have the starter kit — they’ve added more kits and projects since we bought ours.

GoldieBlox: http://www.goldieblox.com/
Another toy. I don’t have it, but a friend got it for her daughter (I think she might have backed it on Kickstarter). At first I HATED the idea of “toys for girls” but when I learned more about the engineer behind it, and her research, I started digging the concept.

What did I miss? Do you have any suggestions? Most of my class or camp ideas are based in or around Minneapolis-St. Paul, but feel free to share other suggestions from other cities and states in the comments!

Having It All

This month’s issue of The Atlantic includes an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

I came across the article when it was shared in a LinkedIn group that I’m a part of, and it immediately sparked a lot of comments and conversation. I’ve been stewing over the article ever since I read it, and I wanted to take time to really think — and write — about what gave me such a visceral reaction.

I’ve narrowed it down to the following:

All For One Is Not All For All

In the context of “having it all” the word “all”should be a self-defined metric. Here, the author has interpreted her son’s difficulties and her decision to leave her position in Washington, D.C. as a failure to achieve it all. She then takes her evaluation of herself, and extends it out to all women to say that because she has, in her own estimation, not achieved it “all” it is therefore impossible for women, in general, to have it “all” and that feminism has misled us in thinking that we can.

For me, “having it all” is about having choices. By my definition, Slaughter did “have it all” — she had the opportunity to choose, and to decline, jobs. She left one high-powered position to return to her previous one. Not all working women have that abundance of choices. Not all women who work do so because they choose to, but because they have to. Not all women have an engaged co-parent to lean on for family obligations when work gets demanding. Not all women have the flexiblity in their jobs to care for a child, or an aging parent, or a sick spouse. Being able to choose to dial one’s career up or down, being able to take a break to give birth, and have a paid maternity leave…these are luxuries that not all parents have.

To be fair, though, if I take issue with Slaughter extending her definition of all to me, I should not do the same to her. My “all” is not her “all,” and she is entitled whatever feelings she has about her own experience and achievements. But, I would like to publicly say: Ms. Slaughter, I think you have a remarkable career and are quite clearly a caring and engaged parent. I admire your accomplishments, both professional and personal.

“All” Doesn’t Mean “Perfect”

“Having it all” doesn’t translate to “a flawless life.” Slaughter seems to have interpreted her son’s rough period as an indictment of her choice to work, despite the fact that her husband was able to scale back at his job to spend more time parenting. Let’s reverse the situation and say that she had instead scaled back to spend more time as a parent, while her husband pursued his career more aggressively. If her son was still having issues, would his father take on that psychological burden and say, “This must be because I’m working too much.”? Why do we do this to ourselves, mothers? Why do we assume that an issue in our family life is somehow caused by our pursuit of a career? And why do we assume that scaling back would fix it? I’m not saying that the presence of a mother (or father) isn’t valuable to a child — it certainly is. But, it’s also not a guarantee that one’s child will progress through life without rough patches.

Women is not synonymous with mothers. The title of Slaughter’s piece is "Why Women Still Can’t Have It All" which, as written, presumes that until a woman has children, she hasn’t achieved it "all." The subtext being, "Working women, you haven’t achieved it all unless you also have a child. Mothers, you haven’t achieved it all if you don’t also have a career.

Women, Humans, or Parents?

I dislike that this argument is presented as a “woman” thing. “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” would be better titled, “Why Any Human Being Could Never Have It All, And Still Can’t.” That this is directed specifically at women is telling; it’s because this concept of working AND being a good parent is still seen as primarily a “woman’s issue.” It assumes that a woman’s default role must be as primary caregiver, and that in order to pursue a demanding and/or time-consuming career is an “extra.” And that’s because this is still a prevailing cultural norm that women and men have internalized despite decades spent fighting against it. If a kid gets sick, everyone assumes that it’s mom that will go home from work to care for him. We don’t need to think that way anymore.

More importantly, this article is not about women not being able to have it all — it is about mothers not being able to have it all. That’s a subtle, but important, difference. The title, as written, presumes that until a woman has children, she hasn’t achieved it “all.” The subtext being, “Women, you haven’t achieved it all until you’ve had a child. Mothers, you haven’t achieved it all if you don’t have a career.” That sentiment chills me. And it’s why I return to my first point: “having it all” is about choosing what “all” means to YOU. Everyone else, and their opinions about it, can sod off.


I do agree that society needs to change. We need to redefine what it means to “have it all.” We need to start expecting more out of fathers. We need, as women, to stop taking on such a disproportionate amount of the physical and psychological burdens of parenting. And employers need to think in radical new ways about how to create environments that support people — not just parents, but people. We have the technology! There’s no reason why we can’t think more creatively about how and when we work. We don’t all have to be in a cubicle from 8am-6pm. We can work remotely, we can video conference, we can do a million things that help people pursue their careers on a more irregular, personalized schedule that doesn’t sacrifice the quantity or quality of their work, and integrates with whatever other life goals they have, whether it’s traveling around the world, having kids, or training for a marathon.

That being said, as James Joyner pointed out in his blog post, “Why Men Can’t Have It All, Either”:

“All things being equal, those willing to put 90 hours a week into their careers are going to get ahead of those willing to put in 60, much less 40. While there is any number of studies showing that working too many hours is actually counterproductive from an efficiency standpoint, there nonetheless is a rare breed of cat who can keep up a frenetic work schedule for years on end. And those workaholics are simply more valuable to the company, agency, or organization than those who clock out at 5. That means that those of us who choose to prioritize our children are going to get out-hustled by those without children, or those willing to let their children spend longer hours with a partner or childcare provider.”

That’s never going to change. Sorry. So, yeah — if you want to excel a job that requires (or encourages) 90-hour workweeks, and you also want to have kids, you’re going to have problems — probably personal, familial, and professional. That’s not a flaw in feminism or in you — it’s just a basic limitation of the 24-hour day.

Our Big Fat (Late) Book Announcement

It’s official – we’re published authors! We’ve talked about it, tweeted about it, and we’ve been out speaking about it. Now, our book—Interactive Project Management: Pixels, People, and Process—is available online and in stores!

Well, okay, it was actually official almost a month ago but since then we’ve been running around like chickens with our heads cut off.

We received our copies right before MinneWebCon and it made us cloud-nine thrilled. It’s surreal to flip through a bound book that you spent so much time writing, reviewing, and then re-writing, and re-reviewing. We even made a ridiculous unboxing video. (Well, Whitney made it. Thanks, Whitney!)

You can pick up the book on Amazon or on the Peach Pit website, or read more information about it on our book page.

We’re proud of the book, and hope that it starts a much-needed movement toward more effective interactive projects, more engaged teams, and happier, more satisfied clients! Enjoy, and let us know what you think by email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@geekgirlsguide).

Digitwirl: How to clean your gadgets

It’s been a while since we’ve Digitwirled (Sorry! We’ve been busy!) but this one was a must-share. Just last week I was looking at my laptop wondering if there was a computer detailing service that could help me de-crumb the keyboard and wipe the smears from my screen. Not to mention pondering how many germs lurked on my iPhone which quite literally goes everywhere with me. Yes, everywhere.

Carley to the rescue, with some simple and helpful advice on how to keep your tech toys shiny and clean. Enjoy! (Oh, and she’s been nominated for a Webby! Help a sister out and give her a vote.)

Digitwirl: How to clean your gadgets

Over time, dust, grime and gunk can wreck your tech, not to mention boost the “ewww” factor (let’s not even discuss that most phones tested in a recent study show trace levels of E. coli— gross).  Needless to say, cleaning your tech well and often is just as important for your health as it is for the tech itself.  Before you give your smartphone a flea dip, though, it’s important to know how to clean it the right way. Whether it’s your TV or your laptop, there’s plenty of things you can do to keep them free of dust and running smoothly.

Watch this Twirl, and learn all my favorite tips and tricks, including how to make a gadget-cleaning potion with stuff you probably already have in your house (Hint: no expensive store-bought “electronics cleaners” required).

Digitwirl is the weekly web show that offers simple solutions to modern day problems.  In 3-minutes, Digitwirl brings busy women the very best time, money, and sanity-saving technology, and then teaches them how to use it, step-by-step.  Digitwirl was created by technology lifestyle expert Carley Knobloch, who uses lots of technology to manage her busy life as mom of two and entrepreneur.  Subscribe to get weekly show alerts and exclusive deals at Digitwirl.com, or follow Digitwirl on Twitter at @digitwirl

Our e-book is here!

For the last few years we’ve been doing a lot of public speaking for a wide variety of audiences.  We’ve talked about everything from traditional vs. interactive design, to privacy and security in the digital age, to work culture and user experience.  But the one topic that we get the most requests for is still social media — for both business and personal use.  But Meghan and I don’t try to teach people how to use social media tools. Instead, we spend our time talking about how to think about social as it relates to telling our stories; telling our personal and professional stories, and our company stories.  We talk about being deliberate and thoughtful about the creation of those stories, and that approach seems to resonate with so many people.  And it’s surprising because you’d think that the subject of social media would be worn out and over by now.  I mean it’s been the topic du jour for the last couple of years.  How can there possibly be anything more to be said? 

At every one of our speaking engagements, we met people who’d ask us where they could buy our book.  We actually pitched a book about social media to Peachpit, but the feedback was what we expected: there couldn’t possibly be any interest in our book because the subject of social media was exhausted.  Still, people asked for it.  Last year we did a series in-depth workshops for the Minnesota Regional Arts Council.  We didn’t just want to talk to these folks about how to think about building and supporting their arts organizations with social, we wanted to create some useful tools to guide them through the process.  So we assembled a workbook to accompany the presentation and it was pretty well received.  From there we realized that this was the point of difference: we could provide value in the steps to thinking about social, along with instructional context to illuminate the kinds of possibilities that existed there.

For the last six months we’ve been refining that approach, and the content, and we’re proud to announce our first e-book, Social Media For Humans: Minding and Managing Your Personal Brand Online is now available to download.  Publishers may not have seen the value of another social media book, but people were asking for it.  We couldn’t ignore the pretty constant demand for an easy, digestible, overview of social media and personal branding.

In recent weeks I’ve seen some pushback around the concept of people being brands.  I get that.  We live in a culture where we tend to commercialize everything and the idea that people could be deliberate about their brand stories suggests a lack of authenticity.  That’s not at all what our book encourages.  It’s not about over-promoting yourself as an individual, or being contrived or less than genuine about the stories you tell.  Instead, what we hope our e-book does accomplish has more to do with encouraging people to be thoughtful about how they are represented with content online.  We take time to think about how big companies and brands should be perceived.  Yet when it comes to ourselves — we just jump in blindly with no rhyme or reason, and then we act surprised when privacy settings change or our friends post content and we are somehow misrepresented.  If businesses have social media strategies and plans why can’t individuals be at least sort of mindful?  We think they can be.  And they should be.  That’s why we put together our workbook and called it Social Media For Humans.  (You can also read a related blog post that Meghan wrote in 2010 to help explain our approach to social media for individuals.)

We are pretty proud of this book.  We hope you enjoy it.  Tell your friends.  Send them our way.  Download the book.  It makes a great holiday gift!  As always, any questions, comments or feedback are more than welcome.  And thanks for spending time with the Geek Girls Guide.

#RIPDanWheldon: A Tribute to the #Indycar Twitter Community, by Angie King

The following post was written by Angie King, a longtime friend and supporter of ours. She reached out to us after witnessing Dan Wheldon’s crash in Las Vegas and was interested in writing a post about how Twitter introduced her to Indycar and how it affected her life in the days afterward. It’s a powerful story about how social media connects us as human beings — both in our mundane, everyday lives and during the course of extraordinary events.

As surprised as you are to find a blog about Indycar on the Geek Girls Guide, it was equally as surprising to me to become an Indycar fanatic. After years of resisting any sort of sports fandom, this year I found myself obsessed with Indycar. It was a natural progression; something I didn’t question yet was a little embarrassed by around friends.  Mostly because I couldn’t explain it.

Since witnessing the fatal crash that took driver Dan Wheldon’s life on October 16 in Las Vegas and experiencing more grief than I could ever have expected, I started reflecting on why I feel so connected to Indycar. Besides the excitement of the sport, the talented and colorful drivers, and sharing a passion with my husband, I realized that Twitter has a played a big role. It’s one of the reasons my interest in Indycar grew into a passion this year, it helped me get through the 2 hours of waiting between the crash and when they finally announced Dan’s death, and has helped me grieve and cope with his loss in the time since.

To say I was surprised by the breadth and depth of the Indycar Twitter community is putting it lightly. After working in the interactive marketing world for a number of years, this is the first time I’ve experienced the true potential of social media. I’d thought the global, egalitarian, virtual community was purely idealistic. But in Indycar, they’ve made this goal a reality. Drivers, fans, media, and thought leaders all interact with each other like one big family.

I first learned about the Indycar Twitter community while watching races on Versus TV with my husband. The Indycar commentators devoted entire pre-race segments to driver tweets. The weight put on things happening off the track on Twitter intrigued me. I started following a driver’s list (@indcyar/drivers-indycar) so I could be in-the-know before the TV crew reported on it trackside.

Some memorable moments from the drivers this year on Twitter include:

  • After a terrible race in Toronto, Will Power (@12WillPower) tweeted to the driver who’d taken him out: @dariofranchitti hey princess thanks for that nice tap today–appreciate it.” Dario (@dariofranchitti) and Will were in the middle of a contentious championship points battle, and this little rant on Twitter intensified their rivalry.
  • When three-time Indianapolis 500 and season five Dancing with the Stars winner Helio Castroneves (@h3lio) went on a Twitter rampage after receiving what he felt was an unjust penalty for passing under yellow during the Japan race, he paid for it dearly. Near the end of a multi-post tweet, he called IndyCar race director Brian Barnhart a “circus clown,” a comment which cost him $30,000 in league fines.
  • Driver interaction with fans is a daily activity on Twitter. They often retweet fan requests to celebrate birthdays and respond to fan questions or comments, if not directly, then via a mass tweet. Many drivers used Twitter as a contest medium, giving away hundreds of pit passes to the Las Vegas finale to fans (including me!).

But it’s not just the drivers that I love on Twitter. I also started following the #indycar hashtag with fervor. The fans, bloggers and media personalities that use this hashtag provide article links, insight and commentary that I wouldn’t find anywhere else. And the best part? I feel welcome to interact with them, even though we’ve never met, and will likely never meet. Being a fan and having opinions is the only requirement to being accepted into this worldwide community.

My new #indcyar friends got me educated and excited for our trip to Las Vegas for the World Championships, with many posts tagged with #vegasindycar. In return, I promised those that couldn’t make the trip that I’d keep them updated on my experience. But 140 characters were not enough to express the sheer thrill of meeting Dan Wheldon on qualifying day.

A fan favorite, Dan had won the Indy 500 (for the 2nd time) earlier that year. His vibrant personality, golden boy good looks, and reformed-playboy-turned-family-man core would send any girl’s heart a-flutter. Thanks to a new friend on the inside, I got to meet Dan, shake his hand, and see that incredible smile in person. It was only a moment, but it’s a moment I will cherish. Because less than two days later, Dan was dead.

Seeing the horrific 15-car crash live was like watching a horror movie in real life. We’ve seen bad crashes on TV before, but both my husband and I got sick to our stomach after witnessing this one. The track announcers reported that every driver involved was in good condition, except one: Dan Wheldon. Soon he was transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital. But no one, not the track announcers or the IMS radio broadcast we were listening to on our scanner, had any details.

Naturally, I turned to Twitter for information. During the 2 hour wait, I saw everything from worry (#prayersforwheldon became the trending hashtag), to speculation (someone had seen driver Danica Patrick crying), to hope (Ashley Judd {@AshleyJudd}, wife of driver Dario Franchetti, tweeted that Dan had left the raceway unconscious, but with stable vitals; fans retweeted her post, clinging to this shred of hope from someone in -the-know).

However hopeful others were, I kept looking back at driver Tomas Scheckter’s (@tomasscheckter) tweet. The only driver involved in the crash who had posted anything to Twitter immediately following, his post was grim: “Leaving track don’t want to hear news seen enough / Walked past something I pray never to see again.” And sure enough, about 2 hours after the crash, CEO Randy Bernard announced Dan’s death. 

After we left the Las Vegas Motor Speedway that afternoon, my husband and I tried to console ourselves with drinks and gambling back at our casino. But in between each hand of video poker, I was refreshing Hoot Suite on my phone to see what drivers and other fans were posting. The trending hashtag had quickly changed from #prayersforwheldon to #ripdanwheldon. It was heartbreaking. We called it an early night, but the next morning before our flight home, I was back on my phone catching up with everyone’s reactions on Twitter.

Following the posts from drivers, fans and others has been heart wrenching, consoling, and frustrating in the week since Dan’s death. The frustration comes from posts reflecting comments made by people outside of the Indycar community and in the mainstream media who have been sensationalizing the crash and condemning the sport. For example, when Star Jones criticized the safety of Indycar in the wake of Dan’s death on The Today Show, the #indycar community (rightfully) threw a fit. And much was made over NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson’s (@JimmieJohnson) comment that Indycar shouldn’t race on ovals.

Many posts are both heart wrenching and consoling. Especially from the drivers, who have been reacting in their own personal ways: 

  • Tony Kanaan (@TonyKanaan), former teammate and close personal friend of Dan’s, has mostly been posting photos of the two of them together, remembering happier times.
  • Will Power, JR Hildebrand (@JRHildebrand ) and Pippa Mann (@PippaMann )—the only other drivers brought to the hospital for minor injuries in Las Vegas, were mostly silent the week following the crash, only surfacing to say they are fine, thanks for the kind words, but save your prayers for the Wheldon family. (Dan left behind a wife and two young sons, not to mention his parents and siblings in the UK.)
  • Driver Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal), tweeted the day after the crash that he intended to auction off his race helmet to benefit the Wheldon family. Over the week, his gesture snowballed into what is now a massive cross-disciplinary sports and pop culture memorabilia auction, complete with its own Twitter handle: @DWheldonAuction.

And then there’s the 100s of news and tribute articles tweeted and retweeted in the #indycar stream. I can’t possibly describe or link them all, but many have brought me to tears (including this one). Overall, I feel an overwhelming sense of a community pulling together to get through a very difficult time. The strongest sentiment—next to one of sympathy for Dan’s family—is one of continued vitality and life in Dan’s honor.

Many tribute tweets are now tagged with #lionheart, referring to the image Dan Wheldon had painted on the back of his race helmets: a mural of King Richard the “Lionhearted,” who was known for his bravery and heart. The consensus on Twitter is that Dan’s legacy will not be how he died, but how he lived. With an energetic, friendly, caring and playful approach off the track, and a focused, determined and fearless drive on the track.

The optimistic posts in the face of trauma remind me to greet each new day with the enthusiasm Dan showed in his final tweet. Just one word, the color of the flag that starts the race: “@DanWheldon Green!!!!”

If you feel inclined to support Dan Wheldon’s family or his passion for curing Alzheimer’s (a disease his mother was diagnosed with), there are a number of ways to contribute. Visit DanWheldonMemorial.com for details.

For more information on Dan Wheldon and his tragic death, Speed.com has posted comprehensive recap of articles that are worth a read. Read their Dan Wheldon Coverage Recap

Angie King manages content and social media for Bachmans.com, a Minnesota-based floral, gift and garden center. Outside of work, she’s a pop culture addict, jewelry maker, urban farmer, Rock Band and Las Vegas enthusiast, and a novice Indycar fan. Her Twitter handle is @angiewarhol.

The New Facebook, Security and You

On Friday night I appeared in a very short segment on KARE11 — the local NBC affiliate — to discuss the most recent Facebook changes – most specifically ‘The Timeline’. It’s funny because that was the second time this week Clockworkers made the news for Facebook, and the third time total (Netflix made for some interesting chatter this week too. But that’s another story). We sure are grateful to our friends at KARE11 for looking to us for some commentary about Facebook.

And it got me to thinking. The reason Facebook changes keep making the news is because Facebook has managed to work its way into the most fundamental elements of our culture: it’s become a primary way in which we connect with other people. We conduct whole parts of our life online now, and Facebook is really trying to capture that. That’s what this Timeline thing is all about really—it’s allowing us to tell our “whole” life story as we see it.

But then that gets broadcast to a pretty broad channel of consumers, while all the details of the story (data, really) are being aggregated to tell new stories about us to brands and marketers. I’ve read that this has been Mark Zuckerberg’s vision all along: as people share more and more data about themselves online, Facebook grows in value. It makes perfect sense that his strategy would also include forcing people to share more—however intentionally or unintentionally—by making our privacy options around each piece of data less obvious. Because that’s really what happened here, right? People are freaking out because instead of being able to specify, in a very general way, what (like photos and status updates, etc.) we share with whom, now it seems like we have to specify who we’re sharing with every single time we update our status or share anything.

As infuriating as it is, it’s sort of genius isn’t it? Influence how we behave and then mess with the most subtle aspects of that behavior to get more information from us. Genius. Because the assumption has to be that the majority of us are too lazy to spend any time figuring it out. And there’s such an overwhelming amount of information that even if we aren’t too lazy—we won’t know what’s real and what isn’t anyway.

How can we possibly protect ourselves?
A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Advance IT Minnesota and Saint Paul College hosted a cyber security awareness forum focusing on online safety and security. I was fortunate enough to be part of a panel along with Dr. Christophe Veltsos, Faculty member in the Department of Computer Information Science at Minnesota State University, Mankato and president of PrudentSecurity LLC, an information security and privacy consulting company and Tim Fraser, Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Stop. Think. Connect.TM campaign. (There will be video available from this forum and I’ll be sure to post it when that happens.)

You may or may not know that October is National Cyber Security Month.
President Obama called Cyber Security a critical issue and “Stop. Think. Connect.” is an important message and informational campaign presented by the Department of Homeland Security and sponsored by a large coalition of companies and brands hoping to contribute to increased awareness and education of cyber safety in America.

My contribution to the forum was really around behavior and the psychology of online behavior. We (and I’m using the collective we—a pretty broad generalization, but I’m comfortable with it) have this tendency to act victimized by what happens online. We have this weird sense of entitlement around how our information should be handled. And because of the technology layer—or, what I like to call, the layer of mysticism—we seem to want to believe it’s too complicated and the real responsibility belongs to the owners of the technology.

But our information is so widely distributed (think about how many sites on which you have profiles or where you’ve made purchases or connected with friends) and the web and online communication is so imbedded in how we function that we can no longer really think like that. We have to be less complacent and see ourselves not as victims—but as proactive citizens of digital space. The web has been mainstream for over 15 years, and still I hear people acting as if it just showed up yesterday and it is impossible to figure out. The thing is, it’s not going to slow down. We’re not going to revert back to the way things were. We can’t just throw our hands in the air and leave technology and social tools to our children, or take the word of so many “experts” to heart. Most of those “experts” are just there because they are rolling their sleeves up and diving in—not because they have any body of knowledge unavailable to the rest of us. Experts are people that play around with and think about technology and these tools. That’s all. And it’s something we all can do.

Back to Facebook
You might be asking yourself how all of this relates to the recent uproar over Facebook’s latest changes. Well, it relates plenty. See, complaining isn’t doing us any good. Facebook has proven time and time again that we are low on the list of priorities when they make changes to how the tool works. Yes it started out being a social network for the people, but our interest and willingness to share our information made the business opportunity for Facebook so much bigger than us, the users. And we’re not paying for the service. In this capitalistic society everybody knows a business needs a business model, and this one is grounded in our willingness to share information about ourselves in order for marketers to talk to us about things that are of relevance—to us.

It’s one-to-one marketing: they present us with products and services that matter to us. And they know they matter because we’ve said so, in roundabout ways. By the pictures we post, the brands we “like,” the people we associate with, the activities we enjoy, the causes we’re into. Alone these are just bits and bytes. But together they become a very rich profile—a whole story. A life story that is constantly changing.

The biggest threat to our privacy and our security is not Facebook, or viruses or hackers or any of that. The biggest threat to our privacy and security online is us. It’s how we react to all of this and everything that’s still coming at us. And the bottom line is this: if we have concerns about what we’re sharing or how our information is being used, then we owe it to ourselves to get as smart as we can about how we’re using Facebook, or any service, really. Think of it as agency instead of victimization. Then own it. I said that in the KARE11 piece and I stand by it.

On the surface the Timeline feature that Facebook is preparing to roll out is really cool. It’ll let you customize the story that you tell about yourself in ways you haven’t been able to before. A bigger, richer more expressive image can be seen on your profile page. It’s sounding like the data you share will include the things you update today and tomorrow, in addition to the pieces of your story that happened before Facebook even existed. What’s more, it’s looking like you’ll be able to share content from other networks and applications to which you subscribe. If you integrate your Hulu account and your Spotify account and your Goodreads account (there’s not a lot of information about exactly what additional apps/integrations will be available once the new Timeline launches, so I’m guessing here), then your story will include the TV shows you watch, the music you listen to and the books you read. Add your internet radio stations, your photosharing sites, your recipe exchanges and so forth and over time you’ve got an interesting story.

What will this look like?
If you do what Facebook hopes you’ll do, you’ll get your whole life working for them.

There’s Bob! He was born in 1977. He went to Catholic school. He hated his uniform. He played high school football. He went to this university. He majored in philosophy and art history. These are his friends. These are his girlfriends. Bob volunteers for this really awesome nonprofit. Bob teaches at this really amazing school. Bob married this fantastic lady. Bob reads nonfiction mostly. Bob likes ESPN and comedy central. Bob like action films. Are you with me here? Bob is more of a whole person. He reads something and maybe his friends will read it too. If Bob is into a cause and he elevates it on his Timeline, it’s likely that a few people that subscribe to Bob’s life will contribute money or volunteer themselves. Bob, this complicated, multi-dimensional guy isn’t just connecting with friends any more. Bob is now influencing people within his immediate community. But then, depending on how his privacy settings work, Bob’s sphere of influence might be bigger than even he’s aware. Beyond that though, Facebook advertisers are able to customize Bob’s ad experience so the ads speak to Bob. Furthermore, that sphere of influence that Bob may or may not be aware of interact with the info that they are privy to and that interaction turns into data points in their stories.

Get it? If they like something about Bob’s story, whether they know him or not, they are saying something about themselves. It’s a crazy, viral cycle of behavior. Or maybe it’s just physics. The law of physics on the social web—for every action there is an equal and/or opposite reaction. As cool as this is, remember: Facebook isn’t forcing you to add any information you’re not comfortable sharing.

Take back your cyberspace
What are some of the changes and what can you do?

Third-party apps
Knowledge and awareness are power. What can you do right now to ensure your Facebook experience is controlled by you? First of all, Facebook can’t force you to add information about your life prior to when you started to update your daily status in the network. That is purely voluntary. The network is also incapable of forcing you to integrate any other networks or apps—they must ask your permission. That means you do not have to approve your friends being able to see your Hulu or Spotify or Goodreads activity. You can avoid integrating third party sites and apps altogether. And you can go into your settings right now and deactivate apps that you’ve already allowed to interact with Facebook.

Be mindful of what you click on. “Read” doesn’t just mean “read” any more. You could be broadcasting information passively because you’ve given prior permission to tell the world every time you listen to or watch or read something. But again—you have to authorize these social apps before they can say anything about you. But once you do—be aware.

Everyone is futzing about the changes Facebook made to lists. Oddly, very few people ever really used them before because they were hard to find and pretty unclear. Now’s your chance. If you used them before and Facebook messed with your lists—it’s do-over time. Take advantage. If you never used lists before—welcome! Facebook wants you to use them and they’ve made them more obvious to encourage you to do it. Lists are one real way you have to control who sees what information that you share. It feels like a daunting task to start categorizing your contacts—but, honestly, it’s now or never. You might as well dive in and do it. Once you’ve segmented your friends list you can actually just share something with your family and no one else will see it. But remember—you need to specify how you share every single status update.

There’s a little fuss about the fact that you can see who “unfriends” you. I’ve got news for you: we’ve always been able to do this. Just not through Facebook. But there were a couple of third-party apps that already allowed this functionality. My advice: get over it. Honestly, if someone dumps you, that’s called life. If you dump someone, be prepared to deal with the reaction. Nine times out of ten there will be no reaction. But for that one time when someone might actually confront you, that’s called human interaction and you can choose not to talk about it. Or save them from themselves and tell them they are posting too many pics of their awesome hair. Or whatever.

Sharing Your Friends’ Comments/Likes
People seem bothered by the idea that when they Like something on a friend’s wall or worse, if they make a comment on a friend’s post, that will get shared with or seen by people they do not know.  This is true.  This can happen.  But I’m going back to my point about being proactive and encouraging Facebook users to find out how their friends share information.  I have my privacy settings set to only share my friends’ comments and Likes with my friends.  Not with everyone.  If that’s not good enough for you – then do not comment on other people’s posts.  Of course, that’s half the fun of Facebook.  And honestly, most comments are so benign, as yourself if it really matters  if they are shared.  If it does – then talk to the people who’s walls you interact with the most and ask them to get specific about who gets to see that kind of information.

Tracking your every move
There’ve been some articles about how Facebook will be able to track you when you are not on their website. Welcome to the internet. There are a couple of things to be aware of here, the first—and most obvious—is think before you sign into other websites with your Facebook login. When you do that, not only are they tracking your behavior outside of their website, but they are probably broadcasting back to all of your friends. There’s also concern that Facebook can track your activity on other sites when you are not even logged in to Facebook. Again, a lot of websites can, and probably are doing that. There is data that is collected in your browser that can track how you behave in lots of ways. But it’s not totally personal, it doesn’t necessarily identify you the individual. But let’s say Facebook can. Maybe you want to consider using another browser for your social media activity. Instead of being married to Internet Explorer, try downloading Google Chrome or Firefox or Safari and use this secondary browser for things like browsing the web, shopping and reading interesting articles. One browser cannot communicate your activity to another and that keeps your Facebook experience totally isolated and somewhat more secure.

And on and on
There is a lot more going on. And perhaps we’ll talk about more of the privacy options and concerns in the days and weeks to come. There are ways to manage your privacy. But it requires more engagement, not less. Deactivating your Facebook profile may not be the right answer. Here’s why: a couple of years back Mark Zuckerberg talked about his vision for this network of his and described Facebook as a global “utility.” What he wanted was for this social space to be as necessary as your telephone or the electricity that powers your business. With 750 Million users connecting to each other and brands and business and other cultures via Facebook, he is definitely making that vision a reality. I don’t know, and I don’t care, if Facebook will be around in 5 years. But right now there’s no denying there is a certain dependence on the network. We (again the collective ‘we’) might actually *need* it to feel connected.

Where Zuckerberg might be failing is in not recognizing the power of a network that really is for the people. But hey, maybe that’s a future roll out. And by “future” I mean next week.

Let’s celebrate National Cyber Security Month by thinking and learning about Facebook and online security, not complaining. Celebrate by taking action and being empowered, not detaching. You’ll benefit from it, we will all benefit from it. Then we go back to happily sharing photos and posts!

Big News!

So, uh, we’re writing a book.

Of course, Jon and Whitney made a video to mark the occasion:

Wait, what? How the…?

You might be asking yourself how the hell this happened. We certainly are.

After our MinneWebCon keynote in April, we were approached by Michael Nolan, an editor with Peachpit/New Riders. We talk a bit more about that whole experience in our latest podcast (#36), but let’s say this: it’s CRAZY EXCITING and it’s been hard to keep our mouths shut about this over the past few months. Peachpit/New Riders are known for publishing some of the best books by the most respected voices in our industry. Books like Don’t Make Me Think, Designing for Web Standards, Elements of User Experience, and Content Strategy for the Web.

We are unbelievably excited to have the opportunity to count ourselves among them. (And the day that we see our names as authors on Amazon will be a mighty proud moment!)

We also need to give a shout-out to Kris Layon (author of New Riders’ The Web Designer’s Guide to iOS Apps and former MinneWebCon director) who not only offered encouragement and advice, but also orchestrated our meeting with Mr. Nolan in the first place. Thanks, Kris. You’re a fine gent, and we wouldn’t be here without you.

So, what’s this book about?

We’re creating an engaging, straightforward guide to Interactive Project Management and the value it can bring to companies and project teams. It outlines both a process — and a way of thinking. The title is Interactive Project Management: A People-Driven Process.

Why project managment?

As an industry, we have a hard time explaining what we do to non-technologists, but this is a critical requirement in nearly every interactive project. A great project manager creates and fosters a connection between an often non-technical client and the project team.

Interactive projects (like websites, mobile sites, and apps) are different from both traditional media and software projects; we can’t simply adopt print or advertising processes and apply them to the web. Nothing in the industry has been standardized; terminology, processes and team structures are different between agencies, and the technology is changing all the time. And while project management is a critical factor in the success of web projects, no one is talking about how to do it well — so agencies, clients and aspiring project managers are making it up as they go.

Other project management books focus on how to create schedules, manage resources, perform risk assessment, make Gantt charts, write briefs, and test code. They tell you what to do, but are essentially just a collection of tactics. And guess what? Creating a timeline doesn’t mean anything’s actually going to get done.

Who’s it for?

Because the book focuses on how to think strategically, alongside tactical tips, it will help all stakeholders think about their approach to projects, peers and clients. So everyone from executives to students will benefit from really understanding how an interactive project should look from start to finish.

Clients are also a target audience. Knowing how their project may work, and what’s coming next, promotes clarity and collaboration from the beginning.

When can I buy one?

Okay, fine. We know you’re not asking yourself that question quite yet. But, it will be out in April 2012, and it should be available for pre-order in the fall. (ZOMG!)

But wait, there’s more!

We plan to blog, podcast and record some videos along the way — so you can follow our progress (and keep us sane) as we write this, our first book. We’re grateful for all the support we’ve gotten from readers of our blog, listeners to our podcast and people who have seen us speak. Every email, every tweet, every conference feedback form: we listen and appreciate it all.

We’re not fooling ourselves; this book isn’t going to be the next Da Vinci Code. But, it’s about something we believe in and we’re excited to have the opportunity to share what we’ve learned in over a decade of managing and launching software, apps and web sites.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. We can’t wait to see where this goes, and we’re happy to have you with us.

Lastly, a pre-emptive apology to our families: looks like we’re going to be crazier than usual until next Spring. We love you.

We’re Human. Get Over It.

Recently I learned something really surprising about myself.  I learned that I’m entirely human.  What?  You don’t think this realization warrants a blog post?  Well, friend, stick with me.  There’s more.  

A couple of weeks ago I was having a particularly stressful few days.  It was nothing out of the ordinary, just the regular stuff that makes life such a trip.  None of us are immune to the complexities of being human. We just think we are.  We put ourselves under enormous pressure and we try to balance work and home and hobbies and causes and commitments and kids and romance and taxes and other people.  It’s plate spinning, really.  We do our best to keep as many of them in the air as possible for as long as possible.  But eventually, I don’t care who you are, a plate, or two, comes crashing down.  Let’s face it, it’s never anything really catastrophic.  Although it may feel like it in the moment.  Plates are replaceable.  Even your best china.  But in the moment, life can get a little out of control and even the best of us get emotional. Turns out, I do too. And so, a couple of weeks ago, several weird, high pressure issues converged into the same day and, after losing some sleep over them, and letting my head swim around in it for a while, I had a decidedly human moment – completely out of my control.  

The details around what lead up to this moment aren’t important.  This was two weeks ago.  The problems I had then have long since been solved. And while they felt overwhelming at the time, I’m amazed at the relief and reason a little distance brings.  But on this particular day I came into work after a mostly sleepless night and I tried to just function.  Like you do.  I tried to operate with a business-as-usual attitude and it was probably a mistake.  I had meetings most of the day.  My first one came and went without incident.  But I can’t say I didn’t feel myself getting a little weaker with each passing hour.  And when I say ‘weaker’ I don’t mean so much physically as just energetically.  I was carrying myself through the day but I wasn’t feeling it.  My second meeting was with a client.  Which one is not important.  But let’s just say I like this person very much.  We have an excellent working relationship and I consider her a new friend.  The meeting was tense, but not something I normally couldn’t get through.  There were some unanswered questions that had caused confusion and we were processing through them.  Only right in the middle of our discussion I felt it happening.  That thing. The thing that can never happen at work.  I felt my chest tighten.  My throat followed.  Suddenly I was overcome with emotion and I was desperate to suppress it.  Tears welled up in my eyes and, shocked and sort of terrified of my client seeing tears, I quickly brushed them away.  My head was spinning and I was thinking about how I might escape.  But there was no comfortable way to get out of that room.  And then the tears came.  Rolling down my cheeks as I stared at my client.  Both of us in total disbelief.  She asked me what else was going on.  I responded honestly, ‘Nothing. I don’t know what this is about.’  I really didn’t.  I am not a weeper.  This is not something I do.  Those were the words that were screaming in my head too.  ‘What the hell are you doing?  What is happening.  OMG WHY AM I CRYING?’  I can’t say there wasn’t some momentary relief in those tears.  My client knew me well enough to know that this was a wild and rare occurrence.  I apologized.  We reached the end of our discussion.  My tears long gone, I escorted her out and that was that.  

Only it wasn’t.  The shame spiral that I threw myself into after she left was no less than unreasonable self torture.  I walked into my office, shut the door, and I died of embarrassment.  The tapes playing over and over in my head punished me that much more.  ‘How could I cry in a meeting?  There is nothing worse than crying!  I am weak.  God.  Weak!  Credible, tough business people DO NOT CRY!’  It went on like that for most of the rest of the day.  I called a friend and fellow business owner and confessed to her.  I was looking for redemption.  She was shocked.  But she understood.  Still, I didn’t find the forgiveness for which I was looking.  And I spent the rest of the day swirling in and out of this terrible shame.  

The thing is, I know I’m not alone.  I know other people have cried at work.  I’ve had both men and women come into my office and get emotional.  I’ve seen men and women cry from frustration or overwhelm or mistakes or fear.  I don’t recall ever judging anyone for their tears.  I only remember trying to help them see things clearly again so they could return to their centered selves.  So why was I so hard on myself?  I think it’s because there’s this unspoken (or maybe it’s spoken, loudly and unavoidably) rule in business that to cry makes you weak.  And if you’re a woman it’s a mortal sin.  If you’re a woman it identifies you as being ill equipped to be a leader, or a thinker, or to be rational.  I had committed the unthinkable.  In my mind, those few seconds of tears were negating everything I knew about myself and everything I thought I’d proven about myself over the years.  In MY mind.  My client had probably long since forgiven me.  Maybe even forgotten.  It’s my work, and the work of my cohorts, that proves my mettle in that relationship.  So why wasn’t I letting it go?

Men cry.  We all know it.  Many of us live with them and we work with them or we ARE them and we’ve seen them cry.  Maybe for some it’s rare.  But it does happen.  Men get emotional.  I have worked in a largely male dominated industry for a long time.  I know that men get emotional at work.  It looks like a lot of things.  They shut down.  They get aggressive.  They get mopey.  And, on some occasions, they cry.  But for whatever reason men who cry (and I’m not talking weepers who cry often, I am referring to the occasional tears from a rational person who just feels things) are not necessarily frowned upon.  They get a pass.  We call them ‘sensitive’ and that is an asset in the male of the species.  Those other responses to emotion are equally as forgivable.  Mopey is thoughtful.  Shut down is pensive.  Aggressive is tough.  But when a woman cries it doesn’t even matter what the rest of the world thinks.  Because what we do to ourselves is enough punishment to last a lifetime.  It’s probably the worst thing (in our own minds) we could do.  At work.  The worst thing.  

Well.  It’s two weeks later and I’m here to tell you I lived through it.  I am no less the business person or leader or professional I was three weeks ago.  Do I want to make a habit of it?  No.  Of course not.  But I’m human.  I had a human response to a day.  And I wish I would have forgiven myself.  A lot sooner.  I wish I could have saved that afternoon and just let myself have it.  I wish I didn’t feel like I had to apologize 13 times to that client.  I wish I didn’t feel shame at the very thought of other people EVER finding out.  Because this is who we are.  We are all the same.  We all have bad days.  We all deal with overwhelm.  And, on occasion, we all cry.  

I’ve written this post in the hopes that I can spare someone else the shame I felt.  It’s pointless, wasted energy.  My work and my attitude and my knowledge and my purpose are still all very intact.  My focus is the same.  My interests are the same.  I am the same professional I was before I cried.  Only now, I’ve admitted to the world that I cried in a meeting.  And I lived to tell about it.  And maybe we should all go just a little easier on each other.  Because as work culture changes and communication  changes and our expectations change we’re going to need a little more humanity in the work place.  We’re not making widgets any more.  And we’re not hiring robots for most jobs any time soon.  We’re hiring humans.  And humans are flawed.  All of them.  I ought to know.  I am one.

This post is also featured on the Clockwork Blog because it’s not just a lady issue, it’s an issue we all should be discussing.