Nancy Lyons

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.

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.

Lists
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.

Unfriending
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!

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.  

Being Smart About ‘The Cloud’

“The Cloud” is something that is coming up for me, and my cohorts, in meetings, planning sessions and hosting discussions more and more all the time.  As we talk about it more I’m noticing some really interesting ways that people respond to the idea of ‘The Cloud.’  This post isn’t about explaining what the cloud actually is because we’ve already done that twice, in a blog post and a podcast.  Instead I’d like to debunk a few of the more common assumptions I’m hearing about the cloud in order to encourage people to be thoughtful about the cloud solutions they consider.

In an effort to keep things simple I’m just going to list some of the most common misperceptions about the cloud and my response to those inaccuracies:

1)  Putting my software or web business in the cloud means I never have to think about it.  

-Not really true.  Yes, it’s true that by tapping into cloud infrastructure you don’t have to invest in hardware and software and infrastructure.  But to think that by abdicating all control to some nameless, faceless entity without making yourself or any part of your organization responsible for some awareness of where things are or how they are managed or by whom and how often is just irresponsible.  You wouldn’t leave a brick and mortar store open and unattended – why would you do it to your digital business?  

2) The cloud never goes down – it is 100% reliable in terms of up-time.  

-This is my favorite assumption.  Cloud services aren’t magic.  They run on the same kind of hardware that has always served as the backbone of the network we call the internet.  Yes it may be more robust and of a much larger scale.  But technology, by it’s very nature is fallible.  It fails.  Anyone who’s been using Gmail for the last year can recall at least one time when it was down for nearly an entire business day.  Gmail is a service in the ‘cloud’ and it is owned and maintained by one of the largest, most magical technology companies on the planet.  And yet – it went down – and in doing so it paralyzed business and panicked it’s users for a period of many hours.  It happens.  Understanding that the cloud is capable of failure going into it will save a lot of headache and disappointment when you’re confronted with that failure.

3) Big businesses trust the cloud and never have to worry — that’s enough for me.

-References are a good thing for any business.  Being able to point to companies or brands that have good experiences with any service is a great way to feel more comfortable choosing a technology provider.  But big companies suffer technology failures too.  Case in point–recently customers (and not just any old customers) using Amazon cloud services experienced some significant down time.  Some of the customers were so big that the outage made the news – both because of the business that was effected and the amount of time the services were down. 

4) Cloud services are more secure than other options.  

-This is probably pretty true – in that it is in the cloud provider’s best interest to significantly invest in securing their networks because protecting their client’s data is probably their single most critical responsibility.  However, criminals think like criminals – and they are constantly exploring ways to exploit weaknesses in technology — which, as I’ve already mentioned, is not infallible.  To assume that any service provider is 100% secure is not the way to consider their offering.  Instead, care about the process they have in place for continued and rigorous evaluation of their security  – do they have 3rd party scanning and audits of their systems to ensure they are always working to prevent exploits?  And find out what the process is in response to a security vulnerability.  If they get hacked – what happens?  What procedures are in place to notify their administrators, and you, and then what happens to re-secure your date and prevent this sort of issue going forward?

5)  Only giant global brands can offer cloud services or software in any sort of meaningful way.  

-This is completely false.  Cloud services can be offered by companies with names that are NOT Amazon or Microsoft and they can be just as reliable and secure.  And, if service and accessibility are important to you – you might actually want to consider a smaller provider.  Because we all know how hard it is to get through to giant, national service providers.  As with any business service – thinking critically and strategically about your needs and expectations and mapping out a plan are the best ways to approach your business requirements.  Think about what is important to you and make a list of those priorities – is it service with a smile?  Is it a 24/7 help line?  Is it price?  Is it security and monitoring?  Create a matrix of products and service guarantees and compare them by price and service level.  In the end you’ll understand more about what it means to use cloud hosting and/or computing services – and you’ll have a better grasp of what it means for your business.   

The important lesson in all of this is – just because the service is attached to a globally recognized brand like, say Verizon, for instance, doesn’t mean that you are without any responsibility and it certainly doesn’t mean the technology itself is flawless.  There is no such thing as fail-proof technology.  What you’re thinking of is magic.  

Every Day is Cyber Momday

Today is Cyber Monday, the day when millions of shoppers set forth on the web to find unprecedented deals on merchandise.  Retailers large and small are participating in Cyber Monday, either passively or deliberately.  The truth is – Cyber Monday is a marketers’ dream.  The day itself marks the beginning of the very concentrated holiday shopping season on the web.  People are actively thinking about their holiday gift needs right after Thanksgiving and they return to work, and their computers, today.  So essentially they are stealing time from their employers to shop in record numbers.  And retailers are encouraging them to do it by coining the day – Cyber Monday. The next few weeks will see a significant upturn in web-based commerce.  More than likely, in order to beat the traffic and the crowds, you’ll be buying a good portion of your holiday gifts and supplies online.  While you’re surfing and shopping, though, criminals and mischief-makers are hitting the web in record numbers too.  It’s more critical than ever to have some awareness of what you’re up against when it comes to protecting your data and your credit and to be somewhat prepared to counter the efforts of the (using a term my son uses often) ‘bad guys’ on the internet.  If you’re new or still a little unsure about cyber shopping then this post is for you.  Well, it’s not, it’s actually for my mother and everyone like my mother – those people wanting to jump into the excitement of web shopping but who still have a tendency to believe every crazy email they receive and click on every errant pop-up that dances across their screen.  Here are some simple tips to help mom, and the entire family, stay just a little safer online this holiday season.

Avoid The Deal-In-A-Message
It’s hard to ignore the personalized notes that we receive via email or Facebook messages.  You know the ones I’m talking about – those messages that come addressed to you and seem to have read your mind.  They talk about a hard to beat deal and then include a link directly to a seemingly reputable website where you can purchase the item to realize these fabulous savings.  These messages are generally a phishing scam.  They trick you into believing you’re actually on the Amazon site (for example) and get you to share personal information and credit card data.  They do this by using that link to take you to a website that probably isn’t legitimate at all.  It’s unfortunate that something so simple can fool so many people.  But don’t feel bad – the scammers are really good!  They make the link look believable and the pages themselves could really BE real pages from (again for the sake of example) Amazon or Target.  Here’s a not-so-secret secret, though.  If Amazon is really selling your dream item at this unbelievable price you don’t need that link to access it.  Visit Amazon (or whatever site the link claims to represent) directly – just type the website into your browser without clicking on a link.  Once there, search on the item you want to purchase.  If it’s on sale the search will reveal the sale-priced item.  Don’t risk clicking on those links.  

Be Wary of Links On Facebook
An added layer of security, and one you should have some awareness of is HTTPS – when you look at a website’s address it looks like this:  http://www.geekgirlsguide.com.  But a site that uses SSL encryption for server verification and to encrypt the transfer of data will look like this:  https://www.geekgirlsguide.com (don’t click on that-it’s just an example).  Start noticing the S.  Look for it AND the padlock when you want to share data and make purchases.  Check here for a full explanation of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.

You might want to try to force a secure connection with every web interaction.  You can do that by downloading and installing a plug-in that will do exactly that — literally force a secure connection with every (or as often as possible) website you visit.  This is handy when you’re using public wi-fi. But it also helps to protect you from the danger of packet or data sniffing in which real criminals do engage.  It is exactly what it sounds like – cyber thieves try to find holes in the data exchanges between your computer and the server where a website lives.  They try to sniff out or grab any data they can that may be less than secure.  Forcing this kind of connection is one additional way you can protect yourself from this kind of activity.  One Firefox plug in that does this is Force TLS.  If you’re a home user and you generally transmit data via an ethernet (or hard-wired) connection, this might be overkill.  But if you use a laptop or other portable device and/or you tap into public wireless internet, do consider forcing that extra layer of security.

Choose Good Passwords
Security starts with you.  In fact, your security starts with your passwords.  The biggest favor you can do for yourself and your data is to select solid passwords.  This means that you have to stop using your kid’s names, your dog’s names, your husband’s name.  Start making up passwords that are truly hard to figure out.  Longer strings of characters (letters, numbers and, in some instances, additional characters) — think about a 20 character password.  I am not kidding.  This is the primary thing that stands between you and criminals trying to get at your data.  20 characters might seem like a pain, but it’ll save you heartache and real true pain in the long run.  

Many websites that require passwords help you rate the strength of your password when you create an account.  There are also services online that are available via reputable brands and companies that provide a password strength rating service.  Microsoft has one – search the Microsoft site and check your passwords to see if they are weak or not.  You might be surprised at what you find.

Being safe on the web begins and ends with you, really.  Understanding what to look for and hesitating when you have even the slightest doubt help you to avoid getting into trouble and losing your data to the ‘bad guys.’  There are no sure-fire ways to avoid being a victim of data theft.  But the more you know, the more you can protect yourself.

Happy Shopping!

Podcast #27: Keynote News With A Side Of Security

We’re excited to announce that we’re one of the keynote sessions for MinneWebCon 2011! Along with that good news, we’d also like to encourage other female speakers (and really anyone with solid, innovative content) to submit their proposals for this year’s event. If you’ve got something good to say, make sure you share it!

In Podcast 26, we mentioned a Firefox plugin called Firesheep. While we didn’t go into much detail, we did promise a deeper conversation about it in the next podcast. This is that podcast! Listen further to find out more about how the plugin works, and what it means for your information. While we’re on the subject of sharing information that you may or may not know you’re sharing, we also touched on the new Facebook Friendship pages. Do you know what Facebook is saying about you and your friends?

Additional Resources

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Event: ClockworkShop – Social Media 101

Next Wednesday, November 10th, Clockwork is hosting our first ever (and first in a, hopefully, long series) ClockworkShop – featuring the Geek Girls Guide.  Once again, Meghan and I will be discussing Social Media and providing an overview of the social landscape.  Our Social Media 101 presentation has been billed as one for ‘newbies’ and the deck is certainly one of our more well-traveled slideshows. To be honest,  The Geek Girls Guide is ready to get past the social media hype and start exploring new ideas, emerging technologies and bigger conversations.  We are the first to say that we have no interest in pigeon-holing ourselves as ‘social media speakers’.  The more compelling part of the social discussion is how we are changing culturally.  There is so much to discuss and to be explored around that cultural shift.

One of the points we make on the Clockwork website, and in so many conversations, is that the web has always been social.  This recent, overwhelming interest in social channels has been fun to watch.  But it’s not new.  The web has always been about connections, conversations and relationships.  The tools that facilitate these are just that much more accessible.  Business is about relationships.  Our culture and how we communicate is changing.  There are much bigger conversations to have.  We want our Social Media 101 session to be the first of many – empowering our audience to tell their own stories and connect with messages and influencers that resonate with them. But we want to make sure that everyone is on board for the next ‘big thing’.  We can’t push so hard for what’s next if there are still people with questions about what’s now. 

This website was developed to be a resource for people outside of our industry.  Many social media practitioners are talking about the value of the medium inside of a vacuum.  They are talking to each other.  We wanted to add another voice to the discussion and focus our energy outward.  These workshops are not for people in our industry.  They are not for Social Evangelists. It’s just that there are still so many questions and still so much confusion around social media – what is is, how it should be used and how we should be thinking about it – that we still think these introductory discussions are necessary.  So, as much as we want to continue to push the needle forward and encourage and facilitate new conversations and new adventures, we also can’t disregard what our audience is asking of us.  

Do join us next week on Wednesday evening.  There are only a few seats left.  And do look for future ClockworkShops featuring the Geek Girls Guide, and many other brilliant and talented Clockworkers covering everything from knitting, to bicycle maintenance to technology and usability.  We are excited to expand our education and outreach efforts.  We look forward to sharing that work with you.  And, as always, we thank you for being a fellow geek, or geek wannabe.

A Streetcar Named Desire To Post My Pic On Twitter.

A couple of weeks ago some friends and I attended a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Guthrie Theatre.  It was a real night on the town, with dinner beforehand, and excellent seats to a truly entertaining production.  For those of you not in the immediate area, it should be noted that the Guthrie is a world renowned theatre that attracts exceptional, even famous talent to it’s stage and behind the scenes, and it isn’t unusual for Broadway bound shows to begin at the Guthrie.  Streetcar was no exception, boasting a killer cast with remarkable pedigrees, and even pulling in a bit of pop culture with the casting of Ricardo Antonio Chavira from the ABC show Desperate Housewives in the role of Stanley Kowalski.  The role made famous by Marlon Brando in the 1951 film.  This isn’t a review of the show.  My feelings for the production are pretty straight-forward.  I loved it.  The staging was perfect.  The casting was brilliant.  Everything about that show made for a perfect evening.  But for the last two weeks, one moment has been gnawing at me and I wanted to share it here, to get your thoughts, and perhaps contribute to a conversation that has got to move forward.  

We were seated just before curtain and our seats in the theatre were excellent.  I was thrilled.  The lights were dim, the stage was set, the warm glow of a streetlamp the brightest point in the room.  That set was impressive, it looked like an actual spot in New Orleans.  The weathered brick, the dingy interior, the colors and textures perfectly muted to suggest a certain age to this exterior.  I pulled out my iphone to take a picture of this gorgeous set and as soon as I got it up to eye level the usher was next to me telling me the set was copyrighted and I wasn’t allowed to photograph it.  I nodded and tucked my phone into my pocket.  That was that.  Only it wasn’t.  There wasn’t sufficient light for me to get a decent picture anyway.  But that wasn’t the point.  I really just wanted to rave about that initial impression of the set and the mood it set for the audience.  But, the set was ‘copyrighted’ and that wasn’t ok.  

These last couple of years arts organizations have taken a big hit with the economy.  Seeing plays falls low on the priority list when you are watching your finances take a nose dive.  As this sort of entertainment falls lower on the list, it may fall away from the radar.  Certainly arts orgs are countering the effects of the economy with more aggressive marketing and trying to pack a lot of value into ticket prices.  But non-profits never have enough money to really market the way they want to.  There are always corners being cut.  Meanwhile, someone like me, with zero interest in ripping off any set construction ideas, and a couple thousand followers on Twitter, has a desire to do some free marketing for an arts org, and I can’t.  It makes no sense.  

Recently, Meghan and I have conducted a series of workshops for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.  We talked about websites on a budget and the basics of social media.  Sure, the Guthrie didn’t have anyone in attendance.  But they aren’t entirely unlike so many of the arts orgs we talked to.  Because of budget constraints and different priorities, arts organizations are sort of slow to recognize the power of web and social tools.  They know they can sell tickets on the web.  They know they can present marketing messages there.  But, beyond that, they seem to focus much of their dollars and energy into the things they’ve always done.  I am a closet theatre geek, and I’ve watched that slow progress with a special interest.  My old college theatre took forever to get a Facebook page, and they made little, if any, use of their website.  They weren’t on Twitter, and I doubt that they are there now.  And yet, ticket sales and community support are vital to the ongoing health of that department.  Even here, the biggest, most prestigious theatre, The Guthrie, took forever to invest in a redesigned website.  Settling for a giant image as backdrop for their site for years.  Now they seem to have a dynamic, Drupal powered website and a very active Facebook page.  In fact, the Guthrie is doing some of the things we talked about in the MRAC discussions — letting their audience in on how elements of the stage come together.  It’s so compelling watching the actual craft of stagecraft assemble whole, realistic sets.  Theatre isn’t just about the actors — the set and the costumes tell the story too.  Sometimes, as in the case of A Streetcar Named Desire, the set IS pretty darn close to a character.  Hot and heavy and dingy and weathered and well traveled, and noisy – setting the tone and even aggravating the heat and tension of the plot.  

Having worked on a number of stage crews in my youth, I know how tedious getting to that final set can be.  But how miraculous it seems when everything comes together.  It’s a real art – deciding how to present a setting, considering the staging, the actors and what they need from a set, what the text requires combined with what the director envisions.  There is so much that plays in to those choices that would, honestly, be riveting to some audience members or potential theatre-goers.  Not to mention the opportunity to reach new audiences, sell more tickets.  Maybe the Desperate Housewives guys wasn’t such a great draw to some.  But perhaps that set would have inspired someone to want to see it close up.  

I guess I just think that arts orgs, and especially theatre arts, need to start embracing some of the new social tools and abandoning the way it’s always been.  Sometimes we stick to what we know because it works.  But these days, when the economy is in the toilet, and people are staying home, we can’t afford to be stuck.  We have to look to our evangelists and our ambassadors to do what comes naturally — to talk about us. To rave about us, even.  There is something romantic about going to the theatre.  The whole experience, the entire event, has an air of romance.  A good theatre experience can take you along for a multi-sensory ride and when done right you’ve got something to think about and talk about for days or weeks.  Let us talk about it.  I’m not going to steal your set.  Chances are anyone who does have unethical intentions around your ideas has other ways to pursue them.  We don’t need to get crazy and shoot flash pictures during a performance.  Nobody wants that.  But I do think letting us borrow details to tell the story and talk about our experience with it will only serve the production, and the theatre itself, very well. 

Storytelling in the Facebook Era

For several weeks the tech world, and much of the mainstream population,  has been buzzing with discussion around Facebook and privacy.  It turns out that Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook’s founder and CEO) and his crew think sharing, and not privacy, should be the new default and they had set out to make that a reality.  The anxiety really hit full throttle during the Facebook developer conference when Zuckerburg announced some significant changes around who has access to the data that Facebook collects and how it might be used.  People are angry and confused.  Some senators have even authored a letter to Zuckerburg asking him to rethink the default privacy settings they were rolling out. Then last week Zuckerberg announced that Facebook has decided to readdress the default settings and make it easier for people to keep their information under wraps. Still, people are continuing to react to and push back on the issue of privacy and protections around information they share online. There are boycotts of Facebook in the works.  This is serious business – not a day has passed without some significant, front page media coverage of the controversy.

I strongly believe this discussion, as loud and emotional as it feels, is necessary because it is shaping the bigger issue of evolution – ours and how we communicate. But, believe it or not, this blog post isn’t really about the privacy settings themselves.  Instead, this post is about something I’ve been considering for quite some time and it has only become more obvious to me since the volume of this privacy discussion has gotten so loud.  In some ways I think Zuckerburg forcing our hands on the issue of privacy is also forcing something we should have instinctively been better about.  Because we’re suddenly so concerned about who has access to all of our personal information I think we’re also suddenly being much more thoughtful about what we choose to share.  The bite in the butt is — we should have seen this as a critical issue and been this thoughtful all along. But, as the saying goes, better late than never.  We are all curators of content, archivers, historians and storytellers.  This is a much bigger responsibility than we imagined when we started posting pictures of ourselves in our underwear standing next to the keg (present company excluded, of course).  Wherever Facebook ends up in this privacy debate, whether or not they actually address the concerns of the public, really doesn’t matter.  All of us are starting to realize a new responsibility – to ourselves and to our current and future audiences.

It used to be that only certain stories – the more polished or politically appropriate stories – were published for the world to see.  Publishers decided what was worthy of mass consumption.  The rest of the world were consumers of print and, eventually, consumers of all media.  All media worked like this and people got rich off of it.  Big newspaper publishers decided what was news and got rich.  Big motion picture studios decided what was entertainment and got rich.  Big television networks decided what was worthy of our living rooms.  The media in the last few years has become fragmented by social media and consumer generated content.  But the term consumer ‘generated’ doesn’t really tell the whole story, does it?  We aren’t just ‘generating’ or ‘creating’ content, we’re publishing it – to a global audience.  And because of the immediacy and the ease-of-use of the technology we’ve significantly underestimated the reach, or potential reach of our content.  When the big rich media tycoons owned everything we didn’t think twice about distribution and reach.  Now that we are contributing to this global archive and telling our stories – we still aren’t thinking twice about distribution and reach.  What’s more, because of the immediacy of the experience of publishing, we aren’t really thinking about the importance of the content.  See, because we are all (suddenly) historians, archivists, story-tellers.  We are all recording history — our own, our family history, brand stories.  It seems to me if we start thinking of it as something that carries a little more weight, something that has more cultural importance,  then suddenly the issue of Facebook privacy pales in comparison to our responsibility as content creators.  I guess I am just suggesting that instead of demonizing Facebook (which is really so easy to do) it’s time to think bigger picture.  It’s time to recognize that communication and the documentation of history and the sharing of stories looks much different than in past generations and it’s just going to continue to change.  Instead of worrying whether or not Facebook is going to let the world, or future employers see pictures of you with your pants on your head, I would suggest you simply be more thoughtful when you consider publishing those (granted, sometimes you have no choice because someone else does it for you).  I just can’t help but feel that we are having the wrong conversations.  Instead of pushing for privacy, which is clearly changing and certainly isn’t the default, perhaps we should push for thoughtfulness and responsibility in the telling of our stories.

This privacy thing – it’s a losing battle.  We are everywhere.  We’re dropping little breadcrumbs of our lives everywhere we go online and when you add to that all of the intentional or inadvertent content we create or contribute to then you must know there are whole and detailed profiles about you just under the hood of the internet.  Yes, some things are sacred — like social security numbers and how much you weigh.  But think about it – they are sacred because WE (that’s the collective we – which means everybody) treat them that way.  It’s a culturally accepted fact that social security numbers are sacred.  It used to be a cultural reality that stories were sacred.  Passed down from generation to generation and shared during special occasions.  Maybe they were embellished with detail for dramatic flair, but that was done with reverence and out of pride.  Now stories are just immediate –  someone shoves a beer bong up their nose, someone else takes video of it, and we don’t think twice about sharing that with the world.  I’m not suggesting that a beer bong in the nose is not share-worthy.  I am suggesting though, that if all you share is beer bong stunts than you become the beer bong guy and is that really who you want to be?  You get my drift.  There is a need for maybe a little more reverence in how we communicate. No – this doesn’t mean we are not humorous or ironic or even inappropriate.  I think we really need to start thinking about telling the stories that are worthy of our time and energy and attention.  What picture are you painting?  What legacy are you leaving? When it’s all compiled – someday, by someone else, looking to discover who we were in this bygone era – well, who will we be?  A generation fighting against an inevitable evolution?  Or a generation that embraced change and recognized our responsibility within it?  I, for one, would like to be among the latter.  I am blessed by the brilliant people in my world, a career I am passionate about, a fantastic family, a good life.  There’s a story there.  I’m going to tell it.

Podcast #13: Facebook Privacy

Lucky number 13! In our 13th podcast we take a look at a topic that never seems to go out of style: Facebook privacy. What do the changes mean to you? What are Facebook’s goals? Can you trust Facebook?

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Summary

Seriously, by the time we post this there will probably be a new set of Facebook designs and rules — at least that’s what it feels like. In this podcast, we take a look at some of the changes Facebook has made recently, what they mean to you, what they mean to Facebook, and ask the question, “Can Facebook be trusted?”

If we could stress one take-away from this podcast it would be — every time Facebook makes an update, you should revisit your privacy settings. Read them. Ask questions if you don’t understand. Don’t end up in an uncomfortable situation simply because you didn’t take the time to inform yourself.

Other Resources

Meghan referenced a Clay Shirky video, which you can watch here. It’s about 45 minutes, but worth it: Clay Shirky: It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure.

A couple of interesting articles on this same topic were circulating on Twitter last week as well:

What do you think? Are we on the money, or full of crap? Was this podcast interesting? We felt like we were being boring, but we sure hope we weren’t!

Hit us up with questions in the comments, or over on our Facebook page (if you dare!).