Nancy Lyons

Get A Life – Be A Facebook Fan

Recently a Facebook friend of mine noted in his status message that JCPenney’s fan page had over 43,000 fans.  He received several comments on the post, one of which suggested that this number was proof that people on Facebook ‘have no life’.  That comment got me thinking about why, in fact, it was important for JCPenney to establish this fan page (which, by the way, currently boasts more than 487,000 fans) and why those people that identify as fans actually do have lives — relatively thoughtful lives, in fact.  It should be acknowledged that I am *not* a documented Facebook fan of JCPenney’s.  I have no real attachment to the retail chain or the brand and I don’t do any work for them.  But it is worth examining what value JCPenney could see from a Facebook fan page, and why Facebook members would want to make their brand interest and loyalty official. 

Its funny how people that are *on* Facebook could actually call out other members of Facebook for having ‘no life.’  We all have our own reasons for being there, and when we joined the network, I doubt we expected that one of those reasons would be to declare our loyalty or interest in one, or many, brands.  But the fact of the matter is – brands are recognizing the importance of ‘going where the people are’.   And if current stats are correct – the population of Facebook makes it the 4th largest country on the globe.  You can’t deny the sheer penetration of Facebook as a brand and a service.  The opportunity to get in front of millions of users in short order surpasses that of any other medium.  

Let’s face it, the past couple of years have been rough on people all over the world.  The global economy has taken a dramatic nosedive and people don’t know which end is up or when they can expect things to turn around.  Consumers need more than their base desires to influence purchases.  They need a *reason* to buy.  And they need a reason to choose one retailer over another.  Only 14% of people actually believe advertising (according to Marketing To The Social Web by Larry Weber).  The rest of the population needs something else.  They need to trust products and brands.  They need endorsements from real people, trusted friends and colleagues.  They need relationships with brands.  We don’t spend money as easily as we did a few years ago.  We need reasons to part with our hard earned cash.  Connecting with a brand on Facebook gives us the opportunity to have these kinds of relationships. 

Connecting with brands in the social space is a two-way street.  As a consumer, I enjoy that sense of exclusivity.  I am part of this test audience to run ads by, or to extend special, Facebook-only offers to.  Perhaps I am informed of sales and limited product roll-outs early.  Or maybe I just see next season’s back-to-school line before the general public.  I have an opportunity to plan ahead for shopping, perhaps set aside cash instead of tapping into credit.  Whatever the case, because I have this relationship with a brand, in this case, JCPenney, I am a more active consumer, versus passive — someone waiting until I need something and then heading to the closest retailer to get it, or the retailer that dominates the market in which I reside.  Because my experience with that brand is likely to be integrated into my experience with Facebook, I can participate in brand conversations, even passively, several times a day.  JCPenney has nearly a half million fans currently.  That leaves the potential for engagement with hundreds of thousands of consumers at least once every single day.And when you consider that a fan page is free — the investment is really around resources.  The conversations themselves are already happening.  Facebook is just another channel for consumer conversations.  The primary difference being these conversations have the potential to be two way.  And, and this really critical, consumers can contribute to the public conversation.  The brand is on the hook to be exactly who they say they are.  Because if they aren’t truly authentic, consumers will call them out in this very public space.

The brand benefits too.  They have a captive audience.  They can monitor conversations they start.  There’s viral potential around the content they put out.  They are actively invited into the social experience of their constituency.  They have opportunities to change audience perceptions around the brand.  For instance – in the case of JCPenney, the conversation that ensued as a result of this Facebook commentary on the fan page was around private label blue jeans brands.  Like Sears had Toughskins.  It was news to me, but apparently JC Penney had a private label brand of their own.  The comment centered around this group of friends and their history of experiences with the brand.  But the brand has evolved.  Those private label brands are no longer synonymous with low quality and JCPenney having a presence on Facebook gives them an opportunity to revise audience impressions of the brand and correlating products.  This isn’t your mother’s JCPenney.  This retail chain is all grown up.  They are in tune with consumer expectations around trends, quality and price.  And through their presence on Facebook they have opportunity to tell that story day after day.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of addressing the value to the consumer and the value to the brand.  Once the conversation starts it is perpetuated by all of the players.  But we aren’t so far away from brands any more that they aren’t listening to us, and we aren’t influencing how they evolve.  One could actually argue that those people that signed on as Facebook fans of JCPenney early in this game really did have lives.  In fact, they probably lead relatively thoughtful lives and hopefully are using these social connections to extend that thoughtfulness to their buying behavior.

Have An Idea? Leave An Idea. Need An Idea? Get An Idea.

Here at the Geek Girls Guide we’re constantly talking about ways in which people can empower and enrich their lives by embracing even the simplest technology.  Our mission is to start a movement of people unafraid of tech — we want to make adventurers of even the most tentative of adopters. 

Recently we facilitated a rather controversial conversation on this blog. People from all over contributed opinions, criticism, feedback and ideas to that discussion and it got us thinking — how can we continue the best of that dialogue?  We decided to create a space on our website for ideas and conversation around them.  It seems simple, but in this crazy digital age information moves at the speed of light and ideas happen and are lost in a blink.  Some people have brilliant ideas and no interest in realizing them.  Other folks are constantly looking for ideas to bring to fruition.  And, in some cases, ideas are just seeds that, when planted, can grow into something much bigger than originally thought. 

We decided (with the help of Geek Girls Men’s Auxiliary member and uber engineer Matt Gray) to create a little idea incubator here on Geek Girls Guide and open it up to you, our readers and community, to contribute to it.  If you add an idea you’ll see that other people can vote on it, or discuss it in the comments. Share your ideas around making the interactive and technology industries places where men and women collaborate, communicate and create together. Or maybe you have a product idea, or ideas for non-profits that might help them further their mission. Maybe you have an idea for a new non-profit that fosters healthy attitudes about technology or funds technology education in urban areas.  Whatever it is, your innovation, brain power and feedback is valuable to this process. We want to find the best ideas and the people in the industry willing to help make them happen. Together, we can create change.  Join us.  Join the conversation.  Join the movement.


The One In Which I Rant About The Misuse Of Social Media By Companies And Executives

Recently the Geek Girls talked to a group of emerging women leaders about the merits of social media in promoting both personal and professional brands.  It was a great session and afterwards we found ourselves immersed in lengthy discussion about trying to separate the personal from the professional (in short — get over it).  In attendance at the event was a group of interns from a very large financial services firm.  One of them approached me with a question that she asked in a very hushed tone. “Can I remove a picture of myself, from Facebook, if it is someone else’s picture?”  She looked slightly nervous as she waited for me to answer.  And when I answered in the negative she looked crestfallen.  “You can remove the tag that identifies you,” I replied.  “But you are stuck with the picture unless you contact the person who put it there and ask them to take it down.  Anyone with any amount of sensitivity has got to respect that kind of request.”  She seemed satisfied with my answer and I moved on to another question.  But a few moments later I turned to her and asked “Is it an embarrassing college party kind of picture?”  She nodded, “Yes.”

A few days later the twittersphere enjoyed a minor buzz around the news that a Montana town’s hiring procedures now included requiring job candidates to hand over their log-in information for their Facebook accounts so that their potential employer could see who they really were.  I, like everyone else with any sense, was appalled by the nerve of these people.  We all wondered if this was legal.  The press didn’t serve them very well and shortly thereafter they backed away from this policy.

When we’re out talking about social media the most common questions we field include those around deleting questionable or personally damaging content, specifically pictures, from Facebook.  Oftentimes the questions come from young people.  However, more often than you think, established professionals harbor similar concerns.  The web and social networks make being “social” a whole new ballgame.  Of course, my first words of advice are around the terms of use and terms of service for Facebook.  We say this all the time, we’ve mentioned it on the blog, but its worth noting as often as possible: when you put things on the web, whether you like it or not, they don’t really entirely belong to you any more.  When you share assets like pictures on a social network you’ve essentially given away the rights or ownership of those images.  That is something you need to accept and you should operate in accordance with that awareness. Additionally, if you are someone who enjoys recording social events and interactions through words and pictures remember to be sensitive to your subjects, and, if the subject is you, be smart about what you allow to be photographed.

illustration by Rett Martin (@rett)

As Meghan and I walked away from that event that breezy Wednesday evening, I couldn’t help but express my empathy for the young woman who’d expressed concern around the picture her friend had posted of her. But beyond that, I have real concern for human resource professionals and leadership inside of organizations that would condone invading someone’s privacy in a way where they are intending to seek out these sorts of incriminating images.  I take issue with leaders who conveniently lack any recall around their own questionable choices or reckless behavior.  Because, let’s face it, we’ve all been there.  And I think that is my biggest issue.  Social media gives us access to a wealth of personal and professional information the likes of which we have never seen before.  Whole educational profiles, resumes, work histories, testimonials, personal addresses, family pictures, life histories, and, yes, transgressions, are all documented and available on the web.  For the most part, its a very cool thing.  We can record and validate experiences and share them with our communities in a way that enriches our connections.  But we can also abuse it.  And I think the worst abuse happens when we believe we have a right to scour through that kind of information to establish a profile of questionable behavior.  After all, context is key.  The context in which certain situations occur color the lense that records them. 

It’s more than that though.  Some of the greatest lessons of my life and career have come from my mistakes or missteps.  I have news for you, people: I went to college.  I stood around a keg.  I drank too much beer, or maybe I wore pants on my head.  I don’t remember.  But the important thing is — I matured beyond that.  I had those experiences, and I moved on.  I grew up.  And I can honestly say I am probably a more well rounded person because I allowed myself to partake in the ridiculous or, even (gasp) the forbidden.  It hasn’t happened yet where a compromising picture of me has shown up on Facebook (unless you count the one where I look like I’m in drag in a dinner theatre show which is scary for sure). But it might.  When it does I will likely ask the person posting it to remove it.  Or maybe I won’t, just to prove a point.  But to act like college is all academics, or that victories in life are the only moments along the path worth recording, is nuts.  In the long run, we might be forcing people to be even more deceptive about who they are.  Because we all know resumes aren’t always non-fiction.  We’ve all been there.  We’ve all made mistakes.  We’ve all reframed a professional story so it doesn’t reflect poorly on us.  We’ve all been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  To deny any of that would be dishonest.  Hopefully we’ve all learned from those experiences and they contributed to the professionals we are today.  Hopefully we’ve gained some perspective and we can demonstrate some compassion and, by extension, respect the social privacy of job candidates or colleagues or acquaintances. 

Social media is here to enrich our lives. Not make us fearful about living them.  Let’s not abuse our positions by insisting on access to information we have no right to in the first place.  What you condone now, in terms of policy, could always come back to bite you in the end. Put that in your pipe and smoke it (just be sure no one is standing nearby with a camera when you do).

Keeping Your Kids Safe Online, Part II

This is just a brief follow-up post to my previous essay about Keeping Your Kids Safe Online.  I’ve had several people send emails asking for links to additional online resources that they can consult for ongoing support in this area.  I dug around a little and I found the following websites that might be of interest.  If you know of others that I haven’t included, please feel free to add them to the list via the comments on this post. 

  1. The first site was actually suggested by a reader and it’s a site sponsored by and managed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited
  2. The National Crime Prevention Center has info about online safety on it’s website.  
  3. The Girl Scouts has a website where girls can talk to each other and girls and parents can get info about online safety.  LMK = Let Me Know.

Here’s a list of links to software and web-based tools parents can use to monitor their children’s behavior:

  1. Monitor your child on the web and on their cell phone with
  2. The McGruff site offers a free chat and web filter (McGruff Safeguard) – it monitors intstant messaging, social networks and website visits, just to name a few.
  3. has both a home and mobile version of its monitoring software.  You can keep a close eye on your kid’s internet usage and interactions on the web and the mobile web — which is a growing concern among parents.
  4. My Mobile WatchDog is another product that allows you to watch your kid’s cellphone activity.

Just to be clear, the Geek Girl’s Guide does not endorse or claim any in-depth knowledge of any of these products.  This is just a starting point, a simple resource list for parents to begin to explore the plethora of options available to them for limiting and monitoring their kids online behaviors.  I am not a big fan of limiting, unless it becomes necessary.  I am a fan of monitoring to inform an active, ongoing dialogue between you and your children. 

Stay tuned to the blog for the cell phone safety post I am currently working on.  We’ll explore the different types of phones and the different types of monitoring devices available to parents for cell phones. 

At the end of the day its communication, involvement and awareness that will keep your kids safe online.  Those things don’t come from a software package.  They come from you.


The Rules of Engagement (or Why I Said Oprah Doesn’t Get Twitter)

A couple of weeks ago Ashton Kutcher gave me a virtual smack on the nose.  Don’t worry.  I don’t plan on making this my claim to fame.  I had tweeted moments before that he and Oprah didn’t seem to get that Twitter is about ‘tweeting AND listening’ and this was his response.  I’ll say here what I said to my buddy Ashton in my reply – I want to be wrong.  But I don’t think I am.  See, engagement is a two way street.  Social media isn’t taking off the way it is because we can more easily push information to the masses, that’s just part of it.  It’s become a social phenomenon because of the interactive element – we put information, opinions and content into the universe and people respond to it.  We have whole conversations, sometimes in 140 characters or less.  But we have them.  And sometimes we have them with people we might never have known or connected with had it not been for this digital network. I’ve always said that the web is the great equalizer – it gives us access to people and ideas that 20 years ago would have been impossible to touch. What’s more, because of the web, we can influence those ideas.  Social media has taken that a step further by adding immediacy to the equation.  I can tweet a question, a news link, an opinion, a conversation starter, and I get an immediate, and sometimes very diverse set of responses.  It’s conversation in real time.

Before I got too far down the road in this discussion I wanted to make sure that my perspective on Twitter was accurate.  What was the point?  I mean — I see what the value is, and how it has evolved, and how the audience has responded to it.  But I wanted to understand the thinking that was the impetus for Twitter.  I happened upon this February article from the Los Angeles Times that discusses that very thing – why Twitter came to be. The article is sort of fascinating. But the piece that I found really intriguing was this:

The whole bird thing: bird chirps sound meaningless to us, but meaning is applied by other birds. The same is true of Twitter: a lot of messages can be seen as completely useless and meaningless, but it’s entirely dependent on the recipient. So we just fell in love with the word. It was like, “Oh, this is it.” We can use it as a verb, as a noun, it fits with so many other words. If you get too many messages you’re “twitterpated” — the name was just perfect.

“Meaning is applied by OTHER birds.” My issue with Oprah, and even Ashton, is that this social universe isn’t just about collecting followers.  It’s about conversing with them.  It’s tweeting and listening.  It’s hearing  them. Real engagement happens between people, not from them.  So, while Ashton’s 1 million plus followers, and Oprah’s nearly 900,000 followers are impressive (to someone, I’m sure), they aren’t really the point.  When I responded to Ashton’s reply to me I also said that I worry that this kind of communication will just be an extension of the celebrity bubble. I can expand on that here, because it’s my blog and I get more than 140 characters.  Those beautiful people in Hollywood that entertain us on the big and small screens are called celebrities because we celebrate them.  They are created and supported like any brand and, after a while, they are so insulated from the realities of everyman that they buy into their own celebrity.  I mean, come on, how can they not?  It’s the only world they know.  And we’re as guilty of it as them – -we’re the ones who elevate them and give them this kind of power and hang on their every word.  So Oprah really demonstrated a kind of entitlement that must come with celebrity when she signed up for Twitter, tweeted other celebrities right out of the gate, followed only 11 people (to the 900,000 following her), and now tweets every few days about random stuff (when she remembers to tweet).  She’s not really responding to anyone.  She’s not hearing people respond to her.  Essentially what’s happening here is Twitter is another channel for Oprah to broadcast her wisdom. 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m no different than any other woman in this country.  I love Oprah.   I would vote for her if she ran for president.  But I still don’t think she gets the *social* part of social media.  And that’s fine too.  She doesn’t have to.  She’s OPRAH, for god’s sake.  But what an amazing missed opportunity.  For her and for us.  Am I naive enough to think Oprah should respond to every nutjob who tweets in her direction?  No.  Am I stupid enough to think Oprah needs to bump up the people she follows to 900,000?  No.  But I do wish she’d take an interest in people that aren’t Larry King or Ashton or Demi.  Because that’s the beauty of what’s happening here.  It’s not our perfect figures or faces, our wallets or our celebrity that matter here (in the social media space). It’s our ideas.  It’s our participation.  It’s what we add to the experience.  It’s how we listen to and respect and interact with others. We’re just birds.  Oprah is just a lone tweeter. Tweeting at a wall.  A lone bird isn’t music. It needs other birds to create a sound that stops you dead.  That cacaphony.  That symphony that gets you looking up and smiling and realizing what happens when birds are truly engaged. Oprah needs other birds.

Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

The Geek Girls have had the privilege of working with and talking to a wide array of people over the last year.  We cover a lot of ground in our discussions and here on the blog.  I have to say, though, that there is one topic that baffles and disturbs me over and over again.  I can’t count the number of times I hear parents talk about how advanced their children are on computers and, by extension, online.  A good number of parents tell us that their kids know more about “this stuff” than they ever will and they basically let them handle it, mostly unmonitored.  I make it a point to never judge how people parent, because everyone needs to have the room to do their own thing.  But I do think that the web is no place to let a child, or an adolescent, run free and unfettered. And with the proliferation of mobile devices, the web is everywhere they are — which is, oftentimes, where parents are not.  I don’t want to mix words here – parents need to accept the expanding landscape of opportunity and potential trouble for their children, they need to embrace the technology around it and take an active role in monitoring their kids in the online space.

When I visited the Pew Internet website to get some statistics around the number of teens online I was struck by this quote in the sidebar of an article I was reading:  “Adolescents have been called “digital natives,” but data suggests that they are both comfortable with new technologies, and yet not always as technically savvy as we collectively believe them to be.”  This is sort of reflective of adolescence overall, isn’t it?  They are ready for responsibility, and yet not quite equipped to handle it all of the time. If we know they aren’t yet totally able to make the best choices, why do we give them the keys to the internet and trust they have the skills to manage anything they encounter when they’re out there? This post is probably the first of several.  This topic really requires relatively lengthy discussion and this is just a starting point.  As access to the internet becomes easier and necessary, this issue will become even more critical.  My first order of business is just encouraging the conversation. 

What is there to be concerned about if we’re separated from any potential problem by a device and distance?  Distance is easily surmountable and a device doesn’t protect you from anything.  Kids don’t think this through when they engage in behavior that their friends endorse.  Cell phones and rich media mean that compromising yourself on the web really just takes a few seconds.  And then it’s there forever.  By now, many of you have heard of ‘Sexting‘ — sexually suggestive text messages that may be accompanied by photos or videos of sexually charged behavior.  This topic is hot right now, and with good reason.  Teens are sexually exploratory by nature.  Sharing sexual materials via a computer or handheld device allows for a false sense of security.  For one, kids aren’t thinking about their futures in the moments when they might be making these questionable choices.  But when you’re talking to your teens about why this behavior is dangerous, its important to aknowledge that its not just about them making themselves sexually vulnerable, its also the fact that anything on the internet is forever.  While a sexually explicit message or photo might feel temporal today, the long term potential for damage is very real. 

Sexual predators are also a very real threat.  With global social networks experiencing massive growth, our kids are connecting to more strangers than we could possibly police.  Let’s face it, our children might have good instincts, but we know it takes maturity to really develop that 6th sense about people.  I like to think I’m a good judge of character or sincerity, and I still manage to surprise myself by investing in the wrong people every now and then.  Our kids need our help and we shouldn’t be apologetic about it.  The Geek Girls are often advising organizations about setting up acceptable use and privacy policies for social media. And yet, very few people ask about similar sorts of policies for their homes and families.  I think it makes sense.  Your family should have a set of values around acceptable behavior online.  You should be vocal about it.  Talk about what is appropriate and what isn’t and revise the list as necessary.  Your kids will roll their eyes at you no matter what you talk about, you might as well integrate online behavior.  But take it a step further.  Talk to your kids about how you plan to monitor their behavior online and what you’ll do if they push the boundaries you have in place.  Again – be unapologetic about your intention to friend them on MySpace or Facebook.  Oh yes — you are their friend! And there should be no social interactions online unless you’re right there.  In fact, here’s a list of 10 ways to keep yourself in the loop where your baby’s online behavior is concerned:

  1. Don’t allow laptops in the bedroom.  Desktops and laptops that are connected to the internet should be used in common spaces.  All teens want privacy, and that privacy can be exploited by predators.  You wouldn’t give your 12 year old the keys to your car.  Why would you give them a laptop with access to the entire world and let them take that behind closed doors?  Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones, your child is ‘perfect’ and you doubt they are at risk at all.  It’s not your perfect child you should be concerned about, it’s the experienced predator who manipulates his/her way into the homes and heads of vulnerable folks FOR A LIVING.  They are pros.  Your perfect kid is not.  Common space means your child is less likely to give a stranger the time they’d need to con them.
  2. Share passwords.  I know, its not a teen’s dream.  But if you raise them in an environment where this sort of information is shared as a matter of practice, it won’t seem so unusual.  Start young — when they begin using the web you establish their passwords for them and that’s just the way it is.  Make it clear that those passwords will be used to monitor activity because that is your job.  Again-be unapologetic about it.  Don’t give your kids grief for info you discover that isn’t dangerous.  Respect their privacy to the degree that you can.  Only respond or react to potentially dangerous or threatening behavior.
  3. Get on the networks your children are on.  If your kids are on MySpace and/or Facebook — so are you.  Don’t let them stay there unless they agree to friend you.  Be active, but not embarrassing.  I think visible parents are a great deterrent for potential problem friends.  But again, don’t say or do anything that your kid could be embarrassed by or this space will just cause conflict and you don’t need it.
  4. If your child is totally resistant to you being around for their online party – there are software options that are so stealth that you can monitor their every key stroke without them knowing.  I think it’s important to know this software exists, but I recommend a more open and honest approach because you get your kid thinking critically about their online behavior and it will help inform the person they become as they mature.  Encouraging that kind of open communication will also ensure that your child will talk to you if someone they don’t know or trust communicates with them online in a way which might be uncomfortable to them.  In fact that is the next point:
  5. Establish guidelines around when your child should inform you of certain behaviors or ask questions.  More is better.  Give them an open line for communication.  Commit to not freaking out on them for poor judgement if they tell you the truth about a person of concern.  Perhaps they did talk to that person and now they regret it – they need only tell you and you’ll pursue appropriate action.
  6. Children should never meet anyone they meet online in person unless you have prescreened that person and are able to attend the first meeting with them – in a public place.  Because the web is so integral in our communications it doesn’t make sense to expect that we won’t be making new friends online.  But there needs to be a screening process.  You should be sure of exactly who you’re meeting before that face-to-face meeting happens.
  7. One house rule needs to be – never share personal details with someone you think you know.  Full names, addresses, phone numbers — those are hard stops to conversations with strangers or new friends.  Unless you know who you’re talking to, this information should be deemed sensitive and not shared.  Once you have an established relationship, you should still avoid sharing this info until you can be sure you know who is receiving it.  Screen and meet in a public place. 
  8. Pictures and videos are easy to take and make and share.  We need to establish family guidelines around how those items are shared.  I’m a big believer in asking permission – encourage your kids to ask permission to share images.  Make them aware that if they don’t ask permission, you’ll find out anyway — you’re on their friends list, you have their passwords.  Talk about what kinds of pictures and videos are appropriate for sharing.  Check their images and videos.  Do not be afraid to enforce the rules you establish to the letter.  Better they have parental consequences to contend with versus long-term consequences of shared media that invites the wrong element into their lives, or demonstrates behavior they didn’t think enough about at the time.
  9. Be aware of where your child goes — check email, social network sites (the more likely place for interpersonal messages between kids), their cell phones.  Set limits on text messages and the amount and kind of media they can share.  Learn your way around a cell phone – not knowing how to text message is no excuse for giving your kid unparalleled freedom with their phones.  Get a family plan, review your statements closely, and grab your manual to learn how to send messages and media so that you can check their phones regularly.  Be open about it.  Remind them that this is your intention.  The shared passwords extend to the cell phone.  And your behavior guidelines apply to mobile behavior as well.  It’s all one web — at home and in their hands. 
  10. My final tip is probably the one I feel the strongest about — don’t leave the web to your children.  Don’t be resistant to the point that you put the burden of the web and technology entirely on your children.  This is the World Wide Web for a reason.  The technology is accessible.  You can do it.  And you can’t break it.  So don’t leave them out there to fend for themselves.  They need you.  The world is getting more and more complicated and noisy.  Your parental duty can’t stop because you’ve convinced yourself that young people know things you can’t possibly figure out.  Take the time to figure it out too.  Find online activities you can engage in together.  Don’t be sneaky.  Don’t act like this is coming from a place of distrust.  Just make transparency a family value and then enforce it.  You’ll all sleep better if you do. And, when in doubt, the Geek Girls are here for you.

Welcome Lori & Julia Show Listeners!

Hey, you found us!  Welcome to the Geek Girls Guide: a safe space for you to ask all the questions you’re afraid to ask in a crowd.  If you found us because you were listening to the Lori & Julia Show today – great! I wanted to give you an idea of some of the things we’re planning to feature on the blog in the very near future.  So stay tuned, here’s what’s coming up:

Have a geeky, or not so geeky question?  Want to suggest an issue or subject the Geek Girls should tackle on the blog?  Want to contribute a guest post?  Let us know. We’re always open to audience feedback.

Thanks for visiting the blog!  Come back soon and, in the meantime, follow us on Twitter (@nylons and @irishgirl) and join the Geek Girls on Facebook

Geek Girls on Lori & Julia Show

Hey Geeky Readers! 

We wanted to let you know that the Geek Girls, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker, will be on FM 107.1’s Lori & Julia show at 3:30pm (Central) this Friday, March 27. If you’re not in Minneapolis, you can listen online at their web site (  And if you miss it at 3:30, because it’s part of the first hour of the show, it’s probably part of the “LoJ Replay” from 6pm-7pm (Central) on FM 107.1.

We have no idea what they’ll be talking about or what they want from us.  But we think Lori & Julia need a geeky resource to reach out to now and again, and that resource needs to really get their audience.  We think we’re perfect.  They have their theatre guy that they talk to regularly about local shows and events.  They have their regular fashionistas visiting the show.  They talk to beauty experts and shopping experts.  But so far, they don’t have any real geeks to talk to them about the occasional gadget or social networking question.  The audience Lori & Julia talks to every day is the audience we want to reach.  We don’t want to talk to other geeks about geekery.  Our mission is to make it accessible and appealing to those people who are a little resistant or have somehow convinced themselves that they just don’t ‘get’ it. 

So if you like us on Lori & Julia let them know.  And let us know.  If we touch on anything you want to hear more about, or you want to weigh in on, drop us a note.  Until then, see you on the radio!

In Honor of Ada Lovelace Day

In honor of Ada Lovelace Day women bloggers from all over the world have pledged to write a blog post about a woman in technology whom they admire.  When I considered the task I really wanted to impress my audience and identify some obscure academic that I don’t really know anything about. But that’s not the way this blog post is going to go.  Sometimes you find exactly what you’re looking for right under your nose. The woman in technology whom I most admire is my fellow Geek Girl, Meghan Wilker.  Ok ok.  It’s an obvious choice.  I’m ok with that.  It’s the truth.  Meghan inspires everyone around her on a daily basis and I honestly can’t think of anyone more deserving of some accolades.  Who better to serve them up than someone who actually knows her really well?

Meghan is one of the most intellectually curious, unafraid explorers of technology I have ever met.  She’s not just a gadget hound, she derives true joy from trying new things, hardware, software, networks and services.  Her genuine glee when she stumbles upon something that works is contagious.  But she doesn’t just play with technology, she finds real and practical ways to apply good technology and good thinking to the work she brings to clients every day.  Meghan refuses to stop learning.  She refuses to be still.  And she’s not just an early adopter for the sake of it.  She is thoughtful and prudent about the tools and tech she considers.  There has to be a legitimate value proposition.  Her judgement is sound and the experience against which she measures the value of technology is unparalleled. 

When Meghan is working with clients on their web strategy I often remind them that there really is nobody better in this industry.  One might think that’s a sales line.  But it’s the truth. Meghan is a true technology evangelist. Always advocating for the end-user.  She works diligently to make tech and the language around it accessible.  And she never misses a teaching opportunity.  But she’s so darned approachable and affable that people generally don’t even feel ‘taught’.  They feel included.  Which is a really big deal in this industry.  There’s something inately ‘exclusive’ about technology.  But Meghan effortlessly strips all the pretense away and validates every contribution. 

Meghan is wildly prolific.  She doesn’t just explore, she maps her exploration for anyone interested in trying new things.  She blogs.  She tweets.  She is an active Geek Girl, out in the community facilitating boot camps and workshops and panel discussions.  And she approaches all of these things with such zeal  – you believe her.  She makes you want to try.  And trying is really exploring.  Meghan makes other people explorers too.  Her victory is really in the incremental change she might influence.  Or when some resistant human admits that a little bit of tech was actually a welcomed addition in their life. 

I am privileged to work with Meg.  She is a powerful teacher and a constant source of inspiration for me.  I look forward to traveling down the trail she blazes.  And so, on this Ada Lovelace day, I’m happy to dedicate this blog post to Meggy.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few honorable mentions in this little missive.  

My mother, Barb Lyons.  She’s a physician who wanted to be an engineer.  She went to med school when most women weren’t really encouraged to pursue any kind of career.  She was a math and chemistry major in college.  And she constantly reminded me that there wasn’t a thing I couldn’t accomplish or have interest in.  She was a science and tech geek before it was cool.  Before I had any idea how forward-thinking she was.  I admire her.

My grandmother who raised a family of really strong, outspoken, unapologetic women.

My friend and coworker – Sharyn Morrow, who is like a true geek’s geek.  She codes and does network admin type stuff and takes killer pictures and is a flickr freak and just really devours technology for a living.  All under the guise of being a cool vegan, punker mama. 

My friend Patty Remes who quietly makes her mark in the user experience space.  She balances experience and her artistic sensibilities in a way that makes her a real expert in a space where many people claim to be experts, but few people really are. 

And finally, someone I don’t really know well, but know.  Courtney Remes.  I think she deserves mention because I think she’s one of those really gifted, true technologists.  A programmer with a strategist’s head and, considering how good she is, a surprising amount of humility.

Facebook Folly? That’s Up To You.

Recently Kristen Tillotson, a columnist for the Star Tribune, spent some time waxing on about Facebook and the distracting, even destructive, addictive behaviors we all engage in as Facebook members.  I admit, I am not a regular reader of her column.  In fact, I may never have known about this one had I not been headed to a meeting one afternoon, channel surfing on the radio, when I happened to stumble upon the Lori and Julia Show, featuring Kristen Tillotson as a call-in guest.  I didn’t know it was her.  I just know that I tuned into a conversation disparaging Facebook, specifically the “photo frenemies”.  According to Ms. Tillotson, “photo frenemies” are people who post photos (to FB) of themselves looking awesome and you, the hapless victim, looking like crap.  This makes them a “frenemy“.  In all fairness, the subhead for the column explained that “…Facebook imitates life in the realm of social faux pas”.  The problem with the essay overall, though, is the suggestion that life is still so much like high school, and “social faux pas” are the grown-up equivalent of the kinds of activities in which “mean girls” engage.  Frankly, the article rang familiar, much like the sort of defensive drivel I hear daily from people who are intimidated by Facebook and other social networks.  Instead of copping to the fact that they don’t feel equipped to navigate the unfamiliar waters of social media, they assert that the media is flawed by human pettiness and, as such, not worth their time.  In short — it’s bunk. 

I’ve talked about most of this in a previous post, so I really just want to address Ms. Tillotson’s take on Facebook in this one.  She talks about Facebook needing editors because of all of the “abuse”.  Here’s the difference between the world she’s used to living in and the world of Facebook.  If I don’t care about her column in the paper, it doesn’t matter.  If I buy the paper, her column is in there whether I like it or not.  Whereas on Facebook, if there are people I’m not interested in I simply delete them.  Or I drop them from my news feed.  Or I relegate their updates to the bottom of my pile.  They’ll never know. 

Ms. Tillotson calls out those people she calls the “oversharers”.  She suggests that there should be a status message filter that blocks out tedium.  I beg to differ.  That tedium really levels the playing field.  Frankly I think those people that are constantly hob-nobbing with someone cooler than you or updating their status from their spin class are full of balogna.  Humans are boring.  We have inspired moments, but for the most part we are all creatures of habit.  The important thing is to not try to prove anything with those status messages.  By suggesting there is something wrong with the average or the mundane, we’re rejecting authenticity.  We’re asking people to try too hard and that defeats the purpose.  Those status messages allow us little glimpses into the experiences we all share.  Here’s my advice: if you want to “overshare”, that’s fine.  Just keep it real.

As for the “exhibitionists”, they might bother you, but don’t be a prude.  You might not want to prance around in your boxers, so don’t.  That’s the beauty of it.  It isn’t necessarily exhibitionism.  I prefer “expression”.  Perhaps you should try it.  Your Facebook presence is a chance for you to express yourself in ways you may have never explored before.  Write a little, make videos, share poetry, update your interests, add photos.  You’re painting a picture of yourself, and adding depth to your brand, with every keystroke.  Take advantage of this opportunity and the blank canvas – and the 140 million others like you who are reaching out in virtual space trying to connect.

The “photo frenemies” aren’t frenemies at all.  Let’s face it, we all have those pictures of us in our scary mullets or the evil gingham prom dresses.  If getting older doesn’t allow you just a little bit of perspective, then throw in the towel.  This stuff is FUNNY.  Besides, when have you ever liked a picture of yourself to begin with?

Come on!  It’s not about labeling someone a “climber” or judging someone for the number of friends they have or don’t have.  It’s not about judging at all.  See, my thing is, if you can’t see the fun and value in Facebook; if you can’t really see that this technology is allowing us to reconnect with old friends, enrich current friendships, expand our communities and our views of the world, be more involved, network a little, have a say, express ourselves, share our stories and take some risks then I feel sorry for you.  If you think Facebook is just like high school, and not the good part of high school, the crappy-I-would-rather-forget-those-years part of high school.  Well.  Maybe the problem isn’t with Facebook at all.  Maybe the problem is with you.