social media

Why naming your child Hashtag is a bad idea

#FAILED By know you have read the news, some parent named their new born baby girl Hashtag. This is a really bad idea but not for what you think. It is not that the child may be teased, or confused, or her future cost of therapy. The reason that this is a bad idea is ironic:

If the parents named their child hashtag because they like social media, the name actually completely disadvantaged their child in social media. What do you the child can use as a name in her online identities? dashtag may well be a reserved word. How about her personal brand? I would suggest "". Because if I were to look for her, and perform a web search for "hashtag smith", do you think I will find her easily? Or would I get a thousand result pages talking hashtag the social media term instead?

The power and confusion of online communities

A firestorm is brewing over this NYTimes op ed article, by Bill Lichtenstein about his daughter, a kindergartener being locked in a closet standing in her own pee in Lexington, MA.  I am a parent and have my own children in the Lexington Public School system. I participate in multiple online parent communities as well as the Lexington online communities. There are, as expected, a lot of "I am shocked" discussions. There are a few "let's wait for the facts" postings in the minority. I am not here to comment about what happened at that time, but to comment about how these online communities have responded. As comments are commented upon, the details of what we know from the article are slowly diluted and changed. Blog posts about the article started to be referenced as additional sources. Law and regulations around these issues are being discussed and I have no way to know whether those are correct.

From reading the article, I have many questions:

  • Was the child attending a Lexington Public Elementary School? Likely but the article never said that.
  • Was the child in a regular class or in a special ed class? We do not know.
  • Were other school families notified? Seems so.
  • Was there a settlement? Seems yes.
  • Were the schools allowed to respond in the public? Not sure.
  • Where people involved fired/disciplined/or more? Not sure.

So I am writing this post with the sole purpose to ask everyone to read the original article very carefully, picked out the facts as mentioned from the article first.

As a final note -- have you noticed the graphics used in the article? Do you think it accurately reflect the situation? Is there a window in the door? Would a five years old be that tall? Would a closet lit by a lightbulb be pitch dark?

Power of Social Media in Marketing

Three different personal encounter with social media this week reaffirms how powerful social media can be in marketing and brand building:

Twitter for Customer Support

I use Rackspace to host all our web servers for ourselves and our customers. I was playing with their iPad app one afternoon and found a problem. It is not a mission critical error, so I wrote a tweet to them, something like "Hey @rackspace your iPad app is crashing". Within minutes they tweeted me back, asking me to email them with specifics. Soon they both emailed and tweeted me back with a solution. I was happy. Then to top it off they offer to send me a t-shirt! Honestly I would have been very happy just with the speedy response via twitter.

Twitter for Pre Sale Support

I was looking to buy a small messenger bag from Rickshaw Bags as a gift. I wanted to know if a Kindle Touch would fit in their mini zero bag. The dimensions given on their websites are too close. So I tweeted a question to @rickshawbags. Within minutes they answered, via twitter. I placed the order. During the check out process they asked me for my twitter handle.

Twitter for Post Sales Support

This evening, Rickshaw Bags tweeted out to me, with a little custom poem, a pictures of the bags that I ordered, before they are handed off to FedEx. I know they do the picture thing with their customers, but the emotional impact was far greater, positively, than I expected. Remember the Rickshaw Bags are custom made with hand pick color combinations. So seeing the pictures before they ship is a wonderful way to build the customer relationship. These are the first bags I bought from them. If the bags themselves are as good as they are suppose to be, they have hooked me for good.


This level of customer interaction does require someone monitoring the company twitter stream. But I believe it is sure worth it. What a differentiator and relationship builder.

Scratch @ MIT 2010 Day 2 and 3

This is a picture of the the Event Space, the main presentation space. Besides the obviously very high ceiling, the room is laid out diagonally. It works. A simple idea. Brilliantly executed. The building really is designed (by Fumihiko Maki) with function in mind. Loneliness is failed Solitude

I find the most value at the conference not at the workshops and how-to sessions, but the more general education related sessions. Day 2 KeyNote by Sherry Turkle, Henry Jenkins and Marina Bers was great. Turkle presented her latest thought on the importance of Solitude. This frankly scares me. She has pointed out with our new constantly connected, constantly fed (with information) environment, would teens (and adults) know now to be alone? Not knowing the value of solitude, when one creates, and engage in deep self development, teens will be increasingly dependent on shallow casual interactions. Their phones become the center of their lives. They move from "I have a feeling; id' like to make a call" to "I want to have a feeling; I need to make a call."

Turkle ends with an encouraging note -- Do not use the word "Addiction" when talking about this connected world. Addiction implies that we want to get rid of the cause. We will not and cannot get rid of the Internet.  While many people falls into the fallacy that we are stuck with the current state, the Internet is actually very young. We can learn to live with it.

Referencing Thoreau, she encourages us to not live thickly - "Just because we have the net we do not have to live thickly".

Side Note: A funny moment at the start of her presentation, when Turkle says "you know when I say phone, I don't mean phone". Of course, she meant the smart phone/device that is used for texting, running apps connecting to facebooks, and seldom for realtime phone conversation.

2.0 is a Business Model, not a Pedagogy

Jenkins pointed out that the participatory culture is not new. Facebook is not the first social network. While Jenkin's studies often reference the fan fiction culture, there are many more examples. A "good" participatory community is not a pure consuming community. The "hanging around" group consume content, but also communicate with each other. The "Messing about" group contributes with self-expression and self-actualization. The "Geeking out" group tinkers and create for the community. A participatory community allows experts and beginners share a common interest and help each other.

"Not every member must contribute, but all must believe they are free to contribute when ready, and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued."

BYOB for No Ceiling Computer Science Education

Brian Harvey gave a short presentation on Day 2, and a long one on Day 3 on BYOB, the CMU developed variation of Scratch that has list of lists and "procedures" which turn Scratch into almost visual Scheme. Given these new first order data object, one can program much more advance concepts using BYOB.

Technically BYOB is brilliant and I can't wait to use it. Politically they are working hard with the core Scratch team to find a way to incorporate BYOB into Scratch. Harvey is extremely sensitive to no wanting to split the Scratch community into the beginners and the advanced users. I hope they find a way to do this as BYOB clearly is a good thing.

Useful Software Finds

By talking with different people in different disciplines, often from different parts of the world, I found a few new software and web projects that are of interest:

  • Animationish -- flipbook type of desktop app
  • mind42 - a free online mind mapping tool
  • prezi -- a web based and desktop presentation software with a twist

LinkedIn Group Management Problem

LinkedIn is one of those sites that you hate but use. It is boring. It has horrible user interface. But it is useful as a secondary professional network -- to loosely stay in touch with professional acquaintances. There is however one ridiculous problem with how it support groups. You can setup a group for managing communications between people within that group. It should be useful for non-profits, SIG's, etc. I recently setup a group for the people who attended the iPhone bootcamp in Boston. Often you want a group's membership to be approved by the organizer. Here is the catch -- LinkedIn will not notify the organizer if a group membership request comes into LinkedIn. So you have to log in and check for requests. That screen is of course four clicks away. Tedious.

This bug is actually documented on their website here.

Mobile Camp Boston 3

Went to Mobile Camp Boston 3, now part of Mobile Mondays. This was the first mobile event I attended. I love the location, MIT Tang Center, easy parking, 1/2 away from Starbucks. Was it useful? Not too bad. Found out there is life beyond the iPhone/iPad. (Not a lot, but a little bit..). The camp was short and the content was light. A lot of company selling services. Lawyers, even some VC's. The big surprises are (1) Verizon was here, as a sponsor as well as presenter, and (2) City of Boston was there, talking a little about the success of Citizen Connect and the proposed Innovation District of Boston. Given the history of Boston and land development, I have to be very skeptical about the innovation district. But that's another blog post. Main take aways?

  • Location based social media is important (got me started playing with gowalla)
  • Android development is easier technically, but
  • AppStore is by far the easiest for deployment overall, when considering all the Apple testing and payment processing
  • Verizon is waking up
  • VCs are interested in this space (duh)
  • while not sexy, Palm or Blackberry apps may make you more money
  • don't forget "feature phones" can have some sort of "application experience" as well.

Oh, and I got to play with an iPad, very impressive, confirmed everything I thought about it. Now I only wish I bought one.

My Accidental Connection with Senator Ted Kennedy

Being Chinese in Boston, I always hear positive stories about the late Senator Ted Kennedy helping immigrants. In addition, I agree with most of his political views, he seemed like a good Senator. After learning of his death, I felt we had lost a great man. I added one of his biographies to my Amazon wish list, to learn even more. Other than media, that is the only connection I have had to Ted Kennedy. Until Thursday.

I was instant messaging with my designer on a project, NPR news streaming in the background when a bit of white noise filtered in. “Did I just heard that the Kennedy Funeral is going to be held at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help?” I am familiar with this church, often called the Mission Church, as it is located on Tremont Street, Mission Hill.

About a year ago, my friend, a supporter of the church, asked us to revamp their website. The previous site was, let's say, a pre FrontPage era website. Donating our services, we redesigned the site. With the limited budget, I photographed the site images myself. Corrie, our designer, touched them up digitally. You can read about the design process on her blog.

After hearing the Funeral location on NPR, I immediately checked the Google analytics for the website we had worked on. It went up over one thousand percent just yesterday, upping a few hits a day to 6,000. But that was before the radio announcements.

[*Update*] The site traffic spiked to a 14000 visits (about 30,000 hits) on Saturday. During the funeral I did embed a live stream from onto the news section, since I assume most visitor at that time wanted to watch it.

I quickly made changes to the site to ensure it could handle the spike in traffic. I notified our hosting company, Web Faction and they agreed to keep an eye out for us on the status of the church site. So far, we have received about 20,000 hits in the last eight hours, averaging one hit every 1.5 seconds. People are hitting the visit us page, and the news page looking for details on the funeral.

I am glad the site has stayed up, and that I caught the news about the Funeral location. We really cannot fault the Church for neglecting to notify us of the pending event so that we could better prepare the website. The church has their hands more than full and I am sure the web site is not top priority.

I am glad we were able to make a very, very small contribution to the Senator's legacy.

For the techies, the site is done in Django, our web application framework of choice. It uses a custom content management system from my company, Imperial Consulting. The dynamic content is pulled from a Postgresql database. While we provided the Church with bi-lingual capabilities, they have yet to create all the Spanish content. It is supported by some busy and dedicated church volunteers, after all. The pages are cached by memcached at the URL level by the Django cache framework. So far, it is handling the traffic with ease. Keeping our fingers crossed.

Some books on Ted Kennedy

If you can recommend a good biography let me know!

Can We Separate our Online Personal and Professional Lives?

Went to PodCampBoston4 this weekend. Everyone is working on the “next big thing” -what is “social media”? What does it mean? How is it affecting all of us? How far should it go? This weekend helped me answer a question – when social media enters the arena, should we keep our personal and professional lives separate? My conclusion: it is too late, do not even bother.

First off, it is no easy task. Some people stick to the idea that Facebook is for friends and family and LinkedIn is for co-workers and professionals. This is a nice idea, but since when are we not allowed to be friends with our co-workers? If we are friends with people we work with, what category do they belong? Do we (gasp) deny their friend request? That would surely cause tension in the work place. “I’m sorry but I cannot friend you on Facebook because we work together.” I do not think so. There is also the notion of keeping two accounts – two blogs, two Twitter accounts – what is next? Two identities?  All it takes is a couple of retweets and everyone finds out that Batman is Bruce Wayne.

You have no control.

What I mean here is it is fine to keep the membership separate, putting your friends and family on Facebook and clients and co-workers on LinkedIn, but do not think you are fooling anyone. Also, do not think you can keep each group from seeing things about you from the other group.

The tough part about this welding of work and home is the boundary issue, closely followed by the judgment issue. For example, on an online parenting community someone posted this question, “I found a great nanny, but after I googled her name some racy pictures came up of her on Facebook, should I still hire her?” The community responded mostly on the neutral side, but quite a few responded that young people do not take things too seriously, and what is inappropriate to you may not be inappropriate to them, so forgo judgment. Another, “What she does in her private life is her private life. If she does her job well, who cares?” Frankly, I was a bit taken aback by this. I had anticipated parents to have an uproar and urge the original poster to pass on the naughty nanny.

This all brings me back to PodCampBoston. At one of the first sessions, one person made a very insightful comment (did not catch her name but if this is you, let me know for credit). Paraphrasing her, “Americans are so behind on this. Just because someone does something in her life that is not mainstream, does not mean she is not capable of functioning in mainstream society. Europeans are much more ready to understand this.”

I agree. Thinking back on Web 1.0 (remember that?) I hired a great web master for a financial company who is a pagan priestess (sorry E. if I get the title wrong). She does her job exceedingly well. Why not?

Most of us (or maybe just me) are not in the Batman/Bruce Wayne dilemma of personal and private life. My final thoughts are to follow the rule that, “anything you put on the internet will be seen by everyone” balanced with “be who you are and be proud of it!”