I was talking to my college students a couple weeks ago about their favorite TV shows.
Turns out that most don’t actually watch TV but, among those who do, The Walking Dead emerged as a must-see show. And this from a couple of the brightest kids in the room.
Curious, I thought. What is there about the undead that young people today find so inviting and mesmerizing? Is it a leftover fascination spawned from reading Twilight books in middle school and high school? Is it a feeling that all zombies look like Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson? Is it disillusionment with the real world? Or is something else going on?
In the online world you can commune with lovers of the undead all you want. There are even index sites which take you to the Web’s best vampire sites. Of course some of these indices take you to only their affiliated sites, but that’s another matter. On one index I found, the site garnering the most votes seems to be from Transylvania (why not?), but there are plenty of ones in English. For example:
* Adrian’s Undead Diary
* Diary of a Runner
* Todd the Zombie
* Zombie Day
And the list goes on and on.
Here’s what Adrian’s Undead Diary says about itself:
“Welcome to Adrian’s Undead Diary. Adrian Ring is our intrepid hero here, having just barely survived a world consuming apocalypse of the undead. Adrian’s Diary chronicles his battles with the zombie hordes and his ongoing struggle with survival. Read and understand exactly how he completed his hero’s journey, avoiding starvation, zombies, injuries, fellow survivors, and sickness, as well as sharing in his humor and his horror.
“We are not only attempting to share some high quality zombie, undead and horror genre fiction, but also to build a friendly community of like minded folks!”
Next follows a standard online disclaimer that the site contains cussing and crude stories, always guaranteed to lure in the under-18 crowd who is “warned” stay away.
However batty it seems, zombies have made a pretty good comeback over the decades. Not surprising for the undead, though, right?
When I was a kid growing up in Midwest City, there was a late-night Saturday program called Shock Theater, and it often featured Bela Lugosi as Dracula, the best-known (before Pattinson and Stewart) zombie. Our neighborhood gang loved it, and we would hold “Shock Parties” in each other’s homes to watch the human bats suck the marrow from life. Not exactly what Robin Williams had in mind in The Dead Poet’s Society, but it worked for us.
A few years later came the classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, and the bats were on the wing again.
Then the bat caves turned silent for a long time, unless you count the Batman phenomenon but, again, that’s another story. A few years ago, however, the stirrings of the undead arose once again as the Twilight saga hit the big screens after a sizeable audience of teens had been primed for it through the series of book
TV finds the undead
And then AMC unleashed The Walking Dead and it found a huge audience. All of a sudden, parents were wondering what was happening to their kids and grandkids, forgetting (as grown-ups usually do) that they were fascinated by the same vampire genre when they were kids.
Actor Brad Pitt will bring even more attention to the zombie craze in the upcoming World War Z as he races to save the world from a zombie apocalypse.
Recently, Terry Mattingly who writes a religion column for Scripps-Howard News Service, took a look at the current zombie craze among young people. He quoted the editor of Good News, a Methodist magazine, as saying the following:
“It may take five minutes or it may take as long as 10, but sooner or later you’re going to run into some kind of zombie comment,” said Steve Beard. “Someone will say something like, ‘When the zombie apocalypse occurs, we need to make sure we’re all at so-and-so’s house so we can stick together.’ It’s all a wink and a nod kind of deal, but the point is that this whole zombie thing has become a part of the language of our time.”
Beard believes that the fascination is not actually about zombies at all, however, but actually points to something deeper.
“Truth is, The Walking Dead is not about zombies,” he says. “It’s a show about people who are trying to figure out the difference between mere survival and truly living. How do you decide what is right and what is wrong? How do you stay sane in a world that has gone crazy?”
So, if I’m following this logic correctly, young people may be feeling that zombies have found a way to do what many in my generation did when they decided to turn out to LSD and drop out of the establishment for awhile. Joining hands with the undead may be a way to live in the world, yet not be a part of the world. It’s another attempt at human-made spiritualism, and its results will probably be as predictable as that which came from LSD.
Or, Beard’s framing aside, perhaps the zombie craze is just another way of featuring buckets of blood and violence on the screen without having to believe real people are being hurt in the process.
Or, back to my earlier speculation, there is something to be said for feeling as if you look like Robert Pattinson or Kristen Stewart …
Tossing technology into the mix, what makes the current fascination with the undead different from previous eras, is that now young people cannot only commune with other lovers of the undead, but they can do it in the unliving world of the Web. It’s another way of living with fantasy in a place of fantasy.
Good escapism maybe, but one wonders if that’s really what the world needs more of today.
Twenty-four hours before the first of two bombs exploded on Boston’s Boylston Street on April 15, I was walking that very street, impressed with the organized way the city was preparing for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon.
As I walked, I was often passed by thinly clad runners doing last-minute preps for the next day’s big road race. More than 21,000 runners take part in this mother of all marathons, and it is a sight to behold.
A world of difference
What a difference a week made. Instead of great memories of individual races well-run, we had memories of chaos for what happened at the finish line, and the sorrow that comes from grieving three lives lost at more than 170 wounded; many severely.
As Monday morphed into Tuesday and beyond, my attention shifted not only to the hunt to find the bombers, but to the roles that communication technology and the social media played in those manhunts.
It began occurring to me last Monday night that this was probably the most photographed crime in history, and that the chances of the culprits being identified early were much greater than the chances they would not be identified at all.
You’re on Candid Camera
Boston is one of America’s many cities that relies a lot on street and store surveillance cameras to record anything that might later prove to need recording.
Ironically, The Boston Globe reported on the rise in the use of street cameras back in August of 2007. Reporter Charlie Savage wrote:
“The Department of Homeland Security is funneling millions of dollars to local governments nationwide for purchasing high-tech video camera networks, accelerating the rise of a ‘surveillance society’ … Since 2003, the department has handed out some $23 billion in federal grants to local governments for equipment and training to help combat terrorism. ”
Privacy not a concern here
While many of us, at times, worry about the threat these surveillance cameras pose to our individual privacy, this was not one of those weeks in Boston. We wanted police and FBI to see as many people as possible and, in reviewing those images, to find the guys that did this crime.
Of course, that is exactly what happened.
But it wasn’t just the street cameras, or even the camera from Lord & Taylor on Boylston Street, that did the job. These cameras were joined by the hundreds of cell phone cameras from everyday citizens who had gathered — they thought — to watch the remainder of the marathoners cross the finish line.
When those camera images were added to the surveillance camera results, the world saw who the two brothers were who ignited these bombs. Call if citizen journalism at its best.
Interviewed later, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, “The use of cameras was invaluable; both surveillance and smart phone cameras.”
Social media exposure
But the images still needed to be circulated to all of us. Television was the first to do that, but many young people don’t watch TV these days. So it was the images uploaded to the social media of Facebook and Twitter that helped complete the job and let everyone see the faces of terror in Boston.
It is no secret that young people get their news from places like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the home pages of AOL and Yahoo. So getting the images out on the Web in sites like these helped in many ways to get maximum interaction from people who knew either of the two brothers, or perhaps both.
Not only did people start calling in tips to police, but some netziens became amateur sleuths in circulating, deciphering, and analyzing photos and factoids to piece together theories of the crime and where the suspects might be hiding.
Users become sleuths
One site in which Web users became investgators was Reddit.com. One sub-group that was formed almost immediately was classified under “Find the Bomber” On this home page, more than 60,000 users discussed different photos of the crime scene and exchanged ideas about where the suspects might be.
This is a classic example of what I wrote about several weeks ago in this blog when discussing crowd sourcing. Although, in this case, the crowd was not so much used as story sources, but as potential sources of information that might be helpful to police.
One expert noted this week, “Everyone became a soldier armed with information.”
And former Boston and New York Police Commissioner simply stated it this way, in an interview Saturday night with CBS’ 48 Hours:
“Every step of the way, technology played a part in bringing these two men to justice. Every step of the way.”
The late media guru Marshall McLuhan once noted about the electronic media of his 1970s that, “We go outside to be alone and we go inside to be together.”
Think about that for a minute. And then think about the fact that this was about three decades before the advent of today’s social media.
All about TV
McLuhan was talking about television and its allure to bringing us into community, vicarious as it as, with our favorite television characters. I’m old enough to remember an episode of the cop comedy series Barney Miller where a distraught woman comes into Miller’s precinct to announce that her friend John had just shot and killed his wife Mary. But some quick detective work discovered that John and Mary were the woman’s favorite soap opera characters.
Reality was trumped by the virtual reality of TV. And for shut-ins like this woman, the virtual was more real than reality itself.
And then there’s the Web
One can only imagine what McLuhan might think of the muddling of reality caused by today’s social media and mobile media devices. Might he suggest we now go outside among the crowds, but only find ourselves in community with others when we sit alone in a crowded restaurant and commune with virtual friends on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram?
I’m thinking of the TV commercial wherein the guy on a date with a good-looking woman is more interested in the game taking place on the smart phone in his lap, and he’s doing a lousy job of feigning interest in the very real woman just across the table.
Others can see this?
But the confusion goes even deeper for those FB or Twitter users who somehow believe they are only communicating with a select few friends, and are thus free to say whatever they like, no matter how offensive others might find it.
Sometime after the last presidential election, I was watching a segment of CNN’s show about the news media, Reliable Sources, wherein Howard Kurtz was interviewing the editor of Jezebel.com about a new watchdog role that site had assumed. Specifically, Jezebel was monitoring what was being said about President Obama after his re-election success last November.
Jezebel on the prowl
Among the many tweets were many that were blatantly racist comments, wrapped in vulgar language, and all tweeted by teenagers. Jezebel reported the tweets in its story, then contacted the schools that some of the offensive tweeters attended to let the principals know what was going on.
Hard to believe that anyone still thinks that the social media is the best place to go to post private messages, especially if we’re talking the very public Twitter posts. The past 12 months alone have shown us, time after time, that the quickest way to get betrayed by the Web is to use it to write things you wouldn’t want total strangers to read.
And that lesson has been learned, not just by teens who have been burned by such exposure, but also United States congressmen (remember Rep. Anthony Weiner?) and even Army generals like David Petraeus.
Privacy a myth
There is very little privacy left on today’s Web, and the reason is that whole idea behind the Web is openness. The reason it is called a “Web” in the first place is because of the image of the spider web and the intricate pattern of geometric connections coming from that web.
Those who choose to make themselves vulnerable on that spider web are always in danger of getting bitten.
Come to think of it, that also sounds like something McLuhan might say.
Crowd sourcing is the term that many businesses — including the news media — are applying to a growing use of the Internet.
Essentially it means announcing a problem or question and then putting out a sort of “open call” to Web users to address that issue or state how they would resolve a problem.
For a journalist, it might simply mean eavesdropping on open conversations about events, issues, or people that take place 24/7 on the social media; most notably Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Embedded in those chats, posts, tweets, and videos are evidences of the voice of the people.
Hopefully, even a few expert voices.
To help journalists out in this process of crowd sourcing are a few sites which “curate” relevant uploaded observations that appear in the social media. One of the most interesting of these curating sites is called Storify. This site is for anyone who wants to aggregate (curate) information and observation from the Web and include it in stories that write and then post on Storify.
Let’s say you want to write a story about gun control. You simply log into Storify.com (the process of registering an account is free and simple). You are immediately confronted with its home page featuring the latest in breaking news from traditional media like The Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, and The Guardian.
But since you are interested only in gun control, you start asking Storify to focus on that topic. To do that, just go to “Create a Story,” click, and you are presented with a split panel. On the left is your work space to write your story; below it is a space to aggregate information you select from various Web sources. On the right is a panel headed by icons from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Google, Flickr, and Storify itself. There is even an icon for breaking news.
Simply click on one of those icons you want to search, then type in the topic of “gun control” in the search window. Up pops the latest in tweets, posts, and uploads from around the social media (and, in the case of Google from traditional media) about gun control.
All in one place
As you scroll through the posts and find ones you like, just drag them over to your work space. You can refer to them as you are writing your story in the same panel. You can either paraphrase or quote them (attribute please!), or create links to them in your story.
Then you either save your work to return to it later for completion or, if you wrap up the story then, click to post it on Storify.
Voila! You’re an instant journalist.
Or are you?
Actually, if this is all the reporting you do on the story, you are more of a citizen journalist. That’s the term used to describe anyone with a computer or tablet who either finds themselves at the scene of a breaking news story and wants to tell others about it, or one who simply wants to comment online on that event or issue or person.
Like a blogger? Right. As in the case of this blog, there is a combination of your own observations, thoughts, and an aggregation of some other online observations.
Journalism, right? Hmmmm … in some ways, yes.
What’s missing? Something both academics and professional journalists would call original research, and something reporters would call knowing your sources well.
Going beyond the crowd
Interviewing and mining original documents are at the heart of journalistic research. To some degree, both can be done online, but there are problems. In doing an e-mail or chatroom interview for example, the body language and other nonverbals are missing. Even with Skype, things are stilted. Depending on the kind of interview you are conducting, those nonverbals can be very important in revealing details about the interviewee.
And as for mining documents, everything is not on the Web, especially if it is recent material such as crime or economic stats that have just been compiled, or if some agent hasn’t worked his or her way through their mountain of material to post it online.
The other obvious problem with online research — and this is especially true with crowd sourced data — is that you often don’t really know the person tweeting or posting it. You may have a name, but you don’t have the kinds of credentials journalists need to evaluate the information’s credibility.
When it works
To me, crowd sourcing works best if a writer is trying to tap into the conversation about a topic, rather than use those tweets or posts as the basis of fact for the topic. If reaction from everyday citizens is what a journalist is after, then crowd sourcing would seem to fit that bill as a means of getting it.
There are exceptions to this, yes. Experts do voice their observations online; WikiLeaks has brought many useful, original documents to reporters’ attention.
By and large, however, crowd sourcing is highly suspect as the main source of a reporter’s investigation. Reporters are asked to be more than untrained citizen journalists. They are asked to adhere to a set of reporting and editing standards that requires rigor and attention to accuracy and detail.
Achieving all that requires a lot more than putting out an open call for anyone with an opinion to chime in, or to simply browse through those tweets and posts and call that sourcing.
A couple years ago I wrote about a young man who stole a car and an iPhone and then posted a picture of himself in the stolen car, using that stolen iPhone. It wasn’t long before he realized police check Facebook, too, and he was arrested for his misdeeds.
“Hoisted by his own petard,” as Shakespeare once said about another hapless soul in Hamlet.
For purists, A “petard” is an explosive device — let’s say a bucket of gunpowder — intended to demolish gates and fortified walls; being too close to the bomb could well cause the perpetrator serious problems.
As many people — young and old — have come to discover, the Web’s social media can be explosive devices themselves, ready to blow up the individual who posts or tweets incriminating information about himself or herself. It is a constant amazement to many observers that these self-disclosers just don’t get this fact.
If you don’t like the explosive metaphor, just think of a petard as a big bear trap that you fall into after you’ve forgotten you put it there.
Of course the latest case in point is an 18-year-old teen from Astoria, Ore., who posted on his Facebook page that he had been driving drunk on New Year’s Day. It wasn’t long before police were knocking on his door.
They had been investigating a hit-and-run incident in Astoria when someone tipped them off to a Facebook post by the teen. It read, “Drviing drunk … classic:) but to whoever’s vehicle i hit i am sorry.”
When police went to his home, they did — in fact — find the teen’s car damaged on the right front fender. And they also found pieces of his car at the scene of the hit-and-run wherein two other cars were damaged, according to media reports in the Christian Science Monitor and KCBS-TV in San Fransisco.
As a result, the teen was charged with two counts of failing to perform the duties of a driver. Not surprisingly, when the young suspect was interviewed by a television reporter later, he said he was only joking about driving drunk. Too much time had passed for police to confirm or deny that.
The teen escaped a charge of driving drunk because of the several hours between the incident and when police interviewed him. Astoria Deputy Police Chief Brad Johnston told the Christian Science Monitor, “We can’t just convict somebody based on the fact that hey said they were drunk.”
Police use FB, too
Johnston did explain that his department scans the social media routinely, and that various posts have been helpful to leading them to criminal suspects in the past.
The moral of the story to Deputy Johnston it is to forget about posting your misdeeds on the social media. “The message is to stop and contact people when you run into their cars,” he said.
Not a bad takeaway.
Anyone ever miss being a kid around this time of year?
Christmas was always my favorite season as I grew up with parents that, who although struggling financially, always found ways to make the season special for my sister, C.J., and me. How much we take for granted about our folks when we are kids, and how much we wish, later, that we hadn’t.
Christmas was a time of Sears & Roebuck catalogues, of scouting-out trips to the our favorite local stores where the toys aisle grew to three or four aisles during December. It was a time of meting Santa Claus, and it was a time of writing letters to the big man. Those were handwritten letters going to the North Pole. It was a time when it didn’t stretch the imagination a bit to believe in something like the Polar Express.
Things have changed
As a grown man who teaches students a couple generations younger than than me, I see everyday the ways their world is different than mine was as a young person. Here in this season, not only are Sears catalogues a thing of the past, but so is Sears itself.
And putting pen to paper to write Santa Claus, even when these college kids were in that stage a few years ago? A line from the film Goodfellas sums it up: fuggedaboudit!
Digital Santas abound
So I was checking around on the Web to see some of the high-tech ways there are for kids to reach Santa these days in the digital age. Here are three sites that popped out:
There’s a site aptly named, The North Pole. (Imagine what that domain name would cost, should it go up for sale.) If you can handle the Lawrence Welk-style of It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, this site has a few things going for it. For one, you can e-mail Santa and get a quick reply. No stamps needed here nor hoping the post office really knows where the North Pole is located. You can also play some games, listen to some more Christmas muzak, and read the story of The Night Before Christmas. You can also click a link that will take you a spot where you can learn what Christmas is like in 30 countries around the world. As of today, nearly 83 million kids have visited Santa on this site, according to its counter.
Santa’s Secret Village
Meanwhile, over at Northpole.com you can encounter “Santa’s Secret Village,” and enter the various workshops and cottages that make up this interactive town. Stopping in Santa’s Workshop is a must, of course, where you will meet Burt, the head elf who shows you what he and his buds are busy making. And you can also click a link that will allow you to read stories and color them while you’re doing it. Over in Santa’s Toy Shop, you can browse unique, popular, or educational toys and — what else — order them, of course. And in the Reindeer Barn, you meet Raymond and click away on various parts of the barn to hear stories about the animals and what they’re up to.
Take your chances
And over at the Portable North Pole you can order up a personalized video message from Santa himself. The only question I have about this particular Santa is he sounds like a cross between Peter Falk and Bela Lugosi, so I’m not certain he wouldn’t send kids screaming into the night instead of putting smiles on their faces. Still, it might be worth the risk.
After spending some time with these and other sites, I have come to the conclusion that — for this overgrown kid, anyway — I liked the Sears catalogue, my pen and paper, and my imagination better.
Low-tech or not, that kind of Christmas was always the most magical time of the year for me and my sister.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
I’ve been talking with my students this week about how companies maintain or lose customer satisfaction with consumers, and the topic always brings up good and bad personal experiences.
On the negative side (and there are more of these than positive ones), I wrote in this blog two summers back about how Capital One had declared me dead, causing me all kinds of credit problems at the exact time I was trying to get a home mortgage.
Even after I finally got a human voice (albeit from a foreign call center) to admit he believed I was alive, he told me “the computers are in charge, however,” and they had from 30-45 days to investigate and resolve the problem.
On the up side — and this may sound ironic given the stereotype of this government agency — I have found the IRS to be extremely helpful over the years. It’s easier to get a human and knowledgeable voice on the other end of the line with the Internal Revenue Service than with United Airlines, even when all you’re trying to do is buy their service.
For the purposes of this blog, however, I am most interested in the intersection of communication technology and customer satisfaction. It’s no stretch to say that the inability to talk to a human being, and the dehumanizing experience of talking to a digital signal, is probably the No. 1 cause of customer dissatisfaction in America.
A popular topic
Author Laura Penny has even written a book about this, appropriately called, Your Call is Important to Us: The Truth About Bull—-.” The cover features a large shovel, and the first chapter is called, “You’re Soaking in It.”
More than any other lie that corporate America would spin onto consumers, “Your call is very important to us,” is the one that sends most consumers through the roof. We know a long delay awaits and — even then — we will be handed a digitized voice to talk to.
The dehmanizing side
This whole dehumanizing concept of requiring customers to talk to robots, or at least a voice from a call center on another continent, was dramatized in the George Clooney film, Up in the Air. In that film’s most tragic and poignant scene, we see a veteran, dedicated company employee being fired by a detached voice from a computer screen. He starts to weep; the computer is unable to mimic of even register that emotion.
We know that technology is very important to customer satisfaction. If a business doesn’t avail itself of Web 2.0 communication technology, that can — in itself — become a cause for disgruntled customers. We want multiple access points to a company we deal with, starting with Web access.
NBRI weighs in
As one of its ten tips to customer satisfaction, The National Business Research Institute (NBRI) lists the need to give customers Web access to your business and to make it easy for them to place their orders. It explains:
“Technology means more than a fancy Flash website. In order to satisfy customers, companies have to keep up with the latest technological advances or suffer the consequences. Change is never easy, but business as usual isn’t a viable alternative anymore. Technology can help small and mid-size companies look like big companies by improving the quality of the purchasing experience without adding staff to the payroll.”
Twisting its use
But taking that same technology and turning it into a demeaning obstacle to the goal of customer interaction … therein lies the rub.
Turns out, I’m far from being alone in my assessment. Wall Street Journal columnist Gary Hamel penned an entire column about this, entitled, “Your Call is Important to Us. Yeah, Sure.” He writes:
“What irks me most, though, is when companies barricade their customer support staff behind a near impenetrable wall of multi-level telephone prompts. I mean, golly, you’d think I was trying to get through the White House switchboard rather than obtain a part number for my broken dishwasher.
“I get the fact that companies are trying to keep their call center costs to a minimum—but I wish they’d at least be honest about that. (But) Instead of telling us: We are experiencing unusually heavy call volumes . . .
“They should say: Even more of our underpaid and overworked staff called in sick than usual.
“Instead of telling us: You may be able to find what you need on our Web site . . .
They should say: There are 10 people in the world who still haven’t heard about the Internet and we want to make sure you’re not one of them.”
Thanks Gary. You think the decision-makers at Capital One and United Airlines ever read columns and blogs?
One can only hope. A call from one of them, about this issue, is one I would wait for.
Last May, I wrote a post about how advertisers are targeting us online, and doing so pretty effectively. The topic is an important one, so I thought I’d add some more thoughts here.
One statistic that appears a lot these days is an interesting one: While only 14 percent of consumers in America trust advertisements today, some 78 percent trust peer recommendations.
The implication for marketers and ad sales reps is obvious, get friends talking about your client, and recommendations often turn into changed minds. But first you need to know what friends are saying to each other.
All of us who use a social media site like Facebook are already self-identified members of a target audience segment, probably not knowing we’ve offered up the information that put us into that segment.
With that standing comes a flurry of ads on our FB page, which may well be a different array of ads than on someone else’s page because – in a real sense – you have said to the advertiser, I’m your most likely customer.
“Facebook has incredible potential to deliver customers to advertisers based on information that members submit themselves … when they communicate with friends, identify their ‘likes’ … and share their interests,” media scholar John Vivian notes.
The “Like” button is only the latest means of finding out how much we like certain things, people, or ideas. The marketer’s idea is to use those preferences to influence friends of online friends to buy that product, service, or political candidate.
This button sends an instant message to advertisers that you are a potential target. As a result, many Facebook users are more judicious in deciding when to hit that button.
As I mentioned in May, Facebook says it does not pass on information to other parties without the user’s permission, although it does use the aggregated data.
The Facebook, “Data Use Policy,” is located elsewhere in the site and also runs a few thousand words.
Ever read this?
Obviously, few users actually take the time to read the entire legal agreements so – more often than not – users do not know they actually do have some control over the uses of their personal data.
Nevertheless, portions of the FB policy notes the following:
“You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:
- For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings; you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).
- When you use an application, the application may ask for your permission to access your content and information as well as content and information that others have shared with you. We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information.
- When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).”
The ad policy
About advertising specifically, the policy notes elsewhere:
“Our goal is to deliver ads and commercial content that are valuable to our users and advertisers. In order to help us do that, you agree to the following:
- You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place.
- We do not give your content or information to advertisers without your consent.
- You understand that we may not always identify paid services and communications as such.”
Here to stay
Like so many other aspects of the Internet, the social media seem destined to be here for a long time to come. And anytime a couple hundred million people decide to flock to a media site, you just know the advertisers are going to be there in the midst of them.
The question to be addressed is this: What are the ethical limits of online marketing, especially when it comes to obtaining personal information about consumers?
In some respects, what is occurring with Web marketing companies and research firms might be analogous to high-tech wiretapping. One might ask how much daylight is there between tapping into a phone conversation and tapping into a Facebook exchange between friends.
The latter may not be illegal, but the results are the same. Through the Web crawlers that pick up any mention of a client’s product, service, or candidate, marketers do seem to be tapping into personal conversations.
The ethics issue has not gone unnoticed by marketing companies themselves. For example, one Web marketer posted this on its home page recently:
“Consumers’ lack of trust [in online marketing] is illustrated by a recent privacy survey conducted by IBM in which 78% of responding U.S. consumers stated that they did not complete an online purchase because they were concerned about how their personal data might be used by the site. A survey by Jupiter backs up these results — they found that 58% of respondents worry about companies selling their personal information to others.”
Although this is a lack of trust simply related to data emanating from online purchases, users of social media sites and even e-mail users are wary of what they say, click, or respond to on those sites or regarding incoming e-mails.
To avoid losing consumer trust, some Web marketers are advocating policies like this one from Web Advantage:
“In order to gain the trust of consumers, online retailers must *clearly* spell out their privacy policies on their sites. Consumers should know *exactly* what the site plans on doing (or not doing) with any personal information or indirect data (cookies, IP addresses, etc.) they divulge as a result of visiting and interacting with a web site. If a site’s policy is to sell OR share consumer information with business partners, that fact needs to be disclosed.”
The age of interactive, online marketing might promise more tailored commercial messaging – something which many consumers might appreciate – but it comes at a cost.
I was listening this week to the Mason and Ireland talk show on ESPN/L.A., and was struck by how upset the duo was about NBC’s decision to air tape-delayed programming of the different Olympic events unfolding in London.
With London time running eight hours ahead of L.A., tape delays make sense unless one naively
assumes fans of swimming or gymnastics are going to be in front of their TV at 4 a.m., watching an event occurring live at noon London time.
And the gripe about the false suspense created by the NBC anchors who treat the events as if they haven’t happened yet is also a mystery. Do you really want to have the drama of an event spoiled by first knowing who won or lost?
It seems the Mason and Ireland criticism is more a comment on our times where we expect to know everything we want to know immediately. We’ve become accustomed to just that, thanks to the Internet and the social media.
Sign of the times
It’s a news-now environment that has made it nearly impossible for traditional media to break any significant news that others haven’t already heard about through the online grapevine.
Of course it is easy to find out, in real time, whether Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin has just won another gold. Twitter and Facebook take care of that, as do online sports sites like espn.com or si.com. Right now, for example, I’m looking at live results for women’s individual archery on espn.com.
Can TV be Twitter?
So it seems what critics like Mason and Ireland are actually bemoaning is that traditional media like NBC-TV can’t be more like Twitter. Of course they could if they wouldn’t mind trading their prime-time audience for a handful of stalwart fans in the wee small hours of the morning.
That’s not likely to happen, however, and if I were with NBC, I’d think it would be lunacy to do it. Let television be television.
Even though NBC-TV delays coverage of events, however, the network does offer up an online alternative that streams live coverage. That is found, of course, on nbcolympics.com.In addition to offering a plethora of videos, interviews, analyses, and features about the games and the athletes, the site features a “Live Extra” window that allows viewers to see what is going on right now. This feature is available free for anyone with a cable or satellite subscription that includes NBC or MSNBC.
So again, I’m somewhat baffled by those who seem to think we have to wait for 8 p.m. to roll around each night before we can find out what happened earlier that day in Olympic competition.
What I do find fascinating about these Olympics, however, is the way online and social media coverage has been enhanced since the last games.
A couple years ago, during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I wrote a post called, “Canada’s One-on-One Olympics,” noting the ways television had embraced the social media to connect fans with the athletes. We’ve seen that TV/online enhanced coverage blossom during the London Summer Olympics.
Franklin and Bieber
For example, when Justin Bieber tweeted he was so pleased by Missy Franklin’s gold medal win because he is such a fan of hers, Franklin tweeted back, “I just died! Thank you!”
Fans seem to like all this. Here are a couple comments from graduate students in journalism and public relations about the current enhanced coverage of the London Olympics:
The personal side
Kathelin Buxton writes, “I absolutely believe that NBC’s tactic (in the Vancouver Olympics) to share the personal side of the athletes with the audience and extend the viewing experience of the TV screen onto the web, was effective. On the eve of the 2012 London Olympics NBC is employing this same tactic, but has continued to expand the depth of the story for each athlete and to cultivate the relationships, and it has absolutely worked to lure me in. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t follow more than a few athletes on Twitter, or that I didn’ t get sucked into some of the online videos and in depth coverage of these remarkable individuals provided by the network.
The “mom” campaign
“What’s more intriguing is seeing how the Olympic partners and sponsors or getting into this tactic as well, the advertisers have taken notice of the broadcast networks success and are using it to their advantage. P&G’s mom’s campaign showcasing the woman behind the athlete is one of the adverts running and really taps into the personal connection, showing that these individuals are attainable and not behind human reality, but people just like you and I. This helps instill a sense of fandom in the individuals who represent our country. I know I’ll be rooting for Team USA.”
Knowing the athletes
Debbie Kearns observes, “I think viewers feel a more personal connection to the Olympics when they feel like they know the athletes better. NBC, taking a page from popular shows like “American Idol” and “Survivor,” is giving us an up-close-and-personal look at the athletes’ lives and accomplishments – in addition to the pulse-pounding coverage of the Games.
“I think this connects to viewers in a human way, particularly when it’s supplanted with social media interaction and glimpses into what the athletes are experiencing and most of us only dream about. The Olympics is a brand unto itself, and any athlete associated with the Games attracts attention.
A nice escape
“Even if you’re not an avid sports fan (I’m definitely not), the associated advertising and personal athlete stories have a profound and moving impact on viewers. For just a few weeks, we can put the doomsday headlines, personal stress and other negativity aside to admire the determination, sportsmanship and grit displayed by the world’s best athletes. In short, watching the Olympics on TV reminds us all, at least for those few weeks, that we’re all connected as one race: the human race.”
If this last observation is correct, score one more positive impact for the Internet.
Try this analogy on for size.
You board a full airplane and it taxis out onto the apron of a crowded runway in the midst of strong winds.
There you sit. A half-hour passes, and the pilot remembers you guys are in the cabin. He announces he is awaiting clearance for takeoff. Another hour passes and you get the feeling this plane is going nowhere.
Add a wrinkle
Then another announcement is made, this time by the lowest-paid airline employee on the plane, the flight attendant. She informs you that the airline needs more background information from you if you are going to fly on this plane at all. She will be handing out a detailed checklist for you to complete as you sit there longer, wondering whether you are going anywhere.
I probably shouldn’t be writing about this issue – which actually has nothing to do with airlines – because the focus of this blog is on how new communication technologies are impacting our everyday lives.
I probably shouldn’t be writing about how today’s large banks are putting home loan applicants into the same scenario as the airline above.
I probably shouldn’t be writing it, but I will anyway.
The tech connection
There is a link to this blog’s focus, after all. The same technology that gives us the ability to communicate in a virtual world, makes it easier for bankers — many of whom are behaving in strange ways toward their customers – to isolate themselves from us.
If a banker wants to treat a home applicant as more of a threat or nuisance than a customer, it’s much easier to do that if that customer will never be able confront that banker face to face. The bank will simply delegate a low-echelon loan processor to deal with the exasperated applicants.
And even that exchange will likely happen via e-mail or text.
Of course, that loan processor has no power to solve the problem frustrating the customer, and it wasn’t his or her decision to treat the customer with such disdain in the first place.
This all may sound abstract to anyone who hasn’t applied for a home mortgage recently. But to those who have – especially those who have nasty memories of last-minute conditions the bank layers on — these thoughts need no clarification.
A personal saga
My wife and I applied last February for a mortgage on a home under construction in a 120-home development in Southern California. We were told by the builder – a national company – that we should use their preferred lender if we wanted to get an extra incentive being offered.
The lender is also a national bank (I’m tempted to say it goes by B of A, but why get personal). It was represented by a helpful loan originator who later disappeared from the bank. Why have customer-oriented people working for you?
I was now told to deal by e-mail, text, phone, and e-fax with a loan processor 1,500 miles away in Plano, Texas.
All through the four-month process, as the home went up, we were assured that our loan would sail through.
Then came the week from hell.
That was, of course, the week before closing. That’s when the bank turned seriously anal and wanted quick responses to a laundry list of some 26 detailed queries requiring research tantamount to a master’s thesis. A half-dozen of these came the night before close of escrow. That was last night. Another two came this morning.
Years ago when I entered the Navy, I underwent an FBI background check. That was child’s play compared to what B of A (oops, wasn’t going to use it again) has put me through in scouring my past just to approve a mortgage for which I am well-qualified.
Part of the problem is the banks must get approval from their auditors and, to be sure, some tightening in the underwriting practices have been overdue. But now the pendulum has swung 180 degrees to where even qualified lenders are having trouble getting home loans.
I suppose, to bank executives, the mental torture they dispense falls under the heading of “tightening our risk-management position.”
To the home applicant, it simply reeks of having to prove our integrity to the bankers whose own integrity has been a matter of discussion for some time. Let’s see now, wasn’t it the banks’ wrong-headed loan practices that took us into this housing mess in the first place?
Plan for time off
If you are planning on applying for a home loan through a bank, consider taking a week’s vacation during the week before closing. You’ll need it to assemble all the last-minute paperwork the bank will require.
In my own case, it amounted to collecting more than 100 pages of documents from various sources and faxing them – sometimes twice – to the beleaguered loan processor working overtime down in Plano. And that doesn’t count the 60 pages submitted to the bank earlier in the process.
The banks will not tell you this when you apply, but be prepared to document the source of every single deposit – no matter how small – made to any of your bank accounts. That time period ranges from two months before you even take out the loan, right down to the day of closing.
As I write this, today is supposed to be our day to close escrow. But this morning I still do not know for certain whether I even have the mortgage, which the bank has said, for months, is “looking fine.” BTW, the last thing they did — an hour ago — was to confuse my wife’s W2 form with mine and wondered why my income had changed.
Meanwhile, I look down what should be our new street and see the 19 other homes that have just been built. Half of the homes were supposed to have closed escrow earlier this month, and the rest by next week. Yet only one home is occupied, and closing has occurred on only three others.
So my wife and I know we are not alone in our frustrations. We’ve heard enough stories to know this is happening to nearly everyone who is buying in this housing development. And if it’s happening here, it’s happening elsewhere.
Probably all over the country.
Life has changed
The same technology that has brought us closer together with long-lost friends via Facebook, has also added to the impersonality of our country’s banks. Nothing is done face-to-face anymore, and the ability to strike a deal – and seal it – with a local banker is gone forever.
Numbers and algorithms have replaced names, faces and relationships in today’s self-serving corporate world as the fortress walls are reinforced with more concrete. Customers become potential threats. Barbarians at the gate.
No scoop here
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported yesterday that Bank of America and several other large banks are in trouble, and that their credit rating has been down rated by Moody’s Investor Service.
To a frustrated banking customer, no surprise there.
New communication technologies do create some problems. Two years ago, in the midst of applying for an earlier mortgage, I was suddenly declared dead by Capital One, a premature assessment to say the least. It took me a month to convince the Capital One computer I was alive. Only then was my credit history unlocked so I could close on that mortgage.
I was actually told by a Capital One officer, “I believe you are alive, but our computer thinks you’re dead, and it has 30 days to update its file.”
No progress here
This time it’s another headache, and the technology again doesn’t help in face-to-face contact with the lender.It only add to the ability of the lenders to isolate themselves from the customers who are frustrated – and frankly offended – by their way of conducting business.
I feel for that loan processor down in Plano. The grief she is getting should be going upstairs where it belongs.