Social Media Science

As a social scientist and nerd who works in the social media industry (yes, it is an industry), a recent story really caught my attention.  There’s been some claims that Google works better to follow/predict the flu than the CDC, but it turns out that Twitter is even better.

Chicago Friends!

Kate here.
I have gobs of spare time laying around, and often I can’t figure out what to do with it.

Okay, not at all.

But one of the things I’ve happily let eat my spare time is this year’s Carl Sagan Day Chicago, which is happening in (eek!) just four days, November 1st.

Chicago’s secular community is gathering once again to celebrate the life and legacy of the great science popularizer, the beauty of discovery, and the fun of exploration.

The event will be held in Schmitt Academic Center Room 161, on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus. The building is handicapable accessible, and accommodation can be provided upon request.

The three organizers, myself, Chana Messinger of UChicago, and Andrew Tripp of DePaul began with a meeting squashed into a break from speakers at the 2012 SSA Conference. The resulting google doc turned into G+ hangout planning sessions and emails and emails and emails. By the middle of September we had our speakers:

Dr. Peter Vandervoort, Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and a former colleague of Carl Sagan.

Dr. Angela Olinto, Chair of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, Associate Professor of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Studies Department at DePaul University.

AND an emcee, Matt Lowry, the Skeptical Teacher.

Last month we had our last planning meeting, where we created our Safe Space Policy, emailed groups who could be interested in sponsorship, and made final arrangements.

Since then we’ve been sponsored by Chicago Skeptics, College of Curiosity, and [aaaaaahhhh!] the Adler Planetarium, along with getting a project grant from the Secular Student Alliance.

Which is to say, this is going to be fantastic. Do you live anywhere near the Windy City? Come out to 2320 N. Kenmore (on DePaul’s campus, off the Fullerton stop on the Red Line) this Thursday. I’d love to meet you, the event is free, and you can eat apple pie and win tickets to the Adler. What’s not to like?

[Chana has her own post about Sagan Day plans on Friendly Atheist]

Facebook Rumors: Paying to reach fans

In my other life, I write for a social media news blog, and I recently wrote about the current rumor going around about pages/celebrities having to pay to reach their fans.  Unfortunately, my tiny blog post didn’t reach George Takei so I imagine the level of hysteria over this is just going to continue ratcheting up.  I’m sure you will all be surprised by this, but misinformation really gets under my skin.  Here’s the relevant information from Facebook itself:

Nothing has changed about how your posts are shared with the people who like your Page.

A lot of activity happens on Facebook and most people only see some of it in their news feeds. They may miss things when they’re not on Facebook, or they may have a lot of friends and Pages, which results in too much activity to show all of it in their news feed.

If you don’t promote your post, many of the people connected to your Page may still see it. However, by promoting a post, you’re increasing its potential reach so an even larger percentage of your Page audience and the friends of those interacting with your post will see it.

Nothing has changed, Facebook is just now offering the opportunity to advertize specific posts to the people most likely to be interested: casual fans who don’t interact with the page often and friends of fans.  If you have a problem with EdgeRank, the system that sorts your Newsfeed in Facebook, that’s a different issue entirely that impacts every post from every person, not just pages.

Dating Websites

I find dating websites fascinating.  I tend to join them out of shear curiosity.  I’ve had profiles on pretty much every dating site you can think of.  Mostly to see how creepy they were and what the quality of matching is.

There was one that I didn’t get to be on, because it judged whether you were hot enough to join and, because I joined at I guess a slow part of the week, I didn’t get enough votes to be judged effectively.  I left PlentyofFish because of the extreme creepiness of all of the members who contacted me.  I still have an OKCupid profile and it’s ridiculously filled out because I needed to get 100% completion.  Goals people.  I don’t mind OKCupid, though I get a fair amount of creepsters, partially because there’s lots of neat data that they analyze for you.  Their blog is awesome.

And then there’s the mainstream ones.  Match.com, eharmony, J-date (which seems to have a ton of not Jewish people who aren’t willing to convert, I guess looking for Jewish people anyway?), chemistry.com are all major yawners.  I suppose the fact that I’m not willing to pay for online dating negatively impacts my experience on these sites, but even when they have things like “free weekends”, I’m not very impressed with what I see.

And then there’s the little specialty sites who have so few users that there’s no point in joining if you don’t live in New York.  I even joined one where people would have to pay to go on a date with me (what an awesome idea!), but there’s like 10 people in a 100 mile radius who aren’t super Christian.  Though that may just be a demographic fact, not a fault of the site.

Brought to you by Yando and the letter "G"

Harry Potter + Google = Love

As the resident Google fan, I am happy to report that there is a whole lot of interesting Google news this week.  It seems that Google doesn’t do news weeks in half measures.

First up is political news — both Google and Facebook have spent more money during this quarter on lobbyists than they have ever spent previously.  Both companies have had some run ins with the FTC and are now throwing money at theproblem.  Google is spending way more than Facebook, though — $2.06 million in the second quarter to Facebook’s $320,000.  For the first time ever, they even spent more than Microsoft!

To further their attempts to take over the internet, Google is also planning on offering a low-interest credit card to advertisers on AdWords.  It’ll be a MasterCard without an annual fee and a 8.99% APR, but can only be used for ads.  The idea is that small businesses can get some credit for big ad campaigns at holidays without having to have funds for it on hand.

Google is also offering a new feature in Gmail that allows you to use more than one line at a time.  The multi-call feature lets you put people on hold and pick up another call at the same time — a normal call waiting function that’s relatively new to the online phone services.  They actually are going to offer the full call waiting function, meaning that you get notified of incoming calls and can choose to answer and put people on hold and all that jazz, but you can only use two outgoing calls at a time.

Google+ continues to grow, gathering a fairly young demographic.  It’s currently the 42nd most visited social networking site in the US.  Google+ has grown by 821% since the week of July 2nd and has a much larger percentage of women than originally estimated, meaning that it’s probably not just engineers and internet nerds who are jumping on the bandwagon.  In an attempt to compete with Apple and Facebook, Google+ will be offering games and taking a much lower percentage of revenue from games — approximately 5% compared to the normal 30%.  Google also will host the games on their own servers, theoretically making them faster and less buggy.

Google will be shutting down Google Labs, a feature that allowed users to test run experimental features on different websites.  For example, the popular beer goggles that requires you to do simple math to access your email late at night on the weekends, to try to prevent drunk emailing.  They say that many of the features in Calendar or Gmail won’t be going away, but it’s unclear what exactly is going and staying.  The good news is that just because there will be no more labs doesn’t mean that the 20% rule is going away — Google employees are supposed to spend 20% of their work time on personal pet projects out of which many of the labs have emerged.

And finally, of personal interest to me, is Google’s announcement that it is teaming up with JK Rowlings Pottermore to make the Harry Potter books available through Google eBooks.  Google will also get exclusive payment rights for all Pottermore.com purchases, edging out PayPal and Amazon Payments.  With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 set to be the first of the series to reach 1 billion, it seems that despite the fact that Harry Potter is about to be 15 years old, it’s still a major draw.

Originally Posted at SocialAxcess.com

I have a new crush, and it’s a cobra!

Are you following @BronxZoosCobra?  If you’re unfamiliar with the story, the Bronx Zoo has lost a rather venomous snake*, an Egyptian Cobra, and in the ensuing New York panic, an incredibly clever person created a Twitter account in the name of the snake.  Despite the fact that @BronxZoosCobra is only following one person, their funny tweets have got them nearly 200,000 followers in under a week, myself included.

Despite the fact that there’s almost no chance that the snake has left the reptile house, New Yorkers’ fear of animals created the perfect opportunity to both ridicule and support New Yorkers and the snake has done just that with its posts.  Ranging from jokes about the original Ray’s Pizza (there are probably 60 places that claim to be the original Ray’s) to jokes about sneaking into chimneys and open apartment windows at night, @BronxZooCobra is the perfect mix of NYC insider and comedian.

What I particularly like about this is that it shows that being particularly clever and topical can get you a lot of attention, even though the market is already saturated.  This is good for businesses and self-promoters, if you’re witty and quick on the trigger you can still be really successful.  @BronxZooCobra has already promoted some local businesses, but just imagine how much self-promotion the person behind could do – social media has the power to create significant fame quite literally overnight.

*Although many media reports erroneously say it’s poisonous, it is not.  Poisonous means you can’t eat it, and you can eat cobras just fine, you just don’t want to get bit!

Have some tweets:

Indiana Jones, why'd it have to be Indiana Jones?

Getting my morning coffee at mud tuck. Don't even talk to me until I've had my morning coffee. Seriously don't. I'm venomous.

Dear @CharlieSheen, know what's better than tiger's blood? Cobra venom. #winning #snakeonthetown Also I'm 20 inches long. Just sayin'.

Holding very still in the snake exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. This is gonna be hilarious

The Empire State Building: “All the people look like little mice down there. Delicious little mice. #snakeonthetown

Want to clear up a misconception, I'm not poisonous as has been reported. I'm venomous. Super venomous, but not poisonous so don't worry.

Women and The Internet

It has long been a truism in the advertising world that men may make the money, but women control the purse strings, just watch any episode of Mad Men. All you have to do to see the truth of this is to look at those popular Old Spice Body Wash commercials, here’s a product aimed solely at men with commercials aimed primarily at women.  Even with this conventional wisdom, you might be surprised to know just how skewed the internet is to women users.

The majority of users on all social networking sites, especially Facebook and Twitter,are women, and women spend 30% more time using them than men.  55% of mobile social networkers are women.

Looking at Groupon stats, over 3/4ths of their users are women.  And that stat is similar across most online shopping and coupon services, from obvious sites like Etsy to more surprising ones like Chegg, a textbook rental service.  Social and casual gaming (think Farmville and Angry Birds) is also dominated by female users.  The numbers are staggering.  Not only are women the majority users, they are by far the most interactive and social.  Women maintain larger and more in-depth relationship circles on the web.

What does this mean for you and why am I throwing so many stats your way?  Well, for a start, it means that when you’re advertising online, you should be aware that women are going to be the most important and influential demographic to aim for.  Are you testing your products on women?  Are you taking into account what women respond to, what they’re looking for, and what turns them off?  Do you have women on your team?  So many tech companies are dominated by men, if you’re looking around you at a sea of male faces, you need to reach out to women, especially in your social marketing strategy.

More information, stats, and inspiration available here from the incredible Aileen Lee .

Sheryl Sandberg looking Badass

Gratuitous picture of Facebook's COO looking Badass

Useful Information: How To on Grovo

There are lots of sites out there with collections of how-to instructions and videos.  From the wild west of almost anything on YouTube, to the extremely professional and in-depth software guides on Lynda.com, it’s usually easy to find something to help you out, if you’re willing to spend the time searching.  Grovo is a new how-to video site that is unique in that it focuses exclusively on guides to online services, and doesn’t focus on software or OS.

They offer both a free and a premium service, and it is split primarily between what is useful to individuals (free) and what is useful to businesses (premium).  The premium service is $19 a month or $190 a year, though you can earn free premium months by submitting how-to videos that they approve.  The videos are broken down into very short chunks, just a couple minutes on one very specific subject. This is great because you can focus on what you want to learn and you don’t get bored by the time the video is over.

Another great feature that it offers is a quiz on different sites.  I took the WordPress one and actually learned that I didn’t know as much about WordPress as I thought.  So, I’d say that this site is useful for people who are already comfortable with the services they use, if only to learn features that they haven’t been taking advantage of.  I watched a few of both the premium and free videos, and I was impressed with the quality of the animation and voiceover that they used.  I would be surprised if any of them were user created.

Some of the sites it offers free videos for are FacebookTwitter, ChromeeBayMeetup and Craigslist.  The Premium guides include WordPress, ZillowGoogle AppsRetargeter and Amazon.

Cross posted from Social Axcess.

Group Texting is so hot right now

SXSW is known as a geek battleground, where apps and ideas compete with one another for dominance.  Last year, several location based apps likeFourSquare and SCVNGR fought, and FourSquare came out the industry leader.  This year, the focus has been on Group Text applications.  The first big Group Text application was from GroupMe, and most of the other companies offer a very similar service.

Basically, these apps allow you to create private groups on your mobile phone, even on not terribly advanced ones, and then send texts to everyone in the group.  Sort of like yahoogroups for text messages.  You can also send pictures, videos and do conference calls and it has a location based check-in system, sort of like FourSquare.  And it’s free.  GroupMe is the undisputed king of this realm, doing over a million texts a day, at less than a year old, but there are other Group Text services as well.

Another star of the Group Texting world is Beluga, which was founded by some ex-Googlers and was bought by Facebook.  It offers basically the same service as GroupMe, but now that it’s owned by Facebook, it may be integrated into their site rather than a stand alone product.  And users hate having to transfer their social data network to network, meaning that the start ups are now fighting the giant of Facebook.

Kik is an app that just got $8 million in funding, and launched in October.  It’s an instant messaging app that has incorporated SMS just recently, meaning that like the other apps listed here, you can use it from a “dumb” phone or computer.  The difference is that unlike the group messaging, you can create groups, but you don’t have to send them all the message — you can use the service for individual messaging, partial group messaging, or entire group messaging, much more like email.  You can also join or leave conversations in progress.

There’s also Ask Around from ask.com (remember when it was Ask Jeeves?), which functions as sort of a local twitter/FourSquare feed – you see updates based on your location, or any location you give it.  So it’s group texting, where the group is people close by.

And there are others that offer services almost identical to GroupMeGroupFlier (which has public groups), Brightkite,Fast Society, Text Plus (which has advertising or a fee, and has 20,000 groups dedicated to Justin Bieber), Grouped{in} (which offers some integration with Facebook and Twitter), PingChatEZTexting (charges a fee),groupflierRabblyprotexting, WeTXT, and undoubtedly a dozen more.

Cross posted from Social Axcess.