Demystifying the Social Medianess – Forget About Technology

1174900_circuits When last we left, we talked about how the social web thrives on unselfish communication. I touched a bit on the role of technology, and today I’d like to expand upon some thoughts.

When you hear the words social media what’s the 1st thing that comes to your mind? Twitter or Facebook? How about Blogs? These are tools. They are not social media.

But to many the social web means technology.

I don’t blame anyone for thinking this way. The Internet is a technological advancement that has provided this playground we are now part of. And being constantly bombarded with news about the latest tool, widget, etc., it’s not surprising that people tag technology with social media.

Perhaps this is why many fear the social web. Technology is a scary word. It means new and expensive. These words can spell death for a business or organization who is thinking of trying new things .

Social Media is not new and it doesn’t need to be expensive (though, it can take time when done right). The point is, forget about technology.

Don’t immediately focus your social media efforts on how Twitter can do X

First, take some time to understand the ethics and methodologies behind the social web. Learn how and why people are communicating the way they are online. Listen.

Build this solid foundation and you will begin to see how the social medianess and technology compliment each other. Then you’ll be in a stronger position to fully leverage the available tools that are available.

Tech Meets Cycling

I ride my bicycle to work whenever possible through the scenic District of Columbia, which offers me numerous benefits. It forces me to exercise regularly, cuts down on commuting costs, is a zero emissions method of navigating the city streets (aside from manufacturing processes), and it’s much quicker door-to-door than driving through rush hour traffic.

Naturally, I’ve dabbled with websites, apps, and mobile tools to enhance my riding experience, most of which have been of little or no use to me. That said, there are a few gems available to cycling enthusiasts, and I thought I’d highlight the best of the best from my experiences. Keep reading after the jump for my findings.

Map Routing

MapMyRide.com is a web app based on the Google Maps API, and aside from the pervasive advertisements, is a great way to quickly map and analyze a route. My favorite part of this app is a widget that instantaneously visualizes elevation data, which as any avid cycler knows is probably the most telling aspect when gauging the difficulty of a ride. With a point-and-click routing interface, rapid creation of different (savable) paths is completely intuitive. Here’s the tail end of my morning commute:

Morning Commute
 

I’m really turned off by the amount of advertising on this website, but it works so well that I’m able to forego this misstep and support the developers by way of enduring the marketing onslaught.

Maintenance

Bicycletutor.com is a valuable resource for DIY cyclists. Most of the minor repairs, maintenance tasks, and alterations are within reason for those with average handiness and a set of wrenches. There are plenty of video tutorials to choose from, some of which might instigate a cascading series of weekend projects. Content is king here, and Bicycle Tutor definitely delivers in that department.

Safety

Suffering a minor malfunction on my bicycle the other day reminded me of how important safe cycling habits are, especially when commuting amongst aggressive city drivers. Bicyclesafe.com is a good introduction or review for cyclists of any skill level, detailing methods and precautions one can take to reduce the chances of encountering dangerous situations – and being prepared for them should they occur.

Local Scoop

Most areas have location-specific resources that are invaluable when it comes to becoming acquainted with a region’s traffic and cycling patterns. For the greater DC area, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) fits the bill. Local laws, bike paths, and general tips are all covered on WABA’s website. While I don’t feel compelled to download their $12 map, there is a free Google Maps overlay that highlights rail trails and stream trails that I find useful when planning a Sunday jaunt.

Here are some resources for other nearby metropolitan areas:
http://bikenewyork.org/
http://phillybikeclub.org/newbcp/
http://www.baltimorespokes.org/

Mobile

After downloading a half dozen cycling apps, I was beginning to lose hope that the obvious integration between cycling and mobile apps would be done right. REI proved me wrong by launching BikeYourDrive, an iPhone app that logs trips, geotags photos, and uploads ride information/images to everytrail.com . Environmentally conscious readers can see carbon offset estimates for their rides, and more fitness-minded individuals will appreciate the running calorie count. Wrapped up in an intuitive Start/Stop interface, BikeYourDrive is a good way to log individual trips if you’re into that sort of thing.

Summary

I’m not claiming that these are the definitive best, or that there aren’t other similar products/services out there. These highlights are simply what I’ve found that work best for me, or provide trivial information that is at least somewhat useful. Anybody have experiences with other bicycle-related tech? Let us know in the comments.

 

The Evolution of Blogging: Back to the Future

We’ve spent a lot of time the last two years updating our company Twitter account, where we share links to interesting stories and quick thoughts.  In the process, over time our blog sort of became a place for long form content only.  We posted short thoughts and links on Twitter and longer stuff on the blog, and that was pretty much the way things went. 

After some reflection, this struck us as kind of dumb.  We were needlessly limiting our blog to long form posts only, and posting a lot of great content to Twitter only, where our regular blog readers wouldn’t see it.

So we’ve decided to tweak our strategy a bit.  Moving forward, we plan to supplement our longer posts with shorter entries consisting of quotes, links and/or videos.  Inspired by the designs of blogging platforms like Tumblr and Posterous, we are using WordPress Asides to differentiate our shorter posts from our longer ones.  We won’t be posting every link or video we post to Twitter to the blog, as posting five or six entries a day here is too much.  Instead, we’ll only post the best stuff from our Twitter feed here.  Follow us on twitter if you want to see everything. 

From reading some blogs, it sounds like others are making the transition from posting essays to posting shorter entries, as if this is a new thing.  It really isn’t.  Our blog started out as a place to post short, quick thoughts and evolved into a spot devoted exclusively to longer post.  So we’re actually reverting back a bit to our original strategy, and the way folks like Kottke, Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan and John Gruber have been blogging for years. 

Top Trends from #pdf09 in the News and On Twitter

News and Blogs Versus Twitter at PDF09

Chuck Fitzpatrick from our ImpactWatch team has a great post up analyzing which themes and speakers from the 2009 Personal Democracy Forum got the most traction on Twitter and in the traditional media and blogs.  Folks on Twitter were most excited about talks by danah boyd, Mark Pesce and Michael Wesch, while the presentations by White House CIO Vivek Kundra and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg generated the most coverage from bloggers and the mainstream media.  Chuck’s full piece is definitely worth a read.

Analysis of Top Themes at PDF 2009

PdF09 Twitters From the White House to White Flight: Whatever

A great analysis of the trends and topics that got the most buzz at the 2009 Personal Democracy Forum.  The data behind the analysis was pulled from our tool, Twitterslurp.

Search for Children

As I have worked at The Bivings Group, I have focused on helping design websites and applications for specific audiences – professionals and adult aged individuals.  Many of the clients I have worked with don't need to focus on children, and young web surfers have unique needs.

Recently, I was introduced to the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL) website.  While the site has a rather conservative and standard design – in my opinion – I am really intrigued by its book search feature geared towards children.

icdl

On this page, children are presented with a search interface that is different from an interface geared towards adults.  Adults are asked about keywords, authors, and titles, but children may not know such information.  Further, children are probably more prone to browse when searching for a book instead of having a specific author or book title in mind.  That is why IDCL provides children with different search options.  For instance, a child can search for a book that has orange on its cover.  Or instead of searching for historical fiction, children can search for “Make Believe Books” or ones that have “Imaginary Creature Characters.”  Further, they can search for books based upon age groups and type – picture or chapter books.

icdl2

Another interesting feature is that the search options are presented as graphical buttons that children can easily suss out the meaning of.  The search results are also presented by showing the book covers, and children can also flip through the entire books on the computer.

I think that this is an interesting search feature.  Imagine if Google or Yahoo! was set up like this…