What’s a Fax?

old-fax-machine1One of those moments happened recently – when “new” technology of my younger years was met by one of my kids with a question.  The item was the fax machine – and the question, “What’s a fax?” 16.0 asked.

After thinking about it some, I realized she’s probably never seen one, and even if she did – she’d have no idea what it is.  So I explained, “It’s a machine that could call another machine and transmit pieces of paper.”  I’m not sure if she completely followed my explanation, but it worked.

The exchange made me think about a video I saw recently on my Facebook timeline about kids today trying to fire up an old school Atari.

The quick history here is 16.0 had her wisdom teeth (all four) taken out recently.  They were growing in sideways and just beginning to cause a problem – so rather than wait until the college years and deal with it in an emergent situation, we took care of it now.

The recovery was a little slow, and rolled into the Memorial Day weekend – which meant 16.0 would not be able to start her job at the water park, so on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend she called in and they told her she’d need a doctor’s note and gave her a fax number.  Getting the note was only half the problem – as there are not many fax machines around.

It did make me think about the early days of fax machines (and the early days of my career) at WRKL radio in Rockland County, NY.  Back then, the fax machine used a roll of paper – which apparently was pretty expensive.  The local police and district attorney would fax over press releases – and the general manager of the radio station would bring them to us in the newsroom and tell us how much each story cost the station in fax paper.

The last time I can recall using a fax machine was in the early 2000’s and at that point, the fax machine was only inbound – there was no way to send a fax from the device.

Technology itself changes so quickly – take something introduced to the market just 15 years ago, the iPod.  Look what happens when kids of the iPhone world try to use iPod generation 1:

“What’s a fax?” was today’s question.  I have to wonder what question my grandkids will ask…

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A Lesson Learned, A Lesson Planned

A lesson learnedI hope in life I never become too old to learn a lesson.  Last night after a brand new experience, I realized not only a lesson learned, but a lesson planned for my girls.

I’ve been driving for 30 years now.  I think I have driven a car in 48 of the 50 states and at least five countries (without putting too much thought into it).  Last night for the first time in all those miles I suffered a blow out while driving.

The good news, I was alone in the car and never lost control.  The back left tire blew while I was rolling my way on the world-famous Long Island Expressway.  I pulled over, took a look at the tire (down to the rim), assessed where I was on the road (narrow shoulder) and where I was geographically and decided my best move was driving half a mile to the next exit and getting into a parking lot just off the road.

I called my roadside company.  Maybe it was some kind of karma pay back for my post yesterday about technology running amok, because everything I lamented yesterday came to pass as I was stuck in a never-ending phone tree.  After finally reaching a person they told me at least an hour.

Being able-bodied, I decided to change the tire myself.  Now, I have helped people change tires, I have seen tires changed.  Until last night I had never changed a tire myself.  Check that off the bucket list.

About 15 minutes after I started, I was underway with a donut tire on my car and heading to a place to get a new full-sized tire for my car.  I spent another 10 minutes trying to get to anyone at Allstate Roadside to cancel the call, but that is impossible.  So I left.  About 10 minutes into that trip, the tow truck called to tell me they were at my location.

The one thing the experience confirmed for me is that before either of my kids head out on their own in a car, they will learn how to change a tire.  Not that I expect them to do that, but they should know how to.  They’ll have roadside (I would highly doubt it would be Allstate BTW) to call.  But knowledge is power.

So, I’m not too old.  A lesson learned, a lesson planned.  Keep your eyes open for that lesson you can learn, and pass along.  You never know when it will show up.

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Technology Run Amok

Technology Run AmokAs someone who tries to be on the forefront of the tech curve, I think it’s important to recognize when perhaps, just maybe technology has run amok.  In certain use-cases with certain technology I’d say we are there.

The use-case I have in mind today is what is now the prevalent use of phone-trees for incoming calls from customers.  You know these, you almost cringe when you hear the automated voice say, “Press 1 for English.”

For some context – I rarely initiate calls to any company.  Largely because I don’t want to get lost in the phone maze, and practically because more often than not I can get what I need accomplished done quicker via website, app or even Twitter.  So this week I had to call my cable company and the local Walgreen’s about a prescription.  What I got (aside from lost time) is a stark reminder of technology run amok.

First, Cablevision.  I understand why they have the phone tree to help direct customer calls to the right product team.  Like most modern MSO’s they have ISP, cable and phone services.  My issue though is I’ve been getting several emails a week for several weeks asking me to call for an account review.  It turns out after more than five minutes of pushing buttons, selecting options and eventually setting up a call back – all they wanted was an updated cell phone.  For real.

Then there is my neighborhood Walgreen’s.  Now this should be easy.  My questions are about something I bought in the store or the pharmacy counter.  That should be two, maybe three button pushes.  So yesterday morning while waiting for 14.0 I decided to call to check on a prescription’s status.  Eight button pushes in, I could not get to one of the two pharmacists on duty.  The Walgreen’s app doesn’t give status on a pending prescription, so I had to go walk into the store to find out there was a snag at the doctor’s office.

That is a lot of listening, deciding options and button pushing for very little reward.  That can’t be the model these companies are hoping to replicate in customer service.  I get it.  The phone trees should help steer the call so the right person gets the call and the right answer can be given.  That would be good customer service.

But this is a case where technology has run amok, and more options does not help get to a better result.

There are times thought when technology can be an asset.  During a recent cross-country flight on Virgin America – the outlet at my seat was not working. After my laptop died I pulled out my iPad and opened Twitter.  I sent out a tweet saying my GoGo inflight WiFi experience was great, but my seat outlet did not work on Virgin America.  From that tweet, before I landed Virgin America gave me a $50 credit on my next flight.  A company that can use technology to make sure the customer experience is optimized – it does work.

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He, She, They an App Review

He She They App ReviewWatch any gathering of young kids (I’m talking three-year olds or so) with their parents, and you’ll see kids with phones or devices – normally belonging to their parents.  But these kids are able to easily navigate the devices and launch the apps within.  I don’t bemoan this twist of technology.  Like reading to your child it’s a learning opportunity, and there are apps for that.  One of them is He, She, They, and this is a single dad app review.

The altruistic part.  The app is a $1.99 purchase from iTunes or Google Play with money from each purchase going to Autism Speaks, and since this is Autism Awareness Month, not a bad time to make the purchase.

The app, as its name suggests is designed to help kids understand the pronouns he, she and they.  It’s designed by some folks who have been working in the speech therapy field for years and has a pretty cool user interface.

The app launches in landscape on device and you swipe images into buckets broken down by “He” “She” and “They.”  One of the nice things about this app that many of the other educational apps don’t have is the game within a game.  After some correct matches balloons launch and you can try to pop them.

Another nice aspect to the app is there are three levels, so your $1.99 can go a little further – and you can watch your child master the key pronouns.

The teachers who helped design the app had kids on the lower end of the cognitive scale in mind.  But once your child is able to differentiate words, its a nice app to cement the proper use of these pronouns.

The graphics are crisp, and there are subtle changes in the experience each time.  It’s not just “nice job.”  There is also “way to go” and “thumbs up” mixed in, which will help drive engagement with the app, and enhance the learning opportunities.

So, yeah, your child can sell another farm or line up three diamonds – but with He, She, They they’ll learn something too.  A single dad app review.

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The Camp Call

Who knew old school tech would mean so much?As I noted a couple of days ago, I am just back from vacation and trying to catch up.  With that in mind, this post is a week or so later than it should have been-but still relevant (at least I think).

One of the nice things about the camp I sent the girls to this year is the weekly call I get from them.  I get letters from them about every day or every other day, and I hear from others who they send letters to that they’ve heard from the girls and things seem to be going well–but to hear them say it means a little more.

Its kind of weird for me, because I can remember when I went to sleep away camp it wasn’t until the last year or two that I went that I was able to make a random call home.  But in the modern age I guess, its scheduled as a weekly call and I can manage the schedule too.  And I’ve discovered about the time I’m saying to myself, “wish the girls were here” its time for a call.

It has a very reassuring feel to it.  It’s scheduled for 15 minutes, and its a tight 15 minutes at that, and in the background you can hear all the other calls going on-there must be 6 or 7 calls going on concurrently.  What comes through though is the excitement they have everyday-and that makes me feel good.

I never really doubted they would have a good time at camp, my girls are pretty easy that way, and they can make most situations work.  What makes me feel good though is they talk about friends they’ve made, go into details about the activities and the trials-and that’s exciting.

Two calls down, six to go-man its going super fast.  Visiting day is next.

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Identity as the Holy Grail

Despite my early tempestous relationship with Quora, I have found some great insights and moments to think and contribute.

One of them occurred last night as Quora’s designer posed an interesting thread (I am not sure it was in the form of a question but I supposed that’s OK for an insider) about identity-and specifically mobile identity.  You can read Rebekah’s thoughts here or follow her on Twitter here.

Rebekah poses that identity is more than just your email, or your pictures or your Twitter stream for that matter.  Your digital identity is how you manage access to your attention.  Will you read your Twitter or your Facebook wall?  Will you update your Tumblr or your blog?  How you manage external access to that attention is your identity.  The other pieces (email, SMS, Facebook etc) are all components.

Rebekah believes (and I largely concur) the battleground is your mobile device.  This is the access point to your attention, thus the access point to your identity.

Rebekah and I diverge on one point-which is neither huge or insignificant in that I include tablets as part of that access point.

When talking about the consumer experience in digital media and roadmapping over the next five years, the central figures are your cell phone (the assumption being the curve of feature phone to smart phone conversion holds) and I believe the tablet.  The two devices as Apple has shows work together in a lot of ways, and we’ll see that in 2011 from the likes of Samsung and others who merge the Android OS on phone and tablet.

The reality is, chances are if you read this blog you never leave your house without at least one cell phone (the assumption being that readers of this blog probably carry more than one) and more than 90% of the time the tablet it with you as well.  The laptop is easily forgettable, and the desktop is a distant memory.

When thinking about capturing and holding attention-designers need to think about utility and IA.  Content folks need to think about real estate and connection.

I am convinced the way I got my job at CBS Mobile more than 5 years ago was my understanding of the personal nature of the mobile experience–which means that as a product person I need to be able to clearly make the experience sustainable across devices and across OS experiences.

Understanding the way consumers take in data and control their data intake is at the heart of understanding identity.  In context, a news organization can have this generations equivalent of the Pentagon papers.  Unfortunately just having them is less than half the battle–presenting it to a highly connected audience that demands personalization is the key.

Watch as Faebook, Twitter and products that we don’t know yet introduce new ways to access information-that access point will become the key.  It’s a way to sync your self to your data and your phone (and tablet) are at the hub.

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EMail and the “Going Green” Argument

The rant that follows maybe slightly off the beaten path for this blog–but since it involves communication, making connections, and its my blog I am going to press on.

I got recently from my insurance company the requisite invitation to “go paperless”  for my statements–it’s the same invitation I get each month from credit cards, utilities, banks and pretty much anyone else who sends me paper bills.  The rational being that all that paper is bad for the environment and I would be doing my “green” part to jump on board with paperless.

Of course the underlying tone to all of this–that goes beyond the lessening of my (and the company) carbon footprint (think about it: getting paper, printing, shipping, delivery) is that all of that costs.  Email–has very limited onetime cost and a great ROI for companies, not to mention that at some point carbon offsets will come back and companies will see hard dollars for a smaller footprint.

So–cut to the chase.  I am happy to go paperless.  Lord knows there are 5+ credit card offers I get each week in the mail, not to mention the daily Geico mail I get about great rates certainly are candidates for my carbon offset.

So, brand-america here is the deal, you do you part:

1. Cull your address DB’s and stop sending out 3 or 4 of the same piece to an address

2. Have a way on your website to opt out of future mailings

3. Share the savings with me

(3A and while we are at it, stop spam-botting me on Twitter with your message, does not help your reputation)

Do these 3 simple things, and I am happy to go paperless.  I will do my part to help you cut your costs–but I am your customer (or potential customer) so I have a stake too-make it worth my while.

We now return to the semi-regular thoughts and rantings about social media.

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The Front Door to the Information Superhighway

I am willing to admit to being old enough to remember the promise of “the internet” as promoted by AOL

Or even before that Prodigy

Those early “web” services provided access to a vast array of information–some of it cataloged, most of it untapped.  Along came independent browsers and broadband at that pretty much all but killed the relative beauty of the dial-up service provider:

For those who did it–who can forget that pleasure of surfing looking for dial-up ports that would work, the second number and more….

As what one of those companies promised “the information superhighway” evolved–along game our friends first at Yahoo then at Google who were able to bring order to the relative chaos.  (Yes, I am leaving out the likes of AltaVista, Lycos etc)–you know the search engine.

Open up the page, type in some keywords and you have a menu of options to choose from.

But as technology improved, so did the capabilities of the information providers.  No longer was having a lane on the great information superhighway enough–we needed attention.  So came the skill of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing). In essence rigging the system–making my content the top of the search returns, after all we all know no one scrolls.

But alas, internet time waits for no one.  The AOL commercial at the top of this post is from 1995.  A mere 15 years later, and that front door to content has once again morphed.

Think about the way you discover things on-line (if you are even still using a computer or laptop).  Yes, search engines still have their place.  And yes you still have that Yahoo email, but how do you find things?

My bet is more than 70% of the time its through your social networks.  An interesting link on your friends Facebook wall like this one?  Maybe something from your Twitter stream that looks like this?

The reality is we are so connected to our networks, that search engines are a secondary source.  Case in point, over the weekend when Fox Networks and Cablevision settled the two-week imbroglio (it’s the NY Post headline writer in me-sorry) about retransmission, it was on Facebook I found out.  My confirmation was from Twitter, before I hit Google to find out the details.

{Couple of interesting asides here:  1-nornally I get this information first from Twitter, but on an early Saturday evening, my Facebook network was right on it.  2-the email from Cablevision came 5 hours later (a comment on email as a point of dissemination)}.

Our social networks are the touch point we use between information and our day-to-day–and its possible that the front door to the vast reaches of the information superhighway have changed again–from 256k dial-up–to 140 characters.

Where we get and share information is an evolving point of contact, and very individualistic–because it has to serve our needs.  I know 90% of my Twitter is mobile, and less than 5% of my computer based Twitter is on twitter.com.

Think about where and how you get information–and see if perhaps its time for a tune up, or realignment.

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Its Prime Time, are We Ready?

This blog is really just some thoughts and observations from the last few days-as I’ve had some unexpected free-time and a chance to “field test” some apps that I have messed with in controlled settings.

Within the sphere of social media there are a ton of emerging products and platforms–and a ton that should be by now well-tested (three years is my rough cut off) for the sake of argument a “mature” product.

In the category of mature products are Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, Yelp, WordPress.  On the fringe are the likes of FourSquare, Gowalla, BrightKite.

As has been discussed here (and elsewhere) there is no shortage of established brands building on the API’s that some of these “mature” products offer.  Powered by Twitter, Facebook fan pages, WordPress powered sites etc.  Want to build check in to your site? FourSquare, Gowalla, Bright Kite all offer that capability.

But what happens when those sites are down–as can happen in the world of technology from time to time.  As one of my past bosses used to say, “Things go bump in the night sometimes.”

So yes, when Twitter has a fail whale showing or Facebook is in accessible, or GMail is down–there is a raining down of people checking to see if its them, or if its a site issue.

But when this happens on a branded site–and the use case that comes to mind is a radio commercial in the NYC area for White Castle that encourages people to go to Facebook, become a fan and leave a comment.  But what happens when Facebook is down, and you can’t reach that page?

Yeah Facebook has a problem–but the brand exposure is huge.

So these sites that sometimes we play on, sometimes we connect on and sometimes we bemoan now have an impact–but are they ready for prime time?

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From Film at 11 to We are Here Right Now

I don’t consider myself to be old, however, my daughters (the older one especially) likes to remind me that I am creeping up there in years.  So it’s with that backdrop perhaps that I got a little nostalgic as I was watching the live video of the miners being pulled safely from their underground home of more than two months.

I am old enough to remember the tag line “Film at 11.”  Now I don’t remember it in my professional experience–but growing up I can remember Chuck Scarborough on WNBC (Channel 4 in NYC) or the late Bill Beutel on WABC (channel 7 in NYC) saying that line during what I later learned was the :57:30 cut-in.  You know it as a tease for the late news that comes during primetime viewing.

For those without the reference–here is a one time ABC News colleague of mine Christina Lund with the familiar tagline (this one delivered on KABC-Los Angeles in 1976)

And that’s what happened.  If you wanted to see the story you waited for the news to come on.  In talking to some of the long-timers at places I work or have worked, by 1976 the conversion to videotape was well underway-but the myth of film at 11 lived on for years beyond that.

Fast forward to Tuesday night into Wednesday and the miners.  Gone was the quaint notion of video.  Obsolete the idea of waiting 10 minutes, much less until 11.  This (like so many events) played out in real-time in bits and bites transferred in real-time around the world–with instant commentary from Twitter, blogs and news organizations like CBS (where I work) CNN, NBC etc.

And as all of this was going on — generally in that lull when the rescue capsule was being sent back down to the miners and being reloaded and resurfacing — I was able to think about the change I have seen in the news model both as a consumer and a professional.

I did wait for film (or video) at 11.  I can remember when a reporter going live was a big deal.  I’ve sprinted across snow-covered fields in New Hampshire to a feed point to make slot.

I’ve also pulled out an air-card or MiFi and upload a video file, used QIK to send breaking news video back and updated a story via Twitter using my smart phone camera.

I am not sure I know the “tipping” point in all of this-when the idea of waiting became quaint, but its a good thing.  News  is a commodity as is information.

While I truly do not think “back in the day” that information was being hoarded and doled out–there was a certain eloquence to it.  I also would not have been subjected to Ali Velshi on CNN cramming himself into a model of the rescue capsule.

And that’s not to pick on Mr. Velshi (whom I do not know). It’s the rest of the story.  Because we demand to see these things unfold in real-time and unedited, the ability to package and present may be a victim.

Flashback to January of 2010 and the Miracle on the Hudson.  Gripping pictures, a story with a happy ending–and miles of instant analysis.

Even when the news is bleakest–9/11 is the moment that leaps to mind the need to “fill the void” was evident.  I can even think back to the crash of TWA flight 800 off the coast of Long Island–and the long night I spent on a boat listening to coverage that did not equate with what I was seeing (my Nextel died so I was on my own until the boat came in)–but it’s not all bad, it really is not.

Because all of those sources, all of that information–gives us the power to be the packager.  Yes, news organizations need to be the gatekeeper.  But I can be my own editor and decide what makes sense.

So turn to Twitter, see what your social network is sharing via Facebook–check the blogs watch the video–its part of the human experience and its the job of my colleagues and me to make sure its there for you with context.

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