Category Archives: Networking

Who is Richard Brady?

We are all familiar with the scam emails from Nigerian Prince’s needing bank accounts to transfer their millions into, or lost friends stuck abroad and in desperate need of some cash. It has become part of the British comedy culture, it is in fact somewhat a cliche now. I actually find myself reading some of these and getting quite a lot of enjoyment out of them. After all, you would have to be borderline amoebic to be taken in by these, quite frankly more ludicrous than fiction, yarns.

The traditional way of receiving these has been by email and this has been happening for many many years. In more recent times similar SMS schemes have popped up; the “You’re entitled to compensation for your recent accident” one has probably been received by tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people. If that many accidents had actually occurred then the country would just be one big pile of wrecked cars!

Somewhat inevitably I suppose, this scam mentality has started to invade social media. The US based MTV show ‘Catfish’ features the more personal scams, where people mislead others by pretending to be someone they are not, for various personal motivations. On Twitter it is also not uncommon to start being followed by fake profiles, who then post ads to you. But one network that until recently seemed relatively safe from this is the business network LinkedIn. Which leads me to ask the question “Who is Richard Brady?”

LinkedInFraud

When I received a connection request from Richard Brady, who apparently works for Orabank (who have a website – I did a quick check), I immediately thought this seems a bit fishy, but thought I would let it play out. So having done some quick looking around to check Orabank did, on the face of it, seem vaguely real and having checked Richard Brady’s profile to see it had a plausible background, I accepted the request. After all, in my line of work you don’t turn down a connection as it may lead to a project.

Of course, and predictably, Richard Brady’s sickeningly goofy face popped into my LinkedIn inbox within 24 hours, accompanied by the above message. Now this does make a good read. It is a story of a deceit, larceny, conspiracy to defraud a presumably grieving family, money laundering and cover ups. Mr Richard Brady of Orabank does seem to be quite the operator. Is he friends with James Bond or Jack Bauer as well? Are they chasing him?

So what does this actually mean? Well for a start it means that these fraudsters are invading networking and social media sites, and not just the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, the professional sites like LinkedIn as well. Secondly, it means that someone must be falling for these scams, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. So who is that stupid and using LinkedIn? I certainly don’t want to connect with them. Thirdly, and possibly the most concerning thing, is that this profile, claiming to be a presumably fictitious ‘Richard Brady’ is using someone’s photograph to accompany an openly illegal activity.

And at the end of the day that is the most concerning thing here surely? These stories are laughable at best. They are barely worthy of a TV sitcom script, and yet someone somewhere is taking the time to construct these elaborate hoaxes, piecing together profiles with real photographs of goodness knows who. At the end of the day this photograph of Richard Brady may go viral, as ‘the face of the fraudster’. But somewhere a real person has that face, and that person is probably not Richard Brady the man of mystery, intrigue and larceny. Let’s hope the family of Mr Philip Becks (deceased – may god rest his soul) don’t go searching for him!

The real lesson here is that if you put yourself online then there is every possibility that your details and photos may well be used by someone else in their deceptions. Coming back to Catfish, the US show, people are doing this more and more, just so they can have a barrier of protection and anonymity when engaging online. And in practically every case they are using other people’s photographs, stolen from profiles online. This is the risk of putting yourself online. Do you ever really know who you are talking to unless you actually see them? We should all ask ourselves ‘is this person really who they say they are?’ … or in other words, ‘Who is Richard Brady?’

Evolution or devolution?

A colleague of mine recently posted a link to ’23 Pictures That Prove Society Is Doomed’ on a well known social media site. It is a collection of amusing photos and captions that try to make the point that society must be doomed if we all feel the need to spend every waking moment with a phone in our hands. The below is one such image, that bore the introduction “This adorable picture of star-crossed lovers meeting for the first time”:

2. This adorable picture of star-crossed lovers meeting for the first time

From http://www.buzzfeed.com Via: empoweredteensandparents.com

At face value this page is quite amusing and many might find it “sad”, but I in fact find it a rather cynical and cheap attempt at a laugh that almost entirely misses the point. I’ll tell you why.

With all of these amusing little ‘insights’ into society, the pictures are a collection of amusing captions added to images that are taken completely out of context. At first they are amusing but soon it becomes quite obvious that the images have little to do with the situation the caption suggests. However, I can’t use this as a practical reason to criticise as the pictures are just demonstrations of situations we have all seen in real life. I have been present at a lunch of friends and suddenly looked up at a moment of silence to see they were all on their phones.

My main problem with this is the assumption that these situations are a negative thing. To explore this point further it is necesary to understand what these pictures actually show, rather than take it as read that the people are just being ‘anti-social’.

Like language, our behaviour evolves with time to suit the world we occupy. In the 1970s the young generation became the generation who sat around listening to the music of the day on the radio, enjoying the raucous behaviour of outrageous DJs and generally ‘rebelling’ against their parents who would rather they sat downstairs and have polite conversation. Similarly when I grew up the age of the games console had arrived and young teenagers would sit in their bedrooms playing Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario. No doubt in those situations their parents were talking about how society was doomed. In the late 90s and early 2000s SMS took the mantle and this was the start of people staring at their phones. In the film ‘Clueless’ Alicia Silverstone’s character is seen having a conversation on her mobile with her best friend and as she comes around the corner her friend is there. Without skipping a beat they hangup and continue their conversation. Some would say that this demonstration of not being able to go a single second without talking to a friend was a sad state of affairs, but actually it is the next stage in the evolution of human interaction. At no time in history, prior to this era, has it been possible for us to interact directly with each other unless we were in the presence of each other. Mobile phones changed this and opened up the opportunity for social interaction to extend to an almost unlimited stage.

So how does this relate to the situations depicted in the amusing images on buzzfeed? To me it is a demonstration of the next stage of social interactivity evolution. We now use so many more ways to interact with each other than we have ever done before. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Skype, SMS, Email, Instant Messaging, the list goes on. And all of these are usable on a mobile device. We are in a time poor world where our appetite to consume media, share it and interact with our colleagues and friends is higher than ever, with more ways to do this than before as well. More so, we have the ability to do this seemingly whenever and wherever we choose to, as our world has become mobile.

I am not saying that staring at a phone should replace the need for conversation, far from it. But what is happening, in my experience at least, is that the art of conversation is changing. It is no longer 100% about verbal exchange, the conversation is now multi-medium and continues across social media, instant messaging and verbally. One conversation can continue over the course of hours, as a connected set of short interactions fitting around other things, rather than a short face to face conversation that takes place as a single stream. The result of this is that our habits are changing when we are together. We are now in an age where it is acceptable (most of the time) to check the news, or social media, in between bites of conversation, rather than continually being 100% engaged in one conversational stream.

Is this the end of civilized society and the art of conversation as we know it? No, I don’t believe so. It is the start of the next phase in social evolution. We have come a long way since we sat around fires exchanging stories and our world is less and less reliant on tactile interaction as the core way to maintain communication and relationships. People have long lasting and deep friendships with people they have never actually met, which have more meaning that those they have with people they see all the time. Business are beginning to embrace a model where their workers don’t even work in an office and instead are a network of resources who communicate through the digital ether.

It is a difficult transition for many of us to make, as we move toward a world that is more and more like a sci-fi movie and less like a traditional social gathering. We are the generation that spans the gap between a world where mobile phones, CDs and computers were rare and few and a world where every person has a wristwatch the carries every detail about them around as a digital profile. Being glued to your phone…devolution or evolution? Or maybe it is a glimpse into the future that is just around the corner?

Tweet meets – the new world is much smaller than it used to be!

My wife and I attended a wedding reception last Friday evening, for a lovely young couple.That in itself isn’t particularly unusual. Although I didn’t know either the bride or groom, my wife has been friends with the bride for about a year. Again, nothing unusual there. But what was a new experience for me is that the wedding reception was the first time that my wife and the bride actually met!

Let’s backup about a year. My wife participates in weight watchers and on achieving a particular goal she had posted a tweet. Another weight watcher participant messaged her a congratulatory tweet and they started to talk. Roll on 12 months and they are like best friends, talking daily and making another friend on the way as well. So we arrived at the wedding reception, having never met either the bride or the other twitter friend before. But the moment they met it was like they had known each other their whole lives, hugging and chatting away as only women can.

For me, working in digital and being fascinated with ‘network’ media (social media), this was a significant moment. I was experiencing the result of the world taking another step forward and become that little bit smaller. The power of sites like Facebook and Twitter to bring people together is quite amazing and these three women, meeting in person for the first time but acting like the oldest of friends, are proof that the rules of engagement have evolved. We know longer need to meet someone physically in order to start developing a friendship.

Of course, this trend is something which isn’t particularly new. My own marriage is evidence to the power of the internet to bring people together. I met my wife on an internet dating site. We got to know each other via instant messaging, text messages, emails and phone calls before finally meeting. The rest is history. And there are countless others like us who have done the same. The internet brought us together. But the key difference between then and now is that with internet dating the online piece is a lead up to the meeting but the actual relationship really starts when you meet the person. Now, with social media sites, the actual meeting doesn’t need to take place for the actual relationship to begin. In fact, the bride even said that she felt she knew these two twitter friends better than many of the other guests, which is testament to the ability of social media to not just maintain friendships but to create them as well.

For my part, I haven’t yet met anyone through these networking sites, but I do use them to maintain friendships that would otherwise have drifted away. It allows me to keep in touch with my cousin in the USA and watch her daughter grow, even though I haven’t actually seen them in 6 years. Because we can trade pictures, talk instantly and conveniently it allows us to have relationships that are the next best thing to being in the same place. In fact, in some ways it allows an even better relationship because it doesn’t require us to be in one place at a set time. In a word, it is a relationship that is more convenient.

Of course there is another side to this new world as well. The media have widely publicized the use of these sites to arrange flash mob appearances, or on the darker side, to arrange riots and gang fights. Again, this isn’t new, before Facebook and Twitter these were done via SMS. But again the social sites allow more convenient avenues to arrange these sorts of things. It brings strangers together and allows them to interact, whether their intentions are good or bad. This is the same thing that allows people the anonymity of not being face to face to be insulting or ‘troll’ others as well.

Undoubtedly the world is changing. My experience last week showed that people can become the best of friends without the need to meet each other and by and large that is a great thing. It allows people with similar interests and outlooks to meet when they would previously not have. It allows people to stay in touch and preserve relationships that would otherwise fade away, to be replaced by awkward reunions filled with small talk on the odd occasions they would actually meet. The most fascinating thing for me though is that it also closes the generation gap. The age difference between my wife, the bride and the other twitter friend is quite significant and yet you wouldn’t know it when they met. They were instantly so alike when they were together and getting on like a house on fire. Social media sites allow people to have these relationships when in the past it would probably have been harder for people from different generations to interact and relate.

The world has changed, it has evolved and online friendships are a result of this. Friendships created and maintained online are already happening and people from different walks of life are being brought together. I’m sure that there will be people soon who have best friends they have never met and possibly never will meet. The cloud does not just apply to pieces of hardware and software, clearly it applies to us and our friendships as well.

You are the Apple of my eye

Forgive this post as being a bit of a product review. For a while I had been thinking of writing a blog article comparing the Samsung Galaxy Tablet and the Apple iPad (the new / 3rd one), looking at practicalities. For years I have resisted being a Apple fan boy, under much pressure from good friends of mine who are some what blinkered to anything non-Apple. But in recent years I have found myself (and my family) becoming more and more Apple focused and I so I thought it would be more interesting to look at why this has been the case.

UX (User eXperience)

Like it or not, Apple are exceptionally good at creating very usable experiences, which are consistent across almost ever facet of their interfaces. One of the ways this is most noticeable is in the way apps are created for the app store. As Apple have a set of guidelines (both technical and design) that have to be met before an app is approved this means that all the apps in the store are, by and large, easy to use. There are no doubt exceptions that crept through the net, but apps in general feel well crafted and designed. In contrast, the Google Play store doesn’t seem to have the same level of checking and as a result my experience has been that apps on the android simply don’t have that extra level of class and usability.

The way the Apple screen is set out is also incredibly easy to understand. My 4 year old daughter was using it, unaided, to find and play her apps when she was 3 with no problems at all and the consistent nature of icons only on the main screens helps with this. One thing I do like about the Galaxy tablet is the ability to have widgets on the homepage as well as icons, but in a lot of cases they seem not to refresh without manual prompting, which is frustrating.

Above all of this, one of the things I like the most about the Mac system is that it is so customisable. I can set up my tracking pad on my laptop to do thing that I want to do so that I can zip around the programs with ease. Apple seem to have taken the view of ‘let’s put the user in charge’ where as Microsoft seem to have said ‘let’s show the user how it is done’.

Responsive

The Galaxy Tablet lacks the crisp responsiveness that the 3rd gen iPad provides. Both the iPad and iPhone are incredibly quick to respond to touch whereas the Galaxy often lags. Whilst the Galaxy S3 mobile is much better it lacks the edge that Apple have long established in their models.

Cloud

Once you have more than one Apple device then the main selling point is the iCloud. There are, of course, similar services now out their for non-Apple users that do a similar job, but because Apple devices can easily be linked to each other it makes the running of our lives so much easier. We now forego an up to date wall calendar as my wife uses the iPad and her iPhone to keep up with iCal and I use my iPhone and Mac Book to maintain my half of it. We know what is going on all the time so it is easy to make decisions. Sharing becomes much easier as well and photos / videos (the main stay of our record as our children grow up) are backed up automatically. Facetime means that if one of us is away then we can see the other for free and talk to our children, who are too young to really get how to use a phone. Of course there are plenty of non-Apple apps out there that do the same thing, but once you are on the Apple network everything is at your finger tips, so it is just easy.

Cost

One big problem with Apple is the cost. Whilst you could legitimately argue that you get what you pay for, and Apple products are superb, the cost is often disproportionate to the alternatives that other brands can offer. The story of the Magic Mouse is a good example, in that I simply cannot justify spending that much for a mouse when the only major selling point over other brands is that “it is cool”.

Brand

The fact that Apple products are cool is a key selling point. Apple’s biggest asset is that people aspire to own their products. There is a techy class system emerging and Apple is the equivalent of the upper class in many ways. I know a lot of people who own the iPhone simply because it is an iPhone, rather than because it will serve their personal needs better. From my point of view, it was the iCloud which made my decision when actually I think the Galaxy in many ways is a better phone. But the wider Apple package means that for me there was only one choice. And if I am honest, I also think that Apple products are really cool!

Summary

Albeit a very brief overview, one thing I have tried to establish is how easy to it is to get sucked into the Apple whirlpool, probably never to escape. Brand aside, what Apple have done is create a whole suite of integrated products that allow ease of use and convenience in running almost every facet of your technical life. I started out with every intention of staying quite agnostic to brand, but I have increasingly found myself falling in love with the world Apple have created, even if I am not in love with their prices. The biggest change for my family is that now, through Apple devices, we have started to create our family network. And this is quite key, because the world in the future will be like this. We, as family units, will have a network of devices that we need to talk to each other, share information and keep us in contact with one another. So far Apple is the only brand that provides this easily and under one seamless banner, but others will no doubt come. For me, the most significant thing is the consistency of their experience across their devices and software. You don’t need a user manual because you already know how to use them and they are often so  intuitive that a child can do it without instructions. We are an Apple household at the moment because it is easy to be one…although I still have my Samsung Galaxy Tablet to keep me grounded!

Are social media features helpful or just gimmicks?

One thing that we all appear to love on social media sites is being able to get involved with something. Whether it be the ‘Like’ buttons on Facebook, the ‘Retweet’ option on Twitter or the new feature on LinkedIn that allows you to endorse skills for your connections. But as fun as these little features are, what do they actually tell us? Are they an indication of popularity or approval or are they simply misleading and really showing that users like to be involved and so click them without  thinking through what they are associating themselves with?

I will give you an example; on LinkedIn I regularly receive endorsements via the new skills feature, and most times when I log on I will issue a handful of them as well. The way I approach this is that I select the ones that I really feel apply, as if I was giving a reference, so if a good developer I have have previously worked with pops up with HTML as an option then I will happily click to endorse. On the flip side, if a mediocre designer pops up I won’t endorse their design skills. My view is that if you wouldn’t recommend them to someone else then you shouldn’t endorse their skills. But is this how other people are using this feature? Well quite simply put, no.

To give another example; also on LinkedIn recently I received a notification that I had been endorsed for my CSS skills. This came as a bit of a surprise as I am not a developer and although I can fiddle around with a bit of HTML I am certainly not someone who would be recommended for his skills in this area. On closer inspection what was even more surprising was that the person who had endorsed me was a developer I have previously worked with, who is more than well aware that I do not possess these skills. What does this tell us about how people generally use this feature? It suggests that they do not actually look at what they are endorsing and therefore the validity of endorsements on LinkedIn becomes minimal at best.

But why is this concerning? In the not too distant past I went for a job interview and it was made known that my LinkedIn profile had played a significant part in the pre-interview preparation they had done. What I found particularly galling was that at the time I listed my Freelance Photography as one of my jobs, because it is relevant to my professional skills. This became a particularly significant line of questioning as something that they saw as a risk to their business if they hired me. In that particular situation there was nothing fabricated about my profile, it merely showed that as well as my main job I do a freelance job. So if LinkedIn is becoming a tool for recruitment how will the inaccurate endorsements skew opinion for or against a candidate?

Another problem with these features is that Social Media is hard to measure in terms of success. A lot of companies measure their success based on Likes, Shares and Retweets. But if user engagement is anything like LinkedIn’s endorsements feature then this could be misleading. I regularly see on my Facebook wall that people have liked a whole myriad of random companies, some of which they probably wouldn’t ever actually buy something from but liked the pictures, or perhaps their friends liked the company first and so they followed suit.

The ‘Like’ feature on Facebook is a particularly misleading one. It is incredibly common for someone to make a comment on Facebook that provides sad news or misfortune. In that situation the last thing you would normally do is ‘Like’ the comment. If a friend told you that they had cancer you wouldn’t respond by saying “I like that” would you? And yet on Facebook dozens of people will do this and only the savvy few will actually comment and saying “I won’t click Like, because it doesn’t seem right”. It seems that we have an impulse to associate ourselves with other people and their content, in order to connect ourselves and feel a part of it.

The problem for marketeers is gleaning some sort of meaningful statistics from these sorts of engagements. Endorsements, Likes, Retweets and the vast collections of other features out there do offer us one thing, an indication of engagement with users. But this shouldn’t be confused with approval and it shouldn’t be translated into some sort of sales potential. the big problem with Social Media engagement is the common misconception that these platforms offer a direct channel for sales. They don’t! Instead what they offer is the chance to build advocates of brands. There is nothing wrong with getting 1 million followers on Twitter or 1 million likes of your page on Facebook, but this shouldn’t be translated into 1 million potential sales opportunities. A lot of those will be there because of the group mentality to follow, lemming like. What this does mean however, is that there is potential for 1 million users to see your content and be influenced by it. Giving them a reason to see that content and engage with it regularly is the first step in creating advocates of them, and that means that your brand is likely to start resonating with them when they are not viewing your content as well.

In the end Social Media is about networking, not about selling, and understanding the mentality behind this is key. People use social media sites to feel close to each other, to have conversations and to feel involved, not to be sold to. This is invasive and we, as users, don’t like our personal space to be invaded. The industry is trying shift the focus of social sites to allow selling to take place. Advertising is creeping in all over the place, but there is a lot of disapproval from users for this. The social media fad may dip or it may retain its strength, but the sites that will succeed with users will be the ones that maintain the social feel and try to hold back the sales element. Unfortunately this is at odds with the business needs of the companies who build the sites. A cold war is churning away and it will be interesting to see how it is played out. Until then, get sensible with your social media and value your users…they will value you in return.

Twitter – more network media than social media…

For a long time there has been debate as to whether ‘social media’ is the correct term for the online sites such as Facebook, Twitter and the like. I recently experienced the true power of social media and would tend to agree that it goes beyond ‘social’ media. I would describe it as ‘network’ media and this is why.

For a while now I have been mulling over an idea for a new app. I have the skills myself to plan, design and write the specifications for the app, but not being a developer I need someone who I can work with to do this. Having plenty of people I know, and have previously worked with, who are developers I thought that I would send a tweet (which will automatically then publish to my Facebook wall) asking “anyone out there in my network per chance a tame iOS developer? I have an app idea and looking for someone to dev it for me. Get in touch.” I sent this yesterday (10th January 2013) and the intention of my message had been to elicit a response from people I knew, but the key word I had used was ‘network’ and that took on a whole new meaning over the course of the following 8 hours.

Within an hour I had received tweets from 3 freelance developers, none of whom were followers of mine or people I followed. I also did not know them through Facebook. As the day continued I received further contact from people offering their company or themselves as a possible developer of my app project. This escalated to the point where by the end of the working day, only a matter of 4 or 5 hours after I had posted the tweet, I had been inundated with people offering development services and not one of them was someone I knew, followed or was following me. The power of Twitter as a networking tool was really beginning to show, whilst Facebook had shamefully failed to deliver a single response). Nonetheless, this was useful. I opened a dialogue on Twitter with a  couple of the more promising developers and passed them my private gmail account to continue the conversation.

But then things started to get a little bit uncomfortable. In logging in to my privately owned domain, where I reserve an email address for non-spam type personal things, I found an email waiting for me from another Indian based app agency, quoting my Tweet in the subject line. I try to limit the use of this email for such things so I immediately wondered where they had got this from. I responded and asked some pertinent questions about their service, experience and rates and also queried where they had got my email address from. It was beginning to feel a little bit like being stalked but as a savvy digital operator I wasn’t that concerned and as I got into the car to drive home that day I reflected on the merits of Twitter as a networking tool as well as a social tool. And then my phone rang…

The voice that greeted me on the other end of the phone was a charming and very well spoken Indian woman who said that she was one of the business development managers at an India based app development house. She asked if it would be convenient to chat with me about the requirements for the app I wanted to develop. I politely asked if she could email me through some examples of their work and their rate, expecting her to ask for my email address, but instead she thanked me for my time and hung up. By the time I got home (a 45 minute drive) an email from her was awaiting me. So she already had my email address as well, albeit my google one rather than my private one.

Today I have received further contact from other people, freelance and agency, offering to help me. They have been based in Los Angeles, New York, India and Sri Lanka and the list continues to grow. Because they have my google email I have also had a gtalk request from one of the Indian freelance developers. One of the agencies has also re-tweeted my comment, opening up the network of people who will directly see my comment even further, let alone those who will see it based on a word filter – which the original contactees must have done. The world really is networked and ready to respond.

What is quite amazing about this experience is the willingness of people to contact someone across this medium. From one comment I have received dozens of responses and none of them are people are know. What is even more amazing is the amount of people who have contacted me directly having seen the tweet, rather than via Twitter, as they have gone to the effort of searching for my email. In one case it must have been by going to one of my websites and pulling it from there. Some might find the whole experience a little intrusive, especially if they had meant the tweet to be strictly for those who know them as I had originally intended. For me, however, it highlights a whole new possibility for networking and finding people who can help me push forward a development. In the space of a couple of hours I had achieved more than a recruiter would have done for me in 2 weeks, and more importantly it was all free. Even better, I didn’t have anything lost in translation in terms of my requirements as a non-technical recruiter wasn’t the one talking to them.

Having had this experience my eyes have been opened a little more to the power and usefulness of Twitter. There are a couple of things to take from this, most importantly how easy it is for someone to find your contact details. If you don’t want them to have an email address then make sure it isn’t listed anywhere as these people are persistent. The second is that if you are going to put a message like that out there, expect to receive this kind of response. As this sort of thing develops I anticipate it will become harder to sort the wheat from the chaff and new ways will need to be found to allow people to eliminate ‘spam’ responses. But for the time being I urge people to see the power of network media, for that is what it is. Don’t forget, we are all linked by 6 people or less. Social is out…networking is in!

(P.S. It is still shocking that none of my colleagues want to earn any extra cash, as none of them have responded!)