Category Archives: Mobile

Back To Work and… Chat Republic

It’s been quite summer. Just returned from a one-week break, headlong into school.

While this blog’s been quiet, so much has transpired – controversies, new questions arising about what happens when citizens ‘speak out’ or question governments, and the (expected) paranoia about Chat Apps.

Just came across this post by Groundviews, about my book. It serves as a good backgrounder to some of the topics discussed in Chat Republic.

For those of you who have sent me Q&As about the book, my sincere apologies. Meanwhile there’s a lot happening in eduction that’s equally fascinating, as my school, and my class, specifically gets into a S-T-E-M eduation program this year. You can find out more about my work in this realm at

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Posted by on August 5, 2013 in Chat Republic, Education, Mobile


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Always on, always live

We use the word ‘always-on’ so flippantly these days, we often have no idea what it means.

We use it to suggest being tethered (“my phone is always with me”), or that we are contactable through many devices and points of contact (“find me at these various places…”).

Being Always-On means other things to organizations. They are on people’s radar, will be talked about, tweeted, linked to, photographed etc. Every interaction is an ‘on’ switch that’s permanently green.

To that point about photography, you may have come across the silly move by United to offload a passenger travelling from Newark to Istanbul, for taking photos of the digital panel on the seat in front of him. Read the story here.

Indeed, United had a passenger policy about cameras. (Just the mention of United and ‘policy’ immediately brought to my mind another kerfuffle involving guitars!). But how they exercised that policy and communicated it was just unfortunate.

I’ve travelled with a camera and taken numerous pictures inflight, as I am sure you have. Some of those pictures have been used on this blog. As a writer I use photos to record an idea or an object that I would refer to later, even if I don’t publish it. With so many billions of camera-equipped phones in circulation, it’s lame to even have a no-photograph policy –except in security-related situations.

The whole point is, we inhabit this always-on space on the ground, in the air, under the ocean and even in our work environments. (Heck, I have two installed cameras in my room, plus an SLR that I whip out ever so often; my students know that they may be on camera anytime!)

With that in mind, you may want to listen to one of my favorite podcasters, CC Chapman and his take on the United fiasco: The Always On Society.

Note: CC Chapman is one of the podcasters I interviewed for my upcoming book, Chat Republic. The book will be out in May 2013.


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Inconvenient truths about Citizen journalists

Are you rooting for mainstream journalism or the grassroots variety?

How about both? One has the training. The other has the temperament. One has the credibility. The other has access. Mainstream journalism and citizen journalism are shaking hands, and the consequences may be very interesting for the media we consume and our role as potential collaborators.

We typically think of citizen journalists as these accidental reporters –those who in the face of a catastrophic event, grab a cell-phone, and capture a story that would have otherwise never been recorded. We recall the first heartbreaking reports of the 2004 tsunami captured by citizens in Sri Lanka. Commuters, not trained reporters, provided the first grainy videos when terrorist bombed subways and buses in London in 2005. Likewise, the first images of the dramatic ‘splash landing’ of an U.S Airways flight into the Hudson river in Manhattan, New York, were captured by a citizen journalist.

Today, we are witnessing the rise of a new breed of reporters, an ‘accidental profession’ that has begun to turn more professional (‘Pro’) than amateur (‘Am’).

Some ex-journalists and entrepreneurs have spotted opportunities in this space and have begun to create business models, albeit non-profit businesses. One of them, The Uptake (,  is a citizen ‘fueled’ news organization. Chuck Olsen, co-founder of The Uptake calls it ‘committing an act of journalism.’ Meaning, going out there and finding the story, not reacting to it.

Mohammed Nabbous, killed in Benghazi, Libya in March 2011, was one of the bravest citizen journos of our time, killed while uploading a story. Check out a video of these last moments at In the last part of this video you can sense he is terribly impatient, waiting as a large file uploads from his camera.

“Where is the media?” he asks, rhetorically, with gunfire just outside his door.  It does not strike him that he was “The Media’ –an Am behaving like, and filling the void of, a Pro.

Today many mainstream news organizations have embedded elements of citizen journalism, often training their reporters to use the tools that the Ams take for granted. BBC, for instance is training its reporters to use iPhone apps to file stories. This month, The New York Times opened up a story for citizen participation in making sense of a boatload of email records (24,199) from Sarah Palin. “We’re asking readers to help us identify interesting and newsworthy e-mails, people and events that we may want to highlight.

You could find a broader discussion of this evolving Pro-Am model in an upcoming article.


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Will teachers grab onto Augmented Reality?

What kind of crazy person will incorporate Augmented Reality in a classroom?

Don’t student’s already have too much of gaming and visual distraction in their lives? I hear you. But AR is a whole new system. I don’t think a teacher’s age will be a factor of adoption. I’ve met some who are willing to do anything to make text-books and charts come alive. They will be those who say ‘this is way too technical for us’ –the same ones who fear digital readers will kill libraries, or think blogs are too scary–and stick to photocopies and glue.

Unfortunately students may not agree! Many of them come to school with some digital device in their backpack. They cannot turn them on, but they sure know how to use them. Then, when they leave their analog classroom, and get back home, they become fully-engaged digital citizens. Something’s wrong with this picture!

OK, I over-simplified the problem. Classrooms are not exactly analog. We do have computers for students to use. We do have smart boards such as Blackboard and Promethean. But often, these are used to broaden and amplify what the teacher has to say, not what the student might be ready to experience.

I have covered Augmented Reality many times before, especially how it is being used in business environments. Now, as it begins making tentative steps into the classroom, we need to make sure educators understand where this is coming from, where it is headed. Many will want to understand how it might integrate with that marvelous piece of technology a.k.a the text book!

Yesterday, I interviewed Scot Jochim, from Digital Tech Frontier, a Tempe, Arizona-based company. He has some radical ideas about how AR could be embedded in educational environments to enhance ‘non-linear skill sets.’  (Stay tuned for a longer post on that interview.)

As I have moved from the digital world of business into teaching, I am exploring how schools of the future might be run.

  • Will they be something like the twilight zone scenario portrayed by Ira Glass in a recent episode of This American Life, which featured Brooklyn Free School?
  • Or will it be there be social media-enhanced curricula, such as the school profiled in The New York Times, where a teacher in Sioux Rapids, Iowa uses a Twitter-like feature in a literature class?
In an upcoming story, ‘Messing Around In Class,’ I featured how Higher Ed is moving in this direction, away from the ‘Sage on the Stage’ model to more interactive, collaborative classrooms. Truly inspiring work at Purdue, Scottsdale Community College, and Singapore Management University.

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Farewell To Always-On!

Noise. We hear a lot of it. Sometimes in the form of amplified sound. Other times in a lot of useless chatter.

In the past few weeks, since I gave up my Blackberry and YES, downgraded to a regular phone, I’ve rediscovered what it means to face a day minus the noise that streams into our lives.

But there is another type of noise that’s ramping up as the US election season moves into gear. The noise of politicians trying to get  all ears tuned to their agenda.

This image tells us something about how the hoi polloi could sometimes wrestle control and ask the noise-makers to listen, for a change.

What’s the context here? The lady, supposedly, someone named Virginia Vollmer, used the bullhorn (at a rally in Tennessee)  to ‘talk back’ to the anti-healthcare reform person on the right.

There are many means to change the ‘signal-to-noise’ ratio, which refers to how much of the original signal has been drowned or corrupted by the noise.  Sometimes it means turning out the stuff you don’t need to hear or watch. At other times –and I’m not saying this is for everyone –it might mean getting rid of the amplification devices entirely.

In a great post by Josip Petrusa, he notes that we have all become willing accomplices in this noise-making, in the senseless amplification of the good, the bad and the useless information.

The resulting impact of this has glorified, popularized and hyped events, actions and individuals that were ordinary, everyday and commonplace pre-social media into something beyond wild expectations and possibility. I

…Social media itself has fallen victim and benefactor to the cruelty and kindness of this effect. 

For me, suddenly there’s a lot more time for reading, for conversations across a table or in a parking lot.  After many years of being always-on, it’s refreshing to be able to sometimes-on, and focus on what I really care about, at my own pace.


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Once upon a tree –powerful outdoor activism

What does this look like?

Sure, a dead tree. But what did it give up its life for? Hint: It’s part of an outdoor campaign for forest conservation in China.

You’ll never rip open a pack of chopsticks again, just to play with it in a restaurant.

I just can’t resist campaigns like this where words become unnecessary. The trees were made from 80,000 pairs of used chopsticks, and ‘planted’ in public squares.

However if you prefer words, interactive outdoor is so much more powerful than some of the boring, static billboards we see around town for business schools, restaurants, movies.  Check this out: passers by are encouraged to text in their message, and watch as the words get changed to display it.



Podcast: Is mobile marketing on the right dirt track?

I don’t know the answer to this. I don’t even know what ‘‘The future of the internet’ is, even though I was featured on a podcast by Antonio Edward about this week.

But I think he was trying to tease out what we practitioners of social media and Marcom think of the mobile device as it becomes the primary means of connecting, communicating and collaborating online.

This I do know.

  • There is far too much that tech companies and advocates of their tools take for granted. Many people are still in at the ground level when it comes to tagging, quick response codes, social media collaboration, and ‘location-aware social networking.’ What’s that? Exactly my point!
  • The iPhone and iPad are sucking up all the oxygen of publicity and discussion, so people on other operating systems haven’t begun to discover value in the ‘laptop replacement device’ in their pockets.

With info-graphics like these who needs words?

Once again I turn my attention to info-graphics.

This one by Fast Company is really neat, even if you aren’t particularly interested in the shake-up between Blackberries, iPhones and the attack of the Androids.

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Posted by on May 21, 2010 in Best Practices, Journalism, Mobile


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What if Starbucks ‘saw’ my review in real time?

I’m sitting here at Starbucks with a bunch of uber talented technology folk, discussing mobile apps and what it would take for a mobile device to play a  seamless–frictionless — part of role in ia community.

We experiment with the usual suspects (Facebook, FourSquare, Twitter, Flickr) the ships and shoes and sealing wax of community building, but it strikes me that sometimes the simple things might still work, and be a win-win for the marketer and the customer.

For example: I snap this picture with my phone, email it to my Flickr account and ta-da, it appears in my album. I’ve been doing this for years. If you look on the bottom right of this blog (at least this week) it shows up here too.

But what if the act of tagging the photo and uploading it triggers something that tells Starbucks marketing that there is a potential review going out from this zip code, and this mobile device. What if, by triangulating a Quick Response code on the cup of iced tea, my FourSquare signature, and my phone, they could send me a digital coupon?

A new lens. Marketers are often flying blind. Yes they fall back on market research, but they seldom engage in real-time marketing intelligence gathering. Tracking and sensing how people are using a mobile device to navigate through and interact with their service providers would be a boon to not just coffee shops. Book stores, movie studios (think ‘citizen critics’ using a cell phone to review a movie before the closing credits!), theme parks, airlines etc could look at the mobile device as solution to an opportunity they never even thought of. If only they can find ‘sensors’ that tell them who’s talking them up -or down.

And why do these opportunities rarely show up? Because they tend to be seen through the lens called ‘marketing.’ It’s time to switch the focus.

Screw on the lens marked ‘conversations.’


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Why do carriers still sell locked phones?

Imagine this scenario. You buy a tuxedo online from Kohls for an upcoming event. When it arrives you realize that it still has a security tag you cannot break. You call the store to find a way to remove it and they give you the runaround. Thy say they need to contact manufacturer, Croft and Barrow, to get an unlocked code. Please give them 48-hours until they they hear from the manufacturer, and email you. Meanwhile the event you need to attend comes and goes, but the product you paid for is unusable.

OK, hypothetical situation, but that’s what a locked cell phone represents. A crippled product. Companies such as T-Mobile that sell locked phones are blind to the reality that (a) the device, once paid for does not belong to them or the manufacturer anymore. It should be open by default (b) the world is flat and boundaries have blurred. People should not need customer service intervention to replace a SIM card when roaming.

I had the bad luck to travel to Sri Lanka earlier this month with such a crippled phone — a T-Mobile Dash made by HTC– because I had no time to call to check if it was locked or not. I realized my problem when I tried to swap my SIM card. I got online and found a way to chat with a customer service rep who said it can take up to 48 hours to get the phone unlocked.

I told her they had to be kidding. What kind of unconnected world were they operating in? Two days was a sort of a good turnaround, apparently.

She: When we have to email the manufacture it can take up to 14 days to get a response.

Not good enough, I said.

She: I will inform my supervisor of this issue to see if there is anything that we can do however when we have to e-mail the manufacture we just have to wait for there response as that is out of our hands to get a sooner responses.

Sooner, as in two weeks and counting. I am back in the US. Still no unlocked code. I called twice, checked my email and junk-mail folder. Still no code. That’s why there’s such a thing as text messaging, I tell them –to bypass email.

But the bigger question is not how long it takes to solve a problem, or how to communicate with a customer. The real question is: Why on earth do mobile phone companies sell locked-down smart phones?  I can only imagine three reasons:

  1. Forced loyalty. It makes customers feel they have to grovel to get their basic rights.
  2. Easy revenue: Even if 10 percent of customers get trapped in a situation like this and roam, the money to be made is just too good to forfeit.
  3. Clueless. Carriers don’t take trouble to understand just what usage patterns their customers have. They are still trapped into the old marketing mindset of selling ‘packages’ – few sizes fit all. Customers’ social, professional and economic patterns have changed but carriers have never bothered to find out.

It will take legislation for companies this backward to comply with basic customer rights. It will take a lot of disgruntled customers who say bye-bye to them, for the T-Mobiles of this world to wake up.




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