A Winning Blog

I only follow two blogs regularly, which are the Huffington Post blog and the smitten kitchen blog. I enjoy the Huffington Post blog because it covers a whole array of topics ranging from Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling movies and presidential candidates to Black Friday madness and human rights. The smitten kitchen blog, on the other hand, is devoted entirely to cooking recipes. For the purposes of my digital systems assignment, I’m going to focus on the smitten kitchen blog because it’s the blog that I visit and pay attention to the most.

Here’s a screenshot of the blog and what it looks like when you enter it.

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Of course, the title, image and date is constantly changing because the blog is updated regularly, but what I really love about this blog is that it is chock full of sharp, colorful, high-definition images and detailed anecdotes that Deb Perelman, the blogger, includes in each blog post. Perelman focuses on visual content, which really draws me in and makes me stay on the blog. She doesn’t simply insert one image per blog post or recipe, she includes a handful of images that show different phases of the cooking process—the ingredients in a bowl, the final product, etc.

One of the best features of the blog is the easily accessible navigation area located on the left side of the blog that lets me find any recipe based on a specific ingredient I want to use (e.g., apples, beans and legumes, pumpkin, etc.) or a general category of food that I might be craving (e.g., sweets, appetizers, vegetarian, celebration cakes).

The blog is easy to navigate through and easy to read and comprehend, and it allows me to do some extensive searching when I’m on a mission to find the best recipe for dinner, dessert or a potluck.

Last but not least, the blog has a neutral and easy-on-the-eyes color palette of gray and white, that effectively contrasts with the sharp images. The overall look and feel of the blog is minimalistic and simple, which is my absolute favorite site style.

I highly recommend smitten kitchen for anyone looking to try their hand at cooking or to build their repertoire. Perelman does a great job providing easy recipes that don’t require “pretentious ingredients” as she says like truffle oil or a $10 jar of fancy salt.

 

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BuzzFeed and Advertising

This past week we delved into the advertising world. I particularly enjoyed this past week’s readings and asynchronous homework which is a good sign that specializing in advertising might be the way to go! I still have some time to decide, but until then I’ve been working on my case study for class.

My case study is about how BuzzFeed uses social content to drive their native ad approach. It took me several days to figure out what I wanted to research and write about. I chose BuzzFeed because it has grown into one of the most successful digital publishers. Huge brands and companies are now turning to BuzzFeed in an effort to try to emulate the brand’s methods and approaches to both content production and advertising.

With the help of Dr. Strahler, I was able to narrow down my case study and I’m in the midst of writing the analytical portion of my final paper. So far, I’ve nabbed an interview with BuzzFeed Creative Director Melissa Rosenthal. If you do a little research, you’ll find she’s young in age, but extremely bright.

Forbes featured her in their 2014 30 Under 30 list and Buzzfeed staff say Melissa is not only extremely capable but also a pioneer in launching BuzzFeed’s current advertising approach and content production methods. Melissa works with a large 40+ member team to produce campaigns for clients around the world — one of their first was General Electric.

These campaigns turn into native ads where BuzzFeed features articles that have the same exact look and feel as the BuzzFeed brand with a small note at the top that says “Sponsored Ad” or “Sponsored by…” to inform readers that what they are reading is, in fact, a native ad. But it’s a native ad that is so well integrated onto the BuzzFeed page, that no one would even realize it’s an ad. When I heard this approach, I thought: That’s the way to advertise.

No one wants to (or enjoys) visiting a website only to be interrupted by a huge banner ad or a pop-up that says “Continue in 12 seconds.” Melissa refers to that type of advertising as “disruptive,” and I couldn’t agree more.

These are just some of the highlights from my discussion with BuzzFeed’s creative director and I’m so excited to share the rest of my interview in my case study.

Information + Digital Age

We’ve all heard the term “Information Age” and we’re all, for the most part, pretty familiar with the digital world. In Week 8 of Intro to Digital Communications, we discussed how journalism and journalism ethics and values have been affected by both the information age and the digital world, era, whatever you want to call it. Here, I’ll briefly discuss different views on how journalism and the media industry is shifting and, as a refresher, I’ll list the age-old journalism values that still exist today.

According to Dr. Strahler, some argue that the information age has led to too much unchecked data, too much unthoughtful discussion. We’re also in an era where we want information right now, not tomorrow, which isn’t the best for print media like newspapers which publish daily, not every second.

Because the public’s values and lifestyles are changing so much, journalists and media outlets have been scrambling to navigate the digital space, adapt to these changes and discover new, innovative, creative ways of delivering a compelling story without losing the target audience. For the most part, I’d argue that media outlets and publications are doing just fine. 

One of my peers mentioned that for the last several years, we’ve heard things like “print media is sinking,” but print publications like Vogue or TIME have quickly and successfully figured out how to stay afloat by leveraging digital platforms. They understand that most people watch more videos on their phone than on the actual television, for example. In fact, 25% of online video viewers are watching less TV than they were a year ago, one survey reports.

In order to target frequent visitors, publications now have an entire video library on the website, making visitors feel as though what they’re seeing is exclusive and one of a kind. So yes, in that small example, the media landscape is changing but journalism isn’t disappearing and neither is print media. It’s simply about readjusting the approach and reaching audiences in more organic and creative ways.

Additionally, journalists now have an immense responsibility to fact check and deliver accurate news now that there’s a constant influx of “news” all over the Internet from tons of sources — both reliable and not. Not only that, but journalists are not just competing with each other anymore; citizen journalists (or everyday people reporting news) are now frequently breaking news before a professional journalist does.

Professor Robert Picard of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism says that the media is “increasingly relying on photos, videos and information provided by citizen journalists.” Indeed, this seems to be the case. Think Ferguson riots and people posting live photos or videos of it on Twitter, or the recent tragedy that took place in Virginia when one WDBJ7 reporter and cameraman were shot live on television and the perpetrator posted the video on social media.

What does this call for? Certainly a need for journalists to build more media literacy…in being able to filter out the bad material (or non-credible) that’s available and push out the good.

I’ll leave you with the following journalistic values that still exist today.

  • Neutral
  • Truthful
  • Accurate
  • Objective / Unbiased
  • Accountable
  • Public Interest First
  • Oh…and remember to cover all angles of a story!

How Big Data Has Changed the Shopping Experience

For week 7 of Intro to Digital Communications, we discussed big data — what it means and how it has transformed industries including sports, health care and, what I’ll be covering tonight, retail.

Big Data seems like a loaded term, but when my peers and I dissected it in class, we all came to a similar conclusion that big data is a fancy way of saying there’s a lot of data available to us, ready to be mined, analyzed and used, and all industries are finding interesting ways to do so.

When it comes to the shopping experience, retailers are tapping into big data, finding talented data analysts and scientists and leveraging what they discover, which ultimately provides retailers with a unique competitive advantage. In a Forbes article, writer Kashmir Hill details an incident when an outraged father stormed the retail giant Target asking why his young daughter received coupons and ads for maternity wear and baby products. Turns out, Target knew exactly what they were doing.

According to the article, “Target assigns every customer a Guest ID number, tied to their credit card, name, or email address that becomes a bucket that stores a history of everything they’ve bought and any demographic information Target has collected from them or bought from other sources.” A Target statistician analyzed buying data for women who were signing up for baby registries at Target — little did the outraged father know, his daughter was one of those women. But by leveraging data in this way, retailers are able to personalize the shopping experience for every single consumer based on their current interests or values.

Fifteen years ago, this kind of personalized shopping experience didn’t exist. When I say “this kind” I mean the personalized coupons in the mail, the advertisements of the last product you looked at that follow you on the Internet, and the list of product recommendations that appear on the side of Facebook, Amazon, Target sites and more. Not only that, but retailers are also using big data to alter customers’ shopping experience inside the store — not just online — by shifting the interior layout and design.

A New York Times blog post touches on this topic and clearly explains how this is done in retailers such as CVS and Walmart. CVS, for example, shuffled its products around after analysts looked at buying data and found that most customers who purchase toothpaste and floss also purchase beauty products; so, of course, you’ll now find toothpaste near the strawberry lip gloss. At the same time, CVS leveraged data to better understand the needs of its customers and found that frequent customers were those who visited the pharmacy a lot and the needs of customers vary based on geographic location.

While this new shopping experience is certainly convenient and, in some cases, fun, I have to mention that big data doesn’t come without risks. Think Target data breach, for example.

So, just be wary and the next time you enter your favorite retail store and wonder why the snack aisle is first or why the floss is next to the cosmetics, just remember: Big Data.

Privacy and Security Online

In Week 5 of Intro to Digital Communications, we discussed media law, ethics, data security and privacy on the Internet. The class was tasked with finding an article related to any of the aforementioned topics. Mine was about the Snapchat photo leak that happened just last year. For those of you who don’t remember, hackers leaked 100,000 photos of mostly minors from a third-party application called SnapSaver.

But first, if you’re not familiar with the app called Snapchat, here’s a quick rundown of what it’s all about: Snapchat allows users to send and receive images and texts that instantly self-destruct and disappear within 10 seconds. The app stores each user’s email, phone and username and also keeps a log of the last 200 “snaps” that were sent or received, but no one is actually digging through it, supposedly. When a receiver screenshots your “snap,” to keep a memory of it, the sender is notified. All of this is supposed to protect our privacy, but does it?

Based on cases like the Snapchat situation, our class discussion sparked conversations about privacy and security online. Does it exist? What are current expectations about privacy online and are they reasonable?

While it’s true that Snapchat is an app that requires the trust of its consumers, Professor Strahler noted that not all of this “private information” is truly private. The primary set of laws that govern Snapchat’s ability to disclose user information lies within the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

The Act states that they may share information about users in response to legal processes with or required by any applicable law, rule, or regulation to investigate or remedy potential violations of user agreements, policies…and the safety of us, users, or others. In other words, Snapchat can and will share our information in certain legal situations.

And that’s not all. According to an NBC article entitled “Online privacy fears are real,” I found that there exists some truly frightening stories of individuals being stalked, facing identity theft and more. CEO of privacy technology firm Privada Inc Rick Jackson reminds us that “There are a lot more people tracking you than you think. The data world is a very powerful and lucrative marketplace with a lot of players involved.”

According to the article, Jackson “points to a Washington Post story that revealed that 11 pharmaceutical companies — including Pfizer Inc., SmithKline Beecham PLC, Glaxo Wellcome PLC – had formed an alliance and were tracking every click consumers made across their sites, then comparing notes. Consumers were never told.”

In addition, we’re reminded of how the Internet first came to be. It was created as a free and open resource, never designed to protect individuals’ privacy. Now, here we are. Fears rising.

The lesson here is we should never post, send, or forward anything online that we would regret later. While we live in a world where we are all arguably obsessed with using apps, social media and the Internet, we have to keep in mind that once something’s online, it’s logged forever.

In the article “What We Post Online Is Forever, and We Need a Reminder,” Inc. writer Meredith Fineman summed it up nicely: “It’s a lot easier to control the conversation than it is to change it,” which is something I also mentioned in class. As online users we are largely responsible for what exists online. While we can’t control what other people will post about us in certain situations, we can control what we post, send, and forward.

So, to answer the earlier question: Apps like Snapchat, sites like Facebook and platforms like WordPress all exist in the online space. While we may feel some sense of privacy in posting a “private blog post” or sending a disappearing “snap,” none of those items are truly private.

To avoid running into a mess in the future, remember this: Before you send it, think about how you’ll feel if it resurfaced 1 day, 1 month, 10 years from now. Will it make you regret it? Will it harm you? If so, don’t follow through.

A Glance at the Digital Divide

This past week, I was reminded of the digital divide. The divide is a widening gap between different demographics of people who either have access, limited access or no access to communications technologies like computers, tablets and phones. I live in a community where all of my friends own a smartphone, a laptop, a desktop and even a tablet. But many people in the U.S. and around the world don’t even have access to those technologies. Here’s a look at some interesting numbers:

The Pew Research Center found that 64% of U.S. adults — nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population — own a smartphone. However, 10% of Americans who own a smartphone don’t even have Internet or a broadband connection.

Think about that for a second. 10% of Americans own a smartphone but don’t have basic Internet. 13% who have a household income of less than $30,000 claim to be “heavily dependent” on their smartphones while only 1% of those with a household income of $75,000+ feel the same.

This shows a tremendous shift in our cultural values. It used to be the case that we all wanted to have a computer and an Internet connection, but now having a smartphone is seemingly more important; even crucial. In fact, CNBC touched on this topic saying that smartphones are “lifelines” for today’s “poor Americans.”

The digital divide is apparent here in that only certain demographics of people, only certain communities view smartphones (a comm tech) as a “lifeline.” While those with higher income barely think the same. In fact, one could argue that high-income communities of people view certain technologies as mere accessories.

The Pew Research Center also found that “those with relatively low income and educational attainment levels, younger adults, and non-whites are especially likely to be ‘smartphone-dependent.'” I’m only focusing on smartphones as one form of comm tech because most readers can understand how smartphones are an integral part of our daily lives. However, it’s important to note that there are many other forms of communications technologies; smartphones are not the only form.

Many might be wondering what exactly causes this digital divide. What factors contribute to this widening gap between populations, regions and communities?

  • Age and Race
  • Income
  • Education
  • Community/Region
  • Health

For example, if you are born into a wealthy family and grow up in a homogenous community where families are just like yours and there is little diversity, chances are you’ll grow up being exposed to all different kinds of communications technologies; you’ll have the opportunity to learn how to use it at a young age and, if you’re in the U.S., you’ll be part of the 64% of Americans who own a smartphone.

Why? Because you have the financial support and access to resources and information necessary to have a smartphone and know how to use it, too.

But what we tend to forget is this: There are 7 billion (and counting) people in the world and, as of last year, only 2.1 billion have access to a smartphone. That means nearly 5 billion people are left in the dark. It’s been predicted that an estimated 6+ billion people will eventually have a smartphone by 2020 but until then it’s important to address how we can help accelerate access to comm tech.

In class, we discussed ways to narrow this digital divide. Here are some key topics of discussion:

  • Improve accessibility by addressing knowledge gaps and poor infrastructure in public education systems.
  • Implement community programs to bring affordable Internet to high-needs areas to help fill the void of lack of information in high-needs areas and improve digital literacy.
  • Provide free resources to impoverished communities that can’t afford it so they can be exposed to comm tech and learn how to use it. Introduce basic skills and tech to those who are less educated on comm tech information.

Before I go, I want to note that the digital divide is due in large part to the economic divide between populations and communities. It’s important to understand the economic divide in trying to fully understand the digital divide.

So, how do you think we should narrow the digital divide gap?

Social Media Platforms

Words with Friends, Venmo, Yelp, and even Netflix — what do these all have in common? They’re social media platforms. They allow us to instantly engage with others via an Internet connection.

But, wait. What are were the precursors to social media? Based off of this past week’s lectures and readings, I learned that some of the precursors to social media include bulletin board systems, online services and instant messaging (and avatars!). Remember when AOL Instant Messaging was our go-to form of online communication?

All of that eventually led to the platforms we can’t imagine living without: social media. Believe it or not, some of the first types of social networking sites were online dating sites and forums. Fun fact: The first real social media site was called SixDegrees, created in 1997, which allowed users to connect with others and form contact and friend lists. LiveJournal showed up in the late 90s and then Friendster, LinkedIn, MySpace and, of course, Facebook.

In the brief time period between the mid-90s and early 2000s, I can see how these social media platforms changed with our cultural values. For instance, Dr. Strahler noted that forums, which were popular in the early 90s, signified the values of the online community at the time — participatory culture. This is when we seek feedback from others and interact by commenting, and sharing ideas and experiences.

LiveJournal, which launched in 1999, was simply a platform for users to write about their experiences online. There wasn’t a ton of customization or multimedia options at the time. Now, we can post and record videos on social media sites. It’s not just about the copy anymore.

When Facebook first started, users spent a lot of time writing on their friends’ walls and using Facebook as a way to stay in touch with friends via wall-to-wall conversations. Now, users rarely have conversations on friends’ walls and, instead, use Facebook as a platform to display what they deem are important and valuable in their life.

Additionally, users private message friends using Facebook chat instead of Facebook walls. (Facebook Chat was the fifth most used mobile app with 43.1% of users in a ComScore mobile app data survey using the app. That number surpassed the popularity of Google Maps, Instagram and even Twitter, so it gives you an idea of how popular this social app has grown to be.)

To see how social media continues to impact our lives, Dr. Strahler had us view this powerful video: 

One of the biggest takeaways was how seniors (yes, our grandmothers and fathers!) are the fastest growing demographic to sign up for Twitter. I never imagined that my grandmother would be the latest person to tweet something out to the world. Not only that, but what I thought was a 10-second attention span for all online users is now a 7-second attention span. Our attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish which has an 8-second attention span!

What does this tell me? That our brains are processing an exorbitant amount of information through social media platforms and the media. It also looks like the gap between generations is, in some cases, becoming more narrow when it comes to using social media. And while our cultural media consumption values and needs have shifted from oral communication to written communication and now multimedia visual storytelling, so too have the user interfaces and features of the social media sites we know, love and obsess over today.

The Transformation of the Internet

In our second Intro to Digital Communications class, we went into small breakout groups to discuss the meaning and function of the Internet. The Internet was originally established to allow individuals in the military and academia world to collect and share information from a distributed network, which, in simpler terms, means that if any connection breaks, information can be rerouted and transferred to where it needs to go with zero interruption in the network. With that crash course of a history lesson aside, one of the key themes in my group discussion was the social impact of the Internet. In answer to “What are the functions of the Internet as a communication tool [today]?,” my group agreed that we can now connect with anyone from anywhere in the world at any time via audio and video conferencing tools such as Google Hangouts and Skype; we can entertain ourselves and share it with our network (think cat videos and funny memes); and we’re able to multi-task—talk to friends, keep tabs on people we know, browse news and gossip columns—with ease and flexibility.

While the Internet has transformed from an information-sharing system to a powerful communication tool, there still exists disadvantages—one being the way in which the Internet eliminates in-person interactions. In our four-person group alone, three out of four students say they rely on Internet apps and instant messaging clients (like Google chat) to talk to co-workers and managers instead of talking to them in person. One of my peers said many employees at her company hide behind their computers, which may contribute to the reason why they struggle with face-to-face communication and socializing. This small observation signifies the shift in our current needs and values. Ten years ago, virtual meetings were uncommon and frequently frowned upon, but now, virtual meetings taking place more frequently in the workplace (in Forbes’ “Telecommuting is the Future of Work” article, writer Meghan Biro says 30 to 45 percent of the company employees she partners with work remotely). In addition, world-class educational institutions are leveraging the Internet’s function as a communication tool to offer students an education that mirrors the brick-and-mortar classroom curriculum. U.S. News & World Report launched its first set of online education program rankings in 2012, for example, due to the more than 5 million online students that existed during that time. And that number continues to grow.

When thinking about how the Internet has changed since its inception in the late 1960s, I can’t help but notice one glaring (and relatively new) Internet feature that has sparked progressive change in business, education, science, and entertainment: the social component. The Internet is no longer just a primary resource where we collect and search for information. The Internet is now a platform for us to connect, communicate, live update and socialize. Facebook connects 1.3 billion people in more than 70 languages and crowdfunding site Kickstarter has funded more than 60,000 creative projects and users have pledged $1 billion dollars (and counting!) since it was established in 2009. Amazon started out as an online book store in 1995. Fast forward 20 years later, Amazon is the leading e-commerce site, surpassing Walmart in both profit and popularity.

So, whats ahead? We discussed Web 3.0 also known as the “Semantic Web,” which is the concept of all online information being part of a database where everything is connected and categorized in ways that are meaningful to us. As explained in the 10th edition of Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age text, “Search engines of today generate relevant Web pages for us to read, [but] the software of the Semantic Web will make our lives even easier as it places the basic information…into meaningful categories—family, friends, calendars, mutual interests, location—and makes significant connections for us. The text provides more concrete examples: Think Siri on Apple devices and the Siemens refrigerator that takes a snapshot of the inside of the fridge each time you close the door. Web 3.0 is the current Internet—updated. Web 3.0 will be more personalized, maybe even grossly convenient. 20 years from now, I anticipate we’ll be so incredibly reliant on the Internet and electronic functionalities (yes, even moreso than we are now), that no one will think of the Internet as a separate entity in any way. It’ll be so intertwined with our way of life—it’ll become our life, our air, our only way to function in society.

Some may argue it’s for the best and these changes will lead to a smarter, more innovative world population, while others will look back with nostalgia and wish there was a way to turn off the Internet for just a day. Which group will you be part of when the Internet goes through another transformation?

BONUS: Throwback!

Media: What’s Credible, What’s Not?

Today marks my first day as a Newhouse graduate student. Over the next 18 months, I’ll be sharing my experiences after every live class on the virtual platform and adding my thoughts on what I learned and what piqued my interest the most. Tonight’s class focused on media: “How does it impact society?,” “Can we keep up with media convergence and technology?,” and “How do you know if a source or site is credible?”

Media impacts society today by shaping our views, regurgitating current cultural values and (hopefully) making us sharply question what we know. There are pros and cons to media today. Pros include our ability to personalize our media consumption experience. There are so many channels on TV, so many resources to look through when performing research and so many different personas and experts on social media weighing in on important topics — and we can access all of it with a click of a button. The cons, however, raise key questions in thinking about media: Is there too much misinformation out there and how can we resolve the problem of homogenous thinking? In my experience, I see friends and family only watching one news channel (e.g., CNN, FOX, ABC) and the fact is each news network presents information from one specific angle because they have one specific agenda: to tell their audience what they want to know the way they want to know it. Why? For profit. To stay relevant in this fast-changing media industry where someone can get famous from a 30-second Vine video — which takes me to the subject of credibility in the media.

Professor Strahler asked us: “What’s considered credible?” “How do you know if it’s credible?” When I conduct research for an article or source content, I always consider the following factors:

  • Where did the source come from? Take Wikipedia for example. Wikipedia is not considered a credible source because the information comes from a variety of people who may or may not have expertise in a specific area. In other words, a 10-year-old can easily contribute to a Wikipedia page in the same way a veteran journalist can contribute to a Wikipedia page. No one is filtering the information or fact-checking it. Since the information is coming from unreliable sources, the entire site itself is not considered credible.
  • Who shares, contributes or supports the source? I posted Social Media Examiner as a great resource for our #DigCommSU class because well-respected people in the journalism and marketing field use it. Additionally, the resource features articles written by social media experts and is currently promoting a summit where influential leaders in the space will share their insight. Leaders include co-founder of Orbit Media and award-winning authors. When people with a bit of clout support and are involved with certain brands, resources, etc., that elevates credibility. In addition, I also look at how strong of a following or reach the site/source has. It’s important to note, however, that the more followers a source has, doesn’t necessarily mean the better it is. You’ll have to dig in and do a little research to find out who those followers are and what their background looks like. (What’s their area of expertise?)
  • Is the content well written, spelled correctly, and consistent in voice and tone? While this may seem very basic, it is a highly important step in assessing a site or source’s credibility. I always look at the way a site presents information. A credible source should always have a consistent voice and tone with high-quality material and that means having content that is accurate and well-written. If a site has several spelling errors and constantly contradicts information on the site, then I would question its credibility.

Lastly, one of my peers Washington Post Live! General Manager Bob Bierman made an interesting observation about credibility in the media: “Erasability of things, the fact that people can delete things makes people question what’s real and what’s not … unless people [lead] their mistakes just as much as they [lead] perfect things.”

I couldn’t agree more. As media viewers and content creators (not just consumers, anymore), we have the power to push out high-quality content and help other consumers block out all the extra noise. In order to do so, we need to be willing to own up to any errors we make. Credibility is hard to come by these days, but with careful steps, we can contribute to the digital space in a positive way.

BONUS: Here’s a fun shot of our class ending on a high note!

(NOTE: I made sure to ask if anyone objected to this screenshot. I didn’t see anyone say yes, so I’ll leave this here for your viewing pleasure. Overall, a successful class!)

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