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Ask.Fm: Where Wild West Meets Social Media

May 10, 2013 5 comments

images

Another day, another social network to monitor. I first learned of ask.fm from my friend last week. She was in a flap. Generally, she is unflappable. My interest was piqued.

It’s horrible and nasty, you won’t believe what kids are saying on it, and ALL the kids are on it. Check it out.

So I did, and my unflappable friend was quite right to be flapping.

Ask.fm is an anonymous platform that allows users to post questions or comments to a user’s profile. It’s the social media equivalent to the wild west: anyone can follow anyone, and users don’t have access to who is following them, they can only see their number of followers.

In other words, it is a hotbed breeding ground for bullying, harassment, and inappropriate comments. If I could sound alarm bells here, I would let them ring.

You should know I’m not a helicopter parent. I have somewhat liberal views on social media, I believe it will play a role in our children’s lives and we need to keep an eye on things, while understanding that we don’t fully understand its (important) role in their lives. Whether we like it or not, it’s here, and it’s big.

That being said, I created an alias on ask.fm and followed my kid and her friends.

The questions and comments range wildly from inoccuous compliments to ranting insults, and everything in between.

Interestingly, as dismayed as I was with the content, I was impressed with the way she handled the insults, basically by laughing at the caustic comments or posting silly YouTube cartoon videos as a response. I suppose a sidebar of these social network sites is kids learn to deflect and stand up to haters. (I’m not sure I have the same capacity.)

But inevitably, others will fall victim to its nasty nature. Ask.fm is being blamed for the suicide of at least one teenager in England last month.

Apparently, you are able to block a user that is being abusive, and if you don’t respond to a question or comment, it won’t show up on your profile. This article, aimed at parents and teachers, will give you the lowdown on this potentially caustic site.

I can’t see the point of this network – it seems like nastiness personified to me, but I guess that is also its charm. My daughter tells me it’s just silly fun. When I was her age my friends and I stuck jellybeans up our noses for silly fun, but there you go. The times they are a changin’.

Who Do You Love?

May 5, 2011 6 comments

I am coming out of the closet, in my own small sense. I was nominated as one of Vancouver’s Top Mom Bloggers for 2011. A very nice nod of approval from VancouverMom.ca. If it’s the equivalent of a peck on the cheek, I’m presenting mine for a lipstick stained kiss.

Otherwise, I was content to keep this between them and me.

But upon further researching last year’s contest, I realized to my horror they show the results of the voting. Keeping this little secret to myself will be a big mistake when I register zero votes, and I look like the equivalent of the kid who gets picked last for Red Rover. Having been there and done that, I really don’t want to revisit my youth.

It’s down to the wire – voting closes tomorrow – so if you would be so kind as to click on this link and cast your vote, I would be forever indebted to you. In fact, I just might give you a Junior Mint the next time I see you.

As you can imagine, if you know me, this act of self-promotion leaves me squeamish and with sweaty palms. But saving myself from embarrassment ranks even higher on my list than asking for help.

It’s not about blogging domination, for which I clearly lack the killer gene. It’s about coming out of this contest with a marginal amount of composure, so that I don’t need to wear a bag over my MothersTonic face when running my errands around Vancouver.

Unlike our federal election, one vote really can make a difference – these are slim margins we’re talking about. Save me from becoming the blogging equivalent of Michael Ignatieff. And I did promise you a Junior Mint.

Let Your Mind Soar While The Dirt Flies With Podcasts

April 19, 2011 8 comments
Chris Anderson is the curator of the TED (Tech...

Image via Wikipedia

PVR’s and TIVO‘s may be all the rage, but what has really changed my life for the better are podcasts.

Gone is the boredom that plagues me while doing household chores like cooking and cleaning: listening to podcasts fills my head with great ideas and inspiration instead of mindless chitchat and commercials, although make no mistake I also blast top 40 hits upon occasion. That really gets the broom going.

But for more introspective moments, ITunes has a great library of inspiring and interesting presentations from TED talks, and I’ve been rapidly going through them. From TED I’ve segued to CBC radio. I love The Age of Persuasion with Terry O’Reilly, but seldom listen to the radio when it airs on Saturday mornings or Thursday afternoons.

Now I download them for free, and stockpile podcasts like the stray socks that come out of my dryer. I can get my groove on with Jian Gomeshi’s show, Q, or get inspired for a run with Marathon Talk, all from the comfortof my own bathtub. This is powerful stuff for someone who’s braincells cry out for stimulation, yet my laundry pile has taken over my house.

It’s a win-win. I am mentally uplifted while there is an extra sparkle to my kitchen faucet. Because the only thing worse than cleaning is thinking about the futility of cleaning as you clean. Far better for your mind to be millions miles away from the task at hand.

Sometimes, it’s much better to not be present. Podcasts take me to conferences and studios all over the world that in another life I would be at, but not in this one. While I’m waiting for someone to invent a transporter that will beam me up, Star Trek-like, podcasts can partially take me away from dirty dishes and floors.

I find namedropping TED presentations or CBC broadcasts into dinner party conversations is more scintillating than what happens to those socks. My popularity is on the upswing, people are looking at me with renewed interest. Or maybe they’ve tuned me out altogether.

Help enlighten me: what are your favorite podcasts?

Parents Need to Get Their Hands Dirty With Social Media

April 11, 2011 7 comments

When I visit my family each summer, I watch my nieces and nephews text each other furiously. Their fingers are working overtime to host constant communication. I asked if their professors had any trouble with this during lectures, and my niece replied that they all have their phones on silent, but can still easily text without looking at them.

So while a professor may see a sea of attentive faces, quite likely they are deep in thought texting.

Tcchnology has changed the way our children communicate. How you feel about this personally is irrelevant. Texting, skyping, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are only gaining in popularity and children are finding ways of adapting them earlier.

Your mission as a parent, if you choose to accept it, is to become versed in social media before your child has to teach it to you.

There are two reasons for this:  If they are on Facebook or another social networking site, you can (attempt, at any rate) to be on their contact list, or ‘friend’, and therefore watch what they are doing more closely.

Being knowledgeble yourself in social media is to take away another layer of potential misunderstanding between you and your children. You are bridging a gap. If you are using social media effectively, your children are more likely to see you as an ally when they most need one.

Cyber-bullying is a nasty consequence of the proliferation of online communication. It’s easier than ever to be mean behind the cloak of anonymity. The rash of suicides amongst teenagers citing online bullying as the cause is rapidly increasing. As governments and teachers rush to react with preventative policies, teenagers will continue to circulate hurtful lists on their smartphones with a vengeance. They will start nasty Facebook campaigns and they will tweet nasty comments. Cyber-bullying won’t disappear, so arm yourself and your child against it.

Yet I know a lot of parents who know nothing about social media. They view it as a waste of time. They can’t get their head around it. They prefer traditional methods of communication. Knowledge is powerful, and learning this strange new world of interacting and socializing is to learn the language of our children.

Adapting the attitude that social media is child’s play will only keep you out of the conversation.

Tips for Twittering the Time Away

March 21, 2011 5 comments

When major events happen while I sleep, Twitter informs me first thing in the morning as I wipe the sleep out of my eyes, hovering over my keyboard. I found out about Japan’s horrifying earthquake by watching a moving target of text decrying the devastation; learned of Egypt’s social unrest by a Twitter feed figuratively fist pumping the revolution.

It’s the de facto answer for late breaking news, the final stake in the heart of the printed newspaper.

So when people ask me why they should be on Twitter, I answer it’s where the world is. Are you in or out?

I have made lots of mistakes on Twitter. I have unknowingly used bad etiquette and snubbed those trying to be helpful. I followed all the wrong people. I didn’t know what to talk about, so stood, like a wallflower, on the sidelines. When I did start tweeting, I only talked about myself. Come to think of it, I made a lot of the same mistakes I did in Junior High School.

In an effort to save you from the same pitfalls, here is a list of dos and don’ts to make a smoother entry into the world of microblogging.

Do not set up a direct message reply to your new followers along the lines of “Thanks for the follow! Come check out my blog, http://www.spammer.com.” I was perplexed by these: was I supposed to thank every person who decided to follow me? The easy answer is no, you don’t. In fact, mostly spammers send these out, and the word on the street is to unfollow anyone who has sent you one of these. If you didn’t know any better and set one up, now would be the time to cancel. Very uncool.

Do thank people who Retweet your tweets, at least once. If someone is paying attention to what you’re saying, and likes it enough to retweet it, then show a little love by thanking them, it’s the least you can do. At first I didn’t get this, what was a RT? To those people who I didn’t initially thank, thank you. I get it now.

Do not just talk, be a listener. Nobody likes having those conversations where you are waiting for the other person to take a breath so that you can get a word in. Take time to answer random questions in your feed, or respond to something that moves you. It’s not just a one-way conversation; social indicates a two-way street.

Do add value with your tweets. Again unknowingly (I really could have used some tips before I started, thus my present mission to help people…) all I did until very recently was post links to my own blog posts, hoping to gain a few new visitors. My mandate was completely selfish, never looking at other people’s tweets. Embarrassing. I didn’t understand that Twitter is actually one big love fest, a forum for highlighting good works and deeds.  Now I tweet other blogs I find useful, YouTube videos that are inspirational, quotes I like. Follow Fridays (#FF), where you shout out to people who have been helpful to you, highlights that the mission of Twitter is actually goodness. I apologize to my followers for inundating them with my posts. Disclaimer: since this is particularly Twitterable, I will share this one, but nothing else for at least a week.

Don’t be all flash and dash. Pretending everything is perfect in your life doesn’t fly in microblogging, so leave your corporate mandate in the boardroom. Twitter is a more informal platform, a place to let your hair down a little, while not letting it all hang out. If you happen to have a personality, this can work to your advantage.

Do follow the right people for you. Someone once told me to follow who ‘good’ people were following. So I brought up a ‘good’ person’s list – an influencer, who had lots of followers and was in my target area of women who blogged, and simply clicked on people like a madwoman tasting jellybeans for the first time. This is so easy, I thought, as I watched my list of followings balloon to one thousand. But then I couldn’t add anyone anymore – Twitter had shut down my ability to add followers because my numbers were so out of whack – I had 1000 people I followed, but only 200 people following me. And thankfully, I might add. I had amassed a very random group of people, some of whom were of interest to me but many who were not. Painfully and over weeks, I looked at each person I had recklessly followed and weeded out people (and places, and objects) I had no business following. Not good form. As in so many areas of my life, it was the wrong approach.

Do join the conversation. Standing on the sidelines will only get you cold feet. Like the day I published my first blog post, I was nervous about publishing my first tweet. Everyone else seemed so smug with their @’s and #’s and clever short form, like they’d been tweeting their whole lives. It was like starting french immersion all over again; say what? It all starts making sense eventually.

Don’t expect a revolution overnight. Like anything that is worthwhile, developing your Twitter profile will take some time and energy. Keep things in perspective by setting small goals for yourself – maybe adding ten followers a week.

The day I started high school, I wore a neon pink shirt, only to realize pastels were the new thing. I walked around all day with my cheeks as bright as my shirt. Hopefully, my Twitter mistakes will be more quickly forgotten.


Move Over Bieber, YouTube Sensation Maria Aragon Is Here

March 1, 2011 4 comments

The internet is humming, and it is playing the same tune as people around the world click on a YouTube video posted recently by a 10-year-old in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Maria Aragon has become a sensation since putting a cover of Lady Gaga’s song “Born This Way” on the popular internet site on February 16. As of today her video, which shows her playing the piano in a simple white t-shirt and singing, has had over sixteen million hits.

It’s been a busy week and a half for the young Canadian. When Lady Gaga watched Maria’s video, she tweeted about her amazing talents, and since that moment Maria’s life has been turned upside down.

Less than a week after posting the video, Maria was on the radio interview circuit and appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Lady Gaga surprised Maria during one of her radio interviews by coming on the phone line, offering to sing a duet with her at her upcoming concert in Toronto.

Before performing on Ellen, Maria told the comedian that she chose this particular song because of its message. “Just be yourself, because God made you the way you are, and you are no different than anybody else,” she said. Maria performed her slower, acoustic version of the hit song in front of the studio audience and received a standing ovation.

Maria’s entourage has quickly been assembling social media protocol: a website has been created with the URL www.mariaaragonyoutubestar.com, and a Facebook fan page has been launched.

This is what going viral looks like.

According to her website, she will soon be appearing on Good Morning America, which means a plethora of daytime media appearances will follow, as The View, Regis and Kelly and other morning shows clamber for an interview.

Hopefully like any good Canadian, Maria’s support group can stick handle through the barrage of attention and keep her feet solidly on the ground even though her voice is heading for the stars.

My mama told me when I was young
We’re all born superstars
She rolled my hair, put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir

There’s nothin’ wrong with lovin’ who you are”
She said, “‘Cause He made you perfect, babe”
“So hold your head up, girl and you you’ll go far,
Listen to me when I say”

Lady Gaga, Born This Way

Spelling Duals From the 49th Parallel

February 9, 2011 8 comments
P writing blue

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I am of two minds.

I’m not talking about my wild mood swings at monthly intervals, I’m talking about spelling.

Brought up and educated in Canada, I have learned to spell using British English as opposed to American English. British English generally houses a couple of extra letters, for example it’s colour not color, and analogue not analog. If in doubt, throw in a rogue “u” to make it Canadian. I write with candour, and clamour to make chilli for dinner (this is the British English spelling for chilli – doesn’t it look better to you?); whereas if I was born south of the border I would write with candor, and clamor to make chili.

You Americans are more to the point, more phonetically accurate.

In Canada, true to our bilingual mandate, we ask for the cheque in restaurants, not the check. We measure in litres,not liters, but don’t get me talking about our weather inconsistencies – for the love of god, is 75 degrees Fahrenheit shorts weather or not? You must agree the Celsius scale, which uses zero degrees as the freezing point, makes more sense.

Canada wins on the weather front, America on the spelling, where brevity is concerned.

Of course in this new marvellous (as opposed to marvelous) world where spell check conveniently underlines every word we misspell, getting it right takes on a new lustre, lest your document be egregiously underlined and marked up like a SoCal woman undergoing plastic surgery. It’s hard to press send or publish with red lines all over your page, which happens if the spellcheck program happens to be of a different nationality than yourself. This causes me no end of grief.

If anyone is a mixed bag it is I: I read roughly half American publications, half Canadian, and have a weakness for British classics and The Economist magazine. I’m bombarded by glaring spelling differences on a daily basis. Who to honour? My British heritage or geographic neighbour? Ignore all of those red slashes on my screen, or give in to the spelling my computer wants? Who wears the pants, the pajamas or the pyjamas?

We Canadians are clearly caught in the middle, victims of circumstance, fed by the leviathan of American marketing, yet still hearing echoes of the British English that we were taught. Not a stickler for details, I tend to be ambidextrous on the point, switching from one usage to the other depending on the word – I actually prefer skeptic to sceptic, for instance.

It seems congruent with our easy going nature that when it comes to spelling, Canadians can swing both ways. I hereby exempt myself from labouring the point any further, red lines be damned.

Getting a Handle on Twitter

January 19, 2011 8 comments
Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Twitter confounds me.  Although I’ve never been to a rodeo, I feel like it’s the feisty calf that my cowgirl self can’t lasso.

I have had trouble wrapping my head around this site, and was immediately dismissive of its necessity.  Who cares what Ashton Kutcher is saying about anything?  And pith has never been my strong point, so that 140 character minimum equates to writer’s block for me.

But it’s hung around, and in fact is growing in leaps and bounds, getting harder to ignore.  I had coffee with a Vancouver marketing dynamo, Jennifer Maloney, of Sip Publicity, and she encouraged me to get on Twitter. Her explanation was that Twitter was like one big cocktail party, where you meander around catching snippets of conversation which will occasionally interest you, and some which will not.  Facebook, on the other hand, is more like a barbecue, where you are in the company of those you know personally.

Equating any site on the internet with a cocktail party is music to any SAHM’s ears.  SIGN. ME. UP.

I love the game of cocktail parties, as everyone is ducking and jiving to have an interesting conversation with someone they barely know.   I’ve used the old “I just need to refresh my drink” phrase in efforts to dodge conversations containing the words “projectile vomiting” on more than one occasion.  Conversely I’ve lurked on the outskirts of tight circles discussing shoe sales or juicy tidbits of gossip, straining my ears so hard to hear that I practically fell on top of their cosmopolitans.  Yet my social calendar is devoid of these swanky little numbers.  Could Twitter really fill this crater?

I took a deep breath and created a Twitter handle, although I still had no idea what I should be tweeting about.  The next step was getting a list of followers, because what is the point of tweeting if no one is listening?  I already talk to myself far too much.  Jennifer had recommended looking at lists that interesting people are following.  If you’re interested in yoga, you might follow people who are following Lululemon.  I know, that’s a lot of following for one sentence, but welcome to the Twitter world of tweets.

There are many different people on this social networking site for many different reasons.  Like anything on the internet, watch out for spammers and anyone who tries to tell you how to make quick, easy money, and of course anyone who wants you to take your clothes off.  In fact, it’s really no different from real life; spidey senses should prevail.

As with any worthwhile achievement, the key to Twitter is patience and perseverance.  You are not going gain followers overnight, something that bothered me for a couple of months.   It’s a numbers game, where people generally follow people who have a large number of followers. These people are called influencers, and there is a certain amount of notoriety to be gained from hanging around them.  Exactly in the same way as everyone wants to be associated with the popular kid in school.  We grow, but we never really change.

The Twitter world at first seemed like a strange universe, where people were speaking a language I had never learned, with weird symbols like @, #, RT and DM.  But like skinny jeans, I’m slowly coming around to this fashion fad which seems to be here to stay.

The days of drinking and driving are firmly gone, but drinking and tweeting is encouraged!  Mix yourself a cosmo and join the party.

YouTube, My Uninvited Dinner Guest

January 18, 2011 2 comments
Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Every dinner party I throw or gathering I host, my guests end up gathered around my computer, vying for elbow space as someone looks up a video on YouTube.

This preponderance could be a result of my poor cooking skills or boring conversational tendencies, but I prefer to think of it as a trend that is happening across dining rooms in the world as social media furthers its impact on our lives.

With politics being too polarizing, reality television getting old and the news being almost exclusively depressing, YouTube has established itself as the savior-topic for social gatherings in my household.  Have no fear, YouTube is here!

Last Saturday night, the featured videos showed delusional children and weird animal behaviors, both boasting huge hit numbers. Other evenings have showcased funny droid spoofs of husband and wife scenarios, hilarious sports bloopers, and occasionally we have sat through videos that their children have uploaded.

According to their site, YouTube receives over 2 billion hits a day, and the average person spends fifteen minutes a day surfing their network – my dinner guests clearly among them.  Since my fifteen minutes mostly occurs when friends are showing me things, that translates to a lot of people spending boatloads of time on this site.

I’m told that besides its amusing and iconic videos, there is also a huge catalog of useful how-to videos on YouTube that teach people things from how to speak french to installing counter tops, so the popular site serves a useful purpose.

My personal experience has not been particularly positive – I have searched the site very rarely, mostly before going to a concert when I want to watch the band’s videos.  If it’s a popular song by a well-known artist it is usually the first thing that appears.  If not, I may end up watching Betty Sue plucking out her acoustic version of the song, or a llama giving birth to a squirrel, you never know.

To find an illustration for my point, I just searched for “Phoenix” on YouTube, and the first featured video was indeed Phoenix, the band, but the other featured videos on the sidebar were named “Tips and tricks on how to save money on printer ink” and “I PEED ON IT SO IT’S MINE!”. The search engine seems to spit out random videos that have nothing to do with my search criteria, and it annoys me.

In fact, my experiences with YouTube are similar to my experiences channel surfing during daytime television: extremely rarely do I find something worth watching, and mostly it saddens me about the state of humankind.

But for all of the misadventures and crap that is on YouTube, there are irrefutably diamonds in the rough; creative and brilliant missiles produced by amateurs on a budget of zilch, or hilarious moments of everyday life caught on video.

This is the stuff good dinner parties are made of.



The idiot’s guide to avoiding premium text messaging charges

January 14, 2011 10 comments

I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but sometimes the depths to which my idiocy can stoop surprises even me.

One day while surfing the internet, curious about how much it would cost to jump on a plane to Tahiti that same day, a pop-up jumped out of my screen begging me to do an IQ test.

Now, although I implied only two paragraphs ago that I’m a few beers short of a six-pack, secretly I harbor thoughts that I might be a genius yet untested.

Sensing my big moment was imminent and this experiment would prove it, I clicked on the pop-up, which was my first, but not biggest mistake in this tale.  I took the test, which seemed reasonable and well-rounded and therefore legitimate.  I even labored over it, so when they asked me to enter my mobile number so they could text me my results, I didn’t bat an eyelash.  Bring on my genius results – my Facebook status needs updating.

This, I will fully admit, was stupid, but still not the stupidest part.

They did send me my results, as promised  (I was smart, but not brilliant; I shuffled my Mensa application to the bottom of my to-do pile).  This strange 66066 number proceeded to text me everyday at precisely 2:00 pm with a random question, like “Is Salomon Rushdie an (a) actor, (b) musician, (c) writer?”  If only that damn IQ test was so simple.

I’m not a complete halfwit, I never replied to these questions, and quickly deleted them lest they infect my handheld bible with a virus, or attempted to track my whereabouts using GPS.  I took care of that.  (Where did I put that Mensa application again?)

What I didn’t realize because I don’t scrutinize my cell phone bill every month, but rather just pay the amount in the box and grumble about the injustice of my contract, was that I was being charged $50 for this random question delivered to me 25 times a month.  This was the stupidest part.  The Mensa application is now filed under ‘g’  (in the garbage).

It took about two minutes on eHow to determine that this five-digit number was a premium text number, and I only needed to reply to the text with the word STOP in order to be unsubscribed.  I finally did so, and immediately got a message back saying I would no longer be participating in their trivia service.  But I never did participate you blood-sucking, low-life spammer!

I’m frustrated that it took me a couple of months and funds earmarked for Hunter boots to figure this out, but hopefully this post will serve as a Public Service Announcement for all of my loyal readers.  To avoid premium text messaging charges, adhere to these rules:

1. Do NOT click on any pop-ups, even if they tell you you’ve won a million dollars or invite you to tea with the Queen.

2. If you drop the ball on rule #1 because you’re dying to ask the Queen why she wears those silly hats, DO NOT provide your cell number for your royal invitation.

3. If you don’t adhere to rule #1 and #2, congratulations, you’re my idiotic kindred spirit, but don’t make my mistake and do nothing about it for months.  Read your phone bill, don’t rely on the texting gods to make it stop.  Hunter boots are at stake.

While the rest of my neighborhood dons their ubiquitous wellingtons, I wear my silly blue rain boots adorned with skulls and crossbones in my walk of shame, like an albatross around my neck, a testament to either my stupidity or poor fashion choices.