Peach Smoothie

August 30, 2012

Peach Smoothie

1 peach
1 banana
1/2 c honeydew
1/2 c pineapple
Handful strawberries

so last night I turned 40. Strange feeling, really. On the one hand there is this feeling that by 40 you should have all your shit together, right? Know who you are, have a handle on life. Then there’s reality. NOBODY has their shit together. Period. And life does not fit in to a nice neat little package. Not at 20, not at 40. But one thing that I realize is that by this age, all I want is to continue getting older (as opposed to the opposite of getting older–death) alongside my husband, continue being as healthy as I can, and enjoy my cats and career as much as possible. Everything else, is gravy.

That being said, as I was sitting in the nice little bar where my husband put together a very sweet party to celebrate with our friends, I had a conversation with a great colleague about the misunderstandings community folks STILL have to deal with in our jobs.

In many ways, we are hired for our expertise in the field. Then when we have to explain why THEIR great marketing/event/advertising/message isn’t going to work in the social media spectrum, nobody wants to listen. Or they think we are making up the nightmare scenarios that we know in our hearts will inevitably happen.

Sigh…

So what is a social media expert to do? I certainly have no magic answer, but I do know that in the past, I’ve been told that when someone gives you crap idea that you KNOW will tank, best thing to do is say “wow, that’s an interesting idea, let’s think on how we can make that work to make sure that it won’t end up bad, because of this…”

Sigh…

Easier said than done. But, we continue to fight the good fight. And until our expertise is respected both for the good news AND the bad, at least we have each other :)

So yesterday I was visiting with long lost friends at a frequent watering hole. And the topic of online safety came up yet again. This particular friend was keenly interested in what goes on behind the scenes of an online community. I began to tell her a bit about my favorite topic – kids’ online safety. So much is printed on the subject and yet I still rarely see any information that can help parents understand just what goes on behind the scenes.

Lots of sites and lots of blogs talk about what parents should talk about with their kids. And don’t get me wrong! That is a very important part of ensuring we all help create responsible “netizens” (citizens of the internet) But I rarely see anybody talking about what goes in to making an online community as safe as possible.

So, this article, and for most of the articles in the future, I will focus on different methods, techniques, and policies your online community is doing for you.

So as not to overload you at first, I will focus on the biggies. The below techniques are the most popular methods used to protect community members:

  • Filtering systems and specialized chat functions
  • Live moderation staff
  • Support tools (technology)

First up, filters. There are different types of filters but basically, a filter system’s job is to block certain words or phrases from being sent across a chat room.  The most obvious filter is a basic dirty word filter. The person types a word, hits enter, but a mechanism (called a filter) blocks that word from being seen on the screen. Some filters block the words by showing different characters than the letters, for example, rather than seeing said four-letter word, you might see *****  displayed across your chat screen. Other filters show the word to the sender but it blocks the word from being seen by anybody else in the chatroom.

There are other types of things that a web site might want to block; bad phrases, for example. Or, in the case of children’s games, phone numbers or email addresses may be blocked from view. These filters essentially appear the same to the chatter, however they may require more tech work behind the scenes. Bad phrases may be made up of seeminly innocuous words–the most obvious example is “up yours”.  A community should still be able to say words such as “up” and “yours”, but not strung together. Phone numbers may be blocked by either eliminating the ability to type numbers at all, or only allow a few numbers per line of text. Example: I could type “800″ in a line, but would not be able to type 800 555 1212.

Still more filtering may be done. Because clever miscreants may just really really REEEEELY want to use that four letter word, they will try putting spaces or characters between the language. Because, let’s face it, nothing can replace the exhilaration of placing a few choice filthy words when speaking to an invisible audience ;)

Example (*CAUTION! Bad words coming up!), say you’re a nasty mouth and you want to say “fuck” but there is a filter that blocks the word from being said. But you REALLY LOVE that word! I mean, no other word will do. So instead you type:  f.u.c.k. or f*u*c*k  or f    u    c   k. And voila’, you can sleep better knowing that dozens of strangers know about your potty mouth.

In other words, more advanced filtering will need to block out not just letters but spaces between those letters or characters that fall between those letters.

Phew! Exhausting, yes. I know.  And the smarter people get about getting around a filter the smarter technology needs to be to get ahead of the game.

But that’s about all I have for this edition. There are actually other advanced filters being developed, and I will go in to that more next time.

Thanks all, have a great weekend, and let me know if you have questions!

Question-have you ever encountered a frustrating filter?

Online Safety

May 15, 2010

So now that I’ve explained the basics of online community, it’s time to discuss the real reason I started this blog-ONLINE SAFETY.

So much is written about the bad stuff that happens, and how horrifying the world wide web can be for the unsuspecting victim. I’d like to begin the discussions trying to explain a few things to folks so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. I am not going to feed in to paranoia; neither am I going to tell you that the internet is all good. Just like the offline world, there are good and bad people that live in the space. And anyone that is looking to inhabit any space online needs to be able to tell the difference and learn a few basic bits of info to survive.

So, for this week’s blog-let’s discuss usernames and passwords. I know-basic and petty, yes? NO. Even the most seasoned, paranoid hardcore online geek can be taken for a ride if they do not protect their usernames and passwords. So here we go-the very basics:

Username – A user is a person who uses a computer or Internet service. A user may have a user account that identifies the user by a username (also user name), screen name (also screenname), or “handle”, which is derived from the identical Citizen’s Band radio term. To log in to an account, a user is typically required to authenticate himself/herself/itself with a password or other credentials for the purposes of accounting, security, logging, and resource management. (wikipedia).

In other words, most web sites will offer up some sort of service to you, as the consumer, so long as they can collect basic information about YOU, the CONSUMER. Once you create a username at a web site, you will be able to do a  lot more at a web site. Some examples may be:

  • View more content
  • Play a game
  • Do your banking
  • Chat with a friend that has a different username

However, you must also provide a password. Passwords act as a sort of “secret code”, if you will. Think about your bicycle lock, or a number combination lock. Nobody knows that number combination and you certainly would not use a number combination that the whole world would be able to figure out. Passwords for your usernames should be the same. More on this later.

Now, what does the company or web site get by having you create a username? Glad you asked :) on the surface, just creating an account is free to you. However! whenever you create a username, yuo are also being asked some basic information about yourself – your age, state where you live, maybe if you are married or single. All of this information is kept by the organization so that they may study YOU. And the more info you give them, the better th ey will be to advertise certain t hings that appeal to YOU, the consumer.

Example: If you are a 65 year old male, never been married, chances are that the company is not going to market baby formula to you. Get it?

Now on to passwords. I just have a couple more things to say about choosing a password for your accounts. Think of it this way-the easier it is for you to remember, the easier it will be for a thief to guess your password.

A good rule of thumb is to use not just letters and numbers, but to scramble them up in between. And if you can use capitalized letters, and ASCII characters that’s even better.  A good example would be to take a random word, like elephant. Now, let’s make this word a good password by using some of the instructions I gave above: e!ePH@n7.

That’s much more difficult for someone to guess. Another great method for creating a difficult password (trust me, this works!) is this:

  1. Open up a blank text or word document.
  2. Sit up straight in your chair.
  3. Close your eyes, and clunk your forehead down on your keyboard.
  4. Whatever pops up on the document, is your password!

I great friend told me about that trick. Works like a charm.

That’s it for this time folks. Do you have anything to add about usernames or passwords? Leave a message here :)

Thanks for playin!

Hello again! I guess I didn’t scare you away the first time, so here goes for my second blog post.

Okay, so the few of you that were able to read my post sent me a very interesting topic in the guise of a question-”What is an Online Community?” So this week, I’m backpedaling to Community 101.

According to Wikipedia.org: An online community is a virtual community that exists online whose members enable its existence through taking part in membership rituals (Amy Jo Kim, 2000). An online community can take the form of an information system where anyone can post content, such as a Bulletin board system or one where only a restricted number of people can initiate posts, such as Weblogs. Online communities have also become a supplemental form of communication between people who know each other primarily in real life. Many means are used in social software separately or in combination, including text-based chat rooms and forums that use voice, video text or avatars. Significant socio-technical change may have resulted from the proliferation of such Internet-based social networks.

Pretty wordy, eh? So let’s break this motha up. If you think about words such as communal or communication, you can sum up what a community is. Look at your neighborhood, your car club, your dance class or even your weekend social happy hour group! You will find some semblance of a community-based culture.  Basically, I like to say that a community can be defined as a group of individuals brought together by some like-minded thought, topic, hobby or desire. The individual will identify with the group, and the group will grow, develop and change over time. Members of the community may change, grow or drop out over time if the group’s overlying belief system comes in to conflict with the indvidual’s belief system.

Now, put the word “online” in front of “community”. BINGO! There really isn’t much more to it than that. An online community is a group of individuals brought together by some like-minded thought, topic, hobby or desire in a virtual space. That’s about it. I should also mention that the method of communication is somewhat different than in the “real world”-online communities communicate via some form of written word a la’ Instant Messengers, Email discussion groups, message boards, facebook, etc. However, this too is changing with the advent of Voice Over Internet Protocols, or VOIPs. Think webcams or headsets with microphones.

Some online communities are quite small in size and some are astronomically large in its numbers. For example, a small business of 120 staff may start message board to hear ideas from the employees. Conversely, an online game may boast subscribers in the millions-all of which are members of their community. There is no set number that makes an online community however I would say that the smallest should be at least 3 people. One person alone does not a community make-even if they do suffer multiple personalities!

The more you hang around with Online Community Professionals, you will hear the phrase”healthy community”.  A “healthy community” is in large part due to the hard work and dedication of the members of the community, the organization which hosts the community and the people that manage the community. Members tend to be supportive, vocal and passionate about the space. Businesses will listen to their members, and be nimble and open when making decisions that directly affect the members. The MANAGERS are the folks that facilitate the relationshp between the two.

And so, that’s about it my friends! I hope this was helpful, and if you have questions don’t hesitate to ask. You should send me your ideas of what you think is a good analogy between a real world community and a virtual one. I keep thinking about the show “Cheers” as a good exmple of a real world (well, TV real) community that grew, changed and finally ran its course.  The whole premise of the show was to bring like-minded individuals together to share a common ideal. Are you a member of a community? If so, what is it and why do you consider yourself a member? Do tell!

That’s it for this week-over and out!

Okay, so first things first. Here is what a Community Manager does.  I usually like to break it down in to 3 categories: Engagement, Safety, Support. Don’t worry, I’m only tackling the first category on this post ;)

Engagement-yep, that’s what I said. I know, it sounds like I am in some constant state of pre-marital bliss, but trust me that’s not what it is. Think of Julie from the TV show-”THE LOVE BOAT”. On the show, It was Julie’s job to have activities planned for all those B-grade celebrities that eventually showed up on board.  Julie spoke to the guests on a first-name basis, knew their likes and dislikes, and could even predict what sorts of activities each bad TV actor would want to do.  (my apologies to any A-grade actors that guest-starred on the show :P)

This is what we mean when we use the term “engagement”. We engage the players/users/audience in some sorts of product-relevant activities. We get to know our players by playing with them, hanging out, chatting, and basically having a smile on our face even when things may not be going well. We are the party planners and the clean-up crew all in one.

When community folks engage, they may do it in several ways; for example:

  • chat up a new user
  • invite people to parties
  • start a new topic on a message board
  • listen to new ideas from a player
  • encourage guests to share their ideas with staff
  • implement guest ideas/topics within the game or community

 When you speak to most community professionals, they will say that this is their favourite part of the job because you get to chat with your users and get to know them. also, who doesn’t love a party? And if you are the reason a party is a success, how cool is that?

So that is what Engagement means. It’s fun, but also can be exhausting. It’s easy to see the rewards in this portion of the job because you are in the middle of the fun and get to experience it first-hand. It’s also very simple to know when something goes down like a lead balloon. If everyone is complaining about the topic on the message board, or everyone complains about the party being a dud, you can change up your tactics on a dime.

Does anyone have any questions on this topic? Let me know…

And until next time-byeeeeee!

Hello world!

February 24, 2010

I started this blog for the simple reason that, whenever I tell anyone what it is that I do for a living (community manager for kids/teens games), I get that blank, “doe-in-headlights” stare back at me. So then, I go in to a long description about my job; which usually ends with a few “gasps” and more than a few “you  mean people acutally WATCH what we say?” and even more “you mean kids write that in games?”

So, this blog is more for the amateur, the newbie, the parent, the grandparent, and mostly, for my family and extended family to better understand what online community management is, and what it can do for you and your family. Obviously my very esteemed colleagues are more than welcome to read but I do think that for the most part, much of what I will write will be stuff you already know.  

Also, please send me your questions, or topics you want to discuss. I’m going to make this a very simple to understand blog tackling one topic each time. Thanks all, until next time!

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