Are the Smirking Jackals Hoping to Kill Foursquare in the Cradle?

Those of us in the social media and marketing industry have seen the reports over the last day or so: “Only” 4% of US adults who go online are using geo-location services like Foursquare, Gowalla and the like.

The people who hate these services, find them annoying (fair enough) or don’t understand them likely take this as proof that these services are doomed to failure.

Here’s the real problem– people’s sense of time, their patience, has left them.

Remember this headline (or others like this), from mid-2009, a full two and a half years after Twitter launched?

Only 1 in 20 Americans Use Twitter

If my math is good, that works out to 5%. Are people writing off Twitter now? The same organization Pew, that people are quoting to show how “little” traction geo-location services have, also puts the Twitter number up to 24% (up from 6% in 2008, a bit different than the story linked above stated, but still).

By the way, here is the direct link to Pew, which doesn’t offer judgment in the upfront summary.

And, a more sane analysis from Business Insider (!), comparing Foursquare to Twitter growth rates.

Ignore geo-location services at your peril. These are early days, and things are just getting started. True, the location-based aspect may limit the final growth of these services (and sure, some uses are annoying- same with Twitter and Facebook, I must add), but they bear watching. No responsible communicator should be writing these off.

*If you’d like to go slightly down the dictionary page from “jackals” for the title of this post, be my guest

How to Format a USB Thumb Drive for Your Car: A Solution to a Nagging Problem

I drive a Honda Fit (2009 Sport model), and love the USB connector in the dash. Not being an iPod owner, I use it to connect a thumb drive that is big enough to hold as much music as I can stand. There were a few obstacles to getting this just right, however, and I thought I would write about the process here in case anyone else who had issues and like me is a not a super tech-nerd but can handle some hackerish tasks. Gere’s how to format a USB thumb drive for cars, the way I figured it out:

First, the problems:

  • The Fit (and possibly other cars) are picky about formatting: I needed to format my disk in “FAT32,” but on my Windows 7 lap top with a 64GB drive, that option doesn’t show up, only NTFS and exFAT. When I tried to use a drive formatted with either of those options, the car would not read it.

  • The car stereo would not display all of the folders: I discovered that if you have more than 700 folders, too bad (it’s easy to have that much music on 64GB. The car would read the first 699. You could play any track in random mode (I realized this when Velvet Underground tracks played even though I could not find the folder), but you couldn’t go select the tracks manually.
  • Folders would not appear in any logical order: Actually, it’s perfectly logical for folders to appear in the order you placed them on the disc, but that doesn’t help you when you have scores of folders you might like in alphabetical order. The tags in the MP3 files don’t always help, either, especially if you have a single folder for one artist drawing from several albums.

So, on to the solutions.

  • Limiting Folders: That was a simple matter of being more efficient in how I copied music on to the USB drive, creating one folder for each artist (for the most part), and  then finding away to arrange the files in order (next). That got me well under the manageable number of folders.
  • Rename the Song Files: The forum poster pointed me to an MP3 re-tagging utility. It turned out to be pretty easy to use. I renamed the files (once copied to the USB stick, never touching my originals) to display the album name first to group albums together within artist folders, then track #, then name. The images below show the process for renaming one of my albums, but you could do the whole shebang in one stroke. One thing I could not figure out was the code for shortening album titles so I could cram more info into the short car stereo display (the example in the post didn’t work for me), but otherwise it worked well.

  • On to sorting the files: The forum post pointed to this file sorting utility, which overwrote the default ordering (folders pop up on car display by date modified) by letting you order them as you wish. I, of course, chose alphabetical. The example below shows me adding a single folder (Nick Cave”) and putting it in its proper place.

Now, I can find any file by artist, rather than searching through jhundreds of artist and album folders in seemingly random order. Plus, when I add new purchases, I can slip them into the proper findable order as well. It was a bit of picking to find the process, but now that I have it it is reasonably easy. I hope this helps anyone else out there looking for a similar solution.

Facebook Asks Too Much Just to Have a Little Fun

I thought the latest (UK-based) Skittles campaign, where they ask fans to bury some guy named David Phoenix in Skittles, was amusing enough to check out. However, when I tried to take part, Facebook, as it does with any app, asked me to give it permission to access my profile info. While I have no illusions of privacy on Facebook, there were two major things wrong with this:

  1. It is a reminder of that intrusion into my account info, giving me a feeling that every time I use such an app it adds more digital flotsam to my Facebook account for what may be a one-time chuckle (much as I may like Skittles)
  2. It is an extra click I have to make ( a major sin in any Web marketing, yes?)

The problem lies not with Skittles or any other marketer, but in how Facebook apps work. We’ll probably have to wait for Facebook to be motivated to change this before it does change. That said, as obnoxious as Mr. Phoenix seemed in the introductory video, I shall deny myself the pleasure of watching him drown in candy.

Let He Who is Without Buzz.. er, Don’t Judge Social Media by Failure of One Tool

I was intrigued by the latest tirade from Leo Laporte, hoist of “This Week in Technology” (TWiT), a podcast I listen to every week. After discovering that Google Buzz had not been updating for a couple of weeks, he was more miffed by the fact that noone seemed to notice than the fact that Buzz wasn’t working. So, in his post, “Buzz Kill,” Leo essentially concluded that social media was useless and was quitting, much as he had earlier quit Facebook, and had much earlier left Twitter (and came back, though the reasons there had more to do with the “TWiT” trademark, I think).

By the time the weekly TWiT podcast had been recorded., it seemed that Leo had backed off his position a bit, which underscores my reaction: isn’t declaring social media useless due to the failure of Buzz something like declaring electricity useless because I am having problems with the charger port on my Motorola Droid? (Verizon is kindly sending me a new unit, by the way. Very nice of them).

So, here are my thoughts:

  • Don’t blame an entire idea if one component fails. Even if the symptom- that noone noticed your missing points when Buzz went down- are telling, one incident does not indict an entire industry. Be scientific before you condemn something
  • If something is not working for you, move on
  • If something is not working for you, determine what is. People were apparently wither getting Leo’s show notes and notifications elsewhere- perhaps on the site or their podcast downloader- or, like me, rarely bother looking up the show notes at all. My podcatcher  works fine, and actually display show notes should I want them. Maybe the effort putting them on Buzz isn’t worth it.
  • Be wary of posting- and reading- kneejerk reactions. Leo, by his own admission, posted at 1:00 AM, and probably not long after he discovered the problem. It was a rant, and as I mentioned, he pulled back on his contention that social media was useless.

When I posted a reaction to this whole thing on Facebook, a nice discussion sprang up among myself, Antje Wilsch and Aaron Strout. I know Aaron pretty well, and don;t take lightly his dismissal of Google Buzz– but I use Buzz effectively, if not as the “social network” that Google may have hoped for:

Social Media Top 5: Writer’s Block, Real Value of Location Services & Promotional POV

Writer's Block

Writer's Block by thorinside on Flickr

1- Writer’s Block.

I have skipped some weeks writing my Social Media Top 5 posts on this blog lately.
  • Am I burnt out? Other friends in the industry are saying similar things– there seems to be a general malaise, with some folks feeling burnt out on writing about social media- are we running out of ideas to talk about? Is that a bad thing?
  • Are social media bloggers not breaking new ground? I think that may be true- to a point. I often take blogging ideas from other posts (along with news)- and there does not seem to be a lot out there lately that makes me want to write. I blame the community. You’re all coming up short. Give me something good to steal! I don’t want to read any more over-simplified “duh” posts on social media strategy (not that “101” is bad)- I want to see more “how,” more case studies (see next bullet), and more feather-ruffling. Stop boring me, and I’ll promise the same (as soon as my charity bike ride is done).
  • Is client work taking precedence? Absolutely. Not having ideas to write about is not the same as being unable to come up with ideas for clients, and help them develop their strategies for social media. The folks actually doing work for clients are either implementing things already written (so just wait for the hoped-for case studies, such as this one my company, Voce Communications, published on a Sony Playstation implementation), or simply can’t talk about a work-in-progress or proprietary information, even if it is fascinating.
  • Am I simply preoccupied? Sure, other things taking up attention in my life probably detract from writing, but that’s never an excuse.
It’s probably a combination of these factors. All that said, there are a few things that are getting me going lately. Maybe I’m ready to re-energize…
2- Location-Based Services (huh!) What are They Good For?
Good God, y’all, we’re still talking about location-based services (LBS is apparently catching on as an acronym)
My good friend Aaron Strout wrote a thoughtful post on LBS – like Foursquare and Gowalla- and wondering if they are indeed just shiny objects or if they are good for something. There are lots of great comments on the post, so dive in.
This is something I wrestle with a lot as a social media marketer. After all, Foursquare for retail and hospitality makes sense, but what about other companies? We get paid to make recommendations, don’t we? My two cents: LBS is a data goldmine. Many companies need to stop thinking about how they engage on Foursquare et al (I know- heresy! it’s fine for retail and hospitality shops, of course), and think more about what this activity tells us about the users. Let the users engage with each other while the world discovers what they want and like to do.
I’m not talking about creating a privacy problem here- group data, aggregated anonymously, is not so invasive and is used, commonly and effectively, in all sorts of market research. So, will Foursquare or Gowalla sell data, or start research arms? I’m not going to pretend to know yet, but it’s an interesting notion. What do you think?

3- Whose Promotion is it, Anyway?

A recent promotion by the Virgin America airline caught my eye this week. They were promoting new routes to Toronto by giving free flights to influential Twitterers. It caught my eye in part because I flew Virgin this week (I am actually on one of their planes as I type this online- nice!), even though I have no plans to go to Toronto.What also caught my interest was that some folks (including frequent Google Buzz correspondent Judy Gombita) apparently thought that this was a promotion for Klout, the service that measures Twitter influence.

It didn’t occur to me they were driving it- in fact I failed to note they were involved as a partner (probably because I’m dense- sorry, Greg). witness this post (and, again, comments) by Jenna Stothers to see what I mean, along with the obligatory hard feelings by hardcore Twitterers who were not picked. It’s interesting how one’s point of view can affect even the perception of whose promotion it is.

By the way, my Klout score is… nah, I’m not playing that.

4,5 – That’s All For Now

I’m not completely over my writer’s block yet

Pan-Mass Challenge Update (Not a) Solo Ride

The Pan-Mass Challenge is in less than two months (August 7-8)! Fundraising and training have both picked up. Here’s a short update below- and to join in as a PMC ride sponsor to help beat cancer, please go to– and thank you!

I took off last Saturday (June 12) on what I thought would be a solo ride, only to be overtaken by the Crack of Dawn riders. It’s a lot nicer to ride with people (not to mention faster).

After finishing the CoD “pre-ride” with the group, we collected at Nahanton Park, the first time I joined the Saturday groups on their rides through Dover.

I was actually in tough shape that day and slowed at the end, but I had a nice ride and logged 42 miles in all.

Pan-Mass Challenge: (Not a) Solo Ride from Doug Haslam on Vimeo.

Postscript: I hopped back on the bike Tuesday, June 15 with a pair of my riding buddies, and our customary short weekday ride was our best yet. We rode in a paceline and had our fastest-ever training time. I think we will be ready!

The PMC is a charity ride in which we raise money to benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. 100% of the funds we raise pass through directly to the charity. Last year riders raised $30 million, and over 30 years that figure has totaled $270 million!

Please help me fight cancer by sponsoring my ride at, and help by spreading the word. As of this posting I still have $1400 to go!

Tony Cennamo: Jazz Lover, Teacher and Mentor

This week saw the passing of Tony Cennamo, a legend in the Boston Jazz and Radio scenes.

Tony was a lot of things to a lot of people: jazz expert, music lover, family man, veteran, Brooklynite, baseball fanatic, Jeopardy! addict, stroke survivor, teacher, combatant (or debater, if you prefer, but remember he was from Brooklyn), and more…

To me, he was a mentor, a source of definitive knowledge about jazz, my 5 am ride home. Tony was my teacher at Emerson, co-worker at WBUR, and a friend (though I will admit I could have been a lot better the last few years).

For a more formal obituary of Tony, see the Boston Globe, and there are two nice remembrances at WBUR-FM’s website  by former colleague Steve Elman and his wife, Carine Kolb.

Photos? Alas I have none I feel I can rightfully use, but there are a few good ones at the MySpace page maintained by Tony’s son, James.

Marvin Hamlisch, Go To Your Room

It never occurred to me to wonder what it was like to know Tony before he had his stroke in 1986. I first met him in 1988 when I was a student at Emerson College. Tony was teaching Jazz History, and I wanted in. I heard he was cantankerous which was intriguing and a little intimidating,, but I love jazz music and wanted to learn. I was already a jazz DJ at WERS-FM, Emerson’s student radio station, so I figure I had a good start.

Tony came as promised: uncompromising, demanding respect (for the music more than for himself) from the students, but also with a great facility for storytelling and a sharp sense of humor. He wove many stories of the history of jazz- including rebukes to musicians who got things wrong.

My favorite: when talking about Scott Joplin and ragtime music as a precursor to jazz, Tony, brought up the film the “Sting” and its use of Joplin’s music. The problem? The film was set in the 1930s, and Joplins music was written 30 years or more earlier, creating an unforgivable anachronism. Tony’s comment? “Marvin Hamlisch (who won an Oscar for his travesty), go to your room.”

I’m Wearing A Cardboard Belt

A couple years later, I found myself working at WBUR-FM, manning the overnight shift as the board operator for Tony’s “All Night Long” program. As an on-air person myself, I enjoyed filling in for Tony when he took nights off, but it was the nights we were there together that were the best. On air, he called me his “aide de campe” (and I assume those who followed me got similar sobriquets). If I liked the Emerson class, then my nights with Tony were a Masters Degree in jazz history. He taught me to appreciate big bands (which I had gotten snobby about), particularly emphasizing the genius of Duke Ellington as a composer and bandleader. He also further defined for me his uncompromising attitude towards quality. I will never forget, for example, his apoplectic response to a caller who asked him to play Earl Bostic. Let’s just say Earl Bostic was not on the top of his list.

I also got to learn more about the past so factually laid out in the above-linked stories: his days in the Air Force, including his integrated band and his work with Boys’ Town; his time at CBS in the 60s, and WCAS in Cambridge a little later; and of course multitudes of stories about jazz legends past and present that Tony came to know, such as Bill Evans and Charles Mingus, but more importantly many lesser-known great musicians.

A few I got to meet, which exposed me to some of the lifelong friendships Tony had formed: singer Mark Murphy, for example, as well as the vocal duo Jackie and Roy, to name two (well, three) off the top of my head. I also got to know one of the most generous spirits out there, Rebecca Parris, and legendary alto sax player and longtime friend of Tony’s, Phil Woods.

We also shared a love of baseball and movies- to my delight, I discovered Tony was fond of throwing out lines from the film “The Producers” (a favorite of mine from a young age) at randome moments: “I’m wearing a cardboard belt!” Is one I still use frequently.

Later, I was lucky enough to be among the people Tony would call (just don;lt call him when Jeopardy is on) and occasionally meet with, a highlight being his taking me to a concert by the Gil Evans band led by his son Miles.

So how starstruck was I? That’s not the point. It was Tony’s world, and for a time at least I was living in it.

While I was unforgivably terrible about keeping in touch the last few years, he is, and will be, missed.