Wednesday, May 18, 2011

(Don't) Spam A Lot (Or At All)


“We eat ham, and jam and Spam a lot.” ~  Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975

I’m seeing an incredible amount of virus-generated spam on Facebook these days. It’s ruining the Facebook experience for a lot of people who are tired of seeing unwanted messages being posted automatically on their walls. The spike in spam prompted me to post this message on my Facebook wall the other day:


Spam is distracting, intrusive and even destructive. It's virtual environmental pollution that's threatening to overwhelm us in this digital age where it’s so easy to keep creating and distributing content for free. And I don’t mean just on Facebook or Twitter. It’s crept into many aspects of our communication:

when we write gobbledygook.
when our content is not meaningful to our audience.
when we distribute releases that have no news value.
when we send e-newsletters/email blasts to people who never opted in.
when we hit reply all to emails that may not really be relevant or necessary for all recipients.
when we push our links on Twitter during a Tweetchat we’re not participating in.
…the list can go on and on.

It may seem obvious but I’ve been surprised by how many of my (smart) Facebook friends have clicked on spam-like content so there is definitely a need to educate people about spam and the viruses it can infect their devices with.

How can we eliminate or at least reduce and protect ourselves from spam?
Here is a list of some possible steps:
  • Report and block spam on Facebook and Twitter (Norton has a Safe Web App for Facebook that automatically scans all links that are viewable to you on Facebook and warns you of potential threats.)
  • Don’t click on anything that seems too good to be true, odd or even fishy.
  • Think and plan our content carefully and stop publishing for the sake of it.
  • Include unsubscribe buttons on email newsletters (a former client once asked me to make the unsubscribe option as small and obscure as possible so that it would be difficult for people to find and unsubscribe. I cannot even begin to point out the futility (not to mention illegality) of pushing content out to someone who is not interested and doesn’t want to keep reading it. )
  • Educate yourself about the anti-spamming laws in your country (such as the CAN-SPAM Act in the U.S. to protect yourself against spammers.
  • Include your name in the 'National Do Not Call registry' to avoid receiving automated and unsolicited sales calls if you are in the U.S. (On a recent trip to India, I got a local phone card and was inundated with constant automated phone calls from the phone company.)
  • Hotmail is a magnet for spam so if you still use Hotmail for your emails you may want to switch to gmail that has better spam filters. You can also create a filter that checks for messages that do not include your email address in the "To:" or "CC:" fields, which is quite common for spam emails.
  • Uncheck the ‘would you like to receive emails and offers’ box if you are signing up for a service or registering on a site and don’t want to receive information from them.
How do you keep out spam in your personal and professional communications? Share your tips.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Breaking News In 140 Characters

I casually logged on to Twitter last night at 10.30 pm to check my timeline. It only took a few seconds for me to realize that something big was brewing. I read that there were unconfirmed reports that Osama Bin Laden had been killed and that President Barack Obama was scheduled to make a televised national address soon. Within a few minutes, more and more people started tweeting and as the Twitter updates gained more urgency, it became clear that the news was, indeed, true.

Keith Urbahn, Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s current chief of staff, is credited to have been the first one to break the news on Twitter that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

News breaking over Twitter instead of the mainstream media, is not new, of course. We’ve seen it with a lot of other recent events. Most people who are active on Twitter and who regularly check their feeds, naturally, get their breaking news from Twitter. What’s amazing to observe is how many people are increasingly turning to Twitter to find out what’s going on and to discuss and share their opinion on the turn of events. Twitter is truly the new age, virtual watercooler around which we all like to hang out and interact, irrespective of geographic boundaries, especially when something big happens.

What’s also fascinating is the speed with which news and information is being pushed out, in the age where everyone is a publisher of content. By 11.45 pm, Sysomos, a social media analytics firm, tracked 500,000 tweets, 796 blogs and 507 published articles about Bin Laden. Within 12 hours after the news broke, Sysomos had tracked 40,000 blog posts and 2.2 million tweets. By 11 pm, there were reportedly more than a dozen Facebook posts with the word ‘Bin Laden’ every second and quite a few Facebook pages and groups (one page 'Bin Laden is Dead' had over 100,000 ‘likes’ by 12 pm. During President Obama’s address, Twitter reported 4,000 tweets were being sent every second.



Just a few minutes after the news was confirmed, there was already a @ghostosama Twitter account up and running, with over 900 followers, which kept growing every second. The number of people checking in at Ground Zero on Foursquare last night also kept increasing by the minute. Google Maps had 'Bin Laden's compound' in Abbottabad marked out in no time as well.

While not everyone may have received news of Osama Bin Laden’s death from a social media channel but it was amazing to observe first-hand the exponential effect of how quickly news can flow over these channels and also it’s potential to draw worldwide attention to events and mobilize people into action.

Speaking from my own recent personal experience, I was a lot more aware and interested in what was going on in the Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries because of the updates I was constantly reading on Twitter from the people themselves. Normally, I would have just quickly read through these items in the news but I felt a lot more connected with these events over Twitter. As more and more people join social media channels, I expect that this will only enhance the power of these networks in getting information out and building a sense of community over events. We've come a long way from the time when we had to wait for the morning newspaper or the evening news program to get breaking news. And it's going to be interesting to see how far we will go thanks to the transformational power of social media.

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