Author Archives: Michelle Lentz

Yesterday was our first day at SXSW 2014. As Brandon mentioned in his post, we spent a lot of time in sessions geared towards education, as our careers are in talent development. Surprise! It’s not just parties and music. There are actual sessions here on everything from marketing and UX to the future of humanity and AI.

I took a few moments yesterday and explored a little of the branding around town as well. I started in Mashable House, where the primary feature once again this year is Grumpy Cat. I know she’s just an internet meme, but she’s a cute one, and a 5 minute line to have my photo with Grumpy Cat seemed okay. It was a very in-the-moment thing, a very SXSW thing. Why not, right?

@RealGrumpyCat at Mashable House

@RealGrumpyCat at Mashable House

From there, I popped into the 3M tent. I don’t know what I expected – post-it notes perhaps? It was more of a museum that showcased products made by 3M materials. Also, I somehow missed the drink tickets. Free food is a recurring theme at SxSW, so I managed to enjoy cupcakes and a popcorn bar.  I also wandered into the #Mofilm Lounge for my free drink. Last year, this tented lounge was absolutely jam-packed all the time. This year, you could actually move.

Popcorn Bar at the 3M Tent

Popcorn Bar at the 3M Tent

That was a theme throughout, actually. No matter where I went, I rarely had to stand in line. Last year, I think I spent most of my time at SxSW standing in lines, so I appreciate that everything seems slightly more efficient this year. While there are still apparently 30,000+ people here, I’m not feeling as crushed.

This year, the sessions seem to be more track-focused. My preferred design thinking, workplace functions, and UX design tracks are located in the Marriott, Four Seasons and Convention Center. In fact, I went through my schedule this morning and removed sessions that are in the Hilton, Sheraton, Wanderlust and the Omni. SxSW may be more organized around people flow this year, but the sessions are spread out around the town. Sometimes it feels like SxSW has outgrown Austin. I’m not the only one feeling the distance of certain things either.

30,000+ People

30,000+ People

While brands are everywhere, I’m not feeling as overwhelmed by the marketing as I have in the past. It’s an improvement. Last year, so many apps – many tacky or ridiculous – had posters pasted everywhere. A lot of the silliness (although not all), has disappeared. The smaller apps and brands just aren’t as in-your-face this year. However, Oreo is printing 3D edible cookies, GoToMeeting has free Grilled Cheese and Beer, Samsung is handing out batteries for anyone with a Samsung phone, and Deloitte is making 3D action figures. The big brands are here in force with “free” things that rarely have anything to do with the brand.

People are saying SxSWi has jumped the shark. I think it might have jumped last year and this year, it’s starting to find itself again. I don’t think it’s there yet. The organizers seem to be wrestling with what has become the SxSW brand versus the actual educational sessions. So we’ll see – I’m not giving up on the conference yet, and I’ll be back next year too.

Unhappy with your Lookback video? Too many photos of your ex? Of other people’s exes? Now you can edit your video … sort of.

A_Look_Back-5

It’s a start at least. Facebook lets you choose from a pre-selected group of photos and status updates for each section of the video. I still didn’t get the photos I really wanted in there, but I got rid of the ones I didn’t want. That’s good enough.

To edit your movie:

  •    Go to Facebook.com/Lookback.
  •    Click Edit in the top right.
  •    Scroll down and select from the pre-selected items. I didn’t realize that you can pick from more than one page of items at first, but it’s still pretty restrained.
  •    When you’re done, you can view your video.
  •    Click Update. Your video will update, and you can update your status with it.

The catch? It updates the original post you made with your video and does not make a new one.

For a laugh, you can also view what a Facebook movie would look like if it told the real truth.

There’s a new app, iPhone only, called Secret. I love it. I’m addicted to it. We’ve all seen sites such as the Post Secret project and Texts from Last Night, where anonymity is vital. This is the app version of sharing secrets, anonymous and interactive.

Secret_-_Speak_Freely

Basically, you can post what you really think and you’re mostly anonymous. There’s every sort of update in the world appearing on Secret – from potential startup acquisitions to depressed folks in need of a place to not be judged  to comments about someone’s cat. It’s an app filled with words, with fears, feats of daring, love, humor and everything else. You can post anything – no filter – and add a background or upload a photo to go with it.

Your name is not included. You can say what you think. After all, a social media study recently showed that 48% of people will hold back their opinions and feelings on Facebook for fear of judgement or having the unpopular viewpoint. On Secret, you are unfiltered.

I won’t say you’re not judged, because you can’t control what people say in the comments. But I haven’t had an unpleasant experience yet.

Now, the anonymous thing is really mostly anonymous. The app hides the identity of the posters. BUT, it looks at your address book and tells you whether a friend, or friend of a friend, posted something (then listed as in your circle). It also lets you know if the posting was just popular and therefore everyone is seeing it. If it’s a popular secret, outside of your circle, then you also see the location of the poster (ie, San Francisco).  Again, mostly anonymous.

Still, I love the app. In Secret, I can share the things I would never share on Facebook or Twitter. Emotional things, snarky things, random things … but things I don’t necessarily want associated with the image I try to project, but things that are still wholly me.

Join the app. It needs more people, more interaction. It’s brand new this month.

My only complaint is that, in order to run it, I need to use my iPhone in airplane mode on wifi. Hey developers – create an Android version will you? The whole world does not have an active iPhone.

 

Remember when watching the Olympics was limited to just prime-time television? In particular, I remember Lillehammer. I was in college and my roommate and I would watch the Olympics, followed by Letterman (who sent his mom to the Games), and then wrapped up by Bob Costas. We had a crush a Bob Costas. But that was the extent of the Olympics in our world.

Now, everything has changed. You can view the Olympics 24/7 if you want. NBC is streaming 1,000 hours of Olympic coverage in addition to 539 hours of television. That’s a lot of time. If you’re an Olympics junkie, and you think you can look past the rather distasteful politics and practices of the 2014 Games,  you’ve got a lot of options. 

Prime-time TV: No cable required, NBC will be broadcasting the biggest events each night. However, this won’t be live as the time difference between the US and Sochi is extreme. But you can still get your figure-skating fix this way, even if you don’t have cable.

Cable TV: Many of NBC’s 539 hours will actually be broadcast on NBC Sports Network. NBCSN is a cable station and until today, I wasn’t even aware I had it. (In the SF Bay Area, try ch 81.)

Online: Around 1,000 hours of live events will be streaming on NBCOlympics.com. They will tell you this is free, but there is a catch. You need to authenticate your specific cable provider. So yes, you can view it, but you either need cable, or have a friend willing to share their user name/password.

NBC Sports Live Extra App: No pay-for-cable needed here, you can download the app and watch those 1,000 hours live on your mobile device. The app is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android. Additionally, standard news apps from outlets like CNN, MSNBC and others will cover the outcome of the competitions as well as the politics around Sochi. 

Available for Android, iPhone and iPad

Available for Android, iPhone and iPad

Social Media: If you don’t want to watch, but still want to follow along, and your own Facebook feed just won’t fit the bill, you can find the Sochi Olympics all over social media. So far, the hashtags look to be #sochi2014 and of course, #Olympics, although I’m sure others will emerge.

   - Twitter: Follow @NBCOlympics for the NBC version and @USOlympic for tweets from the overall team. Additionally, the team has put together a list of tweeting athletes competing in the games. NBC has put together a list of tweeting commentators and I bet they’ll have their own list of tweeting athletes within the next couple of days.  You can also follow Scott HamiltonBrian Boitano, and Shaun White, all in Sochi for the Games, and Lindsey Vonn, who is commentating state-side for the Today Show.

Shaun White's latest tweet

Shaun White‘s latest tweet

- Instagram: Some basics include TeamUSA,  NBCOlympics, Sochi2014, USsnowboarding, and Olympics.  At the bottom of this CBS post, you can find a list of all of the athletes on Instagram.

- Facebook: Both Sochi and NBC have Pages for the Olympics. I’m sure, with a little searching, you’ll probably find fan pages or follow abilities out there for your favorite athletes.

As for the politics, I hope we show the world that, like Jesse Owens in Berlin, we can stand strong against discrimination.

Know of any other ways to catch your favorite sports during the Olympics? Let us know in the comments.


I saw an ad for The Circle several weeks ago in the NY Times Book Review, read the synopsis on Amazon, and pre-ordered it. A few days ago, it arrived on my Kindle. I read it in 2.5 days, as I was unable to put it down.

The Circle is definitely a satirical novel about a not-so-utopian future driven by technology. Lately, I’ve read REAMDE by Neal Stephenson and re-read his Snow Crash. I also tore through Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (a book I felt was written purely to be a movie). So I’ve subconsciously been seeking out these dystopian near-futures that seem to have more than enough roots in our present. I might also point out that during this fiction binge, I also quit Facebook for a while. I only recently semi-returned, albeit not entirely. I mention all this so that you can take my current mindset into account as I talk about The Circle.

The story is about Mae, a 24-year old college graduate who ended up landing a job at a fictional company called The Circle, in what appears to be Silicon Valley (although this isn’t explicitly stated, it is definitely implied). The Circle begins as a fairly accurate amalgam of Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple. Basically, The Circle is a large, technology-focused company (although they are insistent they are “about humans” and humanizing) that bows to advertisers, sells user information to advertisers, makes an amazing amount of money doing it, and to whom users willing give over our privacy. The Circle has users’ health data, likes, dislikes, hobbies, love interests, education, ancestral history, virtual banking, minute to minute daily experiences – because the countless users provide it. Sound vaguely familiar?  The founders of the company are the “Three Wise Men,” who varyingly show traits of Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and wrapped in, some random cult leader whom you can’t help but trust and follow.

Our protagonist, Mae, is a bit of a fool, who falls into situations, not because she is brilliant but because things often go her way, even the bad things. She makes some poor love choices, and I honestly could have done without at least one of the boyfriend sub-plots. Mae also has ailing parents who are fighting the domestic healthcare system because her father has debilitating MS. She has an ex-boyfriend, Mercer, who goes on long rants about the evils of social networking and the always-on mentality. Honestly, I agree with some of what Mercer has to say, but he really does get preachy about it all. Luckily for us readers, it makes Mae want to tune out as well.

The book is divided into three unequal parts. Part 1 had me fired up, ready to defend privacy and everything associated with it. Part 2 was frustrating, because I realized that Mae’s foibles weren’t just from youth and inexperience, but true narcissism, bred by the always-on, always-connected world of her life within The Circle. Part 3 revealed a “secret” character that I’d figured out earlier. Admittedly, some of Part 3 was a little too pat for me, too contrived. But the ending? It surprised me. I expected it to go a certain way but it didn’t.

The book is about extremes. There are the folks such as Mercer, who are determined to go analog to an absolute extreme (running off to the woods with no connectivity or phone). As a reader,  you begin to expect his particulate fate, but that fate is suspenseful and well-written. Then there is the extreme of May and her colleagues at The Circle. They are so convinced that “secrets are lies,” “privacy is theft” and that “sharing is caring” with no regard to sense of self. In fact, sense of self, such as Mae experiencing a magical moment in nature on her own, is suddenly considered selfish, greedy. In that instance, Mae was alone, disconnected and not sharing, yet this was interpreted as stealing knowledge by not sharing it.

I was fascinated by how Eggers was able to take privacy and flip it on its side, showing the glass half-full version of knowing and seeing all. The Circle, in the novel, suggests that we should all – from government to the everyday office worker – be walking around with a camera around our neck, sharing all, telling all, and keeping no secrets aside from necessary human functions (like sleeping or using the restroom). Eggers somehow reaches out and foretells what the positive argument might be, yet we can hear the underlying satire.

I was taken aback by this dystopian near-future, which is an effect these Orwellian books tend to have on me. The very possibility of all of this seem so near, and so terrifying. Yet, perhaps I am an optimist. As I read the book, as I got more terrified and more determined to change this process, I realized that we won’t let this happen. The Circle in the book is something that is easily bought into and accepted by everyone. As the company seeks to improve society (always watching each other leads to being our best selves?) and eradicate all evil through accountability and technology, the populace just simply agrees and goes along with it. “Why didn’t we think of this earlier?” they ask. Well, humans are just a little too rebellious for this. We would never agree to this instant and digital subjugation. We want to have our private moments. We want to have our living-out-loud moments. We want both. We won’t easily submit to the privatizing of our governments, our health, and our personal lives.

In the book, Mae sacrifices family and friendships, in ways you can’t even imagine until you read it, for the sake of the completion of The Circle. I am always ever hopeful and I believe that we would never let that happen. The Circle is about the lack of individualism and my optimism requires that I believe, as humans, we’re more than the sum of our parts. We’re more than The Circle. No matter the size of Google. Facebook, Twitter, or the social networks that will follow, we value our individualism and will fight for it.

Read The Circle. It will surprise you and I hope, make you think. People seem to be upset about the book, often panning it in reviews, forgetting that The Circle is about a fictional potential future and not the now.

For me, at least, Eggers raised some interesting points. The Circle reminds us that we are individuals and perhaps do not have to be part of the whole. We can choose to share; we can choose not to, and we can strive to retain that sense of individualism. But conversely, many of the solutions proposed by the fictional Circle for society’s ills were pretty fantastic. The question we may need to eventually answer is just what bargain are we willing to make to get there?

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