It’s time to redefine the redefining of friends

golden retriever puppiesNearly four years ago, in February of 2011, I wrote a blog post about social networking and redefining the word “friend.” Since then, that post has consistently been near the top of my stats page for number of views. I just read it again and while the basic premise is still sound, some of what I talk about doing there has changed for me. The staying power of that post seems to show how much people are still struggling with social networking vs. interacting with people in real life. So I thought it was time to update the post with how I handle accounts now.

As I said back then, you don’t have to follow my lead. I don’t believe in social media rules but rather best practices. There are some people who are better at it than others, not because they are gurus or follow a strict code, but more because they have found a way to exist online that works for them and the people with whom they interact.

In 2011, my four main social networks were Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. In four years, how I handle my interactions on those accounts has changed a bit, and I no longer use Foursquare after their disastrous break up into Foursquare and Swarm. That move by the developers led me and many others to abandon them as quickly as they had abandoned the core function and attraction of their original app.

Instead, I find myself spending more time on a network that didn’t even exist in early 2011: Google Plus. I’m still on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but some things have changed, and I’ll go into those after I talk about G+.

Google HQGoogle Plus (+AriAdler)

Anyone who interacts with me regularly knows I’m a big fan of Google products. I like they way they are integrated in an effort to make my life simpler through interconnected apps. Some folks like to malign Google Plus as “the Facebook killer that failed.” But here’s the problem with that statement: G+ was never intended to kill Facebook. It is a very different network. I’m on there multiple times every day, either sharing information in my own posts, sharing what others have posted, or visiting one of the many communities I have joined that bring together aficionados of just about anything you can be interested in talking about. I use G+ as the main repository for photos that I shoot, which is now done entirely via my Android phone or my Google Glass (and backed up automatically). And I will follow anyone who seems interesting and doesn’t seem to be a spammer. Their system of Circles that allows me to categorize people and decide who receives all or just some of the posts I share is easier for me to use than Facebook’s system, but that may be a personal preference. Circles also are integrated with Google Contacts and the network is integrated with Gmail, Google Calendar and other Google apps. It’s a way to keep my finger on the pulse of the universe while traveling aboard the Starship Google.

I find I interact with people who have shared interests more than anyone else. Most of my family and friends aren’t using G+ because many of them didn’t see the need to check it out once they settled in on Facebook. I don’t think many of them know what they’re missing, but I’m not one to judge. You should find the network you like, you understand and can work within well. Then enjoy yourself and don’t worry about what others are doing or telling you to do.

— Followers in 2011: 0 —

— Followers today: 1,330 (plus 1.1 million views of my profile pages) — Following today: 3,513

facebook hqFacebook

Back in 2011, I was much more open about becoming “friends” with people. I used to accept invitations from just about everyone and then kept them sorted by lists. I don’t do any of that anymore. Instead, I’m more cautious about who I allow to become a “friend.” I purged a lot of people from my account. I still have “friends” who aren’t friends and so I’m always aware of what I’m saying and sharing, as everyone should be on every Internet-connected system.

I find that I spend more time interacting with family on Facebook than any other social network, with coworkers and people I went to high school with a close second and third. As I mentioned earlier, many of them were on Facebook first and haven’t found a compelling reason to keep up two different types of accounts.

I do find Facebook’s systems frustrating and have honestly spent most of my time on there only because of work needs, then while I’m there I take up shared conversations with friends and family. I visit it, generally, only twice a day but could easily abandon Facebook faster than any other network I use. For some reason, I find Facebook to be a bigger useless time-suck than Google Plus. That’s not to say G+ won’t have you spending a lot of time online that you should be spending doing other things, but when I’m done that time spent just feels more useful on Google+ than on Facebook. Tip: If you haven’t figured out how to turn off auto-play videos on Facebook, go do it now. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to get back. It will change your life.

— Friends in 2011: 800 —

— Friends today: 904, but different people make up that list now. — 

twitter hqTwitter (@aribadler)

Things haven’t changed a lot in terms of how I use Twitter. I have a lot more followers than I did in 2011 and am following a lot more accounts. Back then I noted it was a free-for-all, a “hodgepodge,” even. That remains true today. It’s an eclectic group that I interact with on Twitter, and I tend to interact with brands and companies more there than anywhere else online. I am on there multiple times per day and it has become the number one place that I schedule posts with news or interesting links via my Hootsuite account. (Google Plus’ API doesn’t allow scheduling things through Hootsuite for personal pages yet, but there are times when I’ll share things on Twitter and won’t share them anywhere else even when I can. I’m not sure the API change will alter that pattern.)

One thing that has changed significantly is how much Twitter has affected my professional life. Many journalists use Twitter now to break news or report on events. I have interacted with more journalists about and for news stories on Twitter in the past year than I probably did in the previous three. That type of interaction is expanding exponentially and I suspect it will continue to for a while.

— Followers in 2011: 4,339 — Following in 2011: 3,876 —

— Followers today: 7,502 — Following today: 8,220 — 

linkedin hqLinkedIn (Ari B. Adler)

I used to think of LinkedIn as “the Rolodex of social networking,” and I think it still is to some extent. I have more business-related and professional interactions on LinkedIn than anywhere else, and what I share there via posts reflects that. I’m on it a few times each week as notifications come in from people who want to connect with me. I don’t use it to its full potential, I’m sure, but it’s just not something I find compelling enough to spend time on. I find its interface clunky and counter-intuitive. Still, the connections you might have on LinkedIn could prove invaluable for a career some day, so I still recommend you check it out if you haven’t. Just remember that sometimes people want to connect with you not because of who you are but because of whom you know. Be careful not to be used as nothing more than a connection to someone else. Even heeding my warning, of course, I still tend to be pretty loose with my requirements for connecting. If I can find a shred of a reason to accept your connection request, I’ll do it.

— Connections in 2011: 500 — Connections today: 1,825 —

I’d be interested in hearing how your use of social media has changed over the years. It wasn’t that long ago that I was jumping on Twitter to figure out what the heck it was all about, because a younger professional in my office was making waves with it and I wasn’t about to get swamped and left behind. Now, it has become so much more routine to be on social media. And yet, years later, it’s still one of the most misunderstood, misused and undervalued opportunities for spreading a message than anything I’ve seen in my many years as a communications professional. I’m still learning and plan to do so for years to come. I would urge you to do the same, “friend.”

 kitten best friends

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Farewell to the House

After four years of service as the Press Secretary for Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, my time in the Legislature has come to an end. Due to term limits, my boss could not run for re-election. The new Speaker decided to “go in a different direction” with the next press secretary and so I’m saying farewell to the House.

The last full session day was Thursday, Dec. 18, which went past midnight and so we technically had a bonus session day that went from midnight on Friday, Dec. 19, until about 6:45 a.m.

My wife, Jessi, was around the chamber for most of the night and helped me document my last real session day. (I will be returning to the House floor on Dec. 30 to take part in Sine Die — when the Legislature adjourns “without day” — but that doesn’t really count as a real session day.)

It’s a bittersweet time in my career, when all the crazy hours, incredible social media frustrations and triumphant media relations moments cascade down around me and swirl about among my memories. But that aside, here is a collection of photos and videos shot by Jessi and I during those last hours, with some commentary to help provide context. (You can click on each picture to enlarge it if you so desire.)

Speaker Bolger office

This is the hallway outside the Speaker’s Office. When I got to work on Thursday, Dec. 18, I decided to document a few things that had become routine — something that we all risk no matter where we work. I used to always tell new employees to stop and look around from time to time – that no matter how busy they were, they should take a minute to revel in the amazing building where they were privileged to work.

Speaker Bolger office sign

The main hallway inside the Speaker's Office suite.

The main hallway inside the Speaker’s Office suite.

The actual Speaker's office - the place Jase Bolger always thanked visitors for allowing him to borrow. That sentiment is part of what made him a great public servant. I spent a lot of hours at that big table during strategy meetings.

The actual Speaker’s office – the place Jase Bolger always thanked visitors for allowing him to borrow. That sentiment is part of what made him a great public servant. I spent a lot of hours at that big table during strategy meetings.

The Speaker's desk is at the end by the window; this is an angle shot while standing at the table in the previous photo.

The Speaker’s desk is at the end by the window; this is an angle shot while standing at the table in the previous photo.

This is an old Speaker's chair - at one time it actually sat at the rostrum on the House floor but has since been replaced. Many of us have memories of sitting in this chair waiting to see Speaker Bolger; it seemed a fitting place to pass the time.

This is an old Speaker’s chair – at one time it actually sat at the rostrum on the House floor but has since been replaced. Many of us have memories of sitting in this chair waiting to see Speaker Bolger; it seemed a fitting place to pass the time.

This was the last press conference I helped Speaker Bolger with. He was speaking about the roads deal reached between the legislative leaders and Gov. Snyder. The press conference was held in the Governor's Capitol Office Parlor. If you take the Capitol tour, there are times when this room is open for viewing.

This was the last press conference I helped Speaker Bolger with. He was speaking about the roads deal reached on Thursday between the legislative leaders and Gov. Snyder. The press conference was held in the Governor’s Capitol Office Parlor. If you take the Capitol tour, there are times when this room is open for viewing.

I lost track a long time ago how many times I've gone running up and down these steps before, during and after session. This is the back stairwell that leads up to the House chamber. It's behind a "No Visitors Beyond This  Point" sign in the main Capitol hallway. I guess that will be me now.  :/

I lost track a long time ago how many times I’ve gone running up and down these steps before, during and after session. This is the back stairwell that leads up to the House chamber. It’s behind a “No Visitors Beyond This Point” sign in the main Capitol hallway. I guess that will be me now.

Here is a video of the last time I said the Pledge of Allegiance on the House floor for a regular session, which was shortly after midnight on Dec. 19 when we started a “new” session day. I will always remember saying this for opening every session, but especially when we had a school group in the gallery watching us. Few groups can say the Pledge as loud and proud as a group of elementary schoolkids!

This is a very private place behind the scenes, as it is the House Republican Caucus Room. The House Democrats have one, too. It is a well-heeded rule in our caucus that what is said in this room stays in this room. It's a place where I saw Republicans spend many hours debating policies and issues with fervor but always ending with their friendship and camaraderie intact.

This is a very private place behind the scenes, as it is the House Republican Caucus Room. The House Democrats have one, too. It is a well-heeded rule in our caucus that what is said in this room stays in this room. It’s a place where I saw Republicans spend many hours debating policies and issues with fervor but always ending with their friendship and camaraderie intact.

The House Press Desk, where the Capitol Press Corps sits during session. I spent a lot of hours standing at this desk providing information and cajoling reporters, not to mention taking a few good-natured hits in return.

The House Press Desk, where the Capitol Press Corps sits during session. I spent a lot of hours standing at this desk providing information and cajoling reporters, not to mention taking a few good-natured hits in return.

Jessi took this shot, so I'm not sure what was happening. It appears I was watching a vote go up on the board. She has several shots of me standing like this throughout the night. I never realized how much I cross my arms while observing things!

Jessi took this shot, so I’m not sure what was happening. It appears I was watching a vote go up on the board. She has several shots of me standing like this throughout the night. I never realized how much I cross my arms while observing things!

Jessi took this picture, too, of Rep. Frank Foster, R-Petoskey. I don't know what he was watching or what he was thinking; since he lost his primary election and won't be returning, I can't even imagine it. In his farewell speech, Foster told the House that we need "more politicians who are bad at politics." He is absolutely correct, and will be sorely missed in the GOP Caucus next year.

Jessi took this picture, too, of Rep. Frank Foster, R-Petoskey. I don’t know what he was watching or what he was thinking; since he lost his primary election and won’t be returning, I can’t even imagine it. In his farewell speech, Foster told the House that we need “more politicians who are bad at politics.” He is absolutely correct, and will be sorely missed in the GOP Caucus next year.

The Speaker's job is so intense and so stressful; people have no idea how much a legislative leader and his family must endure. I love this shot that Jessi took though, because it shows Jase Bolger sharing a laugh with a colleague on the floor. Often, no matter how stressful things had gotten, Jase would let others lighten the mood with a joke and then laugh right along with them. It helped us all relieve some stress.

The Speaker’s job is so intense and so stressful; people have no idea how much a legislative leader and his family must endure. I love this shot that Jessi took though, because it shows Jase Bolger sharing a laugh with a colleague on the floor. Often, no matter how stressful things had gotten, Jase would let others lighten the mood with a joke and then laugh right along with them. It helped us all relieve some stress.

This was a chance shot that I took with Google Glass as everyone was leaving the House floor after session adjourned on Friday. I happen to glance over and catch Speaker Bolger wishing Speaker-Elect Kevin Cotter well as he prepares to take over next year.

This was a chance shot that I took with Google Glass as everyone was leaving the House floor after session adjourned on Friday. I happen to glance over and catch Speaker Bolger wishing Speaker-Elect Kevin Cotter well as he prepares to take over next year.

I didn't know Jessi had taken this picture until days later. It was on my last trip down the back stairs after session ended on Friday morning. A classic shot that I'm so glad she took.

I didn’t know Jessi had taken this picture until days later. It was on my last trip down the back stairs after session ended on Friday morning. A classic shot that I’m so glad she took.

It was just after 8 a.m. on Friday and we'd all been at work well over 24 hours. But that didn't stop Speaker Bolger from agreeing to do an interview with Frank Beckman for his radio show. It's a testament to Jase and his willingness to be open with the media right up to the very end. It also documents that even while talking on a phone, he has to use his hands to explain concepts to people. :)

It was just after 8 a.m. on Friday and we’d all been at work well over 24 hours. But that didn’t stop Speaker Bolger from agreeing to do an interview with Frank Beckman for his radio show. It’s a testament to Jase and his willingness to work with the media right up to the end. It also documents that even while talking on a phone, he has to use his hands to explain concepts to people. 🙂

The previous picture was shot on my Google Glass, and unbeknownst to me, Jessi was taking a picture of me taking that picture! This angle also shows how the Speaker's office was already being torn down and boxed up, but he and I were still working, because there was still work to be done.

The previous picture was shot on my Google Glass, and unbeknownst to me, Jessi was taking a picture of me taking that picture! This angle also shows how the Speaker’s office was already being torn down and boxed up, but he and I were still working, because there was still work to be done.

The last shot of me in my empty Capitol office before I left. Maybe it was best that I ended my work day about 27 hours after it ended, because by then I was ready to leave.

The last shot of me in my empty Capitol office before I left. Maybe it was best that I ended my work day about 27 hours after it started, because by then I was ready to leave!

This is a video I shot on the House floor with my Google Glass. It was of Speaker Bolger’s final time at the rostrum for a regular session day. It includes his farewell to the chamber and the last time he says, “The House will stand at ease at the call of the chair.”

And that’s all folks!

Chrome books it to the cloud and never looks back

Acer Chromebook 11.6I recently purchased an Acer 11.6-inch Chromebook computer as what I thought was going to be a part-time device to help me speed through a lot of the web-based work and social media activities I do. Little did I know a few weeks ago that I would be reaching for it more than anything else. I’m writing this post on it now, although honestly, I’ve written blog posts on a mobile phone before, so basically the best device you can use for writing is the one you have available when inspiration strikes. 🙂

I had thought about such a purchase recently as the job I have was ending and, with it, my access to an iPad. Also, my MacBook from 2009 has been showing its age. So I started thinking about what device to get next that wasn’t a laptop (because I wanted better portability, despite how 2014 that sounds), and I didn’t want to spend a small fortune like I would to get my own personal iPad.

To each his own, that’s what I generally say when people ask me about “the best device for doing x.” I’ve used Apple and Android phones, Kindles, Kindle Fires, iPads, PCs, Macs and, now, a Chromebook. I’ve also used the major devices available for streaming video and music content, but those should be in a separate blog post all their own (coming soon).

I also was recently contacted by SingleHop, a private cloud-hosting company, about sharing my experiences with cloud computing. Full disclosure: I was not compensated in any way to mention them, other than their providing the cloud computer graphic posted at the end of this post for reference. It was just a nicely worded email that asked me to write something and, sometimes, niceness and professionalism pay off.

So, anyway…cloud computing has become a big part of my life and it’s only getting bigger, as I suspect it will for many people. Chromebooks are nearly as powerful as many laptops now. Think about your computer use for a minute. Many things that you do are actually being done on the Internet, not on your local hard drive. Think about the social media activities, photo editing and storage, file storage and — if you’re a Google Drive user instead of a Microsoft slave — your writing, spreadsheets and presentations. All of that is done via your browser instead of your computer’s operating system. In my case, the browser of choice is Google Chrome.

The folks at SingleHop sent me a list of questions to prompt some ideas for this blog post, but I thought they were more useful for me to tweak and let others use as a checklist for determining how much you actually do online:

  • Do you stream music or videos?

  • Do you coordinate with coworkers or associates to collaborate on documents and presentations?

  • Do you use social media, email or instant messaging to stay in touch with friends and family?

  • Do you use apps on your mobile phone or tablet that are synced across devices?

If you answer yes to most or all of those, you’re spending a lot of time in the computing cloud whether you knew it or not.

When I looked at my computer use, I realized at least 90 percent of my activities were on the Chrome browser, so it made a lot of sense for me to make Chrome my operating system, which is what happens when you run a Chromebook. With a solid state drive and no true operating system, a Chromebook starts almost instantly.

I can open and close the lid all day to take it from wake to sleep and back again in a couple blinks of an eye. There is no fan, so there’s no noise, and it’s incredibly lightweight. I can rotate the screen vertically and hold it sideways to read a magazine article or book with no fatigue. (Essentially, it’s like holding a lightweight hardcover book, with the screen on one side and the keyboard on the other. It works a lot better than it probably sounds.)

My books are almost entirely in the cloud now, as are my documents, my photos, my music, my movies and most everything else I interact with. The advantage is that I have them all available on whatever device I’m using at the moment, from laptop to Chromebook, from Kindle Fire to mobile phone. The downside, of course, is that if wireless goes down or the Internet goes dark for any reason, I lose the ability to stream things. I can, however, work with items I have stored for offline use — books, movies, music, documents — pretty much anything I have room to store on my Chromebook or an SD memory card. Even Google Drive is now built so that you can work on things offline and then let them update to the cloud later when you have an Internet connection.

Cloud computing and the epitome of such — Chromebooks — may not be for everyone. But the ease of use and access, plus the ability for others to interact with what you have in the cloud when invited is incredibly appealing to and useful for me. I’m certain the gang over at Single Hop would agree since that’s how they’re making a living.

I’m thrilled with my Chromebook purchase and the way it took me to the cloud and never looked back.

There is a lot I could have written about cloud computing, Chromebooks or my new Acer in particular, but I didn’t want this post to become exceedingly long. So if you have any questions about anything mentioned here, just post them in the comments section and I’ll reply with an answer for you ASAP.

Life_in_the_Cloud

Burn your ships, Inbox by Gmail is here

hernado cortesThere’s an oft-debated historical reference made about Hernado Cortes burning his ships after they landed in the New World to encourage his men to fight and survive there rather than giving in too easily and sailing home. It’s how I’ve handled the conversion to Inbox by Gmail and, if you receive an invite, it’s what you should do, too, if you want to be successful with it.

The reason the Cortes story is debated is because now historians believe he didn’t order the ships burned but rather run aground and stripped of materials. Potato, pot-ah-to — either way there wasn’t an easy escape route when things got tough.

Those who follow me on social media or read this blog know that I’m a big fan of Google. It’s not a blind infatuation, I actually like their products and their methods, even when they destroy products I enjoyed using, like Google Reader. I have long enjoyed living deep within the Google universe because of the ways they find to integrate everything. Automation or at least quick manual access to my online life through various programs and apps usually makes my life easier and simpler. And I’m all for that, as I suspect most people are. But at times there are things with promise that come along that attract my attention, even if they aren’t within the Google universe.

The latest example of this was Mailbox, a self-standing startup that was eventually acquired by Dropbox. The beauty of the app, which started as mobile and then became a beta desktop app, was that it allowed you to swipe through, deal with or snooze email very efficiently. There were many times when I longed for GMail’s integration with attaching files from Google Drive or interacting directly with Google+ posts from within the email notification. But when I had a stack of emails flooding in, I went to Mailbox to quickly sort, swipe, snooze and delete them to get my head above water again. I should note here that the concept of Inbox Zero is paramount to me. I see my email inbox as a running to do list and as long as an email is sitting in there – read or unread – I have something I need to do. So by the end of each day, and sometimes by early evening, I have achieved Inbox Zero. That doesn’t mean everything is done, but it has at least been addressed, even if that means scheduling it to handle tomorrow.

Oh, how I longed for the functionality of Gmail and the efficiency of Mailbox to become one. I often wondered why Dropbox had to acquire Mailbox before Google could. I needed the two apps to marry so I could enjoy their companionship.

inboxSo, along comes Inbox by Gmail. It’s odd that it’s not Inbox by Google, but maybe they’re trying to show commitment to potential users, those of us who have been there done that with Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google Reader, etc. If they say it’s “by Gmail,” maybe we will believe that this time they won’t abandon it just as it’s starting to get good.

But I digress. Let’s focus on Inbox. Aside from its silly name (couldn’t they have come up with something less confusing than making us yet again use a common word as proper noun?) it’s a winner in my book, albeit in need of some tweaking. I suppose I should be happy that Google didn’t follow the other naming trend these days of obliterating random vowels and call it “Inbx.”

inbox feedbackI’ve been taking notes for this blog post as I’ve provided feedback to Google, or Gmail, or whomever is on the other end of the line. Sending feedback is easy, and they’ve even set it up so that it can automatically include a screen shot, highlight what you’re referring to, and black out personal information. It’s a feedback system that instills confidence.

So here are my notes so far, after having used Inbox on mobile and desktop for about three days now:

  • As I said earlier, you need to go all in. I’ve seen complaints from early adopters saying that what they do on the Inbox mobile app doesn’t transfer well to their Gmail inbox on the web. Well, duh, then go to your Inbox inbox (sigh) on the web and everything will be right with the world. Yes, many of us have invested time and energy in Gmail labels and folders, and those are still available to you under Inbox. But you now have a system of “bundling” available that seems to work well, so find a way to merge the two concepts and you’ll be singing a happy tune.
  • Speaking of bundling, one of the things you have to do is be a little patient with the technology. The initial bundles for Promos, Travel, Updates, etc. are pretty good. After all, Google has scanned your email surreptitiously for years, so they should have a handle on sorting it by now. But you can make your own “bundles,” and you can adjust which emails go into the standard ones or your personal ones on the fly. I say be patient because it may take a few days for Inbox to learn what you like and how you like it. But it seems to be picking up on my changes quickly and accurately.
  • One of the key features of Inbox is swiping and snoozing. That means you can select an email, or a group of emails, to go away and magically reappear at a later time or date or, because Google has this advantage over Dropbox as the mother ship, you can have them appear when you reach a certain location. That’s handy if you want to snooze an email until you get home after work, for example. One tweak that needs to be made to Inbox is the ability to adjust the default snoozes. On Mailbox, I could adjust what “later today” meant or what time “tomorrow” the reappearance would trigger. While you can manually select a custom date and time in Inbox, your defaults are their defaults, at least for now.
  • I also have discovered that when a snoozed item reappears, it is automatically unbundled and pinned. Unbundled means it just appears in your inbox, and not returning to the bundled group you had it in originally. Just because I want to look at something later doesn’t mean I want the category removed. And the concept of pinning emails by sticking a virtual stick pin in it is handy. It protects those emails by saving them to your inbox no matter what you try to do to it. That helps protect you from mistakes as you start to swipe, snooze and trash things with speed. But snoozed items don’t necessarily have to be pinned. If Google is listening to my feedback, they’ll know that I just want my email to pop back up, in the place I had it, and without a pin.
  • As for trashing items, Google has again opted to focus on archiving emails instead of deleting them. This happened with the Gmail mobile app initially until enough people hollered and they gave us the option of “trashing” meaning delete instead of archive. It’s an important difference and one that users should be allowed to toggle. Hopefully, that will happen soon. I’ve started using keyboard shortcuts in Inbox a lot more than in Gmail because I discovered the one for delete that actually means “delete.”
  • Formatting can still be a little tricky at times, too, as sometimes I’m finding things I’m cutting and pasting from the web into the body of the email being smashed together instead of formatted with paragraphs. I’m hoping that’s just a glitch that Google will address soon. I do like that there is a “speed dial” function hidden under the compose button. It populates with a few of your most-used recipients so you can address an email with two clicks and no typing.
  • The biggest letdown I’ve run into so far is the lack of proper integration. Sometimes it’s more efficient for me to reply to a Google+ post via the email notification instead of actually going to G+. In Gmail, I can do that and you’d never be able to tell I did it. With Inbox, my reply shows up, but so does a truncated header about who sent the response that I’m replying to. That’s unnecessary clutter and needs to be addressed. And, Inbox is not yet fully integrated with Google Drive as Gmail is. That means there is no easy way to attach or embed files and pictures from Drive. Sure, you can easily attach files that are on your computer, but unless they’re in a Drive folder you sync to your hard drive, that means you have to go get it first. That is soooo 2013! Google owns all of this, so it might be in the next iteration without much coding needed (says the guy who knows nothing about coding).
  • One thing that is integrated is Google Reminders, which is going to take some getting used to but may be something worthwhile. I use Reminders through Google Now, and having them populate in my inbox may be a nice time saver. It’s weird to see them there, but since I use my inbox as a to do list, maybe Google knows something about me that I don’t?

All-in-all, I’m happy with it. Is it perfect? Of course not, and maybe it never will be because we always want more than we can have when it comes to apps and software. Oh, and we want it free. And we want it handed to us for free with no ads, and without giving up any privacy, and we want it to never go down, never let us down and never make us wish we hadn’t switched email programs. But, that’s not real life and eventually all of us as consumers will need to start learning that.

Of course, we all have one major advantage Cortes and his men didn’t. If we decide to “unburn the ships,” all we have to do is make a few keystrokes and, voilà, we’re sailing home. But for now, I’ve deleted Mailbox because this New World inbox has a lot of promise.

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Image courtesy of http://kurtkoontz.com/

Racing around…and around and around…with Google Glass

Michigan International Speedway Pit Road

I had the privilege this past weekend of being a guest at the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race held at Michigan International Speedway. The track was interested in seeing what I could do with Google Glass as a fan, and I also kept thinking about what the track could do with the device if they owned one.

As you can see from my Google Plus photo album of my day, there is no end of fun things to capture at a race track. I shot pictures and video of race cars and track facilities before and during the race. I used Glass to track rain on a radar app and I looked up information about drivers by Googling information without ever taking my phone from my pocket. Google Glass vignette

One thing to note is that while I believe Glass’ microphone and voice recognition are excellent, they cannot compete with the noise from a revving race car engine! My wife and I had to go around the corner a few times when trying to do something with Glass while I was in the garage area. Glass could hear me and would try to interpret what I was searching for, but just couldn’t do it. In Glass’ defense, I doubt my smartphone would either. It was amusing to see what it would come up with though. My favorite was when I attempted to search for “Jeff Gordon,” and Glass responded that it was searching for “Yahoo Porn.”Google Glass photo vignette

Overall, Glass did very well with the photos and videos I was shooting, both indoor and out. Of course, as always, the super-wide angle of the camera lens means you can lose some details if you aren’t close to your subject. On the other hand, being able to take a photo in tight quarters is a nice feature, and wide-angle shots makes it ideal for some expansive locations. I suppose the answer would be for a digital zoom feature to be built into Glass’ camera. As one of the track employees noted when discussing this “shortfall,” though, Glass sees what you see, so the wide-angle view didn’t surprise them in the least.

MIS garage inspectionBecause I had a special level of access to the facility, I was able to get to places that not everyone gets to go. This made me think of my trip with Glass in two ways: What could a fan do with them and what could an employee do with them. My access included the Media Center, which fans can’t get into but employees can, plus a Cold Garage pass, which gave me access to the garage area prior to the race. I also could get out on the track for the pre-race festivities. The Cold Garage and Pre-Race passes are available to a small number of fans and all employees.

From a fan standpoint, besides the easy navigation, weather and Google access, Glass was a great way to capture photos and videos. I took a shot while driving to a parking area in the track infield, which means you have to cross the track. It was raining when we arrived so I wanted to capture a shot of the wet track. I glanced to the left while driving and shot a picture in a split second, hoping for the best. My wife commented later that it was better than the one she shot on her smartphone even though she had the advantage of being able to concentrate on taking the picture from the passenger seat.

Michigan International Speedway track

In the garage area, I shot pictures to share on social media as well as a few to capture some memories. I also did a few videos to capture the experience in ways a still photo can’t, particularly in an environment where the noise and commotion convey as much as the image.

 

During the race, pictures and videos of the action were easy enough to do. The lag time on the picture being shot is very short. And the access I had to various areas of the track made for some good vantage points for pit stop videos. I still was a bit far from the finish line, so the pictures and videos of the actual race don’t have the zoom factor I would like, but they’re reasonably good overall.

From a staff standpoint, I could see the track putting Glass to some phenomenal uses.

As I wrote earlier, I had access to the Media Center, which means I could take pictures and video during the press conference with this year’s winner, Jeff Gordon. If I was an MIS employee, I would have been more comfortable sitting closer and making the most of Glass’ recording capabilities without feeling like I was an intrusive outsider. I did get a kick out of Gordon pointing at my Glass and saying, “Hey, cool!” when he walked by me on his way out of the Media Center.

 

The track also could do a lot more “behind the scenes” type of work with Glass through pictures and video than I had the ability to. Imagine being able to see areas as a fan that we just can’t get to. There’s the stage where drivers are introduced to the fans, but what about a little of what goes on behind the wall before they are announced and come out? Pace car rides are always a big hit with fans, so what about a video showing what it’s like to go fast around the track — or maybe a trip around in one of the actual race cars to see what it’s like to go really fast?

Roger Curtis, president of MIS, and his team have made a great commitment to putting fans first. At every race I’ve been to at the track, I’ve seen Roger out working the crowd — talking to fans, getting their comments, handing out special passes — anything to make them feel welcome and appreciated. You know he’s a good leader for the track when fans are often reaching out to him for an autograph, not just to the drivers. I think Roger wearing Glass during events, sharing pictures of fans and video of working rope lines, could be a big hit on social media.

#99 race carAnd then there are the drivers, the pit crew, the team managers and owners, and the many staff that make things happen at the track seamlessly — or at least make it seem that way. Letting them wear Glass and share a first-person perspective either through a live feed or through pictures and videos shared later could be one more way for the track to expand a fan’s experience.

NASCAR fans and visitors to MIS are a committed bunch. They are, in many cases, the epitome of the word fan, which is derived from the word fanatic. And I say that with respect, not as a slight. I wish there were more events and venues where people really cared as deeply for their team as race fans care about their drivers.

Who knows, maybe if Google Glass were available and put to good use at venues and for the right activities, more fans might find a connection to people and events they never knew they would like. There’s an old saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Imagine if you could do so virtually, thanks to the power of Google Glass. That’s something worthy of a trophy.

2014 Pure Michigan 400 trophy

Help yourself help your customers

Kroger app screenshot

 

Once a company has made things easier for its customers, there are few things as frustrating as having them turn around and make things difficult again.

I experienced this recently at my local Kroger grocery store when they had a sign advertising a coupon for a free item.

Kroger has one of the better shopping apps available for your mobile phone. It offers more than you really need, but it builds upon the company’s shopper’s card, which helps you get discounts at the store. I find the app most helpful for “clipping” coupons to my shopper’s card. It easily replaces the old paper coupons and actually has me using more coupons than I ever did the old-fashioned way.

Back to my recent experience, I spotted a sign in the store for a Free Friday Download, which is a relatively new marketing promotion Kroger is trying. The idea is that you can download a coupon for a free item — in this most recent case, it was for a bottle of pop. So, I decided to try to take advantage of the freebie. That’s when frustration reigned supreme.

My first thought was, “I’ll just open my Kroger app on my phone and grab it from there.” I don’t remember seeing the Free Friday option the last time I was on my app, but since it’s a new thing I figured maybe I just hadn’t noticed it yet. So, I opened the app and searched while following my wife through the store. I searched. And searched. There was no Free Friday download or related coupon. I made my way back to the sign to see if I had missed some direction.

Kroger Free Friday download signWhat I found was a website address. Fine, it’s not as convenient as the app, but if it was mobile-optimized maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. While the site was mobile-optimized, it was not the doorway to a convenient experience. I could see the Free Friday coupon, but I couldn’t download it to anything. The reason is that it required me to log in to my Kroger account via my email address and password.

The reason I have an app, and use it, is because of its convenience and the fact that I don’t have to constantly remember my log-in information. It just opens and works.

I couldn’t remember my log-in and I wasn’t going to waste time standing in a grocery store aisle to try to figure it out. So, I gave up. That means instead of getting a free pop and expressing appreciation for it to anyone who would listen, I am now writing a negative blog post about a customer service and marketing screw-up by a company that does well normally.

If your company an app, then use it, drive people to it, promote more downloads; never abandon it. The marketing sign should have promoted the app. If Kroger wants customers to download something, they should have them download the app, then make the Free Friday coupon available on it.

Kroger has figured out how to help its customers in many ways. Now, it needs to learn how to help itself help its customers even more.

Google offers good customer service in spite of itself

 

If you follow this blog, you know that recently my Google Glass had a serious hardware breakdown and I sought to get it replaced under the 1-year warranty.

Overall, the experience has been a positive one, but it there were times when I questioned whether a massive technology conglomerate like Google will ever figure out how to handle customer service. At this point I’d have to say they are getting close.

Interacting with Glass Guides, as they are called, has been great as they are very friendly when you talk to them. And Google Glass handles their account on Google Plus well. After noting my foil flaw on Google Plus, the Google Glass team jumped into the thread, apologized for the problem and provided me the link I needed to reach their Guides.

glass helpWhen you go to that link, you can opt to “call” Google, which really means you enter your phone number and press the call me button. It then tells you how long it will probably take for a Guide to call you. I called three times during this incident and each time it told me to expect a call back within 1 minute. All three calls actually came in within about 15 seconds, which is impressive.

The first Guide, Michael, was apologetic for my problems, verified my account info and then said he would send me an email with a questionnaire. He wanted to me to reply to the email with answers to questions about what was going on and include three high-quality photos showing the optics pod foil was in fact damaged. He said that would arrive within about 30 minutes. About 2 hours later I still hadn’t received an email. Given how responsive all the Google Glass interactions have been since I first became an Explorer, I worried there was miscommunication about my email address. Plus, once you start missing your Glass, you are anxious to get it replaced.

My follow-up call with a Glass Guide confirmed that they did indeed have my address, that someone was working on the case file, but that this second guide would jump in and push another email out to me right away. About 15 minutes later I received the email, but from the original Glass Guide.

I didn’t mind having to wait a few hours to receive the email; I would have not worried about it at all if the first guy hadn’t told me “30 minutes” when he meant “a few hours.” In customer service, under-promising and over-delivering tends to bring a smile to a client’s face.

The other disconcerting part of my first call was that Michael said he couldn’t guarantee a replacement but that they would look into the matter thoroughly for me. When you have a $1,500 paperweight in your hand — one that’s too light to really hold down much paper — with a known design problem affecting it you immediately become irritated when someone doesn’t say, “Of course we’ll take care of it!” But I realize that perhaps Google does not authorize every frontline person to make such commitments, even though they should be at every company. 

The email questionnaire was simple and straight-forward; it asked about half a dozen questions that all made sense to me in terms of Google Glass needing it for research purposes on a failed unit.

What happened before issue / breakage?

Any solutions come into contact with Glass?

What was the environment like?

How is the device stored or carried?

How is the device charged (only relevant for power issues)?

After sending my answers with three photos attached, I heard back within 4 days that Google was replacing my Glass and I would be notified when it shipped. Also, they had updated their advance replacement process, so they would send me the new unit without putting a hold on my credit card for the value, and provided me with a return shipping label for the busted unit. Hooray!

I made my third call during those four days, being an anxious customer and wanting to know what the resolution to my problem was going to be. The third Glass Guide I talked to verified that the Glass was going to be replaced. He said it unfortunately can take a week or so to get through the process, but that the good news was once it shipped, it would come by overnight air delivery.

Later that day, I received an email telling me my new Glass had shipped, but that it would take 3-5 business days and that they appreciated my patience. Here again, Google stumbled by providing mixed messages. The entire process took less than a week, but now the shipping would be by standard post, apparently, with a 3 to 5 day delivery period. Why did Glass Guides keep telling me different information? The last misstep by Google in this process was that they then shipped the new unit to me via overnight air delivery.

20140702-184840-67720482.jpgI had asked via email for the UPS tracking number so I could be available to sign for it. (I’m not sure why they didn’t just include the number in the first email; it’s better customer service and more efficient for their team than having to deal with another email or phone call from a customer.) I immediately typed it in and was told the package wasn’t in the system yet. Since they said it would take days to arrive, I figured I would just check 24 hours or so later and start tracking it.

Well, imagine my surprise when I received a notice from UPS via email the next morning that they had tried to deliver a package to me but no one was home to sign for it. That was on the Thursday before Independence Day, so they would try to deliver it again on Monday. No way! I contacted UPS, as I have before, and asked them to hold the package at the customer care center after the driver returned and I would pick it up from them Thursday night. That system always works very well and I’m pleased to say it did this time, too.

This worked out well in the end for me, but it could have been an infuriating situation. If you’re going to ship something overnight, don’t tell me it will take 3 to 5 days. This is one of those times where “under-promise and over-deliver” doesn’t work.

All is well that ends well, and I thoroughly enjoyed having Google Glass available for a July 4th party at my nephew’s house. I also have found the new unit to be incredibly responsive and smooth, details of which I’ll cover in a subsequent post.

But back to my earlier question: can a tech behemoth become a customer service powerhouse, as well? The answer is yes, and Google almost has it figured out. At this point, it’s offering good customer service in spite of itself. All the components are there now: friendly representatives (Glass Guides), an efficient replacement process, and a commitment to fast shipping.

Google HQWhat they need to do now is create a better guide for their Guides. It should include what information should be provided to customers about the units, the replacement process and shipping details. I’ve heard from other Explorers that the way to get the best customer service from Google Glass is to always work with the same Guide. But that shouldn’t be necessary, and other than what turned out to be relatively minor hiccups in my case, working with four different Glass Guides seemed to be fine. Consistency is key. Even if you’re telling your customers that something will take longer than they want to hear, if you’re up front and consistent with them no matter who they talk to, they should still be satisfied.

I have heard about research that shows customers with a problem that is resolved satisfactorily are more likely to say positive things about your company than people who have never had a problem. I don’t know where I read that initially, but I can probably find it on Google.

“OK, Glass…”

 

 

 

Your best efforts are pointless if your customers don’t know about them

customer-service.0822.12I never intended to start a string of posts about customer service but it seems the more I write about it the more things happen that make me think about another customer service post.

This time, it’s about a business doing something right, but missing out on a huge opportunity to make customers happy because some of us don’t know about this business’ initiative.

One of the vehicles in my stable is a Volkswagen and I have it serviced and maintained at the local dealership where I bought it, Williams Autoworld. Volkswagen service is known for being expensive but detailed, and I’ve found the service department to be very customer friendly, so the cost is a little more palatable. One of the nice things this dealership has always done is wash your car when they finish working on it.

Unfortunately, there are several months here in Michigan when that service simply isn’t available. They have a rule about not washing your car if the temperature is below 29 degrees, because they are concerned about frozen rubber gaskets and more that can be caused by mixing water with crappy Michigan winter weather.

It’s a bummer but understandable. Recently I was in for service and when I received my receipt, there was an ink stamp on it that read:

Sorry, due to the cold weather, we are unable to wash your vehicle. Please return in above-freezing temps and we will wash it free of charge.

The thoughtful gesture impressed me and when I filled out my dealership survey, I took the time to add a note giving them kudos for the car wash offer.

I received an email within 24 hours from an executive at the dealership, noting that he reads all the surveys and pays particular attention to notes included by customers. He was glad that I was pleased by the car wash offer but seemed surprised I didn’t know about it since they had offered that service for some time. He also attached a the text of a sign he was thinking about posting in their waiting room that would alert customers to this offer in case others also weren’t aware of it.

 A shot of my car when it was much happier visiting Florida than it is suffering through Michigan winters.

A shot of my car when it was much happier visiting Florida than it is suffering through Michigan winters.

After offering my opinion on the wording of the sign, I also told him doing so was a great idea, because I have been a customer for about seven years now and I never knew they offered the “come back for a car wash” service until I saw the stamp on my receipt.

The point is that here was a business doing the right thing by offering a an extra free service to customers, and following through by offering it free at another time if they couldn’t complete it at the day and time of your visit. But they were failing in a big way because your best efforts are pointless if your customers don’t know about them.

So if you’re involved with a company or business that goes that extra mile for customers, don’t assume your customers know about it and don’t say anything because they’re ungrateful. It could turn out that they simply are unaware. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. After all, if you won’t, how can your customers?

The customer service war is won on the front lines

tobruk02In any battle, the generals in charge of the plan are important and the front-line officers are the ones who execute that plan successfully or not — but when it comes right down to it, the front-line grunts are the ones who actually get the job done.

It’s time the business world learned that it’s the front line that matters, too. I’ve had three recent customer-service experiences that help highlight what I’m getting at.

First, I had an interaction with Amazon after I found out my Amazon Prime membership was increasing by $20 when it renews later this year. I’m not revolting against the change. I’m not a big fan of higher prices, of course, but I understand that after several years, a company may need to adjust them. But I did look online to see if I could take advantage of renewing my subscription early or possibly buying multiple years to lock in a lower price. Unfortunately, there were no such options online so I decided to write to Amazon.com. I asked them about early renewals and suggested they offer multi-year discount packages because they would probably sell a lot of them to people like me. In no time at all, I had an email from an employee telling me that they completely understand what I want to do but neither option is available through their customer service system. They did offer to refund me $20 if I write back to them after my renewal date finally comes up, to help me out for one year, at least. That’s awesome and I greatly appreciate it. But why isn’t something like that available online, since Amazon is an entirely online company, or at least available to their front-line troops to help boost customer satisfaction?

Second, I had a run-in with Apple over their iMessage system, which I tolerated as an iPhone user and now despise as an Android convert. Apparently, when you migrate your number from an iPhone to a Droid, Apple’s system has difficulty breaking up with you and glitches abound. Anyone with an iPhone who tries texting your number will see that an iMessage was sent, but it never actually gets delivered. (iMessage, apparently, is much like the Eagle’s Hotel California. You can check out, but you can never leave!)hotel calif

After completing my online research to find I’m far from alone with this nuisance and attempting a few fixes myself without getting anywhere, I entered into an online chat with an Apple Care employee. They were very friendly, understanding and as helpful as they were allowed to be. Apparently, they did all they could at their level, and suspected something else needed to be done, but it wasn’t a task they were allowed to complete. So they had to “elevate” my problem and arrange a time for another customer service representative to call me. This second employee and I connected by phone the next morning and they took about 5 minutes to run a system check on their end and do a forced cleaning to try to break my phone number away from their system. I’m not sure it’s worked 100 percent, but things do seem better overall. The problem is, why couldn’t that front-line employee push a couple of buttons and wait a few minutes with me while their system processed the cleaning? They knew what I needed and probably how to do it, but instead they had to “elevate” my problem. What too many companies don’t understand is that elevating a customer problem generally just elevates a customer’s frustration, as well.

My third customer-service runaround in the past week has been with SiriusXM Radio. Their online administration system was so screwy that I finally sent them an email complaining about it and noting that they’re worse than Comcast – and that’s a pretty harsh statement! I finally ended up on the phone with one of their employees, as well. The only good news in this case is that although the front-line access via the Internet was useless, the front-line person on the phone was able to do everything I needed. In a nutshell, I was looking at canceling a couple of subscriptions and changing the terms of another. After listening to why I was making the changes to my account, the customer service rep made some suggestions on how I could cancel just one subscription, keep the second one active and change the third. It all ended with me feeling that I got a deal that was good enough to keep me satisfied and keep Sirius from losing more than one annual subscription. I initially wished I could have just dealt with it all online, but the woman on the phone did such a good job that it made me realize there is value in human interaction when it comes to customer service.

I always do my best to never take out my frustrations on customer service representatives, whether in an online chat or on a phone call. These are people trying to do their jobs and often when they can’t it’s because of some policy their company has in place to contain their employees rather than empower them.

But the customer service war — just like any other battle — is won on the front lines. So if you have an opportunity in business to empower those grunts then please do so, even if it means telling a few generals that they just aren’t as important as they might like to believe.

customer service meme

It’s not about you screwing up, it’s about how you handle it that matters

I’m a big fan of technology and gadgets, so my house is filled with them. One of my favorites is my Roku streaming player.roku lt

A few months ago, Roku started offering movies directly through a product called M-Go. When M-GO first launched, they offered a couple of free movies via a credit on all new accounts. I took advantage of the promotion and found  the system to work well. That means I’ll consider streaming movies that way again, which I assume was the point of the promotion.

OK, so far, so good, right? Well, then last week, M-GO sent out an email saying, “Hey, go use your $5 credit!” I, and many others I’m sure, took that to mean that M-GO was offering another credit to Roku customers because they really want us to learn to like the service.

But, wait, that’s not it at all! Apparently, they screwed up and the email was supposed to go out as a reminder to customers who had not yet used up their initial $5 credit. That’s why they sent a follow-up email telling us all too bad, so sad, no free movies for you!

mgoWe’re Sorry! Earlier today, you received an email about a $5 promotional credit on M-GO. This message was sent to you in error. It was intended as a reminder for a small group of Roku users who still have a credit waiting on their accounts. We apologize for any inconvenience this might have caused. Thank you for your understanding. We value you as a customer and look forward to offering other great movie and TV promotions in the future.

Oh well, I figured, at least I’ll get a blog post out of a customer service screw up and the poor handling of it afterward.

But, wait, that’s not it at all! A day later, those of us whose hopes of a free movie were dashed suddenly were more important to M-GO than they first let on. It seems we are, indeed, valued customers whom they want to share a long, happy relationship with.

And, so, we received another email.

We made a mistake and frankly, we feel awful about it. Did you ever hit the send button too soon? You scramble to hit undo, but it’s too late. A courtesy email intended for a small group of customers reminding them of a credit in their account inadvertently went to you. We sent an apology email but feel it wasn’t enough. Creating a premium experience for you is our number one priority. So please accept our sincere apologies and our offer of one complimentary movie rental This credit has already been added to your account and expires in 7 days. If you have any questions, we’ve set up a special email for you to reach our customer care team. We look forward to continuing our journey together to bring you the world’s greatest movies and TV anytime, anyplace. Humbly, Traci Lamm Head of Customer Care

Granted, the movie credit is only valid for one week, which means I have to use it up by the end of this weekend. But it was refreshing to see a company say, “Hey, we screwed up. We’re sorry. And here’s something to try to make it right.”

M-GO might actually have a future, Mistakes happen; we’ve all made them and anyone who says they haven’t is making a mistake, because they’re lying to you about their past. More companies need to learn what M-GO just learned: it’s not about you screwing up, it’s about how you handle it that matters.

UPDATED on 3/15/14:

I sent a link of my blog post to M-GO, letting them know how they’re handling of the situation resulted in a blog post that gave them a nod of my head instead of a smack to theirs. They responded within an hour:

M-GO really appreciates your kind words to this sensitive matter. We pride ourselves on customer satisfaction and we are very pleased to hear that you recognize are (sic) efforts. We look forward to providing you with all your entertainment needs and that long lasting relationship you mentioned in your blog. We appreciate your business and thank you for choosing M-GO!