A Southwest VA Swarm?

July 28, 2010

A couple months ago, my friend Anne Clelland, of Handshake 2.0 put together a Foursquare Swarm Badge Party in Blacksburg. Unfortunately, she failed to meet her goal. I’ll blame myself for at least 1/50th of the failure, being that I was out of town for that evening.

I’m a big fan of Foursquare, despite my wife giving me grief every time I pull out my smartphone for a check-in. I’d venture to say she’s not the only who has yet to embrace the service, which is why I think what Anne is trying to do is wonderful.

I see a lot of potential in Foursquare, but it’s still got a way to go. I use it to announce to my social media connections when I’m at someplace cool like my favorite Deli in NJ, or some famous landmark wherever I am. I’ll check in at places that are less interesting if I think there is a chance I could become mayor. I see a lot of people checking in at the local grocery store or gas station… I don’t go that far. I like the game aspect of it. It’s very thrilling to “oust” someone as mayor and tweet about it.

I think the “specials” aspect has huge potential for business use. A example of a special is that I can check into the local Ben and Jerry’s, then show them my phone and get a coupon for my ice cream. It’s a win-win all around. The consumer gets an easy deal on demand, and the business gets trackable data and the social sharing aspect of someone “shouting” that they’ve been to your establishment. Anyone who checks-in at your business is likely to be an advocate of what you’re doing, or at least a promoter.

These types of services work best when “everyone” is on them. Facebook and Twitter reached a critical mass a few years ago, where they’ve got their own gravity well for attracting users. Foursquare isn’t there yet. At least not here in Southwest Virginia. I’d love for there to be tons of opportunities for the Swarm badge around here. Alas, it’s rare.

Badges are another form of competition within the service. The best power users are easily identified with their badges such as “Super-Mayor” and “Bender”, achieved by holding mayorships in 10 locations at once, or having 5 checkins in single night. “Swarm” is a relatively rare one, achieved when you check in at a location where at least 49 others have also checked in on that day. Basically, when there are 50+ foursquare users in one place at one time. How many users have to live in or travel to one place to have a reasonable chance at a swarm? Hopefully, we’ll find out tomorrow.

I got my Swarm badge a few short weeks after Handshake 2.0’s failed effort. In Central Park. On a normal Saturday.

 

Swarm Badge

Foursquare Swarm Badge

 

Feels a little like cheating maybe… Obviously New York is a bigger metro area than Roanoke or Blacksburg. I think there’s a different social culture there as well. I bet the number of Foursquare users per capita in Manhattan is higher than in a typical community like Roanoke. Someday, I’ll have to find some data on that.

I thought maybe a large event in Roanoke might provide a better chance – something like the Music for Americans Fireworks show on the Fourth of July. When I checked in to River’s Edge Park that day, I think there were 4 others checked in. A bit short, and a bit disappointing given that there were probably 30,000 people there.

Which brings us to Wednesday’s Handshake 2.0’s Anniversary 2.0 party and Foursquare Swarm Badge 2.0 party in Blacksburg. I’m excited about the second attempt, and I trust Anne has planted the seeds to meet the goal. The theme for the party is: Let’s figure out Foursquare! I can’t wait to meet with other local users and debate the merits of this hobby/service/addiction. It’s another example of how I really think the value of online social media is to drive “real life” social interactions.

Free beer doesn’t hurt. Thanks, Anne, and congrats on 2 years of business.

Wonky

February 10, 2010

Obviously it’s been a while since my mast blog entry. Since then I’ve finished the Wake Forest Executive MBA Program, had a great holiday season with the family, and had a wild January getting fully back into the swing of things at work. In the past month, I’ve had numerous specific opportunities to apply concepts and frameworks from B-school, and I look forward to reflecting on some of those on this blog going forward.

Something fairly interesting happened today that prompted me to reboot this blog. Early in the morning, I had an issue making a call with my cell phone. After pulling the battery and while waiting for the phone restart I noticed a few tweets by other local Roanokers commenting on issues they were having with Verizon Service. I sent this tweet to share my experience. Not News.

Or was it? A short time later I got a couple emails and IMs from friends pointing me to this story on Roanoke.com. My tweet made the news! I felt flattered. When I stopped to think about the whole thing for a minute, I realized that there are a few interesting dynamics to this event.

From my perspective, I chose to post this tweet not to complain, but to validate others’ concerns that there are others experiencing problems. To me, this is one of the core benefits of social media, especially one with a locality focus. It’s a medium to test, explore, and query without making claims.

From the Roanoke Times perspective, why did they choose my tweet to quote? I suppose I managed to capture the essence of this being a widespread issue. I also think they might have liked my vocabulary choice.

Thanks UrbanDictionary.com

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this ordeal, though, has nothing to do with me or this specific event. What actually happened here is that a “mainstream” news broker essentially scoured public social media for interesting chatter, and used it directly as their primary content on a story. Did they treat this content the same as they would have treated other publicly posted content? They did not provide any links to the source tweets or to my Twitter page. They didn’t even directly list my twitter ID. Luckily @JimSchweitzer is easy to figure out. Somehow I feel that If this content would have been in a blog post, there at least would have been a link.

I’m not angry. I’m still content that someone appreciated my contribution to the local social web. I’m just wondering if this is a trend that’s happening all over. Is social media becoming a crutch for the traditional content generators in a time where news has to be lightning fast to be relevant? Putting the MBA hat on for a second, this seems to be a case where someone is failing to capture value. In this case, I think that someone is the content generator – someone like me. This system is wonky.

If you’re a Roanoker, you may have heard about the launch of RoanokeOutside.com. It’s been well publicized on Twitter, Facebook, and now some other media outlets such as Star City Harbinger and WSLS. Beth Doughty, Executive Director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership does a good job summarizing the site in their latest press release:

“Making the outdoors an important part of our region’s narrative starts with a comprehensive Web site that catalogues our natural resources and makes it easier for people all over the world to learn about and enjoy our region’s natural resources.”

My company, Vision Point Systems, is behind the development of this site. We have an interesting task ahead of us balancing the demand for an objective catalog of the region’s offerings with the desire to build a dynamic community of outdoor enthusiasts and casual participants. This is one of those instances where social media can seem like a buzzword. It’s tempting to decorate the page with Twitter feeds, Friendfeed streams, etc. There’s a real risk of getting too hung up on the social aspect and burying the real purpose of the site. There will be some much needed traditional web features such as a hiking trail database, links to local outfitters, events lists, and other guidance and tips. The last thing we want to happen is create a feeling of exclusivity because of a passionate core group of outdoor enthusiasts.

The great part about the process we’re going through is that we’ve launched the site as a completely temporary entity to act as a preview and feedback mechanism. We’ve got a clear deadline set for Sept 30 to get the real thing built and we’re thrilled about the buzz the site is getting so far.

The RoanokeOutside.com temporary page

The RoanokeOutside.com temporary page

I’d personally welcome feedback on this subject, but the best course of action is to take the survey on the site itself!

The new roanoke.org site has been launched. Vision Point Systems has been working with The Roanoke Regional Partnership and Neathawk, Debuque, and Packet for a few months now on implementing this great new site. ND&P provided the look and feel to go along with the group’s new branding, and we made everything work, and easy for the RRP admins to maintain.

I’m really proud of this site for many reasons, but if for no other reason than for it being a home-grown product. RRP is as much of an advocate of this region as you can get. By choosing us from Blacksburg and ND&P from Roanoke, it was an easy process for us to collaborate, communicate, and actually meet in person to get the project done. The site is even hosted by Tech Squared, also in Roanoke.

Another great aspect of the site is that we were able to use tools and data provided by other parties such as with the Cost of Living Calculator and Site and Building Data.

My favorite, though, is how we’ve brought in the MyScoper events feed here. This is great example of RSS and syndication at work. I’ve spoken with the folks at MyScoper and I know they love that we’re doing this.  I’ll be looking for other potential information providers – perhaps for things like restaurants, weather, outdoor activities, etc.

I see the blogs are already abuzz about this (Stuart Mease, EdPro), and I look forward to the continued evolution of this new tool for the region’s current and future residents.

Roanoke Career Fair Report

January 1, 2009

Brian Alexander and I manned the booth for Vision Point Systems at yesterday’s 2008 Roanoke Holiday Career and Lifestyle Fair put together by the City of Roanoke and Stuart Mease. My takeaways from the event really boil down to the following:

  • The industry we are in – Software and Business Consulting – is definitely not a good representation of the general population
  • There is very little trained talent out there for software related work that don’t already have good jobs.
  • Yes, there are a lot of people who are jobless, but a large percentage of those people are nowhere near suited for anything resembling a professional career.

In all of the business association and groups I participate in, it’s always a common topic that recruiting for tech jobs is near impossible, especially in the Roanoke and New River Areas. Yesterday’s event did nothing to dispell this thought. The only attendees that had specific experience or training in computer related fields consisted of some computer/electrical engineers with specific experience on a narrow field, and at least one college student studying technical writing. The vast majority of people were noticeably intimidated and quickly ran away any time I mentioned “design specification”.

I don’t know how unique VPS’s position really is, but we’re getting ready to hire multiple people going into 2009. I know many other local tech companies are looking for similar recruits, as evidenced by the NCTC Job board. I think this again shows that there is a dearth of talent stateside, especially in this region. I hope that one of the result of the pending “correction” in the economy is to get our youth into programs in the universities that would be helpful to the NewVa Corridor Tech community.

My other point about the preparedness of population for work really centers around professionalism and, frankly, laziness. I know the lifestyle is different in the white-collar, shake-hands, business community I’m a part of, but even if I was interviewing to be part-time dishwasher at a famous fast food franchise, I still don’t think I’d meet with the hiring manager wearing a Nascar jacket and cut-off shorts. I’m embellishing a bit, but not much. I don’t know how things got this way, but you’ll never see the local news channels comment on the people who apparently seemed to show up to the fair expecting jobs to be handed to them.