What’s up with Facebook’s Acquisition of WhatsApp

WhatsApp Messenger
WhatsApp Messenger

As has been the topic of much conversation both on and offline for sometime, Facebook recently announced its acquisition of the popular cross-platform mobile messaging app WhatsApp. The knowledge of this piece of information even helped me propel my team to victory at Trivia one night, at least for one round. Well, actually most other teams got this question correct, but this comes as no surprise as this acquisition has been making headlines for a long time. However, why has it? And more importantly, why should we care?

With WhatsApp, smartphone and tablet users (with an Internet connection) can exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. This means that even users across countries and continents can essentially “text.” Using Facebook’s mobile application, however, users can pretty much already do this using the message tab. Stripped down, WhatsApp allows users the ability to directly connect with one another, anytime and anywhere, without all the extra fluff. You would think that Facebook would see WhatsApp as a competitor for a feature it already offers in its own package. The Financial Times even believes WhatsApp “has done to SMS on mobile phones what Skype did to international calling on landlines.” On Facebook’s behalf then, why try to beat the competition, when you can just buy them instead? Although, this strategy isn’t always successful as evidenced by Facebook’s recent failed attempt to try and purchase Snapchat.

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger

What does this acquisition mean for users though? I ask this question as I recently experienced Facebook blocking a phrase I tried messaging to a friend of mine. While the phrase was not used with malicious intent, Facebook did not agree. With the current net-neutrality issues, the Comcast/Time Warner buyout, and debate over who controls what content is allowed to be posted online, Facebook seems headed for a potential social media monopoly. While things may seem okay for now, if in the future the FCC dictates that these types of organizations need to take responsibility for the content that is posted to them, we need to be aware that there may just one big brother overseeing all our interactions across platforms. With a monopoly on social media, then who is to say whose freedom of speech is safe?

Katherine Winslow, Graduate Student
Master of Arts in Emerging Media
Loyola University Maryland
Posted in Net Neutrality, Social Media, WhatsApp | Leave a comment

Should Apple Build Android Phones?

image002I read an article in Engadget that talks about Steve Wozniak’s suggestion that Apple should build Android Phones. When I first read it, I was not surprised that the famous Wozniak would suggest this during an interview, as in reality, this is something that’s possible. But then it got me thinking, how possible is this? Will the Apple of today listen to one of the founders? I doubt Wozniak’s suggestion would even reach the desk of an executive for approval. As some of you might know, Steve Wozniak, along with Steve Jobs, founded the company we know as Apple Computer Inc. Wozniak decided to split ways with Apple to pursue his own personal goals.

Apple is actually in a position where it can build Android phones, but I highly doubt they will ever do such a thing. Android is an open source OS, meaning any manufacturer can take the operating system, modify it, then release it. Manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, HTC, and former Motorola Mobility all had their own version of Android. If Apple were to put its hands in the cookie jar, it would create the phone but still in some form of its familiar image. The possibility is there, but would Apple really use its competitor’s OS, even though it is an open source program? And how about the hardware?  As we all know, Apple puts a lot of effort into the design of its mobile devices, so one might think that combining Apple hardware with Android OS would create a super smartphone. If only the two companies weren’t such bitter rivals. So in a way, Apple would be hurting its iOS by boosting Android’s market share.

Although Wozniak is an important figure in the creation of Apple, his unorthodox approach to software is something that current Apple Inc. would most likely not approve. If Apple were to build Android phones, it would be put into a situation where a partnership with Google would be inevitable. This is something I believe the two companies would try to avoid, so I don’t see Wozniak’s suggestion coming to life in this universe. But you never know…

Giancarlo Arias, Graduate Student 
Master of Arts in Emerging Media
Loyola University Maryland                           
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Writing About (Web) Writing

Dena Lorenzi PhotoAs marketing professionals, it is important to understand the fundamentals of web writing so that we can make our clients’ websites more usable, popular, and profitable. The web is a publishing medium. The content a company posts on its website is the message. Great content meets users’ needs and supports key business objectives such as generating sales. Today, the average buyer completes 57% of his sales process before ever contacting a salesperson. As part of his due diligence, a buyer will often browse a company’s website.

Different media require different types of writing. Writing for the web is fundamentally different from writing for print. Online information needs to be structured differently than printed material. Web users rarely read entire pages word-for-word. Typical visitors “only read 20% of the words on a web page”. Reading online is uncomfortable. “Reading from computer screens is tiring for the eyes and about 25% slower than reading from printed matter.” Web users scan pages, pick out key words and phrases, read in quick, short bursts, and are task oriented. To write good web copy, you need to know your audience, goal, and product.

Effective web writing involves having the right content written in the right style and formatted for efficient scanning. Website copy should be clear, concise, and compelling. A web writer needs to keep the search engines in mind, while avoiding keyword stuffing. The September 2013 “Hummingbird” update to the Google search engine focuses on natural language rather than on keywords. Google particularly likes the following content types:
• interviews,
• lists,
• resource centers,
• social content,
• surveys,
• revisions/updates,
• reviews,
• news,
• stories,
• and pricing information.
Notice how I used a list? Ideally, writers need to create web pages that are structured for both search engines and human visitors.

Finally, keep in mind that in order to be a good web writer, you need to expand your definition of “text” beyond merely copy to include visual design as well. Mike Rundle’s article on the basics of website design is a good place to start. With tailored, high-quality content and good visual design, a website will receive more return links, social shares, and higher search rankings. Effective web writing and design differentiates.

Dena A. Lorenzi, Graduate Student
Master of Arts in Emerging Media
Loyola University Maryland
Photo Credit: Tina Mav
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U.S. Navy Firefighters Turning into (Actual) Robots?

Navy RobotPotential recruits to the U.S. Navy might soon look a bit different. The Navy wants to use robots as firefighters. These robots would take the place of sailors fighting fires on carriers and other ships. The bots are essentially human in form and are capable of recognizing flames, opening doors, climbing ladders, and carrying supplies.

However, there will be a person standing nearby giving the robot voice and hand commands. The robots will even have an English-recognition system that allows them to interpret these commands, as officials say firefighting requires a lot of teamwork and following orders is crucial. This summer these bots will be put to the test on a ship for the first time. In Mobile Bay, Alabama in August 2014, the ex-USS Shadwell is going to be set on fire and the robots will go into action. If everything works out, then in just a few years the bots could work as full-time firefighters in the Navy, thus saving lives and limiting the number of dangerous situations sailors are put into.

While replacing humans with robots sounds like a great idea, there are a few drawbacks to consider. Just ONE firefighting robot costs about one million dollars to build. The price could decrease if the Navy is able to finalize a prototype and use mass production, but either way it would still be very costly. And surely the bots will need some sort of maintenance over time, which will cost more money. Is a couple million dollars’ investment in these bots really worth it? Either way, it will be interesting to see how the firefighting robots fare in the organized testing fire in August and what the future will be for these humanoids.

Nicole Krusen, Graduate Student
Master of Arts in Emerging Media
Loyola University Maryland

 

 
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Is Social Media Eroding Our Speech Rights?

From a young age, we have been taught to think before we speak. It’s the moral of a story written in Aesop’s Fables, a collection of tales parents tell their children. The lesson seems simple: if you don’t think before you speak, you may regret what you say. But, even this easy lesson is hard to teach. And now, not only do we need to remember to think before we speak, we need to remember to think before we tweet, or we can suffer serious consequences.

Last fall, Home Depot came under fire for a tweet sent out on the company’s official twitter account. The tweet was part of a college game day promotion on ESPN. The picture was of two African-American drummers with a person in a gorilla mask sitting in the middle. The tweet read, “Which drummer is not like the others?”

Mistake Erodes Our RightsHome Depot immediately removed the tweet, apologized for it and fired the employee and outside agency responsible.

In this case, there is no question whether or not Home Depot had a right to fire the person who sent the tweet. It was posted on the company’s account and was considered racist. The employee obviously did not think before tweeting—and as a result, the person was out of job. That is a big price to pay for a careless 140 characters.

This isn’t the first time a company has fired someone for posting inappropriate content on social media. But unlike the Home Depot incident, the firing isn’t always justified. Mashable put together a list of 11 people who lost their jobs over social media faux pas. It included a teacher who was asked to resign after she posted pictures of herself drinking on vacation on her personal Facebook page and a 22-year-old tweeting negative comments about a new job offer.

What happened to our so-called freedom of speech in those cases? Americans used to have a right to communicate their opinions or beliefs and were protected by the First Amendment from legal repercussions. So, the question we need to ask is: Does a company have a right to fire someone because of something they say on their personal Facebook page or twitter account?

I believe the answer is no. While I do think people need to be respectful, I also think they have a right to voice their opinions and beliefs, even if their employers don’t like them. They should be allowed to do so without worrying about their jobs. It is very nice that the First Amendment protects us against the government punishing us for speech it doesn’t like. But what good does that do if your employer can survey anything you post anywhere and fire you for posts the employer doesn’t like. That would have a real chilling effect on speech.

It’s clear not all organizations agree with me. But right now, fairly or unfairly, we need to think before we tweet.

Aliza Friedlander, Graduate Student
Master of Arts in Emerging Media
Loyola University Maryland
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Is Social Media Helping St. Patrick’s Event Organizers Find Their Pot-O-Gold?

Once again it’s time for the wearing of the green. Last year, 133 million Americans celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by spending 4.7 billion dollars on everything green from cabbage to derby hats. While this number pales in comparison to what is spent on Christmas or Valentine’s Day, for a non-gift giving holiday it merits recognition.

This year cities, towns and event organizers are hoping social media marketing will increase revenues over 2013. Social media and Internet sites from Facebook to Pinterest are helping revelers find what they need to honor the patron Saint of Ireland.

St. Pat's Day

Over 25 cities nationwide have major events planned for St. Patrick’s Day, for cities like Scranton and Buffalo this holiday generates welcomed revenue for local businesses. Over 100 parades occur nationwide and Facebook and Twitter began to get the word out early, because everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Savannah Georgia attracts 1.2 million visitors for its annual Saint Patrick’s Day festivities.

Over one third of Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday where 8 out of 10 celebrants will wear green. Enter @St. Patrick’s Day, a Twitter page ready to help fashionistas find everything from “Kiss me I’m Irish” pins to green boas, boots and shirts. Social media is also helping revelers find dinner dance notices and St. Patrick’s Day events.

And don’t forget, social media can help you find the best specials on traditional Irish fare including corned beef and cabbage, boiled potatoes and Irish soda bread. In a world where social media is becoming the hippest marketing tool, here’s to hoping it will help many event organizers find a pot of gold today.

Dennis Cornwall, Graduate Student
M.A. in Emerging Media
Loyola University Maryland
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Stop Sharing So Much Already

image002Social media has been around for a while now and new platforms like Instagram and so on are growing steadily. And, of course, Facebook now claims to have some 1.2 billion active users. So you would think by now that people would know what to share and what to keep private. But apparently they don’t. The degree of the problem became crystal clear as long ago as 2011, when Ashley Payne, an elementary school teacher in Barrow County, Georgia was fired because of the images she posted on Facebook while on vacation. Worried that she may not be fit to be a teacher, concerned parents sent those images to the school board.

Out of hundreds of photos that were posted about Payne’s vacation, ten of the images included alcohol. School teachers can no longer drink on their vacations? Payne resigned but she could have lost her teaching license. And even with high-profile cases like Anthony Weiner, the congressman who was forced to resign because inappropriate texts he sent surfaced on the Internet, people STILL DO NOT GET IT. According to a recent study, 10 percent of young job applicants have been rejected for a position to which they applied because of inappropriate content on social media sites.

And age is no excuse. The New York Times reported this fall that students have been rejected from institutions of higher learning after college admission officers peaked at the applicants’ social media pages. Colleges are using students’ social media pages as a reference to see if they are who they say they are on paper. Schools believe that the content posted on a student’s page is a reflection of their character and provides a clear depiction of their ethical beliefs. According to a study by the Kaplan Test Prep, around 30 percent of colleges have admitted to looking at applicants’ social media accounts. Unfortunately, students don’t seem to care.

Theoretically, social media provides a space that enables freedom of speech. The question is whether our professional lives will allow us to take advantage of that freedom. Right now, increasingly, the answer is no.

Brittany Brin, Graduate Student
Master of Arts in Emerging Media
Loyola University Maryland

 

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