• An update on previous 2015 blog topics

    Several of the posts I’ve written here each week had an immediacy to that moment, or were on subjects that had no expiration date. Some subjects I’ve discussed, however, have had new developments since I first wrote about them. So, here are updates on a few things I’ve covered, a small refresher course on what’s happening in the Region and beyond:

    • Gary/Chicago International Airport Expansion: The airport’s expanded runway is now open! Meanwhile, we haven’t heard much new about the plans for that third Chicago airport that Illinois has been planning to build for decades…
    • South Shore Expansion: The proposed expansion of the rail line passed a big hurdle by getting funding approved in the state budget. After years of seeming stagnant, it looks like it’s going to happen.
    • Illiana Expressway: The proposed toll road had the support of our Governor Mike Pence and former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. But then current Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner beat him in the election last year, and, after keeping mostly mum on the subject during his campaign, rescinded his state’s support. It looks dead for the time being. But while I was wrong on this, my New Year’s predictions about the Airport and South Shore are looking pretty good right now.
    • Indiana Toll Road: The Australian firm IFM ended up buying the Indiana Toll Road, keeping it in private hands. We’ll see if they have better luck than the last owner.
    • Elonis v. United States: The Supreme Court case over whether one Anthony Elonis’ violent Facebook posts were legitimate threats or (as he contended) constitutionally-protected lyrics ended with the Court ruling 7-2 in favor of Elonis, overturning his conviction for making criminal threats. This is major because it’s one of the first cases to directly deal with free speech over social media, but it surely won’t be the last.
    • Glenda Ritz: Indiana’s beleaguered Superintendent of Public Instruction did, unfortunately, have her powers removed by the state legislature. However, since then, Governor Pence’s popularity has tanked, making him looking quite vulnerable in the 2016 election. And who’s among those competing for the Democratic nomination to take him on? None other than Glenda Ritz.
  • Facebook features: Innovation for the sake of innovating?

    In the technology sector, if you are not innovating, you are letting opportunities slip away to your competitors. This thought process has led some companies to make questionable decisions in the name of innovation. Most recently we can look at Snapchat adding “Snapcash”. Snapcash was good for a laugh, but I haven’t talked to anyone who seriously considered using it.

    The company who had tried to acquire Snapchat before that announcement, Facebook, just announced a new feature that was added to its social networking platform. The feature sounds kind of scary at first, but the more I think about the new feature, it seems more like a natural evolution.

    What is this new feature you ask? Facebook now allows you to list items for sale. It is like Craigslist but more personal. Sounds kind of scary, right? But hear me out, Facebook’s feature has one thing that Craigslist doesn’t have: accountability. I think the fact that you know nearly everything about the person who you are going be meeting in real life would discourage any funny business. Over the

    I also think that this feature is a very natural evolution for Facebook for two reasons. The first is that people are already selling things on Facebook and this just makes it more streamlined. The second reason is that this is a perfect entry to the eCommerce category. What is one of the most valuable assets in the eCommerce sector? Information about your customer. Facebook arguably has one of the most organized database of customer data out there. Utilizing this data can help Facebook get a foothold in the eCommerce sector, which looks a little bit less daunting after news of the Ebay layoffs.

    The more that I contemplate this feature, the more I begin to wonder how this didn’t happen sooner. This feature has a really natural feel to it, but it is also a bold step by Facebook into the world of eCommerce. I like it, it makes Facebook more tangible.

  • Finding media when it doesn't come to you

    How many fellow Region residents know who’s running for governor of Illinois?

    If you don’t, just watch any of your basic local network or cable channels for a half hour. Chances are you’ll see a campaign commercial about Bruce Rauner or Pat Quinn.

    Now how many can tell me what our governor is doing right now? This one might be trickier for a lot of residents.

    Northwest Indiana has always occupied a sort of limbo between the rest of the state and Illinois, especially with the media we consume. Almost all our television channels are Chicago stations (Lakeshore is one of the few exceptions), and all the major networks are. That’s just fine for getting all our favorite TV shows, but it leaves us lacking a medium to get something more vital: the news. Since Lakeshore’s nightly news ended due to lack of funding earlier this year, we don’t have a truly local nightly newscast anymore.

    We have several local radio stations in the Region, and The Times and Post-Tribune are still going. But they have to compete with what Chicago has to offer in both mediums. Plus, I don’t think I have to describe how newspapers aren’t what they once were.

    While it’s not a bad thing to be knowledgeable about a neighboring state or major city, what happens in our own state and affects us directly is more important to know. And while we get flooded with media from Chicago and Illinois, most of it tells us little that we need to know about our state or the area around us.

    Fortunately, we live in the age of an even further-reaching and more influential medium than any of these: the Internet. Citizens can use the web to get the news they want. But there’s still a matter of finding it amongst all the junk online.

    For me, I’ve turned my Twitter account into a tool for finding the media I care about. The way to do this is to follow all the news sources you want to read. That way, instead of having to read between the celebrity gossip garbage on your homepage, your newsfeed becomes a list of just the news that you want. If you live in the Region and want to get news about Indiana, for example, that means following the different newspapers and people (mostly writers) from around the state.

    For the analog, unconnected crowd, the Region’s lack of media options coming to them may be a problem. But for those with web access, there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s going on in your own state.

  • Growing, thanks to you!

    Duneland Innovators 2014 Stattistics

    As you can see above, traffic to the site increased pretty dramatically over the calendar year of 2014. This is in no small part due to the migration is a mobile-friendly site design. However, the number one reason why we have been seeing higher readership is due to increasing the amount of editorial content we publish here on the site.

    You can now read original content on DunelandInnovators.com mutiple times a week thanks to the blogging efforts of Bill Koester and Jake Szemanski, respectively writing on policy and technology.There has also been a steady release of Features on the site as well, which you can always find in the slideshow at the top of the site.

    We have begun to dabble into events too, both production and coverage. Expect more this year as we go further into reporting and live-posting from interesting happenings thoughout northwest Indiana.

    Of course, we have to mention that social media has been valuable too. We have been active daily on Twitter to engage both the #nwIndiana community as well as topics we find interesting like business, technology, policy and academics. Follow us thereto join in.

    If you like what we do, please share our articles and tell your friends about the work we do here. That is in fact how readership to the site has tripled over the last 12 months.

    As always, we are always looking for good stories to tell. So, get in contact

  • Is social media activism effective?

    Social media allows each person to be a part of the conversation, rather than just an observer of it. But talk is one thing. Results are another. So is it really possible to bring about changes in governmental policy through social media?

    It can certainly be a tool to fuel grassroots activism. For instance, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street started with recruitment and mobilization on social media. The ease and simplicity of communication allowed both to share information and promote their messages. Both ballooned into massive movements that spread on a national and international scale.

    Additionally, Barack Obama recognized the power of social media when he first ran for President. By reaching out to voters directly online in addition to traditional media appearances and campaigning. It worked pretty well. Regardless of what his legacy as President will be, his influence in political campaigning will unarguably leave lasting legacy.

    But the case of Obama also, in a way, represents the limits of social media as a tool for change. While he was able to go from a Washington newcomer to President in a short amount of time, he’s a Democrat, still a member of the two-party establishment. Occupy had more radical ideas than the establishment, and while they may have become a part of the conversation, they have had little luck finding elected support.

    That’s in this country, where we have political and intellectual freedom. In the case of the Arab spring, where those rights aren’t always guaranteed, the results have with little exception gone one of two ways. Either those in power crackdown on dissent (like Syria), or if a regime is ousted, the vacuum is filled by those with all the power (Egypt).

    In fact, another case from that region exhibits how social media can be used for propaganda. ISIS, the terror group that has risen to power in Iraq and Syria, has used social media to spread their message, make threats and showcase their might. They have even “hijacked” popular hashtags for greater exposure. To us, these posts are horrifying. To extreme minded individuals with sympathies toward ISIS’s anti-Western beliefs, it probably a good recruiting tool.

    A Tool of the Masses

    In short, social media is a tool, but it’s a tool that can be used by the powers that be as well as the masses. As this platform continues to evolve, where do you see it going and where will it take us? 

    Like all media, consume wisely.

  • Jason Topp | TEDxCountyLineRoad

    TEDx Countyline Road Indiana

    Innovative ideas often begin on a small, local scale, such as that of Northwest Indiana. Next week, several innovators local and otherwise will be gathering in the Region to share their visions and ideas.

    TEDxCountyLineRoad is set to take place on November 12 at Hobart’s County Line Orchard. 

    The popular TED conference series lends its name to many local TEDx conferences all over. However, TEDx events are completely independently organized by members of that community, who then reach out to the company for the TED branding.

    Several individuals in the Region came together to do just that in 2014, putting together the first TEDxCountyLineRoad. Among the original curators is Jason Topp, a Northwest Indiana native currently residing in St. John, and a member of the event’s speakers committee.

    TEDx Countyline Road Jason Topp“It’s been one of the most exciting things I’ve been a part of,” Topp said. “It’s inspiring to see driven people laying aside their own ambitions to work as part of a team and bring something really special to the area. It’s great group of people who have grown to become friends.”

    The second TEDxCountyLineRoad will feature six speakers, one more than its inaugural event last year. The theme of the conference will be “A Revolution of Sorts.” The gist of the theme is thinking outside the box and taking a new, or revolutionary, approach to one’s field.

    “Each speaker is going to be related to a revolutionary idea or talk about a revolution,” Topp said.

    The six speakers cover several different fields, such as business, media, charity, and the arts. Most are from within the state of Indiana, although the organizers managed to secure a speaker who does TED events on a national circuit in Lloyd Reeb, a North Carolina former-real estate developer-turned-author and lecturer.

    Finding speakers who covered relevant and useful topics, under the event's umbrella of revolution, took quite a thorough search, according to Topp.

    “It’s a pretty long process, identifying and making sure we get some talented speakers for the day,” he said. “We’ve been working on that for pretty much the whole year.”

    Topp and his fellow organizers saw the inaugural TEDxCountyLineRoad last year as a success. Their aim with this year’s sophomore outing isn’t just to repeat themselves, but to establish the conference as a yearly event.

    “We were definitely delighted by the success last year,” Topp said. “I think the end result was something great for the region, something we’d like to do again and continue to do.”

    Tickets for TEDxCountyLineRoad are available for $75. The event will begin at Noon Central Time on Nov. 12.

  • Jean Shepherd and the Region's pride in its inferiority

    Once again this Christmas season, Northwest Indiana will celebrate native satirist Jean Shepherd, whose stories of growing up in Hammond were immortalized in "A Christmas Story."

    The Indiana Welcome Center is currently hosting its exhibit, "A Christmas Story Comes Home" with events planned throughout December. A play based on "A Christmas Story" is being performed at Munster's Theatre at the Center.

    As much as we celebrate "Shep," the guy didn't care much for the Region, "a place people never really come to, but mostly want to leave," he once wrote. Shepherd himself left and never came back, only revisiting memories of his hometown for his popular stories. In describing Hammond, he wrote, "It clings precariously to the underbody of Chicago like a barnacle clings to the rotting hulk of a tramp steamer."

    And yet, the ascendance of "A Christmas Story" into a holiday classic has become a distinct point of pride for Northwest Indiana with every leg lamp sold. The joke is on us, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

    Take the current trending Twitter hashtag started by local social media satirist @RegionRatRants -- #RegionThanks. The effort quickly morphed into a heartfelt exercise in self-deprecating humor and an accounting of the beloved dining spots that contribute to our collective girth. Local politics, pollution, traffic, weather all became large targets for our Twitter community's collective sarcasm.

    Look deeper, however, and you'll see more than just jokes.

    Underlying all the complaining quips is pride. Others may have left, but we're still here -- defiantly. Our toughness and resilience is built from everything our environment dishes out. But we're also underestimated by outsiders, who miss the massive potential in our location, resources and people.

    When it comes to the rest of the state, we're ignored, except when Indiana is looking for infrastructure to sell off. We're not the sophisticated, shiny city across Lake Michigan or a snooty North Shore suburb. 

    We're Northwest Indiana and we know exactly who we are. You can't insult us, because we've already crafted that joke in a far more clever manner. 

  • Job Hunting: A Tech Advantage

    Job hunting is something that most people dread for various reasons. It can be challenging and stressful. But let’s examine how some aspects of job hunting have evolved in the recent years.

    Job boards are one of the oldest and most recognizable tools for job seekers. It could be a bulletin board in a local community center or a dedicated page in a newspaper. However, in the current times it is most commonly found in the form of a website that has a collection of job postings. There is an endless amount of job boards out there. Sites like Indeed.com, Simplyhired.com, Linkedin, and Craigslist are excellent places to search for jobs. Being able to search these sites for specific positions is one huge advance that people take for granted these days. It is a game changer.

    I mentioned that Linkedin has a job board aspect to it, but it also has some of the most powerful networking tools. Linkedin is highly regarded in that aspect and has been hailed as “Facebook for Professionals”. In fact, the company just launched a stand alone app that is solely focused on aiding those in search of a new job. Just make sure that you don’t use Linkedin like you use Facebook. Posting complaints or funny posts won’t help you here, but you can see where people in your network are working and what kind of experience they have. Knowing someone where you are applying can be a quick foot in the door as some workplaces offer “referral bonuses”.

    And that brings me to my last point. Networking, again. It goes back to the old saying of “It isn’t what you know, it is who you know”. Some people are lucky in that aspect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own luck. Find events that interest you on Meetup.com and go to them. Face to face interactions will let you brush up on your social skills as well as mere like-minded individuals. And who knows, one of those like-minded individuals might know the perfect job for you.

  • Kickstarter: Local going global

    Kickstarter has always seemed to be a crowd-funding platform that looks out for the small local artists. Recently they helped bolster that reputation by announcing that they will not seek IPO and instead will become designated as a public benefit corporation. This designation cements their place as a company that aims to benefit society instead of focusing only on increasing profits. 

    Kickstarter’s designation as a public benefit corporation is not surprising when you look at how they protect their artists and investors. They limit the risk for both parties by implementing an “All or nothing” approach. Either you raise all the funds needed, or you get nothing. This aspect keeps funders from sinking money into impossible to complete projects. Completing a project on Kickstarter is far from simple. Grindhouse Cafe in Griffith used the platform for a food truck project and Valparaiso local Adam Farster recently used Kickstarter to raise funds for the publication of his own comic book called Humalien. Farster stated, “The real challenge is setting up rewards and letting the campaign play out”. With Kickstarter limiting campaigns to 60 days, the closing days can be very stressful if the final goal isn’t met yet.

    One of the most effective ways for Kickstarter campaigns to garner support is on social media. Adam also leveraged social media heavily in the Humalien campaign. “Most of my backers came from friends of friends that shared my Kickstarter out. Towards the end you see more people jumping on board”, he added. And that makes sense. Not many people are out there browsing Kickstarter for something to buy, but almost everyone is checking social media pretty frequently.

    The social aspect of Kickstarter allows artists and creatives to tap into some of their closest stakeholders: friends and followers in news feeds. And these friends and family can have a huge impact on whether a project attains its funding goal. One share from a local friend can quickly give a project a global reach.

  • Local Marketing in the Social Age

     

    In my first post I wrote about how technology has improved local businesses ability to enter the market affordably and create a better experience for their clients. In keeping with that theme, business owners and managers need to ask: how do we get clients when just starting out?

     

    Not even a decade ago when I had a show or event to promote, I would have to head out to Southlake Mall and stand outside of stores whose customers may or may not have interests aligning with mine to hand out flyers. I’d spend hours photoshopping, printing flyers and promotional materials to gain a few extra faces at a local concert or event in addition to the usual group of regulars. In the end, most of those flyers ended up in a garbage can or on the concrete of the parking lot. Today, in the age of social media, I just have to send out a quip in under 140 character with some cleverly attached hashtags and immediately reach out to several thousand more people than I would have spending an entire month handing out physical flyers.

     

    How did this come about? Well, in today's world of shopping online, going to the mall has become quaint. You can access everything on the Web. There's no need to battle the fray of retail. Additionally, everybody has Facebook or Twitter with access to those and other networks at their finger tips right on their iPhone or Android device.

     

    Yeah, I still spend time in Photoshop putting together a good looking flyer but can now send it to the masses with a few clicks. Local businesses who are able to use social media well are able to bring more traffic into their stores. They can hold contests and promotions strictly through social media. They can post a promotion and their customers will see it, retweet or share it. With any luck, their friends will help extend the reach of that post to their connections as well helping the company to extend the visibility.

     

    What are some of the best social media mechanisms or marketing practices for your business right now?

  • Meerkat and Periscope: Battle for video live streaming

    Periscope and Meerkat.

    Not too long ago these words invoked their traditional meanings, now they are two rival video live-streaming apps. Meerkat is the older of the two, but only by a few weeks. Both of these apps are still in their infancy and video live streaming has been around for a while. So, what makes these two companies different from other competitors in the live-streaming space?

    A good place to start is the history of live streaming video providers. Currently Twitch.tv is the largest video live streaming site. Twitch.tv was born out of another site called Justin.tv. Twitch.tv focused on live video streaming of video games. Its popularity quickly grew and they were eventually bought by Amazon. Amazon’s purchase solidified that there was a demand for video live streaming, particularly in the gaming community. Who hasn't hung out with friends and watched them grind levels?

    So how do Meerkat and Periscope fit into this?

    Well, honestly no one is really sure yet. Video live streaming isn’t extremely popular yet for content other than video games, but it has been picking up steam. What people do with video live streaming right now will determine the direction of the platform. Being able to drop into someone’s world and experience something completely unscripted is fascinating because it has not been done much by everyday folks (#WhatsInYourFridge?). There are a lot of different directions that the future of video live streaming could go. Bands and performers could use it to give behind the scenes access to fans that want to see them in the studio or rehearsing in preparation to go on tour. Everyday folks could show off an interesting aspect of their job or some local place of interest. What it's really about is sharing experiences in an unedited manor. That is what will set live streaming video apart from Youtube and other video services.

    If live streaming video keeps picking up traction it can be expected that we will see some even bigger changes in regards to how mobile data is handled. Because video live streaming consumes a lot of data, you may see more companies offering more data for less. Hopefully data charges goes the way of text charges of the past and becomes unlimited for all. Also, this will definitely force more projects like Project Loon to expand our mobile data coverage.

  • Mystic Waters Media | Content Equals Connections

    Mystic Waters Media, a content development company based in Crown Point, is embarking on a rebranding initiative to better communicate their mission to the business community in the region. While the look of the brand will remain the same, some key terminology that is used to convey the message is evolving. The slogan that was used for the first year of operations was “People. Ideas. Opportunity.” and will now be the more mission expressive “Content Equals Connections” to kick off 2014.

    Michael Finney, the Media Coordinator for Mystic Waters Media, sat down to discuss the development of the brand message and how it transpired.

    Duneland Innovators: So why is Mystic Waters undergoing this branding transformation?

    Michael Finney: Well, honestly, when the company was launching I knew that it was going to focus on creating media in some regard. I had prior experience working with a print publication as well as digital marketing for promotions that were offshoot projects under that umbrella. However, as 2013 rolled on it became more apparent what clients needed from MWM and what it does well for them.

    DI: How have your core competencies changed since the founding of Mystic Waters?

    MF: At the outset I was excited about the fact that it was possible to experiment with the various skills I had been exploring as a freelancer in the years prior. That was web design, print, graphics, social media, writing and other media development. A year in I feel that focusing on content, whether editorial or pictorial, is the direction to go now.

    DI: What does “Content Equals Connections” mean in practice?

    MF: It is a statement that reflects the way that media can be used to connect businesses with clients or customers. People are digesting their news and other forms of media via the Internet on computers and mobile devices at a rate that probably exceeds that of the printed form at any point. Mystic Waters can help a company find their voice and continue to publish at a rate that keeps them relevant.

    DI: So what is ahead for 2014?

    MF: There are a number of directives that are under the microscope during the first quarter of the year. As the parent company of this site, which is concerned with increasing the awareness of the technology scene, I want to acquire more clients that have their feet in the technology space here in the northwest Indiana region. Additionally, it is important to set a good example in terms of the media that we use in house so the official MWM website will see an overhaul that brings it up to speed with mobility in mind.

  • Online Identity & Social Media

    With social media becoming such an important part of our social lives, online identity has naturally followed.The creation and maintaining of an online identity is something that we all do on a day-to-day basis. What we choose to post, what we comment on, what we remarks we make, what we select as a profile picture. It all helps us craft an online persona to display to others. Consciously or subconsciously, we all have an aim to be perceived in a certain light and a lot of the social media platforms have recognized this. Facebook is continuously adding features that make it easier to make a statement about yourself. It started with sharing articles that project your viewpoints to your friends and continues with the emergence of cover photos.

    Apps like Foursquare really helped to start bridging the gap between our online and offline identity. Foursquare encourages users to “check in” to broadcast current or past locations to their friends. This really gives users the chance to further craft their online identity by only checking into places that they want their friends to know about. Not many users are going to check into a gas station or bank a few times a month, but you can almost guarantee that a user will check into almost every professional sporting event they attend. This a perfect example of crafting an online identity that may not totally match the offline one since a user will almost always choose to only display content that shows them in a favorable light.

    With the amount of time we spend online looking at each others online we must ask ourselves, do we really know our friends or just the version that they choose to display. I would argue that our online persona's are just magnification of our offline lives with a little bit of editing. I can really never think of a time that there was a huge discrepancy between online and offline identity of someone I personally knew.
     

  • Social media forming unique social situations

    Last week I wrote about my brief escape from technology and social media during my camping trip. This week I am going to look at the positives of being deeply immersed in social media.

    Two years ago I moved out to the midwest after living my whole life in the south hills of Pittsburgh. As one can imagine, being 8 hours away from all of my friends was quite a shock. However, I found it quite easy to casually maintain contact through social media. Sharing videos and being apart of group chats really helped me feel like I wasn’t falling out of contact with my friends.

    Social media also benefits businesses by allowing them to form a voice and communicate with their community. It gives individuals an opportunity to communicate with their favorite businesses, but who wants to talk to a business? Everyone should! Giving feedback to a business can help improve future experiences and be really beneficial to both parties. There are some companies in my area that I feel really connected to because of their communication efforts on on social media. This connection has definitely led me to frequent these businesses and recommend them to others.

    Social media has almost always something that has been quickly adapted by bands and musical artists. In the past year I can credit Twitter for helping me find one of the most unique live music experiences I have ever had. It was a secret acoustic show by Frank Turner. And let me tell you, I wasn’t completely surprised by the announcement of this secret show. Following Frank Turner on Twitter let me know that he was in Chicago, so I turned on notifications for Frank Turner and sure enough he announced a secret show. I got to attend this show because I was connected to this artist through social media. And the outcome was so positive that it affected my feelings towards this artist. A situation like this is something that might be hard to replicate without social media.

    Some view social media as a necessary evil that is slowly destroying social experiences in our society. However, I see the opposite. I see it as a way to form connections that we never could in the past. It also gives users the opportunity to aggregate the information or news in their life as they see fit. So if one wants to skip out on the celebrity gossip and see only locally focused news, you can make it so.

  • Social Media's Day in Court

    For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case on free speech on social media. The events that led to this case being heard, however, are not pleasant.

    It began when Pennsylvania resident Anthony Elonis made a series of violently worded posts on Facebook, seemingly directed towards his estranged wife. The FBI arrested him for violating federal laws against making threats toward another person. A jury convicted him, finding that his posts could reasonably be interpreted as legitimate threats, and Elonis was sentenced to 44 months in prison.

    Elonis, however, argues that his posts weren’t meant to be taken seriously, and compared his words to violent lyrics and fantasies in songs (his posts were written in a sort-of rhyme scheme). They are protected speech, he contends, because he never specifically intended to act on them. The outcome of Elonis v. United States, which was argued before the Supreme Court today, will determine that.

    The implications of this case are big simply because it’s the first one pertaining to social media. It also hits a little closer to home for Indiana, as it bears some similarities to a case of a man arrested and convicted in Dearborn County of threatening public officials online. Despite support from free speech advocates across the political spectrum, the Indiana Supreme Court declined to overturn his conviction, then rejected an appeal of that decision.

    It’s harder to say what the outcome of Elonis will be. Any high school journalism teacher will tell you that there are, in fact, limits to free speech, and that making threats is not protected by the First Amendment. But in addition to Elonis’ defense, experts are saying social media is a whole new ballgame. The case and judicial interpretations could somehow be affected by the medium’s features, like emoji.

    This probably won’t be the last word on free speech on social media, and maybe not even the last word on threatening or bullying through social media. But, social media’s status as speech has always been murky. The outcome of this case will at least bring some clarity.

  • Subtracting Google+ from the Social Media Equation

    It was recently announced that users of Youtube will no longer be required to have a Google+ account to comment and post. This is just the most recent step that Google has taken to scale back Google+, but it is certainly a step that sends a clear message that Google+ is dead. That is something we have all known for a while, but it is now confirmed by Google taking clear steps to stop supporting it. But what does this really mean? Does this leave room for another challenger in the social network space?

    The killing off of Google+ is a welcomed one. No longer will new users have to go through the motions of creating a social media account that they will never use. Also, instead of bundling together a bunch of features under one confusing name, they will be split into more focused divisions. My personal favorite is the Photos App no longer being associated with Google+. Teaching my mom how to back up photos is already a challenge without having to explain to her that she has to do it through a social networking site that she will never use. The network had a negligible presence here in northwest Indiana beyond a few logos on ads that will make them look dated.

    What does this signal in the grand scheme of things? Not much. There wasn’t much room in the social networking space when Google+ was introduced, and there isn’t much space with the exit of Google+. Google+’s problem was that is was too much like Facebook without much in the way of killer features. No one wants to set up a new profile on a social networking site if they are already on one that essentially does the same thing in the same way. It just doesn’t make sense.

    I liked some of the things that Google was trying to accomplish with Google+. Making Google+ required to comment on Youtube seemed like an attempt to remove anonymity from the comments section of videos. I think that they hoped that the removal anonymity would help foster more meaningful conversations and less hateful comments on Youtube videos. However, forcing users to create Google+ accounts definitely left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths.

  • Take a hike: How much do we rely on tech?

    Camping hiking technology media nwIndiana

    Three weeks ago I ventured into Isle Royale National Park for a five day backpacking trip. Isle Royale is one of the most remote national parks in the United States and I was without my phone and internet for the entire time. I got a lot of thinking done while hiking around the island and being without technology for a week was a welcome inconvenience during the excursion. 

    There can be a big fear of missing out on news or social media posts when being away from the internet, but let me tell you that I didn’t miss a thing. I stepped right back into society without missing a beat. There were times when I would have liked to post an update, but instead I kept a journal. The advantage of keeping the journal is that it is personal. No one knew what happened on my trip but me. It was a unique experience that I can now retell to friends and family, instead of a series of posts that could be forgotten in a few hours.

    Being without internet can definitely make things more challenging. Usually when I don’t know how to do something I just do a quick Google search. But when I needed a refresher on knots for my hammock, the internet wasn’t available. However, that knowledge was still out there, but the vehicle was different. I consulted a fellow hiker and he was able to give me a quick hands-on lesson in knots.

    Also, not having GPS and the lack of mile markers had me guessing to where exactly I was along my hike. I could estimate where I was at, but I never knew for sure. There were questions I had about random things I thought about, and the Web wasn’t there to answer them for me. Being away from technology made me realize how much I relied on it for basically every question I have.

    Not knowing the answer to every question in my mind allowed me to think deeper about subjects that I am not proficient in. It made me realize that I still have so much to learn. It also confirmed to me that the content in my social media platforms isn't always impactful. I sometimes spend too much time checking social media platforms, and for what? What percent of posts that are truly memorable? This trip made me realize that things I do in the physical world are a lot more memorable and fulfilling than things I observe in the digital world. Real experiences are very memorable and not easily replaced.