Have you set your legacy contact on Facebook?

If you’re one of the 2 billion users of Facebook, it might be a good time to set your account settings to include a “legacy contact”, basically someone who is able to access your account if you’re no longer around. I learned the hard way that having the login to Muriel’s account doesn’t actually make a difference because when Facebook finds out someone is deceased, they memorialize the account. Once they’ve “memorialized” a person’s account, even if you have the login, you can’t access the account. And since many of us spend time and have so many memories and connections via Facebook, to be locked out from it isn’t something you want to hear when you lose someone you love.

To my surprise when I wrote to Facebook, someone actually responded within a few days… According to Facebook, its policy is to memorialize an account once the account owner has passed away. This helps protect the loved one’s privacy and preserves their account as a place for friends and family to gather and share memories. Once an account is memorialized, even Facebook isn’t able to:

  • Remove the account from its memorialized state
  • Make changes to the Timeline or settings
  • Provide login information
  • Add friends to the account

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So if you have a Facebook account, it’s probably a good idea to select a “legacy contact“. A legacy contact is someone you choose to look after your account if it’s memorialized. We didn’t get a chance to do this and I only found out about Facebook memorializing an account after Muriel passed away – I’m still not sure when/how Facebook did this as it seems someone would have had to report that she had passed away. From this experience, I think it’s a good idea to setup a legacy contact beforehand so that in case of your death this contact can:

  • Write a pinned post for your profile (example: to share a final message on your behalf or provide information about a memorial service).
  • Respond to new friend requests (example: old friends or family members who weren’t yet on Facebook)
  • Update your profile picture and cover photo
  • Request the removal of your account
  • Set the option for your legacy contact to download a copy of what you’ve shared on Facebook
  • Note: You must be 19 or older to select a legacy contact.

Fortunately, I downloaded Muriel’s profile while I still was able to access her account, so I have a history of her life on Facebook. I wish I can gain access to make some changes, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to set a legacy contact before I lost access… I hope this experience will help others out there be prepared because it sucks to be shut out of being able to remain “connected” with a loved one after he/she has passed.

Maybe one day Facebook will change it’s policy and allow spouses/significant others/family to be able to access an account even without a legacy contact. Like many things when losing someone we love, in spite of the pain and grief, it’s the people who live on that have to take care of the loved one’s affairs (even online ones).

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Technology isn’t going to solve all our problems, just ask Johnny Depp

A couple of weeks ago I watched Johnny Depp’s new movie Transcendence – spoiler alert: it’s a love story (kind of) – and found the issues the movie touched on quite intriguing. A lot of it focused on people’s reliance on technology and how it was suppose to give us all the answers to life. The premise in the movie was that there were two opposing perspectives on technology: one was to give ourselves completely to technology and artificial intelligence (AI), while the other was on balancing human vs. machine decision-making where we/humans are in the ones in control. Well, all hell breaks loose when Depp’s consciousness gets uploaded into an AI… just watch the trailer below to see what happens.

The topic of humans vs. machines has always been around (remember 1984’s Terminator?). It’s just that now, it’s actually happening with more and more technology infiltrating our lives. I don’t have to go very far to think about how often I jumped to attention when getting a Facebook, Gmail, or Twitter notification on my phone – isn’t the beep from our phones kind of like a master calling his dog?

Nice to see that life can still be entertaining (and distracts us from our phones) like this drummer asking people to play with him.
Nice to see that life can still be entertaining (and distracts us from our phones) like this drummer asking people to play with him.

While these scenarios are scary (otherwise how would Hollywood make more movies??), more insightful thinkers like Clive Thompson makes the argument that it’s still possible, even necessary, to blend humans and machines together to actually evolve and help society. This doesn’t mean turning everyone into cyborgs, but really looking at how we can use the best of both worlds. In the early chapters of Thompson’s book ‘Smarter Than You Think’, he provides examples of how chess grand masters worked with computers to not only improve the speed, but also creativity of play. I’ve just started the book, so definitely more insights to come.

My favorite quote so far:

“At their best, today’s digital tools help us see more, retain more, communicate more. At their worst, they leave us prey to the manipulation of the toolmakers. But on balance, I’d argue, what is happening is deeply positive. This book is about the transformation.”

Update: Thx Mr. Thompson!

Wanted: New skills for communication pros

I’ve been writing a lot about the influence of social media and the changing landscape of communication. We’re in an interesting period of change where communication professionals, like journalists, not only need skills like writing, speaking, and listening, but also skills in understanding technology, engagement channels, and being aware of and understanding where people find and share information. Ideally, like in any results-driven organization, there would be ways to measure the success or impact of any communication intervention starting with a very clear understanding of the end result.

Despite the uses and shortcomings of social media metrics, as well as other web analytics/statistics, they are still useful in having an understanding of what works (or doesn’t work) when it comes to online communications. Using this kind of information, I learned firsthand in November how powerful social media can be in turning a relevant small piece of information a viral hit. When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines with 300+ kilometre-hour winds, many people expected the worst. Despite the significant impact and damage the Typhoon caused, UNISDR published a story on how a local leader evacuated his whole island. In the below screenshot from Google Analytics, the spike in the middle of the month was from visits to the story driven 100% by Facebook referrals.

analytics

UNISDR stories are consistently shared via Facebook with significantly less audience interest and engagement. So why was this story so popular? The analytics revealed where and how people came to the website, yet other factors probably were also responsible for such a popular story. This included the way the headline was written (i.e. very clear, concise and action/result oriented), the timing with the focus on Haiyan, and the positive angle of the story during a sea of negative media.

Social media will continue to change the communication landscape – understanding why and how will help organizations be more tuned in and have impact on their outreach. A side note – according to a recent study on the role of news on Facebook, it found that while some people access news and info on the world’s largest social network platform, it is not the primary place they go to look for ‘new’ information. So there might be hope for traditional media outlets still – it’ll depend on how they use web analytics, readership profiles, and other metrics to improve their services.

Most U.S. adults do not go to Facebook seeking news out, the nationally representative online survey of 5,173 adults finds. Instead, the vast majority of Facebook news consumers, 78%, get news when they are on Facebook for other reasons. And just 4% say it is the most important way they get news. As one respondent summed it up, “I believe Facebook is a good way to find out news without actually looking for it.”

Getting down with tech to solve crime and reduce vomit

Social media isn’t just for “fun”. All the sharing that people do via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. can actually help fight crime, improve hygiene, and provide insight into how to improve services (like having less traffic jams) and keep us safe. While the humanitarian community has been looking into how tech can be used to save lives in disaster or conflict-prone countries, you don’t have to go too far to find that the integration of tech and basic public services like policing and public health can make our lives easier, safer, and maybe just maybe filled with less vomit.

In a study earlier this year, researchers at the University of Rochester used a Twitter search tool called nEmesis to identity cases of food poisoning with tweets that had GPS coordinates. In just four months, the system collected 3.8 million tweets from more than 94,000 unique users in New York City, traced 23,000 restaurant visitors, and found 480 reports of likely food poisoning. The public health sector has typically been ahead of the curve when it comes to prevention and early warning to reduce the risk of, say, an epidemic of a virus.

Another example of how tech and social data can actually help is in crime-fighting. It might not be far off from the tech that Batman uses like the Batcomputer. Just ask IBM : they’ve been working with the police to setup systems that will use pattern recognition and anomaly detection technology on existing records like 911 calls, crime records, and building permit activity. Patterns revealed can help decision makers anticipate rather than just react to problems.

“We’re entering a new era of police work,” says the Fort Lauderdale Police Chief.

One of the funniest comedy shows this year has been Brooklyn Nine-Nine and in one of the episodes this season they even touch on the fact that “real crime-fighting” these days is about about using data and technology to solve crimes! In the episode “Old School“, despite coming to work with a huge hangover from a drinking binge the night before, Jake, the main character, pulls together and figures out how to find the IP address of the guy who’s been stealing credit card numbers.

Filtering out “Butt Dials” and saving lives with technology

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I find the combination of Qatar and humanitarian action an unlikely partnership. It’s just not something that comes to mind when I think of how the world has come together to better respond to and address large scale disasters like the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami, or even the current situation of Typhoon Haiyan that just passed through the Philippines and on its way towards Viet Nam and upwards to Hong Kong and China. Yet, the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI),  a national research institute established in 2010, has partnered with some of the most innovative thinkers and doers to come up with ways to understand how better to respond and understand disasters, and ultimately save lives.

One of these thinkers is Patrick Meier and doers is the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). I was fortunate enough to have been invited to a talk earlier this week where Meier came by to chat about the role of data (i.e. big, global, social, etc.) and technology in humanitarian action, a young field filled with promise. Meier is an internationally recognized thought leader on the application of new technologies for crisis early warning, humanitarian response and resilience, serves as Director of Social Innovation at the QCRI, and is an avid blogger. A shout out also goes to Andrej Verity of UNOCHA who organized the talk and is passionate about the role that (digital) volunteers and technology can play in humanitarian response.

During the one-hour talk, Meier went through a range of topics from human vs. machine computing, microtasking, the power of digital volunteers, dealing with the overload and verification of information, data philanthropy, credibility of communication, and how to find a balance or the competitive advantage between new and traditional sources of information. All the focus was on the humanitarian space and how to better respond to and provide relief in times of disasters or emergencies. Yet, the concepts behind the talk – how data can be used to make better decisions, improve planning, and create a more resilient and prepared society – can be (and is already being) applied to areas beyond the humanitarian space, for instance in social and environmental development. They key is how to take advantage of technology, the benefits of having human judgement, and how to make sense of all this “stuff”.

Overflow of information is as paralyzing as with no information.

The focus shouldn’t just be on tech because we still need “detectives” to verify information, even if algorithms and computers get better at fact checking. At the same time we also need to understand that traditional ‘crowdsourcing’ methods and ‘trusted sources’ of information also aren’t as reliable as we think they are. Here are a few notables Meier brought up during his talk:

hina

Another reason why people are an important factor in all this talk about technology and the use of information for decision-making is the fact its use will be defined by society and governments. There needs to be a political will and space needed to move (humanitarian) technology and information/data forward and to be taken seriously. Released a couple of months ago, the UNOCHA report “Humanitarianism in the Network Age (HINA)” sums it up nicely on page 41:

Technology can only be as effective as the system it supports. What is clear is the need for Governments and the international humanitarian system to open themselves to new approaches.

Testing, Testing, and more Testing

Do you like tests? Just saying the word makes people nervous. It probably brings back memories of math, science, or anything else that makes you want to turn around and run away. But what if I asked you to “try” (i.e. test) the two cakes from ‘La patisserie des reves‘ (literally the cake shop of dreams) in the photo above? Doesn’t sound too nerve-racking does it? You’d probably want to take the test! The fact of the matter is test might give you the willies but they do serve a purpose. Not only do they help you figure out what you know and don’t know, but the results of a test can help you improve.

In last month’s issue of Wired magazine, there was an article that addressed this issue of testing, learning from the results, and being able to model future possibilities to help us improve the way we do things.

[tweet https://twitter.com/robcapps/status/260783239973715968]

The article really brought home the fact that the best companies in the world manage failure well – this means being able to test and understand when their products fail and how to anticipate this. Not only does this have an impact on customer satisfaction, but ultimately on the bottom line, and in the case of article’s focus on cars, people’s lives as well!

This all comes down to maintaining a balancing act of how to produce a product people want and still keeping the costs down. It means setting a benchmark and testing if these products can last.

…it’s impossible to make a product that lasts exactly 10 years. But setting this goal provides a concrete minimum to work with. And establishing that minimum—the point where it’s OK to start seeing the first product failures—is one of the most vital parts of reliability engineering.

This is where tests can be handy and where we have the technology and know-how now to simulate failure and the risks that come with it, whether it’s about the time it takes something to fail, what causes the failure, or how things break down. So the next time you think of tests, think of it as a way to know your ‘breaking point’ and how you can learn from it to make (self) improvements for the future – cake or no cake.

Crowdsourcing for Disaster Preparedness – it’s the journey that counts

Reading a Master’s thesis isn’t a typical hobby of mine, but when one of my work’s interns said that his was on crowdsourcing for disaster preparedness, I had to get a copy. I finally had a chance to read it coming back from France on a 3-hour train – plenty of time to focus on it. Why the interest? Well, for one, crowdsourcing has become an increasingly interesting area of work both technically and socially, where people have the ability and tools now to volunteer, share, and coordinate themselves (online) for collecting, analyzing and distributing information. And, two, I’ve spent the better part of my career finding innovative ways for Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), like GIS, mobile phones, websites and applications, social media, to solve a problem.

Rounding Up Volunteers, via New Apps – Image: Danny Christopher

The 62-page dissertation and research tries to answer the question: “How does crowdsourcing play a role in disaster preparedness and what are the issues it has to address?” While the end of the dissertation does address the issue and suggests that ICTs and crowdsourcing can have a role in preparing for disasters, I thought the journey through the paper was a lot more interesting and raises many questions that I’ve faced when looking at how communication and information management can be applied in a way to solve a problem, whether its reducing the risk of disasters, preparing for one, or more broadly how to change behaviors.

  • How can information and data be collected systematically to provide a overall picture of the situation on the ground?
  • Is this information and data reliable? Where is it coming from? Who checks it to make sure it is trustworthy and useful?
  • Can and should information collected be shared? And to whom?
  • Are people who end up making decisions using this information, or is it based on a “gut” feeling? Should decisions be made primarily from data or from “feelings”?
  • There’s lots of talk around “evidence-based” planning and decisions, but shouldn’t we be basing our decisions on “evidence” through observation and data collection?
  • How should this “evidence” and information be communicated so that it makes sense, easily accessible and understandable?

We can probably have long discussions for each one of these questions (feel free to leave a comment!), but the fact is that there still tends to be a disconnect between the “quantitative” and “qualitative” communities, or “techies” versus “non-techies”.

Maybe it’s a power thing – in my experience the “non-techies” don’t have a high appreciation of the people who collect, analyze, and develop information management systems, yet it’s these “techies” who are creating the platforms and systems that we all need to use to do our work – think email, Facebook, contact directories, websites, databases, etc.

At the same time, “techies” also need to realize that people with “soft skills” and who can communicate and negotiate with clients have a key part to play in answering the questions listed above.

Maybe that’s why infographics are so popular these days and are important in bridging this gap – they help address 3 things: information overload, decreasing attention spans, and making information more appealing and easy to share. They take the complexity of data and turn it into something interesting for the “non-techies” and public to understand. At the same time, it takes a bit of skill from both “techie” and “non-techie” worlds to make it happen.

Check out this video from Column Five which gives a pretty good summary of why we need infographics!

The Value of Visualization from Column Five on Vimeo.

Kool Keyboards

Have you ever wondered if the basic keyboard can be improved? I had this discussion a few weeks back about language issues and keyboards. Being in a French environment (or any non-native environment for that matter), the fact that most keyboards are in French makes it a bit of a pain to write. Of course the best way to alleviate that pain is to learn the layout of the keyboard. But sometimes it’s just a bit of an inconvenience especially when certain symbols aren’t there when you need them. And then there’s all the different accents that just don’t make sense in English.

Sure, there are ways to change the keyboard language input from French to English or another language, but that means that you already have to have memorized how keys are laid out in English or the other language. We wondered if there is an easier way to get the keyboard layout you want without going through all the hassle of learning or memorization. Smartphones and tablets can probably change their keyboard/input settings since the keys are projected onto the screen, but how about your typical computer/laptop keyboard?

One idea we had was what if a keyboard did not have letters/alphabets printed on them in the first place. Instead the letters/alphabets of your choosing would be projected onto the keys. Is this possible? Has anyone seen this before?

A quick Google search revealed that there’s a projection keyboard. According to Wikipedia, a projection keyboard is:

… a form of computer input device whereby the image of a virtual keyboard is projected onto a surface: when a user’s fingers are placed on the projected “keys”, the device translates them into keystrokes.

Then there’s the recently announced Windows 8 tablet which actually has a keyboard built into the cover of the tablet. While it’s nothing drastically different in resolving the language issue, it does hint at an innovative way to integrate the keyboard.

Or will keyboards be obsolete soon… In the future, would we even need to type if the computer recognizes our voice?

Can we learn something from Eurovision?

There’s this European contest that’s been going on for the last 50 years or so… Have you heard of it? It’s called the Eurovision Song Contest. It took place this year in the Central Asian country of Azerbaijan and the finals were broadcasted live last week, with Sweden taking home the sweeet prize and prestige! It’s kind of like American Idol (for the US) but instead of just having people compete to get to the finals, every country in Europe has a “representative” who sings for the nation. The winner (i.e. winning country) gets to host the next Eurovision Song Contest – yay!

While it seems that the contest is highly political with (i’m assuming) countries probably paying for top talent to win and shine a spotlight on the country, the Europeans (and Australian) who came over to watch Eurovision at our place (sad, but true – see photo above for proof) said that it was less serious in the past. I’d have to agree… the weirder the acts the better and more memorable. Ok, the Russian grandmothers singing were great, but the highlights for me were the Lithuanian and Irish acts – just awesome! Check ’em out below.

Sure times have change and it would be great to have things stay the way they are, but technology has had an impact on social evolution (whether good or bad), and more and more, the media, the way we communicate, and how we make choices and decisions are being influenced by technology.

I know it’s not new, but for the Eurovision Song Contest, it was the first time I’d ever sent a text message (paid 80cents per message) to vote for the Lithuanian and Irish acts! Not only has technology made it easier, but it’s just the way we DO things now. With all this information used to make decisions and to better understand our world, are we entering a new age of “social production” where collaboration via the web can help to bring innovation and solutions to the world?

Here are a couple of videos that tend to think so…

Hiking in Sormiou – enjoying life in a work-life balance

Passing a small port at the of a 2-hour hike

The internet has opened up a wealth of information and knowledge at our fingertips – when was the last time you used a Yellow or White Pages? At the same time this information superhighway has made it easier for us to communicate. Think about it. Email, chat, messaging, skype, facebook, twitter has revolutionized the way we communicate with each other. It’s crazy to think that in most people’s life-time we’ve seen a drastic change in how we interact with the world and how the world interacts with us.

Amazing texture

BUT – Has technology made us more efficient and effective at work or at home? According to Tim Ferriss, technology is the cure and the disease for a work-life balance. In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, he says that everyone can work four hours a week and be more efficient and effective in their job while having the rest of the time to focus on personal pursuits – he says that he only works four hours a week and makes more money in a month than in a year in his previous jobs.

Looking down to the amazing colors of Sormiou

I’m only in the first half of the book and what he says about technology is true – being able to work online can help us be anywhere in the world, but things like checking and replying to email is one of the biggest problems to being efficient and effective at work. In the latest chapter I’m reading Tim suggests accomplishing two priorities a day, and to check email only twice a day. I tried this last week and it was surprising how much I could get done without being distracted. I did get comments like “Did you read my email?”, but then again if every email is really “priority”, can you ever focus and get your own work done? The best thing I’ve read so far is his philosophy on happiness… it’s not money (although it helps) that leads to happiness – it’s about doing something that you want to do and not letting boredom lead your life.