About Kristen Nicole

I spend all my time checking out web-based startups. The fun part is blogging about them all, on Mashable.com.

Google Stunts; that Cozy Brand Feeling

Google changed its homepage today. It was funny, because I didn’t even notice. I rarely go to the Google homepage itself, opting to tab over to my Google search bar in my browser instead. It skips a step and requires less typing. And when I do go to to Google’s homepage, I move through it so fast that I typically miss the magically appearing links and, now, background image.

But I’m glad they changed their homepage. Why not? So what, it’s super commercial. We visit Google’s homepage millions of times per day. We’ve become so familiar with the Google homepage that it should be something we can customize. I wish there were more Gmail themes for me to choose from, because that’s what I spend the majority of my day looking at.

And in Google’s effort to become a more implanted brand with the whole of our culture, the company wraps its services in the shrouds of mainstream appeal. They took a smart cue from Microsoft’s Bing homepage, which has been gaining traction in its fight for Google-dominated search ground. With Google launching an insane amount of products to create its web of consumer access, we see another step with Google’s web-turned-desktop motif. Anyway, Microsoft’s already had experience with the whole desktop thing.

So as I was saying, I’m glad Google has custom background settings now. They’re far more pleasant to look at, and they even hypnotize us further into Google’s individualized relationship with consumers. Vote on more Google stunts at CNET.

5 Social Networking Rules Teens Shouldn’t Bother to Break

Something I thought might be useful for my readers; a basic list of rules to keep in mind as a teen using a social networking site. Click here.

I know rules suck, and are generally meant to be broken. But there are only 5 on the list and they’re things I feel are useful for teens. One of the most important rules on this list is to live. That means, stay true to yourself and don’t be sucked into a trend or fad just because you see your friends doing it on their Facebook pages.

;)

Teens, Be Aware of Facebook’s New Privacy Settings

Facebook has rolled out new privacy settings, making more of its users’ content searchable on the web. While the changes appear to be subtle, they have large implications on the future of Facebook and its users’ content. For teens, it’s important that they are aware of what the changes mean and how they can be affected by the new look and feel of Facebook.

As I mentioned, the changes are subtle. So the actual interface of Facebook won’t have noticeable changes. It’s what’s going on behind the scenes, to a certain extent, that parents and teens should be aware of. What Facebook aims to do is make its users’ profile content public by default. This is a large departure from the stance Facebook has previously taken with its default privacy settings, as Facebook was hailed as one of the most private social networks out there.

The upside is that Facebook still offers the privacy settings we’ve come to know and love–it’s just the default settings that have changed, dropping hints of an oncoming release of user data across the whole of the web. Make sure that teens are aware of the changes at Facebook, as more of their information may be made available to those on Facebook outside of their immediate friends, and eventually that information may be accessible to the entire web.

As teens are now growing up in a decidedly digital age, the ramifications of such public access to one’s past and present lives are still unknown. That means precautions need to be taken now in order to preserve their future safety.

For Facebook, the monetization of users’ accounts is impending–it’s a move that Facebook would eventually have to make if it wants to generate revenue from the free services it’s providing to users. See–nothing’s ever really free, is it?

I have a more in-depth look at Facebook’s possible perspective on the subject here, but I did want to make my readers aware of this, as several of you seem to appreciate my point of view on teen Internet usage.

Teen Girl Hides Facebook Date in Closet. For 8 Days.

A 13 year-old Detroit girl met a boy on Facebook and decided it would be a good idea to hide him in her closet. For 8 days. The boy, 19 years-old, was finally discovered by the girl’s mother at least a week after he first went into “hiding.”

There are so many issues with this particular circumstance that I don’t even know where to begin. Since very few details were released about this alarm-raising situation, I can only assume and comment so much. But I can’t help but to wonder how a barely-teen girl managed to get away with this. For at least a week.

The only other detail given was that the young girl admitted to having sex with the 19 year-old boy. Upon discovery the mother kept the boy in the house until police arrived, and he is being held on sexual misconduct charges. You see, the age of consent in the state of Michigan is 16. And three years is a long time to wait when you’re barely old enough to start high school. So you might as well just sit tight.

Girls, I know what you’re thinking. 19 years old doesn’t seem that bad, and meeting someone on Facebook is just like meeting someone at a high school football game. Only it’s not. Online social networks are great for keeping tabs on friends, looking at pictures of cute boys and virtually stalking them by constantly checking their status updates. They are not great, however, for finding people to meet in real life. Not when you’re only 13.

And moms, I know what you’re thinking. Facebook is a dangerous place for your teenage daughter to socialize, and it can lead to adverse behavior like sneaking boys into the house and hiding them in the closet. Well, that’s true, if your daughter is inclined to do these kinds of things. And that is a very scary thought.

There’s no real way to provide a resolution for the problem, because each situation is different. There’s no blanket answer on how to monitor or control teens’ actions on social networks such as Facebook. There’s also no real way of conveying the true dangers of meeting strangers in real life, based on initial contact that was made online.

All I can really say is pursuing a halfway decent relationship with your teen daughter is a good place to start. Parents are no longer naive to the ways of the online networking world, and ensuring that your teen daughter isn’t naive either is a necessity in today’s world. However you decide to handle these lessons from a parenting perspective is up to you as a parent, but teaching teens the etiquette of online socializing is a valuable lesson that will carry over into the workplace and beyond.

And feel free to check the kids’ closets every now and again. They’re perfect hiding places, you know.

image credit: xJenniferx

Teens Can Learn from Obama’s Inability to Twitter

First amendment rights is a topic near and dear to many people, and this is reiterated to me every time I find myself mentioning the topic in a blog. For teens and young adults in particular, the topic has been an area of interest, and I’m so glad to know that high school and college students are taking the topic seriously.

As an avid social media user for 12 years and counting I find that I have a useful perspective on how maturity comes into play when it comes to online networking. That’s due to my own personal experiences as an ex-teen, and learning the consequences of using social media to flex my first amendment rights. Some lessons have been harder than others, but I continuously see social media as being an excellent way for teens and young adults to both learn from my experiences as well as their own.

Social media is an interesting and currently necessary way in which we share our thoughts and promote the manifestation of our American culture. While our culture isn’t perfect, it is pretty cool. President Obama presented some tidbits of his own regarding this very topic when speaking with a group of students in Shanghai, China this week. I thought it was a relevant addition to the discussions that have recently been attracting a great deal of attention on my personal blog here, so I invite you all to check out an article I recently wrote for SodaHead regarding this very issue. Thanks to all my readers, and please don’t hesitate to leave comments here or on SodaHead to further the discussion!

Getting Sucked Back Into Social Media

Black-hole

I can’t say that I was an entirely lonely high schooler, but I was rather limited in my extra curricular activities. The result of having such a strict upbringing was creating an outlet for myself via social media, which was rather dismal compared to the cooperative string of networks and applications we have now. Admittedly I relegated the bulk of my activity to BlackPlanet and dating sites with 14-day free trials, just so I could look at photos of cute boys.

But then I got to college.
Freedom!

In a sense. The option to interact with others in real life and in real time was much preferred over online social networks, chat rooms and free trials. But my connection to social networking never waned. It was an ability to comprehend the underlying structure of social interaction that held my interest. So after starting a career in clinical research, I found myself right back in the midst of social media.

Within a year I was writing and editing at Mashable, spending more time researching the regular happenings of social networks instead of enjoying them. Because of work I found myself observing social networking instead of truly experiencing it. That kind of observation can only get you so far.

So I took a break. Spent some time outside in the sun. Fed ducks at the lake. Perused antique shops. Went rollerblading (I know). And I shared very little of that with my online social networks. It was refreshing in a sense, but disconnecting in another sense. And now that I’ve begun to return to my hyper-active social media lifestyle, I fear for what I will become.

Yet there are so many forces pushing me right back towards social media.

I mean, spend a week away from Facebook. You’ll miss a lot of shared memories, in the immediate. Looking at Halloween photos a week late just seems moot after a certain threshold has been achieved, not to mention the ability for one to recount all the shared memories from friends within their proximate network is a timely and daunting task. There was a time when you had to bring extra film for your camera, take it to a developer, order double prints just in case, and hope it was worth the extra $6.95 because there was no digital preview display of your shots before you took them.

Where did we get the time to constantly check Facebook and Twitter, and consume the shared thoughts vibrating between our screens to our fingertips? How much of your daily time and thought process have you given up to flipping through albums and sharing links across the web? When does the sharing of too much knowledge (in the form of information) become a burden of social norm?

Granted, I am in no way longing for the days of 1-hour photo developing, shopping while I wait at Meijer. I couldn’t be happier about the ability to share photos on Facebook. I think it’s the easiest way to do so on the social web. And there are only a relative few that are more excited about social media’s potential than I am.

But I’m hesitant to jump back into social media full force. I fear the necessity of being glued to my phone, and carrying around my laptop more often. I fear the lack of social awareness I will have due to further decreased social network activity. I fear the disconnect. Either way.

Above all, I fear what this all means for us as a culture. Will our children have different pressures to face in high school? Will they grow up fully aware of social networking ramifications, or is it something that doesn’t really hit any of us until we’re well into our twenties? And now that social networking has become almost fully de-anonymized, will real life wall flowers be encouraged out of their shells thanks to Facebook, or further coaxed in?

So after hours of careful fear-pondering, I realized that I just don’t care. If I miss the last album you uploaded on Facebook, I’m sorry. Show it to me from your phone the next time we hang out. And if I miss a day of intense Twitter-chatting, so be it. We can catch up on all the important stuff when we talk on the phone. Real talk. On the phone.

And all that concern about the social ramifications therein? Social networks still represent an undeniable aspect of human nature, so I consider this all a part of our behavioral evolution. My lesson learned? Be brave enough to balance both worlds.

Is Facebook Feeling the Burden of Establishing Its Platform?

fbplatformSome upcoming changes on Facebook have raised a few concerns from developers, but users will probably give a sigh of relief. Not only is Facebook moving towards a more dictator-like policy with developer apps, but the company is also placing more limitations on application alerts.

The changes themselves will restrict applications’ ability to post in Facebook users’ notifications, which appear in the bottom left corner of your Facebook profile. Additionally, Facebook is reportedly tired of constantly updating its application policies and regulations, hence the move to a more subjective form of dealing with applications.

For developers, this means that they have less access to users. Several developers find that notifications are great ways to bring traffic back to their application, which is probably because notifications used to be restricted to Facebook alerts only, and they contain all of the important activity updates that pertain directly to you.

It’s understandable why users would be relieved with the updated terms, yet it’s easy to see why developers are worried about the ever-changing rules surrounding application interaction options within Facebook’s network. Changes on Facebook’s end typically means that developers are being further limited in some way, presenting new challenges at every turn of their Facebook-specific campaign.

What I found particularly interesting about these changes is the fact that Facebook is ultimately asking developers to seek other ways in which to interact with their users. Facebook’s decision to take a more subjective approach to developer apps coupled with the latest limitations for app alerts, I’m wondering if Facebook is starting to feel the burden of establishing a major platform standard.

As a company with a first mover advantage for socially integrated platforms, Facebook has been key in establishing standards for how similar platforms will work across the board. It’s platform has introduced a great deal of opportunity for the company as well as third party developers and marketers, as applications presented a new way in which to connect with users.

While the hope is that the recent Facebok changes will encourage developers to focus on quality interactions with users instead of the quantity of interactions, the fact remains that Facebook’s decisions ultimately have an effect on the monetization potential behind applications. This will trickle right back up to Facebook, as its ability to monetize its platform will be somewhat effected by this in the end. But the dedication to the users’ experience is a necessity for Facebook, and will likely help platform standards in the end.

Time will tell whether or not Facebook is handling its relationships with developers in the most ideal sense. Even as testing has gone on around a performance-based regulatory system surrounding an app’s ability to potentially spam users, spam always seems to sneak through anyway. Regardless of how Facebook feels about being a leader in the market, it will have to deal with its position one way or another. The ongoing tit-for-tat dance between spammier apps and Facebook won’t go away anytime soon.

Twitter Lists to Reestablish Microblog Credibility?

Twitter lists have yet to emerge from beta, but the world can’t seem to get enough of the new Twitter feature. Organizing a great deal of your content and contacts into well-organized groups, Twitter lists is a feature that has been heavily requested and highly anticipated for some time by Twitter users.

Though group organization has been available through third party Twitter applications for some time, the direct feature implementation from Twitter means that the feature will be more widely available to Twitter users.

The introduction of this feature also offers a glimpse into Twitter’s long term goals for the company. Not to say that Twitter updates are far and few between, but a company that has such a working relationship with a large number of developers has the ability to disrupt its own platform when introducing a new native feature. Whether it alienates developers by minimizing the use of their own application or distracts Twitter from its core competencies in its effort to maintain rapid growth, feature updates have become an interesting perspective towards the future of Twitter.
Continue reading

Teens, The Internet, and the First Amendment

first-amendment

Organizations don’t like it when you complain about them. Especially when you do so in a public manner–online. The matter of First Amendment rights in the online realm has been a hot topic for debate for several years now, and things aren’t cooling off.

As Helen A.S. Popkin mentions, the debate may actually be heating up. High schoolers and college-age students have a tendency to say their school sucks. It’s what they’re supposed to do. In retrospect we eventually learn to cherish the days of absent responsibility and channel the anger that thrusts us into independent thought. This even appears to be particularly popular in the U.S. But for some reason the Internet has brought about a plethora of new issues with which to discuss one’s rights to the First Amendment.

Call it cyber-bullying or chalk it up to adolescent defamation. The Internet has an odd impermanence about its ability to archive and retrieve data due to its sheer size, but putting your hatred for a school or a faculty member out into the world [wide web] can easily come back to haunt you.

We can talk about the First Amendment until we run out of oxygen to breath, but I’d rather leave that up to the courts. The fact remains that saying bad things about people and organizations can hurt their feelings and damage their pride. You can expect them to retaliate. In many cases, they retaliate with disciplinary actions, long-standing negative affects on their academic records, and lawsuits.

How ironic that high school and college students get to learn, first hand, about the ultimate case of payback when it comes to the expression of their First Amendment rights. Seeing the growing pains of self-expression play out on the Internet merely reminds me of the social strains brought about by new technology, its assimilation, and its eventual acceptance. This is all particularly poignant as it deals with new forms of communication, complete with widespread access to these new forms of communication, and the cultural implications that lie therein.

In the end, however, I think it’s important to remember that there’s nothing really new under the sun. Everything we’re dealing with has a core issue that has little to do with the technology itself but of human’s ability to coexist within a healthy social structure. There’s no reason for parents, faculty, attorneys or judges to scratch their heads at teenage social networking nonsense. Even in its early years, my mother recognized the fact that the Internet was yet another way for her daughter to communicate with the world, and that included the world’s individuals. Therefore, the same principles apply, regardless of one’s offline or online status.

It will still be a challenge, but any attempt to get this message through to teens and young adults will be gratuitous in the end.

Has Corporate Greed Taken the Personal Perspective Out of Blogging?

greedyHas blogging lost its personal touch? Blogging started out as an online diary, publicly sharing one’s life experiences. then blogging became a business, large enough to threaten print media as we know it.
What happened to all the personal blogs? Does anyone read those anymore?

Just as people once kept diaries through the days of discovery and exploration, the process of documenting one’s thoughts and experiences hasn’t really disappeared–it’s merely shifted. These necessities of human culture bend and evolve along with other trends and fads that define eras.

So what of those personal blogs? They haven’t disappeared, and we didn’t stop reading them. They’ve simply morphed into readily accessible, byte-sized status updates. In a word, microblogging.

It takes such a small amount of time to tweet a passing thought, making it immediately viewable and searchable to the world. to make the process of sharing one’s experiences even easier, we’ve begun to automate the aspects of that process that don’t even require thought. Your GPS location can be auto-posted on Twitter. A photo taken with a camera, mobile phone or webcam can be auto-loaded into Flickr. Your life, in digital form, can be synced across multiple devices and organized accordingly. This all makes for easy access of your life’s content later on down the line.

Yes, tweets seem simple and fleeting. Yet the presence of Twitter and the applications its platform supports are changing the way in which the globe communicates. It’s not that blogs are becoming less personal–it’s just that we’re quickly progressing the way in which we utilize and value the information we’re already sharing with each other.

Aside from the natural necessity to improve upon an established system, we also witness the corporatization of that system. As I’ve already noted, the once diary-like versions of weblogging have irreversibly been shaped int a string of commodities that are monetizable and support their own economic subsets. The same process will happen to microblogging, and it is already under way.

In order for a system to become a viable option made available to the masses, it must first be financially supported and sustained. Call it corporate greed, but certain aspects of a phenomenon such as Twitter would not be possible without the economic structure it both creates and advances from. The result is a mad dash from investors, analysts and users to figure out why something has become so popular, and how money can be made from that popularity.

The economy driven by a service like Twitter can be shaped into a force with some help from corporate omnipresence. Yes, such a corporate takeover could provide the incentives for global innovation within the microblogging industry. Just look at the battle going on between Facbook and Twitter, constantly reminding us that the implementation of an idea matters for more than coming up with an idea. In this way, the true value of a product of service becomes rather subjective, and the general public can oftentimes be more easily swayed.

Even as we shift from one form of journal entry to another, we find that the ability to share out thoughts is never lost. The corporatization of that thought-sharing has helped to change the way in which we blog over the past several years. We need to determine how much of the microblogging trend will be given to the monetization process, and how much of it will simply be used to share experiences with one another.