2-minute tricks to increase your chances of keeping your New Year’s resolution

New Year's resolutionTechnology is all around us: if we’re the fish, it’s the water. Instead of lamenting how it’s ruining our lives, here are four quick tricks for using technology to keep your New Year’s resolutions top of mind.

1. Change your passwords. Pick the password you enter the most, and change it to something related to your resolution. If your goal for 2014 is to change your diet, make your password eathealthy42014.

2. Change your alarm names. I’ve been trying to be more positive and less stressed lately, so I changed the name of my alarm from “Alarm” to “New day :-)”

3. Change your wallpaper. When’s the last time you updated the background on your computer or your smartphone? Change it to something that reminds you of your resolution – a basket of fruit or a runner, for example.

4. Add a calendar reminder. Put your resolution on a digital calendar (like Google Calendar) that sends you an alert by email. Or, better yet, sign up for AskMeEvery and keep track of whether you’re keeping your resolution by responding to their daily emails with a simple yes or no.



Vote for my SXSW workshop: “Audit Your Soul: 10 Questions for Entrepreneurs”

If you’re not familiar, SXSW is possibly the biggest technology event of the year. I ran a panel this March on Asian entrepreneurship, and for 2014 I applied to lead a workshop called “Audit Your Soul: 10 Questions for Entrepreneurs.”

From the description:

Entrepreneurs try to get inside the minds of their customers and their competition. They try to understand their motivations, their hopes, their plans. But do they understand their own minds?

“Just do it” is the entrepreneur’s motto. It’s an injunction to start something, put it out there, and stop thinking so much. Yet many entrepreneurs miss the crucial first step of the process: knowing thyself.

Entrepreneurs who pinpointed their fear of failure would perform better than those plagued by unknown terror. Entrepreneurs who understood their personality quirks could build a more cohesive team. Entrepreneurs who consciously valued independence would make completely different decisions from those who valued money.

This two and a half hour long workshop will help you work through 10 questions that all entrepreneurs should ask themselves – questions affecting how you run your company and your life. You’ll be welcome to take time to reflect, then share and discuss your answers with the group.

If you’d like this to happen, go here and vote!

Many thanks,


Innovation in Unexpected Places

This week’s DC Tech Meetup was held at the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, and I was surprised to see these plastic cards tucked into all the pews. Apparently, parishioners can make donations by direct deposit and place this card in the collection plate on Sundays–in other words, a centuries-old institution known for its respect for tradition is embracing new technology.

I wonder what effect this will have on donations: Will they rise because donations are easier and no longer dependent on what’s in your pocket? Or will they fall because “accountability”–having your fellow churchgoers see just how much money you put in the plate–is lost?

According to the GivingUSA Foundation, in 2009: “Giving to religion, at 33 percent of total giving, remains the largest share of all contributions, with an estimated $100.95 billion. The estimated decline in giving to religion was 0.7 percent in 2009 (an estimated decrease of 0.3 percent adjusted for inflation).”

Facebook Product Announcement: Video chat, group chat, new chat design

“Today marks the beginning of what we’ll call launching season 2011.” -Mark Zuckerberg, before announcing video chat, group chat, and a redesigned chat interface

Zuckerberg began by describing the evolution of social networking, which was originally about “connecting people.” Though we once doubted that social media would become ubiquitous, that question has been settled. Where do we go from here?

Now, the focus is on what “cool” social apps will be built–and big companies are taking notice. How will we measure engagement? Not just active users, but how many apps are being used, how much time people are spending on apps, the effect on the economy, and how much people are sharing.

Facebook hit 750 million users, but that’s not the important thing, Zuckerberg said; rather, it’s that people are sharing more and more.

courtesy of http://www.livestream.com/facebookannouncements

Facebook will be rolling out “a lot of stuff” over the next few months. For now, it’s group chat; a new chat design that makes it easier to find friends online; and video chat (in collaboration with Skype).

Group chat: Over half of the people on Facebook are active users of groups, and people love chatting with these groups (which average 7 people). Using the normal chat interface, you can add other friends to the chat.

New chat design: This takes into account your browser size, so it might add a sidebar with a listing of your friends (photos and names) online.

Video chat: Accessible through the normal chat interface and on friends’ pages. “Your least technical friend can get online and connected with someone else,” said Facebook engineer Phillip Su. According to Tony Bates, CEO of Skype, Skype boasts an average of 300 million minutes of video a month. It will be a “true partnership” with Facebook.

Zuckerberg said they’ll leave the development of add-on apps to other entrepreneurs, compared to other Internet companies that try to do everything (*cough* Google *cough*).

Question and Answer
(Zuckerberg unless otherwise noted)

Q: Is group video chat in the works, and what do you think of Google Hangouts?

A: Today we’re just rolling out one-on-one chat. “I wouldn’t rule anything out,” but the majority of video chat is one-on-one. “I just think that this is super awesome.” As for Google+, everyone is moving in a social direction.

Q to Bates: Are you concerned that people will shift from Skype to Facebook video?

A by Bates: Not really.

Q: How do you decide to start video chat?

A: It rings and you click “accept.”

Q to Bates: What’s in it for Skype financially?

A by Bates: Today, we’re just focusing on getting a broad reach, although paid Skype products may be in the works.

Q: Are these features available on mobile devices and tablets?

A: Video is not live for mobile yet, but group chat works. “These are mostly web features for now.”

Q: How will Facebook accommodate the added load of video?

A: We’ll build more of our own data centers, but Skype’s video calling is p2p anyway.

Q: What is the current overlap between Facebook and Skype users?

A: We don’t know.

Q: What are the financial terms of the partnership? How did Microsoft play a role?

A: We’re figuring out what we want to do next. We have a good relationship with Microsoft.

Q: What’s happening in group and friend management?

A: We’ll see more apps. Only around 5% of users adopt friend lists. Sharing to small groups is not the biggest trend (it’s topped by apps and mobile).

Thoughts on Doing Things for Other People

This February, my friend went dog sledding in the far reaches of frigid northern Canada. An older Chinese woman, intent on sharing pictures of the adventure with her friends, insisted on sitting in front. She wasn’t really interested in dog sledding, she said, she just wanted everyone to know she went.

It made me wonder: why do we sometimes do things (tweet, post pictures, write status updates) just for their effect on other people–who, we hope, will deem us cool, funny, and gorgeous? Somehow, this led to a discussion of Twitter, and whether the Twitter cofounders cared how people used their platform.

As it turns out, Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey (who, by the way, recently saw cofounder Biz Stone leave the company to work on a startup called Obvious Corporation) is clearly supportive of using Twitter for social change in this Huffington Post interview. When asked what causes he is particularly fond of, Dorsey responds, “My position is really to build technologies that speak to any cause; that’s what I want to do all the more of.” In other words, he wants to build a versatile platform that users can shape to their unique purposes. But, presumably, Dorsey means good causes, not including the various Ku Klux Klan Twitter accounts.

The fact that startups are open and even eager to iterate means they recognize that users may develop surprising, new, and even better uses for their products. But once the final (or relatively final) product is out, I can’t imagine that how it’s used is irrelevant to the creators. Creating something of value is fulfilling in itself–witness the failed companies whose founders don’t regret a moment of their journey–but seeing it used in valuable ways must add even more to the sense of pride and accomplishment.

It’s a Real Live Person!

So I was checking out the website of DC startup SocialTables, and a little “Live Help” window popped up on the bottom of my screen. It said:

Thanks for stopping by! Can I help you with anything? (real live person here!)

At first I was suspicious, but my interlocutor persuaded me of his humanity. Turns out this is a feature you can put on your website, courtesy of Olark. I don’t know if I’m behind the times, but that’s pretty awesome!

Not All Bookworms Hate Technology

A professor of English at Wheaton College, who spent his childhood reading instead of watching TV, Alan Jacobs could easily be one of those people who lament the demise of the book and blame fast-paced, 140-character Internet culture. But instead, in a lecture I attended last week, he explained why the Kindle taught him to love to read again.

Like many of us these days, Jacobs recently found his attention span shortening. He couldn’t bring himself to spend hours and hours immersed in books, as he had for years before. But once he got a Kindle, he could read again. His theory? The buttons give his fingers something to do, calming the compulsive desire to check email or surf the Internet.

Jacobs is the author of The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, which looks to be a delightful read.

The Facebook Tagging Patent

Facebook has been awarded a patent for tagging people/things in photos and other digital media. As Inside Facebook reports, it also has a patent on “purchasing a gift in a social network environment.” On top of that:

Facebook also applied for four search-related patents in the last month that control how results are shown to users based on their social proximity to the information or how often they access it.

This brings up a lot of questions.

  • The photo tagging patent refers to “selecting region within the digital media”; does that mean tagging someone in the whole photo/video–not just a certain part of it–falls outside the patent?
  • Is gifting “in a social network environment” really novel or nonobvious enough to deserve a patent?
  • Would Google+1 be affected if Facebook got its social search patent?

I wrote a paper during college on software patents, and I still feel that I–and many others, including some patent officers and judges who settle disputes–don’t fully understand what is being patented. Any comments from those more technically inclined would be appreciated.