Weekly Blog #9: Big Gamer Headphones

When I think of gaming, the first thing that comes to mind is my boyfriend Marty sitting on the couch in our den wearing his big, soundproof headphones as he plays some random “shoot-em-up” (as my mom would say) game with his brother and cousin and talks to them via the mouthpiece on the big headphones. Needless to say, Marty loves games. Video games and online games; solitaire games and group games; old school games and recently-released games. Even games on social networks, such as Farmville and Mafia Wars.

Marty and his big "gamer" headphones

Despite the fact, that according to the presentation Mike gave in class tonight 40 percent of all people gaming are females, I have not been a gamer. To me, gaming is something my boyfriend does that I smile and nod at (and when he is gaming I know my chance of him actually listening to me has greatly decreased). 😉

Half-kidding aside, me not being a gamer  is actually true. If I was actually interested in gaming, I really wouldn’t be ashamed to admit it. But the truth is, I never played video games or online games growing up. Not even Super Mario Brothers. (Shocking, I know). And today, the only reasons I really know anything about the gaming world are 1) My little brother,  2) Marty and 3) This class.

However, I have played (very sparingly) games such as Dance, Dance Revolution, games on the Wii and Guitar Hero/Rockband.  In fact, now that I think of it, three and a half years ago when I first had a crush on Marty and we were not yet dating, I asked him to teach me how to play guitar hero. But my motivations behind this were obviously not because I was interested in guitar hero as the game. 🙂 But I digress.

Even though I have not participated in much gaming, based on what we have talked about in class I can now better see why people enjoy it and why it is so popular, particularly based on some of the specific concepts we discussed in class tonight: to be immersive, to be social, to be emotional. And thinking about these concepts further, I can definitely see that they are some of the main reasons that Marty enjoys gaming so much (aside from the competitiveness factor of course).

I think what surprises me most about gaming these days is a few things. First, the numbers. I was shocked at how many people, especially females, are gaming on a regular basis. Turns out what I thought was the stereotype is not true! Second, I was really surprised to learn about how gaming tools are used for other, meaningful purposes, such as the U.S. Army’s MMOGs it uses for recruitment  and solider training. (America’s Army) I had never really thought about how companies and/or organizations could use gaming to help meet their goals and objectives effectively.

That said, maybe I shouldn’t tease Marty so much about his games. Maybe it’s worth it to learn more about gaming for myself and how it could potentially be used strategically for my clients, for instance. Maybe I should invest in my own pair of big headphones!

Well, actually, I don’t know if I would ever go that far. 🙂

Until next week-

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Personal Blog #2: Thanksgiving at the Gillman’s

Just like every year, I am really looking forward to traveling to my parents’ house in suburban Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving on Tuesday. When we celebrate the holidays at the Gillman house, we are small in size but big in the spirit of the season. We don’t really have any extended family, except for Gram, my mom’s mom, so for the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas), it’s just me, my parents, my brother and sister, Gram, and Rosie, our bichon frise puppy, of course! But regardless of the fact that there’s not many of us, we love to celebrate the season, and now that I’m older, I rather enjoy not having to deal with additional company during the times when I actually get home to see my family.

For Thanksgiving, my younger sister (Amy, 23), younger brother (Max, 20) and I will arrive at my parents’ house the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and spend Tuesday night catching up with each other and Mom and Dad, eating and drinking, and playing with Rosie. It’s especially fun now that Amy, Max and I are all adults and are all (almost) of legal drinking age)!

Wednesday is a perfect mix of relaxing and preparing the menu for the big Turkey Day, and Wednesday night Amy and I help Mom start to bake the pies. Amy always does the pumpkin; I’m in charge of the apple crumb pie (Daddy’s favorite!) I am not that into baking, but I do enjoy this time in the kitchen with my mom and sister, chatting and having girl time. And the pie is not that hard to make, anyway. 🙂 After baking pies comes more down time with the fam: watching TV/movies, more catching up, playing with the dog, eating snacks/drinking wine and just hanging out! I’m feeling relaxed already just thinking about it!

Gillman Family Thanksgiving 2009

When Turkey Day arrives on Thursday morning, we are definitely the all-American family: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, starting to dabble in the kitchen, football outside in the yard (usually Dad and me vs. Amy and Max), then getting dressed up, all hands on deck in the kitchen and DINNER time!

Our menu slightly changes every year because my family always likes to try new foods, but we always have: turkey, Gram’s stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, cranberries (homemade), sweet potatotoes, carrots, a relish tray (my favorite and what I used to always help make as a kid) and squash.

While the food is a close second, perhaps my favorite part of the Gillman family Thanksgiving traditions is when we all go around the dinner table and say what we are thankful for. While it may sound cheesy, it is what we have always done as a family since I was a kid, and it puts things in perspective as to what great lives we really all have — so why stop just because “the kids” are all grown up?

While there are many more than five things for which I am thankful, this year the top five on my list when going around the table will be:

1. My good health
2. A tight knit family who is still (and will always be) there for me no matter what
3. Good food whenever I want it and a warm roof over my head
4. A secure job that I also very much enjoy
5. An amazing boyfriend who still makes me laugh. 🙂

After the delicious meal, we all clean up then settle in to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “The Sound of Music.” And the rest of the weekend consists of leftovers, more relaxing, shopping, more leftovers, decorating the Christmas tree, and more relaxing! Can’t wait til Tuesday after work… Happy Thanksgiving!

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Personal Blog #1: Virginia Wine Country

Last weekend my boyfriend Marty and I took a little trip to the Shenandoah Valley/Virginia Wine Country, where we rented a cabin with two other couples for three nights. Now, considering  that the name of the company from which we rented the cabin was named “Hot Tub Heaven,” you can imagine that we were really roughing it! 😉 Regardless of the fact that we weren’t exactly camping in the woods without indoor plumbing, it was a fabulous, relaxing weekend getaway full of good friends, good food and good wine.

The good wine part (coupled with the other two, of course) was my favorite part of the weekend. Visiting a VA winery/vineyard for a tour and/or tasting has been something Marty and I have been wanting to do in the DC area for a long time, so when we headed to the Fox Meadow Winery on Saturday afternoon, I was very excited.

Marty and I have gotten very interested in wine over the past few years, but I like to think we are not snobby about it. We just like trying new kinds — even “cheap” brands — learning about how it’s made, how to pair it with various food, and even how it fits into American and other cultures. We especially like trying the wine bars/tastings/wine festivals in the DC area, and I always thought the places around here were pretty fun/great — that is, until we arrived at the Fox Meadow Winery.

While the place was not huge by any means, it was still a nicely-sized medium-sized cottage-like building sitting on a small vineyard, and I was in love with it immediately. The best part was the big deck out back, where Marty, our friends and I spent the afternoon (after an amazing tasting of 6 wines) drinking wine, eating cheese (the horseradish cheese was my fave), strolling through the vineyard and taking pictures of the sun setting behind the mountains. It was a perfect autumn day, and we all spent a few minutes joking about how beautiful the

Marty and me relaxing with some yummy vino at Fox Meadow Winery 11/13/10

fall foliage was out there, compared to in the DC area where you barely even notice when the leaves start changing color.

The peaceful atmosphere of the winery was a welcome break from the craziness of my everyday life of work, school and other activities in DC. Marty and I even enjoyed some time just chatting and drinking wine together while our friends went for a walk amongst the vines. We talked about how much nicer and open and relaxed this place was compared to some of the stuffier wine bars we had been to in DC, and it really helped me gain some perspective on how I need to make more time to relax and appreciate the things in life that I truly enjoy more often.

While I consider myself to be much more of a “city girl” than not, as I really love living in the city and enjoying all DC has to offer when it comes to restaurants, the arts, history and politics, unwinding in VA wine country last weekend made me think big time about how I really like to (and that I need to) take some time to just get away from my daily life here and appreciate places that let you just take a breath of fresh air… along with a nice sip of wine. 🙂

Until next time —

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Weekly Blog #8: Wikipedia Part II & Other Thoughts

Sometimes social media and the online world overwhelms me and I just want to read a real book, write someone a letter with pen and paper (and send it to them via snail mail), and read the actual newspaper. Lately I have been especially thinking about the uses of Facebook and my personal life, especially as related to Dunbar’s Number. While I have more than 900 “friends” on Facebook, I probably only care about 100-150 of them. Sometimes I see a “friend’s” Facebook status update and I have to take a few minutes to think about who that person even is/how I know them. Yet this person, whom I clearly barely know/know anymore, can see all my recent uploaded photos from last weekend’s festivities and my status update about how I’m excited for happy hour with so-and-so. 

That said, I’ve been thinking about “de-friending” people I don’t really know well or have lost touch with, etc. Not to be mean, like people I have known saying, “So-and so- is a b*tch so I am de-friending her on Faceook — so there,” but rather, because isn’t kind of strange to let these people have so much access to my life? Well, anyway, I haven’t “de-friended” anyone yet, but it may be coming. We shall see… 

Moving on. While I love learning about social media, last week’s class was a lot to take in.

During last week’s class I defnitely learned a lot about Wikipedia that I didn’t know before. The biggest thing was how much Wikipedia is used to quickly report breaking news, pretty much as it happens. From now on when breaking news occurs, I will look forward to checking Wikipedia to see if a page has been created right away. However, I am still not convinced that what will be posted will be entirely accurate. For example, last week in class when Garrett showed us the example on the Wikipedia page about the London subway/bus attacks on July 7 a few years ago, we saw that the first “breaking news” entry was not really accurate. I most certainly trust a more traditional news source more, even an online version.

Discussing  this makes me think back to Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” and how he talks about everyone having the opportunity these days to be a “media outlet.” At first this concept excited me because social media has brought so much opportunity for information sharing — opportunity that never existed before. But now I think it has gone slightly overboard, especially when it comes to determining credible sources online, Wikipedia being one of those sources.

I will end with this additional thought about something we talked about in last week’s class: I’m not sure I totally understand crowd sourcing. Last week’s lecture on this was a little confusing and I hope next week we can further clarify what certain things mean, such as community vs. crowd, etc. Interesting to note that Wikipedia’s entry about crowd sourcing basically uses the two words interchangably.

Here is an interesting video on Crowdsourcing 101. This helped me understand the concept a bit better!

Until next week —

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Weekly Blog #7: Printed Encyclopedia vs. Wikipedia

I have to be honest. I think the last time I used an actual, printed encyclopedia was in middle school. It might have actually been in elementary school. When I wrote research papers in college, I certainly used research books for reference, but definitely not an encyclopedia. These days, when I need to look up something I don’t know, I immediately turn to Wikipedia. But when I think about it a little more in depth, can Wikipedia actually REALLY serve as a trusted source of information?

For example, just today in the office, I was editing a press release for my colleague. In the release there was a word to which he had hyperlinked to its definition on Wikipedia. My counsel was that that we needed to be careful about linking to anything on Wikipedia because we couldn’t be sure whether everything on the Wikipedia page was true. So we removed the hyperlink to Wikipedia.

Something to think about: interesting how this is how I think at work, but when it comes to my own personal use, I seem to be able to rely on Wikipedia’s “truthiness” (according to Stephen Colbert) just fine. Maybe that’s because there is not much on the line when it comes to what I am researching for my personal life, but at work my clients are counting on my credibility and that is important to me and to the well-being of my career. Although it is true that when I am using Wikipedia for a personal search, I am still aware that there is a chance the information I am reading might not be factual — it it just not as important.

I think this is related to what Garrett and Mike have discussed in class (and in past class blog posts) about how people have come to trust the Internet too much. While I definitely do not have the mindset that everything I read online must be true, I am certainly guilty of immediately turning to the web to find out what I need at the drop of a hat and  trusting certain sources. Furthermore, the fact that I don’t think to crack open a real /printed encyclopedia or a related book is a prime example of how the web and social media has changed our culture and society.

Jimmy Wales greatly contributed to this cultural change when he created Wikipedia in 2001. But before I get into that, let’s discuss briefly how ironically enough, when you look at the Wikipedia page about Jimmy Wales, one of the first things you see is that he was born on perhaps August 7 OR August 8! I not only find this to be hilarious, but also the perfect example of why we need to be more careful when considering online info sources as reliable and true.

Anyway, one of the biggest changes that society has seen with the rise of social media and online tools is that things are EASIER. Let’s face it — these days if you have access to the internet you could pretty much live your entire life without ever having to leave your house. I think this is one of the main reasons people automatically choose Wikipedia over a more traditional research tool such as a classic encyclopedia — whether they know that Wikipedia has the possibility of being inaccurate in some places or not, it is much easier to access than a printed book. I think this is perhaps the acceptable bargain (a la Clay Shirky) that these people make. Needless to say, the Internet had made us more lazy than ever.

Ultimately, though, when deciding whether the printed encyclopedia or Wikipedia is more accurate, I think it is more likely to be the printed version. But if you’re not going to use the printed encyclopedia, I think you really have to be careful about using a tool like Wikipedia as your only source… especially when using it for something important.

Until next week —

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Weekly Blog #6: Campaigns are Conversations

When I was in college at the University of Rhode Island, I first became interested in politics. It all started when in 2003 I helped my friend Kevin campaign for URI Student Senate President — the traditional way. Oh yes, we made flyers, signs, passed out cookies with cute campaign slogans on the wrappers — and some of us may have flirted a bit with a member of the opposite sex or two to try to win a vote or two… like I said, a traditional political campaign! 🙂

Anyway, after Kevin won the election, I became his director of communications and my interest in politics really took off from there. I decided to pursue a second major in political science, volunteered for the college civic action campaign called Raise Your Voice, and ended up volunteering a brief stint for the Howard Dean presidential campaign in Rhode Island, as well as Jennifer Lawless’s campaign to uproot incumbent Jim Langevin from his seat in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District.

While all of these political/campaign experiences were fabulous, they were all conducted in a fairly traditional manner, as far as an outreach strategy and tools go. For example, I think the only way we used social media as part of campaign outreach was when we created a Facebook group for Jennifer Lawless, and I honestly don’t remember how effective it was as a tool. Maybe not that effective if I can’t remember!

Fast forward to 2008. I am working in communications for an environmental policy organization and getting excited to actually vote at the polls (I voted absentee in 2004). What was just as exciting, perhaps, though, was the fact that I was watching soon-to-be President Obama as he revolutionized the first thesis of the Cluetrain Manifesto (in this case, campaigns as conversations) with his amazingly effective social media campaign. As Garrett said during one of our first classes, President Obama and his team changed the world with that campagin — that was pretty much how he won the election. Now that is an example of Clay Shirky’s effective tool! 

Since I already talked about the tool, let’s talk about President Obama’s promise. CHANGE. It was definitely easy to get sucked in to this promise after eight years of President Bush, and Obama’s tool made it even easier to believe his promise because the effective social media tools themselves represented ways that our society were changing and evolving for the better.

The bargain is that change, unfortunately, doesn’t come easy. Even though it is true that change happened in a big way during the campaign with the fundamental change of how people communicated effectively in human sounding voices, I think President Obama has struggled with fully keeping his promise.

Don’t get me wrong — he has succeeded in making change in some key ways. The recession is slowly turning around and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has some good projects/funding underway. Passing healthcare reform was definitely a big one. But the climate/energy bill is still not going anywhere, and we are still fighting a war in Iraq, just to name two examples.

Honestly though, when I think about the thesis of the Cluetrain Manifesto that talks about the effectiveness of humans acting like humans and sounding like humans, I think about the President and his job more like a human and less like a politcally-minded American. Yes, the president promised change, and yes, his campagin used effective tools to get us past that first step and continue to somewhat use those tools effectively two years later, but I think, from this human to human perspective, the bargain is most important to consider. The President has the most difficult job in the world, and he works hard everyday to make the right decisions for the entire country.  And the Republicans are likely taking over Congress in less than a week, so that’s another big challenge. So if the bargain is that we might not get all the change we want right away because it takes time and hindering challenges pop up along the way, but in the meantime the President as a human is doing the best he can, then I accept.

American political campaigns have come a long way in just the past six years when it comes to effective social media campaign tools that contribute to making change, and ultimately these interactive tools further help inspire me to vote in what I believe in.

And that definitely has not changed since my first experiences on the campaign trail back in college.

Until next week —

P.S. — Video clip above is one of Jennifer Lawless’s Congressional campaign ads from 2006.

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Weekly Blog #5: Fear the Google

If someone asked me what I thought the biggest company in the world is right now, I would probably say Google. I mean, how can it not be? Google search, Google e-mail, Google blogs, Google books, calendars, readers, TV, news — the list goes on and is continuing to grow. “Google” is even a verb! I should make a trip to the library or the Barnes and Noble down the street from me to see if Google is listed as a verb in the latest edition of Webster’s Dictionary.

With Google being so ubiquitous, many people — myself included — tend to just think about how much we love Google.  I hear people talking about it all the time, everywhere. And how can you not love it and all it has to offer? Google’s tools are mostly very effective (according to Clay Shirky’s defnition of the “effective tool” in his book Here Comes Everybody), and they’re fun and innovative.

But then for class this past week I was reading John Battelle’s book, The Search, and even though it is five years old, it still brought up some interesting points that I hadn’t really thought about before. For example, I was reading the chapter about the details of how a search engine actually works and I realized I didn’t know that much about it. And that got me thinking about this: I use Google and several Google tools daily; I think they’re convenient and great; Google is this huge company that is everywhere — yet I don’t even necessarily know how it works!

Thinking about that made me nervous, and then I started thinking about whether we should actually fear Google a little bit. So I made these stream-of-consciousness lists of the reasons people should both love and fear “the Google.” (I feel like “the Google” is a fitting term since it is such a conglomerate of a company). 

Reasons for fear: Privacy issues because Google stores (owns?) a lot of your private info, possibly owns your e-mail, can trace your Google search history back to you, scary component of Google ads/marketing being tailored to what you’re g-chatting about/e-mailing about if you’re using gmail… and just thinking about the fact of what a tech empire Google has become and still has the potential to do is kind of frightening.

Reasons for love: Gmail, SEO for businesses, convenience factor of how easy it is to find exactly what you’re looking for online, Chrome, personalization factor of Google, innovation of company and its owners, Google maps/Earth (also a reason for fear? Google owns a picture of where I live — possibly creepy!), amazingness of how Google has changed societal behaviors (case in point, to Google is now a verb, as mentioned above).

And that brings to me one more thought before bed: I think this is what Clay Shirky is talking about in Here Comes Everybody, but Google, with all its awesome, effective tools, is not even totally about the tools — it is about how Google is a part of our everyday lives, our normal, routine behavior.

For example, on my office computer, Bing is the default search engine, and I HATE it. It annoys me everyday that I can’t default to Google (even though, of course I just go directly to google.com). But that sort of begs the question — is it something to be feared within itself that a lot of people are like me and automatically think like that bout Google? Yep, a bit scary.

Until next week —

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