The Advantages and Disadvantages of Wearable Tech

Posted by Max Castleman


See the updated version of the pros and cons of wearable technology

For a long time, wearable tech has been little more than an intriguing concept. We already augment our bodies with various peripherals, using watches to tell time and glasses to protect our eyes or correct our vision. But what if those devices, and others like them, could do even more for us. What if our watches and glasses and jewelry could do what our smartphones do, and perhaps even more? Perhaps the most notable piece of wearable tech available today (albeit on a limited basis) is Google Glass, a pair of glasses augmented with a virtual display which adapts to your environment. It can record whatever you require, translate signs in other languages, give you facts about your surroundings and answer questions on the fly, among many other features. Basically, it’s like constantly having Google in front of you, allowing you to interact with it in real time without the barrier of a computer screen. What some might not realize is that Google Glass is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many pieces of wearable tech currently being developed, everything from interactive fitness equipment to bracelets that tell you when you’ve received a Facebook message. The only question is how soon these items will catch on and how successful they will truly be.

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Avoid Security Breaches: Build a Better Password

Posted by Max Castleman
Source: XKCD
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The Real World Effects of Twitter Hacking

Posted by Max Castleman

Back in April of 2013, the Associated Press sent out a horrifying tweet: there had been two explosions at the White House and President Obama had been injured. Naturally, the tweet claimed a great deal of attention, with as many as 4,000 retweets in the span of a few short minutes. Now, if you’re reading this wondering how you completely missed that time in April that somebody tried to blow up the president, you’ll be relieved to know that the incident never occurred, a fact which the Associated Press itself picked upon very quickly as they soon removed the offending item and released a simple statement of apology. The tweet which had alarmed so many, especially considering its proximity to the recent Boston Marathon bombings, was nothing more than a prank perpetrated by a hacker. However, as far as pranks go, this one was considerably more impactful than most.

As stated above, it only took a couple of minutes for the Associated Press to notice and remove the falsified tweet. Within that minute span of time, this single tweet caused the Dow Jones industrial average to drop by around 150 points. That’s around $136 billion dollars, gone in the blink of an eye. That’s the kind of event that can cause a depression. Fortunately, the market rebounded a few minutes later when the report was revealed to be a hoax and all was as it had been before the insanity. We didn’t spiral into a financial meltdown, though that’s certainly where we’d been heading. And that’s the end of that particularly distressing story, until it happens all over again.

Sure, it’s scary to consider what might have been had things played out differently, but it’s even scarier to consider that it could very easily happen again. High frequency trading is big business. Those who participate in it are tasked with placing hugely important bets, the kind of bets which can have a huge impact on the entire world, within milliseconds. These traders make such a miniscule amount of profit on each trade that if they want to make any money at all they have to make thousands or even millions of trades a day. Keeping that in mind, it’s easy to see why they have computer programs to do much of that trading for them. These computers, working from a list of selected keywords like “bankruptcy” and “Barack Obama,” comb through hundreds of news sources, including some of the more “reputable” Twitter accounts out there, looking for data which might influence the market. It’s understandable that an explosion at the White House which injured the President could fall within those parameters.

After the dust settled and everyone made their apologies traders began to sift through the wreckage and attempt to figure out what had just happened. In the end, they came to the conclusion that perhaps they had been a bit too hasty to make Twitter such an integral part of the trading process. As Jack Ablin, the chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank, put it, “False reports due to the account hacking undermine Twitter’s credibility in some respects. We have to recognize Twitter for what it is, a social media site and an unfiltered news source.” On one hand, this “revelation” seems completely absurd. These people didn’t realize that Twitter wasn’t a perpetually accurate information machine? You’re going to trust the people of this site, where a few months later hundreds of Twitter members converged to express their amazement that the Titanic was a real ship, with something as hugely significant as the stock market? On the other hand, it’s really not that simple.

If a random Twitter account had started this whole mess it’d be much easier to point fingers and place blame. However, the tweet that sparked this event was sent out through the account of the Associated Press, the people who we rely on for most of our news. These trade-making programs don’t accept just any news story, but if it seems reputable enough they’ll include it. The program makes this judgment call based on a complex algorithm, and the huge majority of the time its findings are right on the money. This time they weren’t, but how could the program have known. The story seemed airtight. It was reported by the Associated Press, a widely trusted organization depended upon by news organizations across the country (and even the world), it was retweeted by several noteworthy and generally trustworthy journalists and it got a huge response, with almost 4,000 retweets within the span of a few minutes. If you’re a trader and you see information like that come across the wire you make a move fast. There’s simply no reason why you wouldn’t.

In the end, the question really is this: should these traders have trusted Twitter in the first place? As a tool to aid successful trading, Twitter seems to good to be true on the surface. It provides short, straightforward bites of information in real time from potentially thousands of sources at once. But the difference between getting your information from Twitter as opposed to getting it from some business publication is that generally before you submit something to a publication of any time an editor has to read it and check the facts contained therein. That’s not necessarily true of tweets. We’d like to think it is, particularly when it comes to the tweets of hugely important organizations like the Associated Press, but the fact is that there’s no way to guarantee that. Of course, factual accuracy isn’t a guarantee in any medium, but it’s much easier to publish a fake tweet than a fake news story. The fact is that Twitter gets hacked far more often than any of us would like to believe. Here are a few of the more notable hacks perpetrated within the last year:

  • In February, Burger King’s hacked account said that they’d been bought by McDonalds, saying (sic) “FREDOM IS FAILURE.”
  • Jeep’s account was hacked as well, causing the company to report that it had been sold to Cadillac and to explain that their name was actually an acronym which stood for “Just Empty Every Pocket.”
  • In September, the Syrian Electronic Army (or SEA) essentially shut down Twitter for about 90 minutes, making the site virtually inaccessible to most users.
  • In October, the SEA altered a tweet made from Barack Obama’s twitter account. The text of the tweet read “Immigration is a bipartisan issue.” This statement was followed by a link which was meant to go to a related article by the Washington Post. Instead, the link was rerouted by the SEA to go to a page about the terrorism-related problems faced by Syria. Following the hack, the SEA sent out a tweet of their own reading “We accessed many Obama campaign email accounts to assess his terrorism capabilities. They are quite high. #SEA”.

Considering these hacks, Twitter is not the secure news source we all want it to be. Following the events of April meetings we called to decide whether or not we should guard against social media’s potential impact on the stock market. What did they decide? Well, let’s put it this way: four months later billionaire investor Carl Icahn sent out a single tweet saying that he though the company was “extremely undervalued.” A few minutes later, Apple’s stock was up by a gain of approximately $17 billon. And if you think Twitter is the only social media site that traders are watching, consider this: in July, Reed Hastings, the CEO of popular video streaming site Netflix posted a status on his personal Facebook page containing the following statement: “Netflix monthly viewing exceeded 1 billion hours for the first time ever in June.” Soon after that status was posted the value of each Netflix share increased by more than $11 to a final price of $81.72. Clearly, the influence of social media has not lessened since April.

The fact remains, no matter how scary it might be to some (me included), that social media does have a huge influence on the stock market, and it will likely continue to for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the oddest thing to consider in all of this is that Twitter can actually be used to predict the stock market, though in a different way than it is currently being utilized. That’s according to the findings of Indiana University’s Johan Bollen, who analyze 9.7 million tweets by 2.7 million users between March and December of 2008 and found that the level of calmness contained therein (as determined by an algorithm called the Google-Profile of Mood States, or GPOMS) could predict the movements of the stock market 2-6 days later with an fairly astounding accuracy of 87.6%.

Of course, there are some issues with the study. 2-6 days is a pretty big window, big enough that skeptics could believe it all to be nothing more than coincidence. Plus, for some reason Bollen and his colleagues included 2.7 million random users in their study, including many that aren’t even based in America, and while some teenager in Australia might have some tangential impact on some unimaginably tiny fraction of the US economy the study would have certainly been better served by limiting results to US citizens only. Regardless, it’s undeniable that, if all goes well, social media sites can be a great tool for investors, but it’s also undeniable that they could very easily be a detriment as well as an aid. Who knows how much worse the situation might be next time something like the April “flash crash” occurs. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Fake Yelp Reviews: The Fight Against Astroturfing

Posted by Max Castleman

Personal recommendations are an immensely powerful tool for any business. The average human will put much more stock in the words of another human than in the copy on a poster or in an advertisement. As such, personal recommendations are an integral part of just about any strong business plan. That being said, they’re not particularly easy to come by. Of course, the most obvious way to get them is to simply do a good job. Produce good work and good reviews should follow. However, sometimes things just don’t work out that way. Sometimes you can provide a fantastic service and still not receive the recognition you deserve. For a business in this situation it would be best to hire a reputable SEO service or public relations firm to help reverse their fortune. However, some seek to take an easier way out. If the positive reviews and recognition don’t come naturally some businesses seek to manufacture those helpful elements artificially through a process known as astroturfing. Of course, these reviews are of no use to anyone but the companies who request their creation. They are a disservice to the potential consumer, essentially being nothing more than a lie, and as such online review sites like Google Local and Yelp do their best to combat them. That being said, there’s really only so much that can be done.

About 80% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. After all, online reviews are meant to be exactly that. The only difference is that you frequently don’t know the true identity of the person making the online recommendation, and therein lies the opportunity for manipulation. Sites like Yelp have no way of verifying the identity of their users. You’re easily able to construct a false persona or invent an alternate identity. Yelp counteracts this by more carefully scrutinizing posts by users who have written very few reviews or who have no friends on the site, but that just makes established users more in demand for clients looking to increase their company’s profile. Many are seeking out more entrenched users to add validity to their fake reviews. The more aggressive sites like Yelp become at attempting to track down fraudulent posts the more cleverly those who utilize them scheme to circumnavigate those efforts.

Where do these fake reviews come from? There are a number of potential sources. Many are created by people responding to ads created directly by businesses. Sometimes these ads explicitly seek out users who have an established reputation on the sites the businesses hope to exploit while others are more inclusive. Some request that users post from multiple IPs to make their posts seem that much more legitimate. Businesses which endeavor to be a bit more subtle about their attempted deception will sometimes enlist the help of black hat marketing companies. The company may write the reviews themselves, but they’ll probably source them elsewhere, most regularly to freelance writers in places like Bangladesh and the Philippines for $1-10. On the surface this is all a rather appealing prospect: a small price for a big reward. It’s been reported that increasing an additional star on Yelp can often bring in as much as a 9% upswing in revenue. That being said, that small price could lead to a big fine somewhere down the line.

At the time of this writing, it has been about a month since Eric T. Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York, exposed the astroturfing practices 19 companies operating within his state as part of a year-long undercover effort called Operation Clean Turf. When served with litigation, these businesses, a diverse bunch including everything from SEO companies to a laser-hair removal business to a bus charter company, admitted to paying for reviews. As a result, they were collectively fined more than $350,000, with each contributing a different portion of that amount. So is the problem solved? Not even close. Yes, sites like Yelp are doing their best to weed out fraudulent reviews and this litigation is likely a step in the right direction, but as we’ve seen time and time again punishing certain people for something doesn’t necessarily make other people stop doing it. In fact, this a problem which is getting worse and worse. It’s too early at this point to see the effect that Schneiderman’s case will have on the astroturfing industry, but I personally wouldn’t expect this verdict to change much of anything.

Have a look at the numbers and you might begin to share my cynicism. According to a report by Michael Lucca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, 5% of posts on Yelp were fraudulent in 2006. Considering the hundred-million-or-so users who visit the site every month, that statistic would be troubling enough. However, over the past seven years the amount of posts on Yelp which are suspected to be fraudulent in nature has risen to 20-25%. That means that as many as 1 out of every 4 reviews on Yelp is a fake, a plant. Gartner believes that as many as 15% of reviews on social media sites will be fraudulent by 2014. And with 90% of users saying that online reviews factor into their financial decision-making process, that’s a pretty hard pill to swallow.

How can you know which reviews to trust these days? Well, you can’t for sure, but you can improve your odds by following these guidelines:

  • Be wary of 1 or 5 star reviews. Most fake reviews will fall into one of those two extremes. Reviews that fall between those poles are more likely to be real.
  • Watch out for reviews by users who are clearly using nicknames or aliases. Most users won’t put their real name on a fake review for fear of potential repercussions.
  • Put more trust in users with an established reputation. As I stated earlier, this isn’t a foolproof strategy, but what is?
  • Look for detail. A freelance writer in Bangladesh probably hasn’t been to a spa in New York, and as such they might speak in very general terms. Some companies get around this by pre-writing reviews and sending them to others to post however.

Ultimately, there’s no way to completely know for sure. Be careful, think critically and stay aware. Don’t believe everything you read online and only put stock in the opinions of people you trust. This problem isn’t going anywhere. It’ll never go away completely, but that just means that we, as consumers, will have to adapt.

Primary Source: Press Release by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schniederman

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Improving Your SEO Through Social Media

Posted by Max Castleman


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Which Social Media Service is Worth Your Business’ Time?

Posted by Max Castleman

These days it’s basically mandatory for a business with an online presence to have, at the very least, a Facebook page, and generally a Twitter account as well. Sure, if you’ve already established yourself in your community and the surrounding area these items aren’t exactly necessary, but they’re still very helpful. Nearly 75% of marketers say that Facebook is an essential part of any modern marketing strategy. Companies have already seen social media generate a significantly higher conversion rate than directly sent mail or pay per click marketing. Currently, 56% of American adults have a social media presence. Clearly, ignoring this would be a huge mistake. But which social media site has the most marketing potential? Let’s break them down and find out:

Twitter: With 500 Million users and 39 million unique visitors per month, Twitter is a fantastic resource for any business. With its tweeting/retweeting formula it’s a great way to get important news to your clients quickly and to simply keep them engaged. About 68% of Twitter users utilize the site to follow a brand they enjoy. It might as well be your company. Twitter is valuable because of the speed, simplicity and sharing potential of its service. On the other hand, Twitter is not the ideal platform for posting visual content. You are certainly limited in the amount of content you can post as well, with each tweet limited to 140 characters. In a sense, this is a good thing, as it helps you trim the fat and get to the point, leading to clarity that users might appreciate. On the other hand, it’s not a good medium for discussing more complex issues.

Google+: Some marketers may dismiss Google+ as a potential marketing platform, but with 150 million active users it’s certainly worth your consideration. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that 40% of marketers already utilize Google+, and 67% of them plan on expanding their efforts on the site. With its personal, highly organized layout, Google+ can provide a pretty excellent means of creating a personal connection with users and making them feel truly included. It’s true that Google+ doesn’t provide as large a user base as Facebook or Twitter, and that its layout takes a bit of getting used to, but for those willing to put in the time it can be a valuable resource. On the other hand, it’s not as essential, so if you don’t have the man hours to spare you can probably give Google+ a pass without much damage being done.

Pinterest: A somewhat undervalued option, Pinterest may only have 12 million visitors a month but it’s still well within your interest to consider the site’s marketing potential. For one thing, most users come to Pinterest to discover something new. Sometimes this is an idea, a suggestion, but often it’s a product. More than any other social media site, Pinterest users are open to the idea of being marketed to. They’re basically asking for it. The most promising statistic associated with the site concerns the amount of time users spend therein. While the average visitor will spend about 36 minutes on Twitter or 12 minutes on Facebook, Pinterest users spend an average of 1 hour 17 minutes on the site. That’s a unique advantage, one that should not be undervalued. On the other hand, Pinterest advertising is quite reliant on the actions of the consumer, perhaps a bit too much for comfort. Because of the site’s general lack of text, most marketing attempts have to be made through the power of suggestion, hoping that the user will follow through. Sometimes this trust pays off, but frequently it does not.

LinkedIn: The only social media site created specifically for businesses and the workers who allow them to function, LinkedIn has some obvious advantages. Yes, when it comes to this particular your audience is much smaller, consisting not of the general public but of business professionals with a desire to network and seek guidance. On the other hand, running a successful business isn’t all about engaging the public. Relationships with other businesses are essential to the growth and continued relevance of a wide variety of enterprises. Not only can you find businesses who might want to avail themselves of your services as clients, but you’ll also find individuals who can aid you in other ways, like providing advice or giving you access to an important social connection. Among the options presented here, Linkedin is truly unique.

Facebook: Of course, Facebook still remains the most powerful social marketing tool out there. It has 167 million unique visitors a month, far more than any other similar site. 80% of users use the site to connect with brands they enjoy, with one third of them claiming that they feel significantly closer to the businesses they like as a result of their Facebook connection. Like Twitter, Facebook is a fast, convenient way of communicating with a large number of people quickly. However, it’s even more versatile than it appears on the surface. You can keep your users engaged in many different ways, everything from interesting links to surveys to videos to images and more. That being said, properly maintaining a Facebook page takes time and dedication. You’ll not only have to update the page frequently but monitor it regularly to ensure that all is well. Having some sort of Facebook presence is very important for most modern companies, but it should only be attempted if you have the time and the skill to really use the site to build your brand.

Ultimately, each of these sites has a tremendous amount of potential. The question here really isn’t which is best, because each have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. The question is which of these sites are worth the commitment of time and attention necessary to create an effective social media presence. Remember that doing so requires a certain level of commitment. If you don’t keep your profiles up to date, routinely engaging users and holding their interest, you might as well not be on the sites at all. However, if you’re willing to put in the time, I would recommend creating a presence on multiple sites. Each service has plenty of users, all of whom are potential future clients. Weigh these options and consider, based on the pros and cons, which social media service will truly give you the best return on your investment.

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8 reasons why Twitter could prove to be a valuable resource in the growth of your business.

Posted by Justin Johnson

#1 A More Personal User Experience

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Creative Ways to Use Pinterest to Promote Your Business

Posted by Justin Johnson

The four most popular social media sites in America are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest. The first two are often thought of as mandatory. If you want to have a successful business, you obviously need to establish Facebook and Twitter accounts, you need to update them regularly and you need to find and hold onto community support. These are facts that many in the business community now take for granted. As for LinkedIn, that’s a no-brainer. It already revolves around business, allowing professionals to make connections within their field, share experiences and build relationships with those who have similar ambitions. Clearly, the odd one out in this key group is Pinterest. Unlike other social media sites, which revolve primarily around words, Pinterest is image-based. Because it is different, and perhaps a bit odd, it is a far less popular site for business promotion than Twitter or Facebook or even Google+. That being said, Pinterest does have a great deal of potential as a promotional platform. It’s a new type of social media experience, so new strategies will have to be created to utilize it properly. You can’t advertise on Pinterest using most of the methods you learned on Facebook for example. That being said, if you take a bit of time to think about it, you’ll soon see that Pinterest is almost as viable.

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Is Facebook’s new service a viable rival to LinkedIn?

Posted by Justin Johnson

Over the past year or two, Facebook has been taking a similar route to Google, expanding their service beyond its former parameters to offer more and more services and features. Some have been met with success and others with relative failure, but its too early to see whether Facebook’s latest venture will pay off. It’s essentially a job search engine, an app called Social Jobs Partnerships. Having launched only a week or so before the writing of this article, the new service had been rumored for some time, and it has been seen by many as a natural step forward for the site. Many have labeled the app as a potential competitor to LinkedIn, a site which has long been the world’s foremost job-centric social network, a place where people can go to make connections with their peers and look for work within their fields. But does Facebook’s new service have what it takes to be a viable rival to LinkedIn? In short: probably not.

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Facebook Announces New Graph Search Feature

Posted by ngfmarketing

Well the wait is over... Facebook pulled back the curtain unveiling their latest and greatest feature called Graph Search. So what exactly is Facebook Graph Search and how does it work?

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