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Cutting the Cord – Part 1

cuttingthecord

I’m saying goodbye to my TV service.

I’m an early adopter in many arenas of technology but I’ve been hesitant when it comes to monkeying with my flat screen HD. For a few months I’ve been pondering cutting the cord and after some input from my Twitter community and research I’m ready to make the move.

The Tipping Point

I’m a long time AT&T customer and we were one of the first to sign-up for Uverse. The speed and service have been solid but I’m tired of paying through the nose for the little TV we like to watch. For the Uverse Family (think local channels + DisneyJr) we pay $74 per month. I’ve reached the point I find that ridiculous and I can fix it. Time for a change.

Our TV tastes and the largest hurdle

  • Me: NOVA, CBS Sunday Morning, Frontline, and I usually have 1-2 dramas that I keep up with. (Currently Parenthood)
  • My Wife: Days of our Lives, Project Runaway, and a sampling of Say Yes to the dress & Big Brother type shows.
  • Toddler: Dora, Diego, Blues Clues, etc…

What you will notice is I don’t list sports. Honestly, I’m not a huge sports fan. I love Arkansas Razorback college football and basketball. I enjoy NASCAR but don’t have the time and I’ve never really learned to love the NFL/NBA beyond casual interest in the NBA playoffs when the Mavs do well. Why is this important?

Live sports is probably the single biggest hurdle to cutting the cord.

There are good options for most of the major leagues online but the coverage and options don’t near match-up to traditional TV providers. So if  you live and die sports coverage then you can probably stop reading now.

Personally I’m not paying $70 a month for any sport and that is about what this breaks down to.

The Offerings

  1. Apple TV – Slick, $99 but the major deal breakers: No Amazon Video, I hate iTunes, I don’t like being married to a platform.
  2. Google TV$99, Lots of content options, full web browser. Reviews seem like apps and interface need some maturity. Also I don’t like being married to a platform.
  3. Boxee – Too pricey, the tech doesn’t sound stable enough.
  4. Roku – Great price, tons of content, platform independent. Winner.

The Cost

Let’s get to the numbers.

  • Uverse Family  + HD = $74 per month
  • Uverse 200 + HD = ~$95 per month
  • Roku with Netflix streaming, Hulu+ = 1 time cost of $99, then $16 monthly

Yes you read that correctly. I’m saving $58 per month and get 20x the content, in HD with no commercials.

Roku offers lower price units starting at $50 but with the savings I’ll get I’d be a fool not to get the 1080HD model. Being a geek I also opted for the Wired model because WiFi performance just can’t match a wire these days.

In the interest of full disclosure we are Amazon Prime members as well so we get Amazon Instant Video for free and their catalog is sparse but growing.

So I’ve placed the order and I hope to hook up this weekend. I’ll write a follow up about setup and experience once I have everything in place.

A few final notes:

My college team offers streaming of all games for $15 per month but that is too steep for me. The only other sporting event I really love is March Madness and I enjoyed it thoroughly in 2012 via their app. Are apps and streaming services like ESPN3 putting up a walled garden that requires a cable/dish account? Sure. This post is proof why. Record labels lost this fight and TV will as well so pardon me while I exit your garden and keep my $70 a month.

Your Turn

Have you dumped your traditional TV provider?

The Currency of New Media is Still Reputation

trust_reputation

In a world where everyone is rushing to be the first to break news its time we decide that being right is more important than being quick.

While much has been said concerning CNN and Fox reporting errors concerning the Healthcare ruling last week I’d like to examine a local example from this past weekend in hopes of raising our collective awareness and responsibility.

Just the Facts Please

Last night news began to break concerning a wildfire near one of my state’s flagship state parks, Mt. Magazine. Arkansas is under a severe drought and seemingly everyone is hyper aware of the fire danger we currently face so news of this type spread very quickly.

To my knowledge the news of the fire hit twitter around 8:30 via @KATVheather. Within a few moments @KATV_weather was also following the story. Then at 9pm and again at 10:40pm @ARscanning posted 2 photos reportedly from the Mt. Magazine fire. You can see the full timeline of these posts below

They weren’t.

My eagle-eyed friend @chad_gardner fired up google and easily found both of the images posted online.

Thankfully this wasn’t a matter of life and death and the reports were mostly harmless and quickly refuted. No harm done this time so let’s figure out what went wrong so we can be part of the solution.

It’s a Matter of Trust

@ARscanning is an anonymous account that began to gain traction a few months ago. Most of the tweets seem to be from an individual sitting and listening to a police scanner. The account has no real name, no face, no affiliation, and no website. I’m sure the individual behind the account has good intentions but the fact remains if you trust an account like this for verifiable news you need your head examined. It’s akin to taking stock market reports from a stranger wearing a hood on the street corner. So while the Arkansas Times commenters decry this as an example of why Twitter is a broken rumor mill I’d challenge that it is a failure of common sense.

However, what happened last night was not simply an issue of @ARscanning.’s reports. Yes, the community conscience should hold them responsible for posting inaccurate information but the larger issue is that trusted reporters and journalists started retweeting the account.

Here is the essence of the issue:

If you trust @ARscanning it is your own fault. If you are a trusted reporter and you help spread this inaccurate information without doing due diligence you are just as culpable.

We find an example of getting it right via our own social media juggernaut Mr. Todd Yakoubian, @KATV_weather. He saw the reports and instead of automatically forwarding them he used his resources and called the source of the news to verify what was happening. This in my mind is a perfect example of the value that traditional media can bring to social media. The average Joe doesn’t have contacts and resources to follow-up on a report in a timely manner so we place our trust in proven organizations that do.

To be fair the organizations/people that shared this info quickly corrected the info but they had already given the info their stamp of approval.

I’d like to add that Central Arkansas is blessed to have some incredibly active journalists and reporters as part of our Twitter community. This is not intended to condemn anyone or any organization, just a reminder that we need your skills more than ever.

Takeaways:

You have one currency; Trust. Don’t spend it lightly.

How can the average user help?

  • Remember the golden rule – Just because you read it on the internet doesn’t make it true.
  • Crisis Communications is too important to become a rumor mill. If you see “breaking” news tip a trusted reporter and ask them to follow up.
  • Take a tip from @acarvin and add the words “unconfirmed” to your tweet or ask for the source of the information.

Fake AR Wildfire photos

As news about a wildfire near Mt. Magazine broke last night a local twitter shared some reports and photos supposedly from a firefighter friend on the ground. Through the great work by @chad_gardner and @KATV_weather the erroneous reports were discovered and discounted.

Storified by Keith Crawford · Mon, Jul 02 2012 10:31:52

AR Forestry Commission says 75 acre wildfire right now on Mt. Magazine. Dispatcher not sure if any structures are in danger. Not contained.Heather Crawford
Mt. Magazine, West Arkansas: Fire departments battleing a 75 acre wildfire! http://lockerz.com/s/221633231ARKANSAS SCANNING
Don’t believe fire tweets you see from @ARscanning regarding Mt Magazine. He lifted his fire pictures from here: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51jtoCB0CLL.jpg?aWQ9MTQ1Mjg5MjkwMyZwZD0yMDEwLTA2LTEwJmJkPVBhcGVyYmFjayZhdT0iUmljaCBGYWxldHRvIiZ0aT0mc2k9Chad Gardner
UPDATE: Mt. Magazine, West Arkansas: Fire departments battleing a 75 acre wildfire! The Lodge is now being evacuated!ARKANSAS SCANNING
@CrystalFireDept @ARscanning I just called the lodge and they told me they are NOT being evacuatedTodd Yakoubian
Another pic of the Mt. Magazine wildfire! http://lockerz.com/s/221650121ARKANSAS SCANNING
@CrystalFireDept @KATV_Weather Todd the info I had was from one of the firefighters at the scene. He been pretty reliable in the past.ARKANSAS SCANNING
and here’s the link to the second image that @ARscanning reported as being mt magazine, thanks to @will_watson: http://forestry.about.com/cs/forestfire/a/good_bad_ugly.htmChad Gardner
@chad_gardner I got the info from a reliable firefighter, that I know personally, that is on scene. I do not just make this stuff up.ARKANSAS SCANNING
It has been brought to our attention that the pictures posted tonight of the fire are not authentic. If that is true the I apologize.ARKANSAS SCANNING

 

How to add an HTML email signature to Outlook 2010

email_signature_pen

I confess that its been several years since I’ve been tethered to Outlook so when I went to create an HTML signature I found that the signature advanced editor had been removed. Ack! Yes Rich Formatted text would get me close but if you want more control it might be time to create an HTML signature. HTML signatures are useful if you are wanting to use images or attach a business card with actually attaching a file every time you send an email. It is preferable to link to your contact card and use html tags to include the image.

Personally I use well formatted text and hyperlinks in my email signature but find what works for you.

A few final design notes:

  1. Don’t include your important information within the image. If your image is blocked then your info is as well.
  2. Explore how to mimic your coporate colors and feel using rich text. See some good examples at “Creative design tips for e-mail signatures

For more do’s and don’ts read Smashing Magazine’s “The Art And Science Of The Email Signature

 

How to create an HTML Signature for Outlook 2010 (Windows 7)

  1. To get to the email signature settings click File -> Options -> Mail -> Signatures.
  2. Click “New” to create a new signature and name it to something you will recognize. We’ll use “Example HTML”
  3. Type in a few nonsense letters and click “Save”
  4. Leave outlook open and navigate using Windows Explorer to C:\Users\YOURUSERNAME\AppData\Roamin\Microsoft\Signatures (Note that the AppData folder is hidden by default so you might need to select show hidden folders)
  5. Within this folder you will find a file named “Example HTML.htm” right click this file and select edit.
  6. Windows will open your default HTML editor, usually Word. I use Notepad++ but whatever you choose now you can edit your signature. Depending on your editor you may need some help with the HTML code so remember Google is your friend.
  7. Once you have your signature created click save and return to the Outlook Options.
  8. Select your new signature and you should see it formatted based on the HTML file you modified.

Screenshot of how to get to Outlook 2010 signature options

BONUS TIP:

Linkedin provides a great tool for creating email signatures. Visit linkedin.com/signature to get started. It’s free but requires a Linkedin account.

  1. Fill out the info fields and select a template.
  2. Scroll to the bottom and click “Click Here for Instructions”. This will open a new window that gives you the HTML code.
  3. Paste this code into your HTML editor (step 6 above)
  4. Save and preview in Outlook

 

Your Turn

I’d like to know what you prefer in email signatures. Text only or well designed image signatures. How does your mobile use of email affect your answer?

 

How to report text spam to AT&T

spam_can

no-sms-spamI recently acquired a new AT&T phone number and I’ve seen a sharp increase in text spam in the past few weeks. Although the amount of text spam isn’t overwhelming yet many of them seem to point to malicious services trying to get you to opt-in to some paid text alert system.

AT&T says they are aggressive in addressing cell phone spam so here’s a quick tip on how to help fight it.

How to Report Spam to AT&T

  1. Copy/Paste or Fwd the “body” of the spam message and send it to 7726 (SPAM)
  2. After AT&T sends an automated reply you will respond with the phone number that sent the spam message.
    1. If you are an iPhone user I’ve found that its easiest to click add contact on the offending number and then copy/past the number from there. Just don’t save the new contact.
  3. Finally if the spam message was sent from a shortcode number, 5-6 digit number, you can reply with STOP

For additional protection visit http://mymessages.wireless.att.com. From this page you can create a mobile alias and block all texts sent from email addresses to your mobile number address ([email protected]).

Photo May 21, 8 26 17 PM

I have not found similar methods for Verizon but I did find a reference to http://www.vtext.com/ as a way to set some of these filters.

For additional reading see AT&T’s Guide to “What you can do to control cell phone spam

Finally if you are really upset the FTC has a complaint form, Form 1088

Your Turn

Predict how long before we need consumer facing spam filters like we all use on our email inbox?

Also, If you have additional methods that are documented for any other provider please leave them in the comments.

Social Marketing Resources I Trust

Class

A good friend recently asked me about Social Media Skill Building and Social Marketing training so I decided to compile a list of books, people, and blogs that I’ve found to be an invaluable educational resource.

Purists will be quick to point out that there is no such thing as Social Marketing, just marketing applied to new ways well this list isn’t intended to replace University degrees in marketing and communications but if you learn from the best, adapt, fail fast, and learn you will grow. Stay true and tell the truth… and you will succeed.

Everything I know about Social Marketing: Be kind, Be Helpful, Be Useful.

Or as my friend @BryanJones put it…
Play Along. Play Nice

The Resources I Trust

Here are a few books, blogs and people that will take you beyond the hype. If you are looking for a foundational understanding of how we arrived here and how you can use connecting points and influence to ethically and authentically further your goals… this is a good place to start.

Books

Social Media theory and marketing books seem to be printed on a daily basis and while many surely have worth I think it is safe to say that the core principles have already been masterly covered. These books are not merely practical guides. It’s easy to start with the “How” but you will be well served by educating yourself on the “why” (history, context, & theory). These are foundational works. For the full list click here.


Social Marketers

This is by no means a comprehensive list. I’m sure I’ve omitted some that just don’t come to mind at the moment. The people listed below are practitioners, authors, and bloggers. Follow them, Subscribe to their blogs, buy their books. IMHO they know where of they speak.

Sites

  1. Hubspot has a wealth of free information and tools. I found their eBooks to be very educational and shortcut intros to areas I was unfamiliar with. You’d be wise to avail yourself of these resources.
  2. OpenForum – An AmEx site that is geared toward empowering Small Business. You’ll find articles on managing and sales but they also have a healthy backlog of social marketing information. It’s quick reading and very focused content. I highly recommend this blog if you operate in the SMB arena.

Your Turn

As I said this list isn’t comprehensive and I’d appreciate your input. What sites, blogs, or people do you learn from? Share them in the comments.

2 Startups Look to Ease Address Book Woes

address_bookWhile the tech world was busy watching the latest “find your friends” app I’ve actually found 2 startups looking to solve some real world issues. Namely contacts.

Keep Contact Info Updated

First you have to check out WriteThat.Namecarte

This is an idea so good and so simple you’ll wonder why it hasn’t been around for years. WriteThat.Name looks at the email signatures and updates your contact info.

That’s it. Simple and Brilliant.

So if John Doe has a new phone number in his email signature it will automatically update your address book.

It currently only works with Gmail and Google Apps but they say an Outlook plugin is on the way. Premium accounts are $20 per year but the free accounts will update 40 contacts per month.

Easily share your Contact Info

There are no shortage of sites looking to help you build a landing page that links to your contact info and social accounts (about.me, zerpl.ly, and jumpscan to name a few) so why would you even consider another service? Because most of them have forgotten that contact info is best when downloaded and how many regular folks even know what a .vcf file is?

This my friends is why ContactMonkey just leapfrogged past the rest. Does your landing page do this?

contactmonkey

It can now. (example profile)

The service is free for individuals and they offer a white-label service for brands.

They even nailed engineered a mobile site to overcome the inexplicable restriction that keeps iPhones from opening contact info from the web. Apple only allows this function via email so they invite a visitor to enter their email and they will send your contact info to them.

contactmonkeyIt may not be as pretty as some of their competition but it is a lot more useful.

Sign-up at ContactMonkey.com

PS: I keep wondering if this is a skunkworks project of MailChimp. If not it would make for a good acquisition.

Closing thoughts

I keep wondering why in 2012 address books are still disconnected. When you consider how email subscription lists allow subscribers to update their contact info why aren’t we seeing the major webmail providers doing this. Facebook or Google+ could do this with their eyes closed.

Perhaps we’ll be better off if startups get it done without the giants looking over their shoulders. Standards and APIs might build an open system that would circumvent the walled gardens of the major players.

We’ll see. In the meantime let us be thankful for startups that are building useful tools. Now can we just get someone to build a better Tungle.me?

Hat tip to @joel_hughes and @Zee for bringing these to my attention.

Remove yourself from Unwanted Business emails

I think it happens to everyone. Some salesperson or rep finds our email one time and decides to occasionally send us product updates or sales pitches. However, they never asked you to opt-in or subscribe and they don’t provide a clear method for unsubscribing.

Note: I’m not talking about real spam (the viagra and casino variety) you’ll need good antispam defenses to block that junk since they aren’t worried about the legal ramifications.

THE CAN SPAM act says specifically,

"Commercial email senders must provide easily-accessible, legitimate ways for recipients to reject future messages from that sender.”

But when John Q. Salesrep is broadcasting product news to 200 people in a distribution group he isn’t using a legitimate platform that allows for unsubscribing.

You can ask nicely to be removed. Hope that works for you but your mileage may vary.

Here’s how to get their attention and get removed.

First, forward their email to spam@uce.gov and then reply with the following.

Subj: UNSUBSCRIBE

Your unsolicited commercial email is in violation of the United States CAN-SPAM Act. It has been reported to the FTC as will all future unsolicited communications from your organization.

Seems a bit harsh? So was invading my inbox without asking.

Google Earth IP Addresses

I often have to configure a firewall rule to specifically allow Google Earth so if you find yourself in the same situation here are the IP addresses that allow communication.

Domains

Note you can run an iplookup for these 3 subdomains:

  • kh.google.com
  • geo.keyhole.com
  • auth.keyhole.com

but there are still a few IP addresses needed that aren’t included in those results. The full list including these domains are below.

IP Addresses

74.125.225.32/28 (hostrange is 74.125.225.32-74.125.225.46)
74.125.227.1
74.125.227.3
74.125.227.7
74.125.227.17
67.215.65.132
74.125.79.120

You can download the IP list as a .csv file here.

If you discover an IP that isn’t listed here please leave a comment below and I’ll update this list.

Hope I saved you some time.