Facebook and The [Student] Interest Graph

For those not currently in college or avid readers of AllFacebook.com, Zuck’s social network recently released Groups for Schools, a new way for students to participate in groups built around their classes, clubs, school years, etc.

When it first came out, I’ll admit I was a bit annoyed — I’m now a part of about 10 new groups including Events and Parties, Class of 2013, Startups, Advertising, Interactive/Digital Media, to name a few.  ”This is gonna create so much noise,” I thought.

Then something funny started happening.  I found other students on my campus who we’re also interested in the same things I was, namely: Startups, Advertising, and Interactive/Digital Media.  People I had never met on my campus had started to step forward to express their love for all these topics.

Prior to these groups, I had always found Boston University to be an extremely un-entrepreneurial school with very few digitally forward thinking students (compared to Harvard, MIT, Babson, and Northeastern). But Facebook had helped me unearth something — people similar to me, and even better, tied to my location. Sure, I had known a few folks, but I never realized there more of us than the vocal few.

Things I never would have been able to accomplish on my own started to develop:

  • A group of students interested in taking a field trip to TechStars Boston’s Demo Day
  • A group of students interested in setting up weekly workshops in areas like Google AdWords, logo design, and website building
  • A group students interested in laying the groundwork in building an incubator program/think tank at BU (the first project were working on can be found here)

You see, Facebook may have created these groups to get back to their roots as a network for college students, but the byproduct they created is far more valuable.  Mark Zuckerberg’s philosophy has been to make the world more open and connected – the new Groups for School feature has actually made our college campus more connected than BU ever could. It has tied students not only by their academic affiliation, but also their common interests.

Boston University has actually tried to take our largely fragmented campus and unite it across schools to create “One BU.”  So far it’s been taking a lot longer than it should (as anything in academia typically does).  That’s what makes Facebook’s acceleration of this seemingly impossible vision all the more amazing.

I have some predictions of what this means for Facebook, but I’ll save that for another post.

2 Lessons Learned from Codecademy: Rethinking Education and the Need to Code

In the past two months alone, I’ve completed what’s available in Codecademy, attended an Introduction to Ruby “crash” course, built an app in Twilio using TwiML (basically a Twilio version of XML) and PHP, and if you count it, learned how to manipulate data in the Mac Terminal.

For most programmers, this is basic stuff. But for normal folk like me, this is a lot to take in.  Beyond the countless if-else statements and while loops though, I’ve learned two important lessons:

  1. Education needs to be rethought for maximum effectiveness. It also doesn’t have to be in a classroom and can be free.
  2. Programming knowledge is extremely important and can help you do your job better (even if you’re in marketing, sales, or even HR).

Regarding Lesson 1:

Through my free Codecademy courses, $10 Ruby class, and a meetup called Hacking for Hustlers, I learned more about coding than I did in my Intro to Computer Science course I paid more than $5,000 (sticker price) for at school.

Needless to say, American higher education is extremely expensive.  And the sad part is, the American educational system that acts as a feeder into universities isn’t doing the job it should be.  According to the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, America ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in mathematics.

There needs to be disruption in these markets to redefine the way education can be most effective in the 21st Century.  In order to grow economically, that requires figuring out a way to improve the US education system.  New websites like Khan Academy and P2PU are rethinking the old model of teacher-to-student classroom models.  Khan Academy for example, brings the best lessons in any subject to anyone around the world via video for free.  P2PU, aims to makes your peers your teacher – it’s learning for everyone, by everyone.  These two websites, along with Codecademy, won’t fix the US’s educational woes, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Learning to code has made me realize that I don’t necessarily need to be sitting in a classroom in front of a professor to gain the most beneficial educational experience.  In fact, it can sometimes be superior to what I can get from paying $5,000.

Regarding Lesson 2:

Make no mistake, I always knew programming was important and knowing the lingo would help me in what ever tech-related career I chose.  However, I didn’t realize how beneficial it could be in making my job easier.

It was kind of great timing that Kapil Kale, a co-founder of startup GiftRocket, wrote a post on the importance of knowing how to code as a marketer.

I’ve had friends, who’ve told me “it takes up too much time” or “I hate math” (math and computer science are too completely different things, by the way).  If you want to sit on the sidelines, that’s fine, but those with programming knowledge will always have a leg up on you.  I won’t get into the gory details of why (you can read Kapil’s post – he gives 10 great reasons).

At some point in the future, basic coding skills will be come a requirement for most jobs much like Excel.  The more I learn about what you can accomplish in Python, or Java, or Ruby, the more I believe this is true. Bottom line is: it can make you a hell of a lot more productive at your job.

So I guess my moral of the story is this: learn how to code.

Stop making excuses — it’s easier than ever now and you’ll only thank yourself later.


How Much is a Facebook Fan “Worth?”

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

In honor of Irene...There’s a Facebook fan page I’ve been following closely because they compete with a food truck I’m working with (I can’t disclose who they are).  I don’t follow them to see how “the competition” is doing or how I can poach fans.  I’m interested and curious in the strategy they’ve taken: they’re paying $5 worth of store credit to any one of their customers who “like” their page. Continue reading

My Attempt at the “$20 Starbucks Test”

About two weeks ago I read an article on Business Insider (via Sean Johnson’s Snooty Monkey) about how entrepreneurs can evaluate their start-up idea by engaging in a $20 Starbucks Test.  The $20 Starbucks Test was created by Hugh Crean, an ex-Microsoft executive and current “Entrepreneur in Residence at General Catalyst.”

The Farthest $20 Will Ever Get You at Starbucks

According to Snooty Monkey, the test goes something like this:

  1. Get yourself a nice crisp $20 from an ATM
  2. Go down to your neighborhood Starbucks
  3. Walk up to strangers with empty coffee mugs and tell them you are worried about your brother, need some advice, and can you buy them a cup of coffee in exchange for a quick 5 minutes of their time. (This will be awkward for most of you to do. Get over it. The “worried about my brother” line is a bit of psychology that means most people won’t turn you down. If they do turn you down, you just got a point in the Rejection Therapy Game anyway, so consider yourself lucky).
  4. Buy them a simple coffee, not a mocha-whippa-frappa-latta-chino; you want your $20 to last.
  5. Explain that your brother has a crazy business/product idea, and that he’s about to get a 2nd mortgage on his house, raid his 401k and quit his job. His wife is a nervous wreck, afraid that they’ll lose their house and retirement fund, and he’s hit your parents up for seed money that they really can’t afford to lose. Your parents and your sister-in-law have come to you for help to try to talk him out of his hair-brained scheme.
  6. Explain that this is where they come in, your brother is a very logical and reasonable guy, and can be convinced by good reasons, but he has been blinded by thinking this is a really good idea. The problem is, you sort of agree with him, so you need some really solid reasons to give him as to why his idea won’t work, and why he shouldn’t proceed with his plan. Then… pitch your idea! Sell it the best way you can. Respect their time (you asked for 5 minutes), but give the best 2-3 minute pitch you can.
  7. Now, ask for their reasons the idea won’t work. Keep them focused on the idea, not the backstory (they may want you to convince your brother of the merits of retirement savings or the dangers of 2nd mortgages), and really listen. Resist the temptation to argue against their objections. Then thank them heartily for their time.
  8. Repeat until your $20 runs out. Continue reading

A (Late) Analysis of this Year’s Oscar Winners

Although the Oscars were not even a week ago, their moment in Hollywood has passed and now Tinseltown has moved on to bigger and better things.  There’s always more hullabaloo leading up to events in the film industry then there is afterwards.  Still, I would like to give my two cents on a few of the winners, their campaigns, and their acceptance speeches.

Often times, Hollywood awards are given to performers who campaign the best, not the ones who gives the best performances. However, if an actor is by far and away so stellar they cannot be overlooked, the Academy will recognize their achievements even if they had not really done the campaign circuit (see Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood). This year’s performances in a category all their own were Christoph Waltz and Mo’nique.  Although both were stellar in their films, Mo’nique was criticized by the press for not campaigning.  They said it would be detrimental to her winning an Oscar.  However, Monique proved her critics wrong.  When she won Best Supporting Actress for her work in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, she stated, “First I would like to thank the Academy for showing it can be about the performance and not the politics.”

Despite this particular win at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, there were far more awards that were won because of campaigns than because they were deserved.  In the case of Sandra Bullock’s Best Actress win for The Blind Side, the case of the campaign win is the most evident.  Now, I know a lot of people just adore Sandra.  She’s America’s Sweetheart, she always does the movies I like to see. I get it.  But that doesn’t mean she should be awarded for her work in The Blind Side.  I saw it and she was good, but the best?  Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe were stellar in their films, but due to the unwritten Oscars rule that because they were both young and new, they should wait for their award a little longer (Because they are both breakout stars, they also cancel each other out in voting).  Their time will come later.  Helen Mirren also had no chance to win because of the statue she received for The Queen a few years prior.  That left Sandra and the greatest actress ever, Meryl Streep to duke it out for the award.

Meryl’s been nominated a record 16 times.  However, this year her work stood out from the rest of the pack.  She embodied America’s favorite chef, Julia Child, in Julie & Julia. Yet she still infused herself into the role.  Her performance wasn’t a caricature but a depiction of the icon as interpreted by Meryl Streep.  Sandra Bullock, on the other hand, played an archetype–the outspoken pistol-totin’ Southern Matriarch.  Okay, maybe thats not the most common stereotype, but the role’s been played before.  If you’ve ever seen Erin Brokovich, you’ve seen the Julia Robert’s interpretation.  The truth is that there are plenty of other fine Hollywood starlets capable of playing the role like Sandra or Julia.  Try and think of someone else who could play Julia Child and do it half as successfully as Meryl did.  Still thinking? If you know of anybody, please tell me because I’m still stumped.

Meryl keeps losing out because the Academy always says she’ll be nominated again next year.  But how many more nominations should the actress receive?  Isn’t it time she won?  Although Sandra was good in The Blind Side, she won because of her campaigning.  She told every interviewee she didn’t deserve to win.  She charmed the pants off nearly every Academy member.  For God sakes, she even publicly accepted a Razzie for her work in the dud All About Steve.  The starlet’s publicist deserves a great big raise for the work she did to help her client win an Academy Award.  When Sandra won her award she stated “Did I really earn this or did I just wear you all down?”  Here, Sandra utilizes the same sort of self-deprecating humor she did all through campaign season.  She recognizes her work at winning the Oscar was not just because of her performance but how she handled herself afterwards.  Although Mo’nique stated that it’s about the performance and not just the politics, Sandra’s win proves otherwise.

Despite the fact that I believe the Oscars is just an awards show based around politics and not art,  I still watch it anyways.  I understand that Best Picture doesn’t always go to the BEST Picture, but I like to see the Hollywood inner-workings.  It’s interesting to see who doesn’t win because they are Hollywood’s most hated (James Cameron, have you met Harvey Weinstein?) and who wins because of their campaigning and charm (See the speeches of Cuba Gooding Jr, Roberto Benigni).  I plan on continuing to watch the Oscar–if not for my cynicism, for my love of the movies.

How I Came to Be a Twitter Believer

So this is my first blog post ever, but you gotta start somewhere.  I’ve been afraid to start blogging because I really don’t know what I should write about, but that was my same feeling about Twitter as well.

I really didn’t see the purpose to Twitter.  It just seemed like an additional place to post your Facebook statuses.  Now, however, I see the point to Tweeting, and I am ADDICTED.  Some people are still skeptical like I was though.  I understand the opinion that the site is pointless, but I now know that they are (and I was) wrong.

Twitter is like a personal search engine.  It can facilitate in customer service, help companies figure out current trends and aid in targeting certain audiences.

Imagine you worked for a company like T-Mobile and you wanted to know what people are saying about your service.  All you have to do is search the term T-Mobile to see the general consensus for your product.  Now, let’s say someone tweets about having no cell phone reception in their home (that would be me; thank you, School of Management for blocking all signal on Bay State Rd).  T-Mobile can then “follow” this person and direct message them, telling the tweeter they plan on fixing the reception.  It’s a different and better type of customer service.  Imagine how great it is to have customer service contact you, instead of having to wait on the phone for hours, sometimes not even getting the answer you were looking for.

Twitter can also help companies figure out what their customers want and what’s currently hot.  This was an issue for American Idol.  Originally, the Fox reality show created Twitter and Facebook Fan Pages for its contestants.  However, this past week all the contestants pages were consolidated to one account.  Why?  The show was afraid that people would be able to figure out which contestant was going to win based on the amount of followers/fans they had.  Instead, now all contestants tweet from one account, AI9Contestants.  But this still doesn’t solve the predictability factor the show faces due to social media.  All one has to do is search the name of a contestant and see what the Twitter community thinks about that person’s song choice, stage presence, personality etc.  If one singer gets amazing reviews from the social media community and another singer gets panned, it’s pretty obvious who’s gonna win.  It’s not that cut and dry, but you get the picture.

The most powerful feature of Twitter though is the ability to target demographics.  Recently I read the book, Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk.  Gary took a wine store bringing in ten million dollars and brought the annual revenue to 44 million dollars through the power of social media and the internet.  Although, Vaynerchuk used more than just Twitter, the site proved crucial to pulling in countless sales.  In the book, Gary discusses how he advertised a wine deal through four different mediums:  radio, billboard, newspaper, and Twitter.  The radio, billboard, and newspaper brought in about 250-300 sales each.  Twitter? 17,000 sales.  The reason for this is twofold: the internet allows you to fish in a much larger ocean, but also allows you to pinpoint who you are selling to.  Gary started following people who mentioned wine in their Tweets and told them about his store.  He knew that there enthusiasm for vino would lure them to his site.  Needless to say, Gary’s use of social media has turned him into an internet mogul.

I’m excited to see where my Tweeting will take me.  Gary says he wants to be rich enough from the internet to buy the New York Jets.  Me? I’ll settle for a little notoriety on the World Wide Web.  Until then, I’ll just write this blog for anybody interested…all two of you.