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October 28, 2014

Send a Spooky SMS for Halloween

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As the Halloween marketing machine moves into fifth gear, the usual glut of ghostly products and services have hit consumers like a ton of pumpkins. This year, everyone’s talking about paranormal text messages.

SMS is the perfect medium for mediums. But while this very modern iteration of the spine-chilling prank is new, it has its roots in much older technology. Spooky calls from the dead have been cited as proof of an afterlife since the advent of the telephone.

The first phantom caller was reported in 1886, a mere decade after Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone. In 1915, an S.O.S. was apparently received by a Norwegian ship. The troubled vessel? It was, the story goes, the Titanic – which famously sank three years earlier. The incident was the first ghostly Morse code – but it was far from the last. 

In the 80s, fax machines got in on the act, with supernatural warnings blipping and honking their way into offices and homes – usually around this time of year. Everyone with an email account has received some kind of ‘pass this on or terrible deed x will befall you and your family’ message. No doubt there have been tweets purporting to be from the Other Side. Wherever there’s a new technology, the dead are using it to reach out to their loved ones.

Whether or not you believe these fanciful tales, sending a spooky text message around Halloween is tremendous fun. If you’re looking for ideas, there are plenty of scary suggestions online. Many of them suggest that the long-dead are remarkably tuned in to youth slang. Even better, with this app you can send screams along with your message to heighten the atmosphere of dread.

If creeping your friends out isn’t really your scene, but you still want to get into the Halloween spirit, there is a veritable encyclopedia of poems and epitaphs out there, all relating in some way to the scary season. For a classier Halloween text message, throw out some lines from Shakespeare’s doom-laden Macbeth – ‘The Witches Spell’ is the obvious choice here. Or there’s John Donne’s 17th Century classic, ‘The Apparition’ – perfect for summoning that Halloween spirit. For Scots, what better than the Robert Burns epic, simply titled ‘Halloween’?

October 27, 2014

Integrity of Whisper App Questioned

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The firm behind social media app Whisper is tracking the location of its users – despite claiming to be ‘the safest place on the internet’ in terms of anonymity. The company is also sharing information from phones known to be used in military bases with the US Department of Defense, according to a recent Guardian expose.

Whisper users currently publish around two-and-a-half million messages a day. Their principal selling point is anonymity, but the Guardian report alleges the company has developed an in-house mapping tool allowing them to locate users to within 500 meters. The British newspaper also claims Whisper has been handing user locations to the Department of Defense. 

According to the Guardian, Whisper has been storing data since their 2012 launch. At that time, much of their brand image was predicated on a policy of holding data only for ‘a brief period of time’ and allowing those who don’t wish to be tracked to opt out of geo-location.

But the Guardian claims Whisper has been storing data even on users who specifically opted out. The news will be particularly alarming to military personnel who have used the platform to unburden themselves of traumatic events witnessed or experienced in the line of duty. Many soldiers use the app to share suicidal feelings and symptoms of PTSD and to discuss other topics they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about on social media outlets like Facebook. 

The Guardian says Whisper has shared user data with law enforcement agencies, the FBI and MI5, a practice Whisper contends is standard in the tech industry – and only in situations where there is evidence of criminal behavior or imminent suicide.

Whisper has denied the allegations, saying it ‘does not follow or track users’ and dismissing the suggestion they were monitoring people without consent as ‘false’. CEO Michael Heyward issued a ten point riposte to the Guardian and suspended his editor-in-chief when the allegations came to light. He insists Whisper is only sharing information with the DoD when there is an investigation into frequent mentions of self-harm, adding “[We] are proudly working with many organizations to lower suicide rates.”

Heyward has been summoned to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions about the app’s privacy policy.

Whisper has experienced rapid growth over the past two years and is now valued at more than $200m. The app tapped into a growing demand for private, confessional platforms which purport to foster more candid public discussions about sensitive issues like suicide.

Whisper has updated it’s terms and conditions since the story broke. 

October 23, 2014

Smalltown America: The Tech Industry’s New Home?

 

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The internet revolution has worked wonders for entrepreneurs with big ideas and small wallets. And while the tech giants are still keen to project a certain cache by basing themselves in huge economic centers like Tokyo and California, start ups are finding fewer financial impediments to realizing their dreams in less illustrious surroundings.

One of the tech industry’s new suburban outposts lies to the far west of Chicago, in and around the Fox Valley. Towns like Naperville, Aurora and Elgin are fostering the new bright young things of software development, web marketing and business.

These places have a centralized support network designed specifically for tech workers, mimicking the ‘all in it together’ mentality of their Silicon Valley counterparts.

If the spirit of technological collaboration is alive and well in Illinois, it’s positively thriving in Colorado. The state’s tech industry employed 162,600 people in 2012 (according to a TechAmerica Foundation report). That’s 8.7% of the private sector workforce, making Colorado the third biggest contributor to the national tech economy. In 2012, Colorado’s tech payroll amounted to $15.8 billion.

Tech wages are 98% higher than the average private sector wage, and the industry is the 7th-best paid in the United States. This skilled workforce is generating solutions to everything from the energy deficit to space travel. The further out of the big industrial centers tech companies base themselves, the lower the overheads - and the higher the potential wages. No wonder talented tech workers are eschewing the glamor of Silicon Valley in favor of better paid jobs in surroundings that are perhaps less illustrious - but also less cut-throat.

This tech diaspora has been facilitated in part by SEO campaigns that are increasingly targeting niche markets for highly specialized - and regionalized - products and services. Most tech companies are no longer aiming for world domination; they simply want to maximise their ROI by advertising only to those people with a high likelihood of purchasing their product.

Industry analysts are convinced that towns like Naperville have the capacity to become key tech hubs. Tech workers are starting to see the benefits of working in smaller towns, where they can commute quickly to and from work - without sacrificing their resume or salary. And why not? After all, their products and services are opening up a global village in which everybody can be a major player, irrespective of geographical location. To sell this new reality without believing in it is a contradiction too big for the bright young things of tomorrow’s technology industry.

 

October 21, 2014

Five Telltale Signs of a Text Scam

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Email and snail mail scammers have added a new, very personal communication medium to their fraud arsenal: SMS. Text messaging scams are unfortunately becoming more commonplace, and as such it’s important to know what the indicators of such scams are. Check out five surefire signs of a text scam and know what to look out for should you receive strange messages: 

 

1) 11-Digit Numbers

Text messages from legitimate businesses are actually sent from the company’s number and do not come from unidentified mobile numbers. This is true even if the text body includes the name of the company, so don’t be fooled if a strange number claims to be a particular company.

 

2) “Winning” Raffle Prizes

Plenty of text scams begin by saying the user has “won” a raffle and includes steps on how to claim the supposed prize. Designed to trick users into handing over money or load credits in exchange for the prize, these fake winnings certainly spell scam. Remember that unless you entered into a specific contest, there’s no real prize at the end of the text message tunnel. Never, ever offer bank or similar information to “raffles” you did not enter.

 

3) “Share-A-Load”

Another way text scams extort user money or load credits is via “Share-A-Load” transactions. This scam accuses the subscriber of racking up additional charges. It gives the victim a message format to send to a mobile number for a “refund.” The message often looks as follows: [Company Name] LTE Advisory: Your postpaid account has been charged P500 for LTE use. Is this a wrong charge? Text 500 send to 2936XXXXXXX for REFUND.” Additionally, adding the ‘2’ in front of the 10-digit cell number turns the message into a “Share-A-Load” transaction.

 

4) Problems With Relatives 

Text messages claiming trouble with relatives who live abroad is one of the most common text messaging scams in existence. The “relative” has an issue while living or traveling abroad and requests monetary assistance through load credits or money transfer services using a “new” prepaid number. This new number is another way to trick users into Share-A-Load transactions.

 

5) Government “Messages”

Government agencies do not, repeat, DO NOT perform transactions through text messages. Any text message claiming to be from any government agency is a definite scam, including those that note raffle prize wins. The “agency” may not even exist.

Instead of responding to text message scams, inform your service provider of suspicious activity. Report all mobile numbers used, and never provide bank information or send money. The more informed you are, the better off you’ll be should you encounter a text message scam. 

October 20, 2014

Baltimore Maps Addiction with Text Messaging

SMS Messaging has had a major impact on healthcare processes. Everything from appointment reminders to internal communications in hospitals are being achieved more effectively than ever, and it’s all down to the humble text message.

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In recent years, one of the most powerful applications of this technology has taken place in Baltimore, where it’s being used to help addicts in recovery. A National Institutes of Health lab located in East Baltimore provides methadone and testing to the addicts who attend. Unlike many other rehab programs, addicts don’t get thrown out if they relapse. Why? Because the data they can provide is far too valuable to researchers investigating the causes of relapses.

This data is being gathered via smartphones specifically programmed to help struggling drug users track their cravings and relapse episodes. The phones beep randomly throughout the course of the day with a text message asking questions like: Where are you? How are you feeling? What are you doing? Who are you with?

The scheme aims to identify the events and situations surrounding relapses. What are the events, places and people that trigger drug use? What happens in the precise moment an addict decides to use? 

In addition to cell phones, addicts carry GPS loggers to track their movements. Researchers can see the whereabouts of participants, identifying particular blocks or parts of town that precipitate a relapse. Knowing the location of an addict when they use – or think about reusing – is helping the team better understand the patterns of behavior that lead to a relapse.

The scheme is not the first SMS-based solution to treating addiction. Problem drinkers have been helped by a text message program that monitors their alcohol intake. Participants took weekly surveys and, depending on their responses, received automated text messages containing words of encouragement or recommendations for limiting alcohol consumption. The results showed that, on average, heavy drinkers can cut their intake by up to half by using such a scheme.

The nature of the platform is well-suited to self-monitoring and the setting of short term goals. People generally carry their phones everywhere, making them the perfect tool for reminding people to stay aware of unhealthy behaviors. Even just being told to ‘hang in there’ can work wonders for problem drinkers who are trying to keep on top of their alcohol intake. Mobile technology gives addicts a pocket clinician-cum-counselor that won’t let them down.

October 15, 2014

Mobile Marketing Mushroom in Ireland

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Mobile marketing campaign managers in Ireland are flush with success right now. The country is undergoing a mobile device boom, as consumers increasingly turn their attentions away from desktop and towards smartphones and tablets.

A study compiled by marketing company ZinMobi looked at some of the country’s leading retail, restaurant and fast food brands and found mobile marketing tactics were the most effective way of delivering the biggest ROI. ZinMobi’s boss, Brian Stephenson, said the results were indicative of a growing awareness of mobile marketing tactics, and a concurrent drop off in use of conventional methods. Says Stephenson:

“What excites me about these results is the way that brands have recognised mobile as the instant marketing channel with campaigns quicker to deploy, and delivering instant results.

“We believe that every business knows enough about its customers... to deliver highly-targeted and trackable campaigns,” he added.

The study also found that mobile marketing tactics were regarded as the quickest to set-up, and 61% of respondents said they delivered the fastest results. The research found only 10% of companies did not plan to be using some form of mobile marketing campaign by this time next year; right now, 26% of Irish companies do not use some kind of mobile marketing strategy. These figures clearly show a growing awareness of mobile marketing among firms who are late to the party.

Companies with a well-established mobile marketing strategy are expanding their current campaigns in order to better engage with consumers. Mobile coupons and special offers are proving highly effective methods of retaining and nurturing existing customers.

These trends reflect an overall swing towards mobile in Ireland. Mobile web access is up 59% on last year according to a report from StatCounter. The more consumers move towards mobile devices, the more we’re likely to see marketers follow suit and creating mobile-specific campaigns. Ireland, like the rest of the world, knows which way the wind is blowing.

 

October 09, 2014

Are Selfies the Future of Mobile?

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Defined as a photograph “one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to social media,” the selfie is poised to be the future of mobile marketing, duck face and all.

The folks behind Opera Mediaworks certainly believe in the marketing power of the selfie. The company recently partnered with Celtra and now offers advertisers the ability to integrate selfies into ad campaigns.

The partnership “brings together Celtra’s expertise in empowering advertisers to deliver meaningful, highly-captivating brand messages to their audiences in the most effective and measurable manner and Opera Mediaworks’ vast global ad platform, which serves 64 billion impressions a month to more than 800 million consumers.”

This selfie ad format allows advertisers to create highly-personalized campaigns geared towards “precisely-targeted” audiences, and therefore up the ante much like geo-tracking. Today’s consumers can browse the internet, download favorite music, stream movies and do pretty much anything else on their phones, resulting in a desire for personal experiences with favorite brands rather than a more generic or traditional interaction. Selfies are about “branding yourself” as much as they are about brands...think images of famous people holding or using assorted products.

The Celebrity Selfie

The ubiquity of the celebrity selfie is partially responsible for turning the concept into a money-making opportunity, with Calvin Klein recently launching a selfie campaign using celebs and fans posing in their Calvin briefs. The pictures feature the hashtag #mycalvins. Ellen DeGeneres’ snapshot from the 2014 Oscars featuring Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts and a number of other stars was dubbed “the most retweeted selfie of all time,” once again demonstrating the selfie’s impressive function as a communication tool.

World Domination

Selfies aren’t just for American audiences, or for those who keep their feet on the ground. The Philippines is one country capitalizing on the selfie, with their Postal Corporation recently creating selfie stamp tourism souvenirs as a way of encouraging locals to send personalized packages. NASA is getting in on the selfie action, with their Instagram account featuring selfies of astronaut Mile Hopkins...in outer space.  

Simplicity At Its Best?

Taking a selfie isn’t exactly challenging, and the popularity of selfies and their corresponding hashtags provide an easy advertising option for brands looking to create more personal relationships with consumers. Every smartphone features a quality front-facing camera, and even if the selfie is as narcissistic as critics say, there’s no denying its power as a marketing tool. 

October 02, 2014

How Smartphones Are Helping the Fight Against Drug Addiction

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Can smartphones help users overcome drug addiction? 

Research says Yes! Back in 2011, an 80-person study by the National Institutes of Health found smartphones highly beneficial to those overcoming drug addiction. The study was based out of East Baltimore, Maryland and featured smartphones programmed to let addicts track when they craved and used drugs. Phones were set up to beep randomly three times each day, and ask questions such as “Where are you?”, “What are you doing?”, and “How are you feeling?”.

"We want to know the events surrounding that," lead researcher Dr. Kenzie Preston said at the time. "We're really interested what's triggering drug use, relapse."

Phones were partially disabled to lower their street value; however, associate scientist David Epstein noted no issues with phones becoming lost or getting stolen.

"We tell them, if you lose or break one of these, we'll replace it and that's fine," he said. "But if you lose or break a second one, we're going to detox you from the methadone and you can't be in the study anymore. And we hardly ever have to do that. People know that they'd rather stay with us."

The study was meant to pinpoint the precise moments addicts decided to use, as Epstein remarked on the difficulty addicts have recalling the specifics of their relapses. This isn’t to say addicts lie about their relapses; rather it’s more about how the brain functions.

"People, whether it's someone who's addicted to drugs or anyone else in the world, make up stories that sort of explain their behavior," he said during the study. "But if you could've been monitoring them in real time, you would see that things didn't happen quite the way they remembered."

Smartphones allowed researchers to obtain data in real time. The study also included addicts carrying pager-sized GPS monitors to track their movements, which made it easy to log where addicts go. For example, an addict could be sober for weeks, then visit a certain block or neighborhood and have a relapse. Knowing where addicts were hanging out helped researchers understand what type of environments encouraged drug use.

Epstein said the study could lead to new smartphone-based treatments.

"A sort of clinician in your pocket," he said. "You can give them on the spot feedback... and that does seem helpful."

 

 

September 30, 2014

SMS: Crime Fighter

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Text messaging as a mobile marketing tool is standard practice across most industries, but the public sector is also harnessing the power of SMS. Healthcare, emergency services, schools - all are benefitting from the possibilities opened up by the speed, affordability and convenience of mass texting.

One of the most significant applications of text messaging is in the fight against crime. Earlier this year, the four major wireless carriers began offering free text-to-911 services. Police departments across the country are realizing what mobile marketing campaign managers have long understood: there’s no greater guarantee of effective communication than SMS. Victims of crime can surreptitiously send text messages in dangerous situations where making a phone call may be impossible, and law enforcers can use SMS to streamline their processes and thus become more effective. Let’s take a look at some of the most innovative uses of SMS messaging in the fight against crime.

Tip Offs

A number of local police departments have set up shortcodes allowing members of the public to anonymously tip the police about a crime they have witnessed. In Bakersfield, CA, citizens have been providing law enforcers with valuable tips for some years; Kern County runs a similar program. In both cases, police stress that these channels are not intended for emergency situations requiring immediate attention, but for anonymous tip offs from people who may not otherwise feel comfortable reporting crime.

Campus Crime

In Tennessee, local authorities are encouraging students to report crimes anonymously. When the scheme was rolled out in 2009, Sgt. Charles Warner from the Franklin Police Department said that young people “don’t want to be labeled as ‘snitches’... they don’t want to be retaliated against and they’re fearful of that.” But many young people are happy to report, say, a student who brings a gun to school, or is dealing drugs on campus. The first police department in the state to launch a text message tip program, other precincts soon followed suit, and similar programs are now widespread all over the United States.

Human Trafficking

Based in Washington, D.C., the Polaris Project runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which accepts calls and texts 24/7. A Washington Post story recounted the plight of one 18-year-old sex-trade worker who alerted the authorities via text message from her pimp’s phone. Police arrested the man shortly after. An app called Redlight Traffic goes further still, with an educational component designed to teach citizens how to identify tell-tale signs of human trafficking and give them a way to combat it.

Law enforcers believe such programs can improve public understanding of potentially criminal situations, even when no actual crime has been witnessed. Citizens can report suspicious behaviour to the app, upload photos and GPS locations, and provide information on vehicle registrations and personal descriptions. Officers can review individual reports and map suspicious activities to improve their chances of being there when a crime is committed. It’s an ideal solution for members of the public who are unsure whether to call 911, but believe they have witnessed potential wrongdoing.

Misdemeanors

It’s not just serious offences like trafficking and gun crime that are being tackled by SMS messaging. Minor misdeeds which clog up law enforcement processes can be prevented by improved communication between the police and the public. In Moscow, drivers can sign up to receive a text alert 20 minutes before their car is about to be towed. When the program launched in June, officials predicted monthly savings of up to $2.6 million.

September 29, 2014

Record Growth for India's Mobile Marketing Industry

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Mobile marketing tactics such as SMS coupons and geo-targeted ads are being used in practically every global economy, but one part of the world has taken to it more rapidly than any other. In India, the mobile marketing industry has grown by 260% in the past year. Compare that to the 70% growth in the Asia Pacific region and you start to get a clear picture of just how big the strides taken in India are.

The cause for such rapid growth is undoubtedly the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices, which in some parts of the world are becoming the primary point of access for web users.

The expansion of the mobile advertising marketplace in India was studied in detail by Opera Mediaworks, a San Mateo ad platform. The analysis was published in a report called “State of Mobile Advertising.”

In addition to the overall growth figures, the report compared various mobile devices and their success in India. Android has the largest share of the market, with 41.7%. Apple devices, meanwhile, are trailing significantly, with less than a 1% share. 

The face of mobile marketing in India bears some striking differences to its American and European counterparts. This is largely because people living in remote regions often don’t have smartphones, and can’t experience the kind of rich content we’ve become used to seeing on handheld devices in the West. 

According to a Business Week article from earlier in the year, Unilever is issuing 15-minute recorded programs that can be listened to on old-fashioned cell phones. The shows include popular Bollywood songs, comedy routines and product commercials. The free service has proved popular, gaining 2 million subscribers when it first rolled out.

Original, bespoke mobile marketing tactics like this are the only way for businesses to get a foothold in new territories. As of the beginning of the year, there were 364 million rural mobile phone users in India. In January 2014, the pace of mobile adoption in villages was faster than in cities for four consecutive months. In 2013, Indian businesses spent 3 billion rupees ($49.9 million) on mobile ads, and the market is expected grow by nearly 45% by the end of the year (according to the Mobile Marketing Association).

The key, as Unilever has discovered, is to develop a mobile marketing strategy targeted at basic-feature phones. That means voice-based and SMS messaging services. Understand this, and your mobile marketing campaign in India will reach more people.