Culture

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August 16, 2015

BYOD Has Taken Off in Our Schools

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If you had asked me ten years ago if I thought it was a good idea to allow students access to personal mobile devices during class time, I would have shuddered at the thought. I belong to one of the last generations that can remember what life was like before iPhones, tablets and Google. My younger sister, born only four years later, can hardly remember a time before AOL.  

For those of us who can make the distinction, I think it’s healthy to fear the unknown ramifications of our tech advancements, particularly on the youth. However, not everyone agrees with this view. 

Despite how many of us might feel about technology in the classroom, nobody wants to be the one stuck harping on the past. Today’s young learners have become so accustomed to mobile, tablets, and desktop computers that it would seem regressive to deny them access to these tools during a formal education—tools that may help students to learn smarter, faster, and more efficiently. 

Instead of resisting what comes naturally to these students, wouldn’t it be better to change the way we teach

According to a report by Sophic Capital, mobile education is the platform of choice for current students and teachers. The popularity and accessibility of mobile devices has made them as common among students as pens and paper. Many school districts are taking advantage of this and adopting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) polices. 

 

What Is BYOD?

The BYOD policy provides educational institutions with a way to implement technology in the classroom and manage budgets by putting most of the cost on students. Instead of spending money on a uniform platform or device, students can use the device they already have or are most comfortable using. 

The benefits are unique and largely new to the landscape of public education. First, students will take ownership of the learning process by having more control over the ways in which some information is received. Further, they will have more flexibility outside of the classroom to review material during times most suitable to their schedule. 

Teachers will also gain significant insight into their students’ progress, gaining valuable analytical tools. Teachers can also communicate with students more regularly and gather real-time information from students to ensure material is being absorbed properly; if not, the teacher will have more time to adjust the lesson plan.  

If it all sounds too good to be true, that’s because there are some serious drawbacks that must be addressed. For most of the educational tools to function within the BYOD policy, students will also need access to the Internet. Parents and administrators alike agree that open access to the web is dangerous. From social media, inappropriate content, and predatory concerns, the list of issues and dangers grows with every passing year.  Formal safeguards among school districts have included comprehensive network security, limited access, and monitoring. Time will tell if these safeguards are enough to proliferate BYOD polices across the country. 

August 15, 2015

Do “Dumbphones” Still Have a Place?

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Wondering if “dumbphones” still play a role in today’s tech-savvy universe? The answer, which may surprise you, is a resounding yes. Such phones offer a variety of helpful features and perks, and an increasing number of people are opting for them over smartphones. In fact, Microsoft recently released a phone under the Nokia brand that’s free of apps, Wi-Fi, 3G, LTE, and a touchscreen and costs just $20 before tax. The only accessory is an extra battery, and yet experts predict huge success.  

So who wants to purchase “dumbphones”? Plenty of people—about 590 million this year, actually. Such people include children obtaining their first phones, consumers who require a second phone, and those who are simply uninterested in using smartphones. 

Let’s look at some of the benefits of using not-smart phones, as well as some of the highest-quality options currently on the market: 

 

Durable

Smartphones feature glass screens, and once they crack…well, either replacement or a lot of tape is in order. Phone cases are therefore imperative to preserving the safety of a smartphone, whereas regular phones are virtually indestructible. 

 

Easy Texting 

Texting using standard cell phones is quite simple compared to smartphones, as it doesn’t take long to memorize the keypad and text with your eyes shut. And as we know, SMS messaging remains the central component of any successful mobile marketing campaign - precisely because it reaches the parts other messaging services cannot.

 

Fantastic Battery Life 

Forgetting your smartphone charger means scrambling to ask friends and co-workers if they have theirs—otherwise you’ll be looking at 19 percent battery life before the day is over. Leaving your regular phone charger at home? Not a big deal. 

 

Inexpensive 

Highly affordable and easy to replace, “dumbphones” don’t set you back by the $800+ price tag associated with smartphones.

 

Fewer Distractions

Facebook, Instagram, assorted app games—all the features make smartphones seriously distracting. “Dumbphones,” on the other hand, make calls and texts, and that’s it. This meant you’d actually engage in the moment and remain aware of your surroundings as opposed to looking down at your phone incessantly. It also means you won’t be looking up anything and everything on your phone and taking pictures of your food. Or taking selfies. 

 

It Always Worked 

With “dumbphones,” it usually didn’t matter where in the world you were—they always worked. There was no freezing or rebooting involved. The simplicity of the technology is key to its endurance in the age of increasingly high-powered smartphones.

 

“Dumbphone” Options

Some of today’s most coveted “dumbphones” include: 

 

  • Kyocera Rally ($29.99): The Kyocera Rally is a simple, sleek phone from T-Mobile that includes Bluetooth connectivity, a VGA camera capable of recording video, and a speakerphone.
  • Nokia 106 ($24): The aforementioned Nokia 106 is a basic phone that lasts up to 35 days on standby mode with only a single charge. 
  • Pantech Vybe ($29.99 with two-year contract): Pantech’s new phone is available to AT&T customers and features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It also includes a camera and the ability to connect with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
  • Samsung Jitterbug5 ($99): This phone is an uncomplicated flip option designed for seniors. It comes with sizable backlit keys, an emergency response button, a simple interface, and a powerful speaker for those who have trouble hearing. 

 

The “dumbphone”...there’s definitely still a market for it.

August 14, 2015

Textbooks Vs. Tablets

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In 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District made headlines for spending $30 million on iPads for nearly 640,000 students. Currently, the K-12 publishing market is an $8 billion industry, dominated by just three publishes: McGraw, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The debate as to whether more school districts should make the digital leap is met with fierce opposition from publishers as well as other tech naysayers, who see the value of printed textbooks unrivaled by tablets.  

Why should school districts replace textbooks? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? Textbooks aren’t broken, but students today learn and engage differently with technology than previous generations. Tablets allow students to feel empowered by the learning process by playing to their strengths. Moreover, most K-12 teachers believe technology benefits students’ learning goals. 

Some of the more practical reasons tablets are working well in places like Los Angeles involve the hardware itself. For starters, one tablet has the ability to store more books than a student will ever need for the entire duration of his or her public education. Plus, in addition to textbooks, tablets can store homework, quizzes, and tests, eliminating heavy loads from students’ backpacks and desks. 

Additionally, tablets allow teachers to give their students the most accurate and up-to-date information possible. Publishers have been criticized for making minor amendments to text volumes and charging schools top dollar for new editions. Once textbooks go digital, the print costs will be eliminated, which will result in textbook savings of as much as 60% for school districts. 

But aren’t iPads expensive? Yes, they are. One of the strongest arguments against a paperless system is that technology doesn’t come cheap. The trouble isn’t so much with the tablet cost as all the software and infrastructure school districts would have to develop to support these devices. To put things into perspective, the average battery life of a tablet is less than the length of a school day. Imagine 640,000 iPads plugged in: that’s a lot of juice.

Additionally, wear and tear on a textbook can go much further than on an iPad. And a forgotten textbook on a picnic table doesn’t have the same appeal as a state-of-the-art tablet. Some paperless opponents believe students will be targeted for theft if tablets become a common student item. 

There are more obvious problems facing the paperless fight. Open access to the Internet is like opening Pandora’s box; students are notoriously distracted by social media, gaming, and texting. 

Whatever stance a school district takes, the omnipresence of mobile in student life will remain. Will we choose to adapt to student preferences, or are the risks too high?

 

August 13, 2015

SMS Concierge GoButler Wins $8m in Funding

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Wouldn’t it be great to have a personal assistant? Apple’s digital concierge called Siri was supposed to set your appointments, make it easy to access information, and recommend places to eat nearby. But that’s not exactly how most of use Siri. Instead, we ask her for bedtime stories and other ridiculous queries—our dreams of virtual assistance took a few giant leaps back. 

GoButler is looking to make up some lost ground. Using basic SMS messaging, GoButler connects users with “heroes,” or trained employees of GoButler that assist with fulfilling just about any request. The service is free and claims to be able to handle even the tallest order, so long as it’s legal.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because this isn’t a novel idea. Similar products already exist like Magic, an app used primarily on the West Coast with the same general SMS-based premise. So what makes GoButler different?

 

How GoBulter Stands Out from the Pack

To start, the originally Berlin-based startup has just locked down $8 million in series A funding; this corresponds with the app’s recent release from beta and introduction to several new markets including the US, Canada, UK, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. 

GoButler also just moved its headquarters to New York City, where the company plans to develop technology to improve the automation aspects of the service. Moreover, the move was not coincidental. The GoButler team is prospectively looking to take over the East Coast, a current gap in the virtual assistant market, with the hopes of beating out its competitors as it improves the software and grows the user base.  

The startup’s founder and CEO Navid Hadzaad acknowledged that virtual assistants are already available in the app store but rejects any notions that GoButler is a specific clone; Magic and GoButler were launched just 3 weeks apart from each other.  

All three founders of GoButler—Navid Hadzaad, Jens Urbaniak and Maximilian Deilmann—were previously employed by the successful German tech company Rocket Internet; however, upon completing the app, each quickly left his job. 

Ironically, Rocket Internet’s Global Founders Capital was one of the key contributors in the series A funding that took place just a few weeks ago.  

Since launching earlier this year, GoButler reports 100,000 users with nearly 1 million requests made so far. There are currently more than 120 operators working around the clock, assisting with a variety of requests from pizza delivery to purchasing plane tickets. 

Navid maintains the company will remain free to users as it grows in the US and abroad, with some discussion of affiliate programs circulating in the near future.

The emphasis on SMS messaging in several recently developed apps is not surprising. Multiple reports indicate that texting is the number one feature used on all smartphone devices across nearly every age demographic. Texting, for many people, is more comfortable and convenient than using multiple apps. If this remains true and apps like GoButler and Magic proliferate, texting may finally become the personal assistants we wanted but never thought we would have.  

August 08, 2015

Social Media Advertising Is More Effective Than It Appears

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Social media channels are excellent avenues to reach out to a variety of consumers, start relevant conversations, raise awareness of your brand, and of course, seek out new leads. The latest studies reveal that 70% of businesses generate leads on social media, and 58% of marketers claim that social media channels have helped them boost sales over the years. Here are some ways in which social media marketing can be a dynamic method of advertising for your business – it’s easier than you think!

  • Social media advertising can play a key role in a content marketing campaign.

Ideally, you’ve already got a website with a landing page, resources, and a high-quality, content-driven blog. To maximize the effectiveness of this content, you must create active profiles on the appropriate social media websites. Your online campaign will not function properly without both components, and they must constantly refer back to one another. For example, a Facebook post should lead a prospect to your content-driven blog; similarly, the resources page of your website should lead to the Pinterest board for your company. 

  • The three E’s of social media advertising: Engagement, Expertise, and Entertainment.

Consumers visit social media sites to socialize, so your advertising efforts must work in tandem with a “cocktail party” mentality. Be personal and human in your posts, comments, and replies. People are looking for expertise; show them that you can deliver on the services they require, and consumers are much more likely to return in the future. (As a caveat, don’t be too technical or complex in your level of expertise. Content should be simple enough for a beginner to understand.) Make your business the go-to company for these types of services and watch your customer base grow. Finally, you have to entertain clients. The info you provide should be relevant, informative, and interesting. And remember: content marketing is not about pitching or direct sales—you want to increase engagement and brand awareness in this process.

  • Swim through social media channels that suit your business.

Obviously, the most popular social media channels are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, and SlideShare. Consider the types of people who visit these sites, and whether or not you should advertise your product there. For example, if you have a terrific article for people in your industry, join a few groups on LinkedIn and share your article with them. If your business has a lot of products best showcased through images, then post photos on Instagram or pins on Pinterest to provide more engagement with your brand. All in all, it’s about getting to know your audience and meeting them in the social media environment of their choosing.

  • Join the conversation to amplify your social media advertising efforts.

Eliminate pitches from any post you decide to share on social media for your business. Provide value with expertise in the content you post, driving the conversation with ways you can help (rather than just what you can sell). Answering questions in online forums is a good start. If you don’t know the answer, be honest, as this will help to establish your credibility. Continue to help the people you meet on these social platforms and, before you know it, you will be converting leads. 

Finally, it is important to highlight how necessary it is to respond to comments on social media channels. If you find negative comments, nip them in the bud; respond carefully and inoffensively, and offer help to these individuals. Others will see how helpful you are in handling these negative comments, and they will appreciate your attitude. 

Yes, the comments section is truly where the online conversation takes place, and if you are taking the time to respond to every tweet and reply to every comment, customers will definitely appreciate it.

July 30, 2015

Indiana's Text 911 Program Puts the Rest of the US to Shame

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If you’re choking or otherwise incapable of speaking into a phone, the ability to send a text to a 911 service is a great thing. Indiana was the first US state to institute a 911 texting program, which is now available in 88 of its 92 counties. It’s highly doubtful it will be the only state to do so on such a massive scale.  

“When it comes to 911, we’ve been able to lead the country for several years with 911 services,” said Barry Ritter, executive director of the Indiana Statewide 911 Board. Fort Wayne-based INdigital telecom is the company behind the designing, building, and operating of the IN911 network for the board. Ritter also said the state features the largest deployment of the service in the country.  

Most US states offer 911 text services in a few of their counties. Illinois, for example, offers the texting service in about five areas within three counties. Verizon Wireless was the first carrier to allow customers to send text messages to 911 emergency responders in counties all over Indiana, with T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint following suit. The Indiana Statewide 911 Board notified carriers in May of 2013 that it was ready to accept inbound texts. 

 

Texting Versus Calling

Calling 911 is still considered the best and most efficient way to reach a dispatcher, and texting should be used only when calling is not a possibility. This is because calling offers an instant response compared to texting. The time required to enter a text, send it over a network and then wait for the dispatcher to write and send a response means emergency services might take longer to reach the afflicted party. Providing location information as well as the type of emergency in the first text is therefore essential. It’s also important not to use abbreviations or slang to keep the emergency message as straightforward and clear as possible.  

Statistics obtained since May of 2014 show that eight 911 dispatchers in Indiana have received more than 50 emergency text messages, while 30 dispatch centers received fewer than 50 emergency texts. These numbers indicate that residents are using the service but are not flooding dispatch centers with text messages. It also shows that people are using the service when appropriate. 

If you reside in Indiana or another state where using 911 text messaging is an option, it’s important to keep a few basic guidelines in mind. Texting should be used only when calling is not possible, i.e. if the victim is deaf, speech-impaired, choking or in a situation when speaking is unsafe, such as during a home invasion or abduction. For example, earlier this month an Indianapolis woman texted that she was being abducted, which resulted in her rescue by police on Interstate 70 in Vigo County. The abduction helped raise awareness about 911 texting as a viable solution in emergency situations.  

Additionally, in order to send a successful emergency text, the victim must have a text messaging program on his or her phone and send the message to a 911 call center or Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) that accepts emergency text messages. 

 

July 28, 2015

SMS Messaging: Conversation Before Apps

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Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? For a GUI (Graphic User Interface) designer, that question is becoming more relevant as the nature of the mobile user influences app development—perhaps towards a post app world? 

That’s a scary thought for a GUI designer, or a developer who unintentionally overlooked the simple truth that text messaging is far and away the most commonly used feature on a smartphone. Almost 97% of all smartphones users engage in text messaging; this familiarity creates incredible potential for a new generation of text-based application that can solve any problem an app can solve, through a more convenient interface: the text screen. 

 

Text-Based Apps Are Nothing New

The above, however, is not a new revelation. In fact, some apps controlled exclusively via text or SMS messaging already exist. Magic, for example, can help you reserve a table, check a bank account, or buy a car, all via text between a user and a concierge (an actual human being) who assists with these requests. WeChat is another app that uses text to bypass traditional apps altogether—effectively creating a universal portal to all things mobile.

According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, across all age groups in the US, text messaging is the most popular feature used on a smartphone. In this way, life is beginning to challenge the artist; while app designers may have intended to make our lives easier by developing apps to meet out every need, at the end of the day, people are universally more comfortable texting—having a virtual conversation to get at what they want. 

There are some people, like Matt Galligan, co-founder of the news aggregation app Circa, that believe we’re headed towards an overhaul of basic software and design. Galligan feels that something called “MessageKit” will be Apple’s catchall for apps located in iMessage. Instead of opening different apps with different design characteristics and UI controls, all the apps would perform their same functions but via text command or queries inside a fluid conversation.  

Apple’s new iOS 9 has already made some considerable shifts in its latest version, one of which is prioritizing app content for Internet search queries made via mobile. While there’s nothing like “MessageKit” available quite yet, it’s an interesting theory that attempts to recognize the user’s reality in a predominantly designer-shaped mobile world. 

One foreseeable drawback is that our familiarity with texting may causes people to use these services at inappropriate times. For example, texting while driving is already a major concern in densely populated areas. Additional text-based services may further encourage our desire for instant access, even behind the wheel.  

It’s ironic that an entire generation gets labeled as ‘less socially communicative’ because it’s always on smartphones, and yet, somehow, that same generation may bring society back full circle, where the digital dialect of texting is used to reinsert what was missing from our mobile lives: conversation. 

 

 

July 20, 2015

World Cup Hat Trick Heroine Gets 124 Text Messages Per Goal

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On Sunday, July 5th 2015, the world witnessed the fastest hat trick ever performed on a soccer field in the World Cup Finals. The player, Carli Lloyd, managed the amazing maneuver within the first sixteen minutes of the final match versus Japan, earning a total of four goals that veritably sealed the win for the US women’s soccer team. A hat trick has only been performed a handful of times in any professional soccer game, let alone the World Cup Finals. (The last time a hat trick was successfully executed in the World Cup Finals was in 1966, by England’s Geoff Hurst.)

Ponder for a moment the shockwave that this hat trick unleashed in the world of international football. Not only was the event shocking for players and fans in general, but it also comes years after another World Cup Final in which the US was defeated by the same country – Japan. It should come as no surprise that this past week’s finals were one of the most watched events in televised sports history.

Soccer Meets Social Media

The blogosphere and Twitterscape also reflected the ubiquitous nature of the historic hat trick. In a single week, the World Cup Final has been written about by several sports websites of note, particularly ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, and Grantland. Further, Carli Lloyd herself has added over fifty thousand new followers on Twitter as a result of her extraordinary plays.

While Lloyd’s accomplishment is surely impressive, the most legendary statistic about the hat trick might not have anything to do with soccer, but rather the amount of messages she received on her smartphone during the match. Carly Lloyd claims that she received over 372 text messages over the course of the hat track. Essentially, this means that she received an average of 124 text messages for each goal that she made during her hat trick.

 To put that into perspective, imagine the amount of time you spend reading and responding to text messages. Perhaps one minute for each? Hence, Lloyd would have to spend a minimum of six hours to respond to all of the messages she received during the game! 

Contact EzTexting for Bulk Texting Help

For someone to receive such a myriad of texts in such a short time is astounding. Fortunately, modern technology makes it simple to prepare a response as a bulk SMS text message to be sent out to all of those adoring fans. With EzTexting, you can easily develop several different types of responses, depending on how you wish to address your recipients. And thanks to our competitive pricing, you can bet that our services will defeat the competition. So if you, like Carly Lloyd, are being inundated by massive texts from your customers, try out EzTexting to get on the ball for your business.

July 15, 2015

Swedish Blood Donors Receive Thank You Text Messages for Successful Transfusions

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Around the world, blood donation rates are at an all-time low. Britain has 40% fewer donors today than 10 years ago (according to the NHS). In the United States, only three out of every one-hundred people donate blood. The latest statistics from Executive Healthcare (EHM) shows that about 60% of the American populace is eligible to give blood, but only 5% of the people elect to give. This is a difficult problem because, despite the necessity to maintain a healthy blood supply, the Red Cross needs to find clever ways to convince donors to give.

In recent news, the Stockholm blood service may have come upon an excellent way to increase donations. If you donate blood in Sweden, you are sent an SMS text message each time your donated blood is used to save a life. The SMS texts go on to report on the impact of their donations, which can help to motivate donors as well. These “thank you” texts have created not only a way to make donors feel good about their altruism, it also is a subtle way to remind donors to come back for another donation at a later date. 

The program has been lauded as a success. Swedish citizens who participate have reported that they feel more appreciated once receiving the SMS text messages. Furthermore, donors often share the news with their peers via social media.

The outreach of the Stockholm blood service doesn’t stop there, though. Other text messages are sent to people who’ve donated before to remind them when they are eligible to donate again. In addition, the blood service has been using Facebook and email reminders to reach their potential donors as well. And it doesn’t hurt when they add light-hearted messages like “We won’t give up until you bleed.” Donors have shared that they appreciate these texts as well, since people often forget to donate amid their busy schedules.

Finally, on Stockholm blood service’s website, they have a chart giving a running total of how much blood of each type is left in stock. The idea is that if people know that the blood service is in need, then the people will be more likely to give.

There’s scientific proof that these techniques work. In a study by Johns Hopkins, researchers examined a Facebook initiative that allowed friends to share their organ donations in their status updates – the study observed a 21-fold increase of organ donor registrations in a single day! 

While this program currently only exists in Stockholm, it is likely that similar programs will be rolled-out throughout Sweden. Other countries, like Britain and the United States, are searching for similar techniques to get people to donate. The NHS Blood and Transplant service in the UK is looking to create some viral advertisements to increase donor turnout. Only time will tell how much these programs actually do to increase donor turnout but, in the meantime, we can all agree that SMS text messages and social media have proven to be excellent means to motivate the general public.

July 02, 2015

Cuba Tackles Web Connectivity Deficit

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Last week, Cuban daily Juventud Rebelde announced government plans to expand the country’s underperforming web infrastructure by adding Wi-Fi capacity to dozens of internet centers and cutting the cost of access.

A spokesman for Cuba’s state communications company said that, as of next month, 35 government computer centers would have Wi-Fi at a cost of around $2 per hour - still unaffordable for many Cubans, but a significant step in the right direction (where Wi-Fi was available previously, it cost around $4.50 per hour to access).  

Until now, the only Wi-Fi availability in the country has been at tourist hotels. While critics say the lack of connectivity is down to fear of social unrest, the Cuban government insists the problem is a result of the U.S. embargo, and has publicly stated an intention to expand internet access across the island.  

The recent move is indicative of the government at least beginning to make good on its promise.   Another positive indicator of a shift towards the open internet access enjoyed by other countries was the government-approved Wi-Fi spot provided by Cuban artist Kcho. Established at Kcho’s Havana arts center, the spot has attracted praise from open internet advocates in Cuba and around the world who hope it is the thin end of the wedge for fairer web access in one of the world’s least-connected countries.

Cubans - and especially young people living in the capital - are as au fait with computer technology as their contemporaries in other, better-connected countries. Visitors might be surprised to see iPhones and Androids in use all over Havana; hundreds of mobile-phone stores number among Cuba’s private businesses, all of them offering ways to install offline apps, as well as providing the usual repairs. 

Things look less developed outside the capital, where there are far fewer cellphones per head, and smartphones are extremely thin on the ground. But at least, with the recent slashing of prices (by more than half) for web access, Cuba is moving slowly towards the inevitable future of a fully connected citizenry.