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Empathy and Chatbots: Not So Exclusive

Photo by Cam Morin on Unsplash

I have a friend who is a salesman in a high-end clothing store.  

I recently asked him how he does it so well.  He replied “Think of it like a sixth sense.  I can tell how a person is feeling right when they walk in.  In five seconds or less (usually less), I can tell if a customer is happy, stressed, or sad.”

How does he do it, though?

“I watch the way they walk.  I look at their eyes.  I can tell if they came in to browse, if they have something in mind, or if they want to talk.  And I know just how to respond so I can make my commission.”

Compare this with an experience I had recently with a chatbot created for a national florist.  A different friend had a good experience with it, and encouraged me to try it out.  It took me through my order and was quite efficient about it.  As I was taking out my credit card, it said “Have a colorful, fantastic day!

Ordinarily this would be considered friendly and perhaps even pleasing.  Of course, I had just spent the better part of the last hour looking through floral arrangements … for a funeral.

Sure, this came from a chatbot hosted on Facebook Messenger.  (edit:  Since this writing, the company has taken funeral arrangements off of the chatbot interface.  I did not contact them, so I do not think there is any causal relationship there.)  It had no idea what actions I might have taken on the company’s website. 

Chatbots are extremely popular right now, though, and more are coming.  Facebook released the chatbot API in April 2016; in June there were over 11,000 chatbots on that platform alone.  As of September there were over 30,000. 

These bots are supposed to represent artificial intelligence.  They don’t.  Right now they offer scripted, highly structured experiences. 

Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for the florist’s chatbot to wish me condolences, after watching my shopping habits?  This should be a no-brainer for ecommerce folks.  It ought to be easy for a bot to see what I’m doing and respond accordingly

Of course this still wouldn’t be actual artificial intelligence.  The easiest way to make this happen would be through a script.  But still.  When chatbots actually do get intelligent, things are going to get awfully interesting.

What happens when a bot can examine a user’s actions, derive their most likely mindset, and be able to respond accordingly?

Perhaps more importantly, what will happen when they can empathize with us?


Understanding the Users

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

The term “digital body language” refers to a person’s combined digital activity.  My digital body language with the florist chatbot should have prompted an offering of condolences, as opposed to the cheery thanks it did offer.  It’s hugely important to understand what users do online, and not just record what they say.

So why should digital body language be so important to ecommerce vendors and chatbot developers?  Because digital interactions are based in large part on nonverbal communication, just like the real-world interactions we have every day.  When interacting with people in the physical world, we continually assess and process thousands of nonverbal cues.  Just a few examples include eye contact, gestures, tone of voice, and facial expressions.  As anyone who has gotten into an argument over text knows, it’s impossible to know what an interaction truly means unless we have access to these signals. 

In the burgeoning age of AI and chatbots, it’s just as important for a website — or a chatbot — to be able to interpret these signals.

Sadly, even as important as digital body language is, it is still underutilized by ecommerce.  For the most part, it remains an umbrella phrase, covering profile-based personalization and after-the-fact analysis.  Chatbot vendors have attempted to humanize their products, and they’ve as yet to succeed.  To date they have failed to assess, examine and fully parse the aspect of human communication that’s most powerful and meaningful:  The unspoken.

This is soon to change, however.  Utilizing and exploiting the power of digital body language is hardly science fiction.


Using Digital Body Language

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

So what’s the breakthrough?  It might sound like it’s science fiction, but it’s not.  In the same way as we infer another’s nonverbal signals when we are in the offline world, we can use innovative customer experience technology that can infer the mindset of a customer.  In real time.

With the help of these advanced solutions, it is possible to keep track of real-time digital activities, such as hesitation, click-through rates, scrolling speed, browsing behavior, navigation use, and more.  This allows retailers to stay ahead of the curve and stop using behavioral models based solely on past behavior.  Instead they can capture, utilize and respond to actual current digital behavior.  They can quickly zoom in on the psychological needs of each shopper, in order to be more effective when assisting them with the decision-making and buying process.

Machine learning makes it possible to develop models which are able to assess and categorize the mindset each customer has when they visit the site.  As they assess this per shopper data, these algorithms would be able to categorize a user’s intent.  To do this, they would simply look at the user’s actions.  Then using this knowledge, a brand can alter their offerings. 


Where do Chatbots Come In?

Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash

The answer is simple.  If we can look at a user’s behavior on a website, if we can quantify their mindset — and if we can then offer the user customization based on that data, if we can then personalize their experience — then we can code a chatbot that will do the same thing.

Looking at the example with the florist, their chatbot would determine that it should offer me condolences, based on the fact I was looking at funeral arrangements.  Not only that, but it would also assess the actions I took on the website — what page I visited, the movements of my mouse, which pages I looked at, which I passed over, which images I lingered on.  It would use this data to infer my mindset as I browse. 

A savvy chatbot would be able to see that I was simply looking at all the choices on the site, and offer to assist me by narrowing down my options.  It would also be able to tell if a more focused user came to the site, ready to buy.  It would then engage a subroutine to help guide them through the process as fast as possible.  It may also be able to tell if a user would be open to suggestions on an order:  For instance, if I might be willing to go with a wreath versus a more traditional arrangement.  Either way, it would then suggest some popular options.

Simply put, a well-coded chatbot would be able to do what my salesperson friend can do with his customers.  It would sense my mindset and be able to react to it.  It would behave in an empathic manner, even if it is not able to empathize in the human sense.

 My clothing store friend was not happy to hear about the information in this article.  “Next thing you know,” he said, “chatbots will be able to tell your waist size, just by looking at you.”

That’s just science fiction, though.  For now.

Posted by John Onorato in Chatbots, Portfolio, Technology, 0 comments

Where’s the Killer Chatbot?

by John Onorato

Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

Let’s face it:  Most of the chatbot experiences today are pretty wretched. 

They’re stilted, artificial and in some cases downright affected.  Natural language processing is still in its infancy, and has a long way to go before sounding actually “natural.”  Or truly understanding natural speech, for that matter.

This is due in part to the difficulty of designing a user interface around a conversation, which is non-hierarchical in nature.  When talking to another person, the steps don’t always flow naturally from one to the other.  This kind of design is also fundamentally different than either a mobile or web interface. 

Additionally, we have yet to develop a general-purpose AI which can accept a user’s open-ended input.
It is incumbent on chatbot creators, therefore, to pick out engaging patterns of interaction.  Building on and around these will enable developers to create whole experiences that will delight the users.

So how do we work around the limitations of a conversational UI, knowing the above?


About the UI

Up until now, User Interfaces have been crafted for a linear experience, not a random one.  In other words, after the user comes to the page, a specific sequence of events typically happen, at least in terms of ecommerce. 

First they search for an item or two.  Those items are then added to the user’s cart.  They enter payment information, check out and leave the site. 

A chat based UI is completely different from either a web or mobile interface.  One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that the customer can initiate the procedure in different places.  Say they want to buy tickets for a movie.  The customer can ask a bot “What’s playing around 8pm?”  Another valid starting point can be “I want three tickets to Trolls at the Regal on Little Texas Lane and Congress.”

So we see that a big challenge for anyone wanting to design a chatbot is that the path a customer will use to reach their goal (in this case, to purchase tickets) is not known beforehand.  The chatbot has to assist the user and provide the desired answers without needing a discussion to progress in a straight line.


The AI Factor

Photo by BENCE BOROS on Unsplash

The next big stumbling block for chatbot developers is that a true AI that works on a variety of inputs is still a long way off.  AIs themselves are not especially new, but they are new to the consumer marketplace.  One AI-like construct that bot creators use a lot is the Simple Linear Tree, which forces the user down a predetermined path.  New AI routines might also be used, but these are not true AI.  They simply match patterns against pre-programmed conditions, in an effort to determine a user’s intent.

Generally speaking, these work well enough when there are a finite set of ways a user can interact with a bot.  But as developers are finding out, user input can be totally random.  This leads to situations where a bot can get unexpected input that it can’t handle.  So without better tools, a better AI, it’s all a matter of hunt and peck.  Or worse, finding the linguistic needle in a haystack of possibilities. 


The Solution:  Modify, Publish, Iterate, Repeat

So how does a bot developer succeed with the limited tools they have?  The best path is not already defined, given the variety of inputs.  Neither the number of inputs nor their content is known.  There has to be a quick, iterative path to successful completion, and it has to be low-cost as well.  A developer needs to be aware of how their bots are responding to the inputs provided by the user.  With this knowledge, they can then iterate on what is already there.  Any blocks between the user and their goal need to be addressed.

Experience has shown that the best tools for the iterative method are bot native.  This means they are able to understand the complexity and nuance of a conversational interface, and are able to translate them into clear metrics.  Conversely, it also means the user is not simply dumped into meaningless dialogues or dashboards.

Marketing teams can use these tools to pinpoint groups of similar users, then connect with them through personalized messages.  Creative and editorial teams can use them to address messaging that may be off-brand or that doesn’t have the desired tone.  Business leaders can use them to provide a detailed picture of their efforts without the use of an engineering team and a data scientist just to “run the numbers.”

It’s important to have a conversational UI that’s easy to understand.  It’s also important to iterate quickly on this.  Being able to do these things will assist business leaders to grow differentiated bot-native arms that can leverage the great power found behind the conversational interface./hea

Posted by John Onorato in Chatbots, Portfolio, Technology, 0 comments

How to Meditate

Image Courtesy Insider.com

How to Meditate

by John Onorato

Lots of people think meditation is about “emptying your brain of thoughts.”

It isn’t, though!

One of the brain’s primary functions is to generate thoughts. Thus, it’s counterproductive to expect it to be blank.

The purpose of mediation is to notice your thoughts.

It’s actually rather similar to when you “get in the zone” while biking, running, swimming … or any other sport, actually.

It’s also similar to finding your creative groove when drawing, painting, writing, knitting, or whatever else might be your jam.

Meditation is deceptively easy! And as with many things worth having, much success can be attributed to preparation.

Setting the Stage

  1. Find a place where you won’t be bothered or distracted. I like to sit for 10-20 minutes, but when starting out it’s better to start out with 3-5 minutes.

    Don’t stress about the amount of time you meditate. It’s more important you do it regularly. If you’re trying to start a “meditation habit,” it helps to do it at the same time every day. This primes your brain for the task at hand.

    I like to meditate at least once a day, shortly after I wake up.
  2. Get comfortable. Keep your back straight and upright. It’s not advisable to lie down, but you can sit in a chair. If you do this, make sure both feet are on the ground.

    But however you get comfy, know there is no set way.

    I like to do it semi-traditionally, sitting with both knees on the floor, and a hard pillow under my butt.
  3. Set a timer. I recommend a soothing, gentle timer. Don’t use a jangly one that will upset you.

    There are many smartphone apps to use for meditation. The first one I used was Calm.com— in addition to having a course for beginning meditators, it provides pretty music and nice things to look at, should you want to keep your eyes open. It also has a non-intrusive bell to tell you when you’ve reached the end of your scheduled time, and it keeps track of the days you’ve meditated.

    Pro Tip: Seeing the “streak” you’re keeping is great motivation for starting a daily practice!

    I also like InsightTimer. It has a great timer that’s very customizable. It’s also free, and has over 20,000 guided meditations, spiritual podcasts, and pieces of music.

    Headspace is another good one. I used it for a while and liked it, but you had to pay to continue past the introductory class.

    Please note: If you’re going to use an app to meditate, then I suggest you mute the notifications on your phone. When you’re trying to turn your concentration inward, the last thing you want is some external stimulus drawing your attention outward again.

    In time you’ll be able to weather little interruptions like this. But at first … mute the phone.

How to Sit

Now that the stage has been set, we’re ready for the fun part. It’s as easy as counting your breath!

First, set up your environment. Light a candle, dim the room, put on soft music, whatever works for you. Be sure you won’t be interrupted for a while.

Next, sit as described above.

Inhale. Count ONE with this breath.

Hold it until your body is ready to exhale. Don’t stress, just let go.

Count ONE with that exhale.

Hold until your body is ready to inhale again. Remember to just let go.

Count TWO with the next inhale.

Count TWO with the next exhale.

Inhale, THREE.

Exhale, THREE.

Just let go.

Proceed until TEN, then start again at ONE.

If you lose count, no big deal. Just restart at ONE.

Your mind will stray. That is fine. That is natural. This is what brains do!

Simply observe these thoughts and let them pass. 

Imagine yourself at the bank of a river. Imagine your thoughts passing by you like leaves floating in the water. They flow downstream and out of sight, along with your breath.

Another good metaphor is traffic. If you’re standing on the side of a road, waiting to cross the street, the cars move in front of you, back and forth. You can’t affect them, and they don’t affect you.

Don’t worry about trying to “make your mind empty.” That’s not how brains work! The very function of the brain is to generate thoughts. The trick is to observe those thoughts and not engage with them.

If you are having trouble with your thoughts, try labeling them. When a thought comes up, say “thought.” To yourself, of course! If an emotion comes up, say “emotion.”

About Breathing: Most folks breathe from their lungs. Their shoulders move up and down with the breath. This is more like a “half-breath,” though.

To get a deeper, fuller breath, use your diaphragm. Moving it down will push your belly out a little and elongate your lungs. Doing so will enable you to take in a roomier breath.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with breathing the first way. Breathing without diaphragm action will make your shoulders move. Just be aware of how you’re breathing.


As You Meditate

While meditating, you can repeat affirmations or other phrases. These are called mantras.  Some examples: 

  • “I am awesome” 
  • “My body is healed”
  • “My mother is well”
  • “I am grateful for our abundance”

Pro Tip: Practicing gratitude on the regular is an awesome way to level up your vibrations!

Simply count your breath, and keep your mantra in mind.

If you want to say your mantra phrase out loud, that’s cool too.

If you feel more comfortable keeping your eyes open, then try and keep your focus on one point: The flame of a candle, your bedroom doorknob, that spot on the wall. It’s all good.

If you have to scratch some part of your body, that’s OK too. Scratch that itch, just don’t focus on the scratching. Do it and be done.

All this said — there really isn’t any “right ” way to meditate, any more than there’s a “wrong way.” (Hint: There isn’t.) There’s only what works, and what doesn’t work.

This is what works for me, and I hope it makes a good starting point for you. If something I’ve suggested above doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it that way. Do it your own way.

And that’s really all there is to it.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Book a call with me using the friendly purple button, or shoot me a message using the Contact link in the menu above.

Posted by John Onorato in Portfolio, Visionary, 3 comments
The Magic of Ghostwriting

The Magic of Ghostwriting

Part 1, By John Onorato

Do you need content created for your website?  ✅

Do you yearn to be an author?

Do you seek to make your content relatable and understandable? 😍

We can all write, sure.  It doesn’t take any special training to help others understand our thoughts and feelings.  Words are available to everyone!

We can all create a “first draft” of material we want to communicate.  Some of us can do that faster than the next person.  

Here’s the thing, though.  If a person doesn’t have a real affinity for writing, if they don’t really enjoy it, then they’ll rush their work.  They won’t take their time with it.  They won’t read it out loud just to see how it sounds, and how it comes across.  

And in circumstances like these, quality suffers.  

When writing quality suffers, your message suffers as well.  

Let that sink in.  In fact, let me say it again:  When writing quality is poor, your message suffers.

Tell me, what is the point of having content on your site, with your name on it, that people can’t understand?  Or even relate to?

Perhaps more meaningfully, what does poor writing like that say about a company?  What does that say about a leader’s thought process?

Clearly, it’s best to leave writing — especially mission-critical writing — to the professionals.  👍

Ghostwriters to the Rescue!

If you want to write a book, but don’t have the time …

If you want content on your website, but only have a few ideas …

If you want to improve the way you or your company is perceived …

If you want quality communications coming from your office …

Then you are not alone!  More and more business owners, entrepreneurs, and industry professionals want to write books and put quality content on their websites, just like you do.

Ghostwriter logo designed by calicoowl

This is where the ghostwriter comes in.

But what is a ghostwriter, anyway?

A “byline” is the attribution given to a written work.  Typically, it names the author of the book, article, or other piece of writing.  This article was written by me, so I put my byline under the title.  

A ghostwriter is simply someone that writes under someone else’s byline.  

That is, the ghostwriter creates the piece, and someone else gets credit for it. 

Many famous books have been written by ghostwriters.  To name a few:

  • Many of the popular Goosebumps books (by R.L. Stine) were ghostwritten after the series got too popular to keep up with demand
  • The Jason Bourne series, started by Robert Ludlum, was continued by Eric von Lustbader after Ludlum’s death in 2001 
  • Ian Fleming started the series, yet many of the James Bond books were ghostwritten

Politicians also use ghostwriters.  Hillary Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump’s books were created this way.

And industry leaders use ghostwriters.  Billionaire Richard Branson wrote a book this way, as did Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.

In fact, many of the books I read and treasured as a child, I am only now discovering were ghostwritten!

Photograph by Hugh Kretchmer
  • My father read me the Hardy Boys detective series, by Franklin W. Dixon.  Ghostwritten!
  • The Nancy Drew series was written by Carolyn Keene, yet that name is a nom de plume (pen name) for a larger collective of writers
  • Even Victor Appleton didn’t write all the “Tom Swift, Boy Inventor” books that I loved so much!

If so many famous people benefitted from employing a ghostwriter … shouldn’t you do that as well?

Yes, But Why Would You Do This?

Sure, ghostwriters create famous books.  They also write blog entries, white papers, social media posts, magazine advertorials, and even newspaper articles.

Ghostwriters are often part of a corporate team.  They create lots of content using the byline of an executive, or maybe under no name at all.  Alternatively, a ghostwriter may work freelance, working on only one or two projects at a time.

Many people want the acclaim and accolades that come with being a published author.  Having a book or two under your belt makes you seem credible, trustworthy and reliable.

It’s also worth mentioning that books and blog posts can grow your business.  Especially if you’ve got a personal brand, a well-written book attributed to you is worth a lot of street cred.  

And a freelance ghostwriter like myself can create content for your small business, helping you get more customers and driving more traffic to your website.  Or even to your fancy new brick-and-mortar store!  (Or your old store. We don’t discriminate 😁 ) 

Isn’t it better to focus on growing your business?  

Isn’t it better to concentrate on what you already know, rather than trying to master yet another new skill?

People who are busy changing the world don’t have time to write.  People who don’t have the skill or the time to write quality content have an alternative:  They hire ghostwriters.

Conclusion

Ghostwriters are an incredible resource to tap into.  They can position you and your business well — creating content, managing blogs, and generally making it seem like you are superhuman.  

I can see your readers now:  “They’re changing the world and they have time to write this fabulous content?  Wow! I wanna know more!”

In my next post, I’ll talk about how to hire a ghostwriter.  (Hint: it’s as easy as clicking the Contact link above!  😁 ❤ 🙏 ) And we’ll talk about some things to consider when hiring a ghostwriter, as well as how to prepare for hiring one.

Hiring a ghostwriter might not be the first thing you think of.  But when you do, the results can be downright mystical.  

Mystical, get it?  Because ghosts. 👻 (Did I mention I’m a father?  I sure do love me some dad jokes.)

Posted by John Onorato in Blog, Portfolio, 0 comments
How to Make Your Business Even More Successful with Blogging

How to Make Your Business Even More Successful with Blogging

by John Onorato

Are you a life coach?  

A conscious business leader? 

Are you the owner of a business whose aim is not only to earn money, but to do good?  For other humans, for animals or for the environment?

You are?  Awesome! Keep reading, then 😃

So  … how do you get your message out?  

One of the best ways to market your business is through blogging.  Blogging is a great way to build awareness of your brand.  Blogging also makes it super-easy to serve your customers by providing content that’s both relevant and useful.

There are several more reasons blogging is good for your business.  

  • It drives traffic to your website or store
  • It enhances your other inbound marketing efforts
  • It attracts more potential customers
  • It makes your search rankings better (SEO/SERP)
  • It can help position your brand as an industry leader
  • It helps you develop better relationships with your customers

In fact, according to HubSpot, businesses that make blogging a priority are up to thirteen times more likely (13x) to see a positive return on their investment.

Let’s talk a little more about these benefits!

More Traffic, Better Traffic

Blogging gives you a chance to provide relevant content for your customers.  It is a very effective way to drive traffic to your website or your storefront.

It doesn’t matter if your main presence is on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or even StumbleUpon (are they still around?).  With little to no investment up front, you can start a blog. Then you’ll send notifications to these services, linked to your articles.

Doing this makes it easy to make your blog the basis of all your social media activity!

All you have to do is provide a reason for your followers to click through to your website.  Your content provides this reason.

Better Search Rankings

Who wants to improve their Google search rankings?

You do, of course!  😃

Blogging will help you do just that.  Fresh and original content is still the best way to beat your competitors on the search engine results page.  

Liberal use of keywords is a great way to do this.  Make a list of the topics, categories and keywords you want your business to be known for.  When writing your posts, use these and other related words frequently.

Even if you can’t figure out how to wedge those keywords in there, a regularly maintained blog about your product, business or industry will naturally improve your search rankings.  This is because Google favors original content.

Of course, being intentional about keywords will only improve your results.

Usage of keywords on your website is a great way to tell Google that your site is a good place to find information about those topics.

Once a Leader, Always a Leader

Want to position yourself as an industry leader?

Write a blog!

Want to show off your knowledge and resonate with your market?

Write a blog!

Have something to say?  

Write a blog!  😁

Well written blog posts position you as an industry leader.  When you post about topics that impact your market and demonstrate your knowledge, people recognize you as an authority in your field.

If you have a physical product, write about how it improves the lives of your customers.  If you have a service, write about how happy people are after experiencing it. Your customers will grow to understand that you are the source for knowledge about the things they are interested in.

Blogging builds trust as well.  The more relevant knowledge you demonstrate, the more your customers will trust you to provide what they need.

Not only that, but your readers will benefit from the value you provide them!

Improving Customer Relationships 

A good blog deepens the relationship you have with your customers.  By providing information directly on your website, you maintain control over what they know about your offering.

An informed client is a happy client.  And they will appreciate the fact that you are the one talking to them — they are not having to dig up some third-party information that may or may not be true.

Additionally, your patrons want to be seen as people, not as numbers.  Or, heaven forbid, as dollar signs.  Who is your ideal customer? Customizing your blog for that person will attract that kind of person.

Regular blogging not only improves the relationship you have with your customers, it boosts customer retention as well.  People want to buy from other real people, and a blog proves there are real people on the other end of that transaction.

The Next Step

So yes, blogs are great.  There are many ways to make them happen.

Yet you can’t just snap your fingers and expect to have an effective blog.

Or can you? 🤔

ThreeOwl Media specializes in writing blogs.  The information provided above comes from direct experience with the thousands of blog posts that we have written.  

Maybe you already have a blog.  That’s okay! ThreeOwl Media can make it better.  We guarantee it.

See, I am a freelance writer. I do it full-time. I love the act of stringing words into sentences and paragraphs.  

And I love serving people.  I love making people look their best.  I love helping people shine.

So if you don’t have time to write, let me do it for you!

If it’s not convenient for you to write, let me do that for you.

If you have more of a numbers brain, and not so much a word brain, let me write for you.

I’ve been writing ever since I could push crayons around a piece of paper.  And I’ve been writing professionally since 2013.  

To say that writing is my passion is to understate it completely.

Yes, writing is my passion. But it’s also my life. That’s how my brain works. That’s how I process feelings. That’s how I express myself. That’s how I relate to the world.

So let my expertise help you!

With your marketing efforts, with your manuals and documentation, with your correspondence, with your video scripts … whatever! Anything you need written, I am happy to write it for you.

And if you already have written material, I guarantee I can improve it.

Contact me to arrange a call or meeting!  Use the Contact Me link, found under About Me.

I look forward to helping you with your writing projects!

Posted by John Onorato in Blog, Portfolio, 2 comments
Sharing, Don’t Overshare: The Key to Making Friends Fast

Sharing, Don’t Overshare: The Key to Making Friends Fast

by John Onorato (ghostwritten for SpeedFriending Events)


Stacy Jules didn’t know anyone in Austin after she moved.  She had spent 38 years in San Francisco, and making new local friends was a priority for her. “It was pretty devastating to be so anonymous,” the 66 year old artist says.

Jules made herself leave her house every day for the express purpose of meeting people. She visited a tea house, took yoga classes, went to senior centers, joined a gym and a community garden. She describes herself as being a shy person, but she still compelled herself to strike up conversations at the grocery store and on the bus.

Lasting relationships were still a problem, though. Most people were nice, but they had nothing in common together. Others simply didn’t want to get close.

Then, a short time ago, a woman complimented her blouse when Jules was in a store. They began to chat, and discovered not only that they both liked to write, but they liked to work with textiles as well. After a few minutes,  Jules asked a risky question. “Would you like to come over to my house for coffee … now?”

The other woman accepted the invitation, and now the two are extremely close.

Jules thought that all good friendships had to be “slow cooking,” based on years of experiencing life together. This contrary experience was a marvelous revelation.

Is it really possible to forge such an intimate relationship so quickly?

Yes it is, say research psychologists. “Fast Friends” is a protocol that many use to study friendship in the lab. It takes about 45 minutes, and helps strangers attain a certain level of interpersonal closeness. The key is for both parties to disclose personal information – and do it gradually.

Curious? People working in pairs are given three sets of 12 questions. The questions must be answered in order, with partners taking turns. Questions in the first set are only slightly personal, like:

  • “Do you ever rehearse what you are going to say before making a telephone call?”
  • “When did you last sing to someone else? To yourself?”
  • “What small things make you happy?”

 In the second set, the personal-ness is edged up a little.

  • “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?”
  • “What is your scariest memory?”
  • “Which of your possessions could you not live without?”

And the last set is the most personal:

  • “When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?”
  • “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find the most disturbing?”
  • “What are your top 5 most beautiful things in the world?”

Each set of questions also includes an exercise, for instance “Tell your partner what you like about them,” which is intended to
build the relationship.

The idea is to grow the connection slowly and organically.

Arthur Aron, professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, developed the protocol. “You want to be slow and reciprocal,” he says. “If you disclose too much too fast, you put someone off.”

If you’re not sure how to find that sweet spot between disclosing too little and way too much, just think of this: Remember how desperately you wanted to get off that plane the last time someone in the next seat did a brain-dump into your head?

Yeah, that.

Dr Aron says that oversharing is often seen as overwhelming, one-sided and generally socially inappropriate. If the other person seems tense, shifty, fidgety or at a loss for words, then you might be oversharing.

There are a plethora of situations that the Fast Friends technique can be used in, to great effect: Improving business connections, romantic bonds, and relationships between neighbors. Researchers have also used it when studying how to create closeness between groups that typically distrust each other, such as police officers and residents of low-income neighborhoods. It also helps between people of different ethnic backgrounds.

I’ve made friends quickly while waiting in line to vote, talking to homeless men outside of Target, and delivering packages to offices. Sure, I strike out from time to time. There has to be some chemistry there in the first place. When I meet someone I might like to know better, I like to share something about myself that is both personal and slightly self-deprecating. People often appreciate it when I tell them that I’m divorced.  That tends to spark their curiosity and opens them up some.

If you want to establish intimacy, the only way to do that is to be willing to open up about yourself. It’s easy to open up about more intimate details, once each person sees the initial connection.

When Jules’ new friend, Susan Simmons, came over to her house on the day they met, they talked about their creative projects. The more they talked about themselves, the more they realized that they were very much like each other.

It wasn’t long before Simmons alluded to a sad time in her own life. Then Jules shared a story she usually keeps under wraps, about how she had to rebuild her life after the end of her first marriage. The sharing was careful, a consciously building thing.

The two now describe their friendship as as unexpected gift. The sharing and spontaneity are beneficial in a mutual way. It has been exciting for the both of them to discover that they could forge deep a friendship so quickly.

“I learned that life can be shared in the moment and be just as alive as if it had been experienced together,” Simmons says.

Published Link:
http://speedfriendingevents.com/the-key-to-making-friends-fast-speed-friending-events-reports/

Posted by John Onorato in Portfolio, Relationships, 0 comments
Converting Addiction into Productivity

Converting Addiction into Productivity

by John Onorato (ghostwritten for Toshiba)

Have you heard the term “nomophobia?”  Perhaps, perhaps not. This is an actual thing, though:  Nomophobia refers to the fear of being out of mobile contact, due to a user having no network coverage, losing their phone, running out of battery life or not having credit.

The word itself is an abbreviation of sorts, standing for No Mobile Phone phobia.  It makes the language geek in me cringe, as it should properly mean “an irrational fear of the law.”  (Nomos, in Greek, means “law.”) Still, there’s no accounting for taste, or Internet pundits, for that matter.

Apparently this is a big problem, as well.  47% of 2,163 women assayed have this fear, and 58% of men have it too.  The level of fear participants experienced compared to those experienced on wedding day, trips to the dentist, and so on.

Of course, in many cases, this may not be an actual fear — or phobia — but may be simply a more typical anxiety.  Yet still, this points to dual growing trends in Western culture — those of mobile phone overuse and Internet addiction disorder.

So the question is — is this a real problem?  And if it is, should we address it? How?

To be sure, mobile productivity applications and cloud-enabled networks, along with Unified Communications technologies and others enable workers to “make better use of their time.”  They can email while standing in line at the grocery store; they can work on a presentation while waiting for their car to be serviced; any idle bit of time can be transformed into a moment of productivity.

The downside to this, though, is that it’s disconnecting humans from one another, and pulling our focus into devices, a million miles away from the people standing right next to us.  We’re increasingly addicted to our tech, many enterprises having workers that are spending every free moment tweeting, emailing, and chatting, with the line demarcating work-related tasks and personal ones growing more blurry all the time.

Mobile devices are great ways to give us things to do.  Many times those things are even quite useful. Too often, though, these devices take priority over the other people in the room with their users.  This is enough of a problem in a social setting; in a business setting, it can be disruptive and even insubordinate.

Again — how do we deal with this easy-to-distract workforce?

The first thing that needs to be done is basic parameters need to be laid down.  Like what parents do with children, ground rules for good screen time habits need to be set.  Firm corporate expectations need to be established. Let your employees know, for example, that it’s your priority that your company be seen as on-task during meetings.  In other words, no phone use during meetings, especially when clients are present. Of course there are extenuating circumstances; information needs to be looked up, and so on.  Phones are indeed useful tools. But when that situation is dealt with, put the phone away. And for heaven’s sake, no personal use.

Simply put, boundaries need to be set.

Another possible strategy might be to try convert disruptive habits to a more collaborative and productive effort.  Take, for example, business VoIP applications. Most of them offer cost-effective ways of maintaining constant communications, and even collaboration between departments.  There’s video conferencing, SMS, IM, and the various features of UC as well. So if, by their own choice, your employees are going to be cyborgs anyway, you might as well leverage that to your advantage.

For instance, do you have an employee that’s overloaded with work?  Try shifting some of that over to one of your more smartphone-addicted workers, and you’ll have a shot at remediating two problems at the same time.

And of course, there’s always the last step:  Bringing in an outside expert to talk about device etiquette in the digital age.  They can also deliver talks on how to deal with addictions to their devices, and actually get more done … instead of simply checking their phones 110 times a day.

Posted by John Onorato in Mobile, Portfolio, 0 comments
IP Phones can be Six-Figure Liabilities Just Waiting to Happen

IP Phones can be Six-Figure Liabilities Just Waiting to Happen

by John Onorato (ghostwritten for Toshiba)

Bob Foreman’s seven-person architecture firm is using the latest technology in IP phones.  Thinking they were safe and protected, they went about their business normally, until one day they opened their phone bill to see that they had run up a bill of $166,000 in one weekend.  Quite odd, given that no one was in the office at the time.

Based on the firm’s normal phone bill, it would have taken them 34 years to amass those charges legitimately, as stated in the complaint filed with the FCC.  But the charges weren’t a mistake. Malcontents had hacked into the phone system of the company, and routed the calls to premium-rate numbers in Somalia, the Maldives, and Gambia.

The Fraud
The firm, based in Norcross, Georgia, is one of the latest victims of an old fraud that’s found a new life, now that most corporate phone lines are IP-based.  This swindle is easier to pull off on the web and infinitely more profitable. The targets are largely SMBs, and cost global victims $4.73 billion last year. That’s up almost $1 billion from 2011, states the Communications Fraud Control Association.

Tier 1 carriers have anti-fraud systems meant to catch hackers before they mount false six-figure charges.  They can also afford to credit their customers for millions of dollars in fraudulent charges every year. SMBs, though, often use local carriers, that lack these sophisticated systems.  And worse yet, some of these carriers are leaving their customers to pay for the calls they didn’t make.

The Law
There are no laws that assist in this area, as there are no regulations that require carriers to reimburse defrauded customers the way credit card companies have to.  Lawmakers have occasionally taken up the torch, yet little progress has been made.

How It Works
Hackers lease premium-rate phone lines, typically used for psychic or sexual-chat lines, from one of many web-based services that charge callers over a dollar a minute, then give the lessee a cut.  In the US, these numbers can be easily identified by their 1-900 prefixes; furthermore, callers are told they will incur a higher rate. Elsewhere, though, such as in Estonia and Latvia, these numbers can be more difficult to spot.  The profit for the lessees might be as high as 24 cents for every minute a caller spends on the phone.

The black hats then crack a SMB’s phone system in order to make calls through it to their premium number.  This is typically done on a weekend, when nobody will notice. Using high-speed computers, hundreds of calls can be made simultaneously, thereby forwarding up to 220 minutes’ worth of calls a minute to the pay line.  Ultimately, the hackers get their cut, usually delivered through MoneyGram, wire transfer or Western Union.

This plan can be quite profitable, when executed well.  This is why premium rate resellers are on the rise. In 2009 there were 17; in 2013 there were 85, says Britain’s Yates Fraud Consulting.

What’s Being Done
The problem is moving fast, say many industry groups, yet they are still trying to tackle it.  One slow solution is to routinely input known fake “hot numbers” into a fraud management system, then sharing that with carriers so they can be blocked.

Catching the elusive hackers is hard, if only because the crime can cross up to three jurisdictions.  In 2011, the FBI worked with police in the Philippines to arrest four men who used the ploy to collect $2 million in fraudulent charges.  This money was funneled to a militant Saudi Arabian group that US officials believe underwrote the 2008 Mumbai terrorist bombings.

Bob Foreman’s firm has turned to the FCC, the FBI, and several other agencies for assistance, yet they are still on the hook for their $166,000 phone bill with their local carrier, TW Telecom.  It now includes $17,000 in termination fees and late charges. The telecom’s VP for corporate communications said that Foreman’s firm ought to have taken measures to ensure the security of its equipment.

Mr. Foreman responded that his firm didn’t even understand that this was a possible risk.

To avoid this happening to you, be sure to turn off call forwarding, and ensure there are strong passwords for international dialing systems as well as voicemail.  Treat your phones as Internet-connected machines, because that’s what they are. Hackers are already doing that. When you put a computer or an IP phone system on the Internet, it immediately gets probed for a weak point.

published link:
IP Phones can be Six-Figure Liabilities Just Waiting to Happen

Posted by John Onorato in Portfolio, Technology, 0 comments
True Fans and the Footprint of Core Audience

True Fans and the Footprint of Core Audience

by John Onorato (ghostwritten for PMD Partners)

To date, there have been many campaigns that happened mostly online.  One very successful example is the Occupy movement.  The “We are the 99%” crusade began in 2011.  Another effective endeavor that still continues is the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which went viral in 2013.  These campaigns had many grassroots-type elements in them, allowing people to feel as if they had a personal stake in the destiny of the movement.  These elements also contributed financially to the endeavors and got the groups talked about — thus ensuring their success with Crowdfunding Promotion.

There are many similar examples to be found in various places.  Two great places to start looking are here on pmd-partners.com and also on kickstarter.com, where screenwriter Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars movie project recently enjoyed so much success.

Fanaticism makes things happen …

For those not familiar with the TV series, Veronica Mars was set in a fictional California town.  The eponymous character, played by Kristen Bell, was a high school student who at night was also a private investigator.  She operated with the assistance of her father, a detective.  The series lasted three years, over which time it accrued a significant fan base.

After the series ended, Thomas continued the project, writing a feature film script for Warner Bros. studios, who declined to back it.  And here’s where the commonality with the other online campaigns is seen:  The fans.  Or, if you will, the fanatics.  These two words have at their root the Latin “fanaticus,” a word describing speech or behavior that manifests when one is possessed by a god.

The fans certainly delivered for Thomas and Co.’s Veronica Mars.  The project goal was $2 million; that was met within just ten hours of opening.  Over 30 days, they raised over $5.7 million dollars, allowing Thomas and Warner Bros. to release the movie on March 14, 2014.

Clearly, fans can make things happen.  Fanaticism makes things happen.  Therefore it’s important to understand fanaticism, so as to be able to use its power within your own projects.  It’s especially important to use within crowdfunding campaigns, which don’t have the same resources as large studios.

Primarily, there must be a reward for fans.  In the case of the Veronica Mars fan base, the movie itself was the reward.  Promise the fans something they really want, and they will be more willing to assist your endeavor.  The cinematic continuation of the series was the whole reason why the project was backed in the first place.

Since Thomas ran the project on Kickstarter, he was able to promise additional rewards for higher levels of support.  At $10, a backer would receive a PDF copy of the movie’s shooting script; at $35, a Veronica Mars T-shirt; and at $50, a physical DVD of the movie.  If a person donated $1000 to the cause, they would also get two tickets to the movie premiere in either New York or Los Angeles, attended by the cast and creators, plus the after-party.

It’s interesting to note that not only is the pre-bought merchandise an expression of choice and desire for a certain thing, but it also conveys a recognition as a member of a common fan group.  This, therefore, assists with the need for identification and belonging, which is well-documented that all humans have.

Many people, however, opted for no physical reward, choosing instead to funnel the resources that would be diverted towards their rewards back into the project.  That says something for the nature of their fanaticism, and their devotion to the cause as well.  This altruistic concern for the project may be for the project itself, but may also extend to other fans, so they too get to reap the benefits.

The power of cable television has changed the way programming is offered.  At one time, several major networks delivered all available programming.  Now the there are many different channels, some serving niches as small as The Horror Channel and Movies4Men.  Moviemaking, too, is changing in a similar way.  The fans are making this change possible, through the power of their fanaticism.  With this they wield great power; clearly, as we see in the case of Veronica Mars, they can decide what gets funded and what does not.  Although the fan base is not typically important for large studios, which have large amounts of money to invest in the next big budget film, it doesn’t necessarily deliver to the people what they want to see.

Therefore, fanaticism is a way for people to overcome the traditional unwillingness of larger studios to give them what they really want to see.  It gives the people a way to take a stand on what they want to watch.  Not only that, but it gives them a means to make it happen as well.

published link:
https://pmd-partners.com/true-fans-footprint-core-audience/

Posted by John Onorato in Crowdfunding, Portfolio, 0 comments
Facebook or website?  Self-promotion on a shoestring

Facebook or website? Self-promotion on a shoestring

by John Onorato (ghostwritten for Austin Visuals)

Marketing and promotion are important parts of any animator’s toolkit.  Unless you want to create videos by yourself and for yourself, it’s important to let people know about your work. 

Yet there are many ways to accomplish these tasks.  You can benefit either from having a dedicated website, like this one for Dunkirk, or a Facebook page like this one for 2016’s Arrival.  Many films have both.

Before Facebook allowed pages that weren’t directly related to people, a website was how you promoted your film.  A website helped your film attract fans and a following.  When someone expressed interest at a networking or other event, it was pretty easy to give them your URL.  When they visited, there was all kinds of data about your film:  contact information, about the crew, backstage photos, credentials and the like.  And the better the site looked, the better you and your project looked.  But it costs money.

Creating a website from the ground up, though, is neither easy nor cheap.  Today it’s easy to do that on Facebook.  And Facebook is free. 

Big plus, huh?

So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each method.

How Much Will It Cost?
For those of us who have yet to create a website, let’s look at the very basics.  We’ll assume you’re going to use the WordPress.org content management system as it’s easy to use.

One of the great things about WordPress is that there’s lots and lots of themes (or skins) aimed at creatives.  There’s even a number of themes aimed at short films.  You can easily use these to make a unique website.  Sure, there’s a learning curve, but it’s easy to glean what you need to know.  And they usually offer the essentials at a discount for first time buyers.

If you’ve never created a website before, let’s break down the basics. We’re going to assume you’re using something like a wordpress.org hosting platform. (Learn the difference between WordPress.org and .com here ).

For your first purchase, you can get the essentials at a discounted cost:

  • Domain – Also known as the website’s URL, you have to purchase the right to use JohnsAwesomeMovie.com .  This runs usually a dollar or so for your first year, and $10 a year after that.
  • Hosting – Your site has to be hosted on a server so that it’s accessible to the rest of the Internet.  This usually costs $10 a month, or less if you’re able to pay for a whole year up front.
  • Theme – Without a theme, your site will look like everyone else’s – like you simply dumped a bunch of stuff on a page.  There are some available for free, but the better ones cost between $40 and $150.

So to get started with a basic package, you’re looking at between $50 and $160.  Sure, you might have that in your back pocket right now, but for a low-budget film, that can be a big chunk to let go of.  And that’s not even factoring in the time you’ll need to put in to make your site work right.

What About Facebook?
On the other hand, a Facebook page is free.  They’re easy to get up and running; might take you ten minutes.  There is no daunting learning curve or fussy plug-ins.  And there’s no code to mess with either.  But you won’t own the page outright like you would with a dedicated website.

Now if you wanted a website that’s completely unique and new, you’d incur the additional expense of a web designer.  That’s a good way to catapult your site into the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. 

Given that, it’s usually best to pick a theme you like and then tweak it so it doesn’t look like the original.  Or you could hire a WordPress theme designer, who are generally more affordable than creating a whole site from scratch.

Engaging the Social Element
There is a lot more to having your own website, too.  You have to think of discoverability – you might have created the greatest site in the world, but if no one knows about it, and therefore no one visits it, then you’ve wasted your time and money.  Webmasters spend lots of time on making pages that are friendly to search engines (also known as SEO, or Search Engine Optimization).  They work on the site content as well, all with an eye towards increasing the page rankings of the site.  If all that’s on your site is a short film, and no additional content to add value, people will soon stop visiting your site.  And thus your site will slip to the bottom of the search rankings barrel.

Even if the video players on Facebook and YouTube are pretty basic, they do get the job done.  And again, they’re free, aside for the time you put into content creation.

So there’s a lot of value in examining the benefits of promoting – and maybe hosting your film on Facebook as opposed to a conventional website. 

There are a lot of benefits to hosting your work on Facebook.  Granted, there are several ways of getting it out there:  You can put your film on YouTube (or Vimeo), you can create a website, or you might create a Facebook page.  Regardless of how that happens, though, people are at some point going to start talking about your film on Facebook.  It might even start making the rounds there.  But the reach of people sharing your Facebook page versus that of people sharing your film’s site will be much much greater.  One major reason for this is that the algorithm that Facebook uses to share things strongly favors content that will keep a user on the Facebook site.  The more times advertisements get pushed out in front of users’ faces, the more revenue Facebook gets.  So if a few people watch, then share your film, you’ll probably get more people viewing your Facebook page than if those same people shared a dedicated website.

Now About Your Audience …
Sounds like a done deal, doesn’t it?  Facebook seems to win all around.  But there’s one more perk to creating a Facebook page, and that has to do with how you communicate with your audience.  On Facebook, that communication can be real-time.  In other words, you can use Facebook to communicate with your fans on a moment’s notice.

On Facebook, as soon as someone posts a thing, you get a notification.  You can’t beat that for ease and speed of use.  You can build a following, an entire community surrounding your film on Facebook.  And your audience will grow, as communities tend to do.  About the only area in which a dedicated website beats Facebook is if you wanted to have multi-threaded forums.  Of course, those can be pretty tedious to install.  And Facebook does offer the one thread to you, which is great for disseminating information about your project.  People can talk about it on there, too; always a plus.

Sure, it’s easy to configure WordPress.  It’s even easy to do so on the fly, from your phone.  But it’s still not as easy as using the Pages app provided by Facebook. 

If you’re making a low-budget short piece, setting up an entire website solely for promotional purposes just isn’t feasible.  You’ll be spending money that you’ll likely never get back.  On the other hand, though, if you want to sell merchandise (or if you wanted to install forums, as above), a dedicated site is the way to go.  Although they are improving it, the merch portions of Facebook are currently pretty fickle.  So if you think you’ll have a market for hats, shirts, pom-poms and DVDs of your movie, then for e-commerce purposes, a dedicated site is the way to go.

There is one more situation in which a full website is preferable.  That’s when you have a large body of your work to showcase.  Using a dedicated site, it’s easy to put all of that work on a single easily accessed page.  It’s harder to do on Facebook.  Not only is there a river of status updates to navigate, but any additional work has to be buried at least one or two clicks deep.

And let’s face it:  The harder people have to work at finding your great Making Of featurette, the less likely they are to actually watch it.

The Takeaway
What’s the takeaway here?  If you want to have an entire exhibition showcasing all of your project, then make a website.  On the other hand, if all you have is a short film (and maybe one or two other things) then it’s better to avail yourself of Facebook’s great Pages feature.

On Advertising
When was the last time you took a look at your Facebook feed?  If it was any time in the last month, you’ve seen a Sponsored Post.  These are “smart” promotions.

Facebook Pages looks at what categories a thing is in, and pushes content out to people who have expressed similar interests.  For example, if you already follow several different romance pages, and I had a film named “Pretty Woman Redux,” then posts about my film would likely appear in your timeline, since I’ve targeted those kinds of keywords.

You can do pretty much the same thing with a website, but the process is much more involved.  And you have to use a third-party ad manager.  More money down the drain.

Facebook can be a thing that you either love or you hate.  Either way, it’s an indispensable tool for any sort of creative type — even filmmakers! — to promote their work.  It’s a great idea to use it for any creative venture.

Posted by John Onorato in Portfolio, Technology, 0 comments