We Need to Teach Digital Citizenship

(photo "IACP austin 2011: cooking with UT elementary kids at whole foods" by Sarah Gilbert)
(photo “IACP austin 2011: cooking with UT elementary kids at whole foods” by Sarah Gilbert)

How can we establish a local and national effort to better prepare young people to participate online? They need to learn how to identify and use tools; understand and model behavior that won’t embarrass their parents or themselves unless they want to do so; and connect with others and contribute in a positive way online and offline.

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” -Abraham Maslow

It’s easy to get attached to the first tool you pick up. It’s also easy to use that tool in situations where it doesn’t function as well. We need to teach young people that when engaging with other people, there are many ways to influence others. You can use your writing and snappy wit to shine on social media. You can wow a friend with a heartfelt thank you note. And you can impress a colleague by putting your phone away, making eye contact and having a great conversation. Digital citizens know when to use the right online and offline tools to make a great impression.

Would you like your words repeated by others?

The best tools are not very useful when you use them poorly. We need to persuade and teach our digital citizens to understand and model the right behaviors online. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean encouraging them to be robotic or boring or perfect. It means helping them to understand the impact of their behavior so that they won’t embarrass their parents and themselves (unless they want to).

How would you behave if internet actions were more like being at a dinner party?

We also need to encourage our digital citizens to meet online and engage offline. Connecting with others is much more powerful in person and turns your interactions into meaningful lifelong relationships. You can connect with more than 150 people online, and you can’t really know them unless you talk to them, meet them face to favs, and connect to them on a human level.

Where do we go from here?

Becoming a digital citizen doesn’t mean giving up the tools and joys and horrors of social media. It means engaging with the world as a person and not as a persona. It means taking the time to go visit a friend instead of just clicking “like”. And it means making the effort to be fully engaged as a human with your surroundings while understanding the worldwide reach instant publishing can grant to spread your words and thoughts around the world in an instant.

Please contribute to the discussion by adding your thoughts below – what is the one thing you would teach a teenager about interacting on the Internet and understanding your impact on people?

Your goal should be: connect online to connect offline

The #SM301 hallway convo turned into a hallway lunch.
photo by Tac Anderson

On Friday, I attended the SM301 conference, and couldn’t help overhearing, over and over again, “I think we’ve met – I recognize you from your Twitter picture!” and “it’s great to finally put a name to a face and not just a Twitter handle.” I made connections in person (finally) with Liza Sperling and Rod Brooks, caught up with Tac Anderson before he disappears to London for two years (sniff), and realized that the brilliance of social media is that it allows you to connect with people you might never have known – and that the true value doesn’t reveal itself until you also actually connect offline with those people.

Mike Whitmore told a touching story about social media has changed his life and allowed him to bounce back from painful personal events, and I think his advice leads me to a broader observation about social media: that your goal should be to connect online to connect with people offline.

Here are a few ways that you can do this:

Take the next action and be human

The next time you’re clicking a link on Facebook to send someone a birthday hello on their wall, go ahead and do it (and then, send them a personal note or card to let them know that you’re thinking about them.) Or call someone and set a time to meet for coffee. or just do something that lets the other person know that you value their time and their connection. You never know what that will mean to the other person, but I guarantee that it will mean at least as much as it means to you.

Send a friend interesting information at an unexpected time

If you’re actively listening to your friends, you’ll also find out about things that matter to them. Wouldn’t it be cool if your friends sent you cool information (a link, an article, or a video) about a topic or interest that matters to you the next time they found it? (Yep, I think that would be cool too.)

If you send that “I’m thinking of you” link with a one or two-sentence description of why that content makes you think of that person, you’ll be on your way to becoming a valuable provider of interesting information (always a good thing.)

Go Out of Your Way To Help

We’ve all been in this situation: “can you help me to do x next Thursday/weekend/whenever?” and the first response that might go through your head is “mmmm. I’m not sure I want to do that.” When you go out of your way to help someone, you’ll feel good about it (and they will too.)

You can do all of these things online (and I’m sure you are already doing that) – and think of how much more meaningful it will be for you to take the same energy you’re investing in a RT, “like”, or “follow” and to show your friends that you’re thinking of them. You’ll be glad you did it, and they will be too.

Free Apps in the Cloud: How do Traditional Vendors Compete?

Search for “free image editor” in your favorite search engine and you will find a bundle of links: Picnik, FotoFlexer, Aviary (tip o’ the cap to @ssandys), and Sumopaint among them. Several of these are full-featured, robust image editors with the ability to crop, resize, layer, and mask images in much the way as traditional tools such as Photoshop, Fireworks, or free tools such as the GIMP or Paint.NET. With these competitors nipping at their heels, how can the leaders like Adobe compete?

I see three primary ways that traditional vendors can compete with the cloud upstarts. First, if you can’t beat ’em, join em by creating your own online version. Second, build better features or some other competitive advantage and market to the power users who will pay for this better product. Third, Ignore ’em. You’ve got the power, so why bother?

I think we’ve seen the results of option three over time. IBM didn’t pay enough attention to Microsoft. Microsoft didn’t pay enough attention to Google. Is Google paying enough attention to Apple? Lest my friends brand me an Apple fanboy, the point here is that standing pat is not a good option when the alternative, almost-better option is free.

So that leaves option 1 and option 2. Adobe has launched an online version of the flagship Photoshop tool in direct response to some of these online newcomers. For the casual user, this is probably no more than simple competitive marketing. Use Photoshop.com or Sumopaint? The average user might flip a coin. The user who has some experience with Adobe might pick the incumbent, especially when given the option of transforming their free files into freemium files stored online or loaded locally to use in the version of Photoshop they already have on their work or home computers.

Option 2 — building a competitive advantage through a better product — might involve some combination of local and cloud computing over time. I believe that Adobe’s best market for non-print designers and other folks who don’t need very very large files is the large contingent of us who occasionally need tools like Photoshop but aren’t likely to spend $700 for a full license. I realize there is Photoshop Elements, but I’d rather spend some amount of subscription money for an Adobe partnership with a stock photo house so that I can have my basic photoshop program and access to the images that I’d like to manipulate and build.

If you’re a traditional vendor seeking to extend your brand online or a disruptive newcomer trying to attack the incumbent brand, the message is clear: find the 20% of the activities your users love that occupy 80% of their needs. Build your application so that those core things can be done online, and build either a subscription-based product to capture the rest of the base or an installed application that stores at least some of its information online. Add some value through bundling your services with an adjacent service (yes, I’m aware that the Adobe stock photo service didn’t go so well, but I think it’s worth another look) and make at least some of the features and files available to users where they are. If you are building online image editing, build an auto-preview that can be accessed from a mobile browser. You get the idea. Now start finding those ways to build great apps online.

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