Are You A Digital Activist Or ‘Slacktivist’?

Social networks and mobile apps are keeping online Americans engaged on an ongoing basis with charitable and environmental organizations than in the past—when involvement was defined by year-end giving.
Approximately 64 percent of those surveyed by marketing agency Cone Communications said that a “like” or a “follow” usually led to their more active involvement with a non-profit organization in the form of volunteering, donations or information “sharing.”
Personally, that’s my biggest takeaway from a research study I’m reading early this Wednesday afternoon (over a sushi lunch)—the 2014 Cone Communications Digital Activism Study (registration required to download it, sorry). The sample included 1,212 adults at least 18 years old (583 men and 629 women). Aside from the stat I’ve already cited, there are other intriguing stats, such as:
  • 35 percent of those surveyed had made a donation using online methods (which is actually not as high as some of the other data points suggest it should be); still it marks a shift from “traditional” methods, such as writing a check.
  • Slightly fewer (32 percent) watched a video with an overly environmental or social slant (same as the above).
  • Millennials and Hispanics were the most engaged when it came to using social and mobile technologies to learn about specific corporate social, environmental or sustainability practices.
What sort of content captures people’s attention? Surprisingly (although nice for someone like me), the written word comes out slightly ahead, followed by videos and images of the cause in question. A caveat: respondents who fell into the Millennial age bracket were also interested in games and quizzes that enhanced their knowledge of a particular issue.
“Digital engagement around social and environmental issues allows everyone to be an activist, a philanthropist and a hero,” said Alison DaSilva, Cone’s executive vice president, in a statement about the data. “The challenge for organizations is to convert that click of a button into a powerful gateway for deeper impact.”

Will Wearables Be Part of Professional Dress Code?

Enough is enough! Those of you who actually know me in “real life” know that I’ve been super busy, both personally and professionally. And now, I have some of my time back, so I will pledge (yet again) to be better about updating this column.

Today’s item is a shameless self-plug for my column from my exciting daily assignment, curating and writing the Data Sheet for Fortune magazine — dedicated to the “business of technology.”

Much of the buzz I’m hearing this fall regards wearable technology, various gadgets such as a fitness bands or smart watches or eyewear (ala Google Glass).

These devices collect data about your heart rate or how far you’ve walked or the average time between intervals in your exercise routines. They can also be used to offer more information to you on the job. For example, Google Glass (and its kin) might be useful for letting field service workers watch repair videos while they are actually on a job.

Personally speaking, I can’t imagine ever wearing one of these things, especially if it’s as big and ugly as the Microsoft Band. (Image right.)

If I actually had a job, I might not have a choice. Apparently, almost three-quarters of the U.S. workers recently surveyed by softare company Cornerstone OnDemand believe wearable technologies may become mandatory in our workplace future (no time frame). Sort of like ID badges required for getting around most corporate campuses.

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Chatting To Save The Planet

Anyone who reads my occasional posts here knows that I love exploring how technology can make things better, especially when it comes to helping reduce humans’ impact on the planet. As you might expect, I receive pitches (dare I say “many”) for my paid writing contracts that I often can’t cover, because they sit outside my focus.

One example is a note I received in late April related to a relationship between environmental NGO The Nature Conservancy and WeChat, a mobile messaging service that originated in China and that has more than 100 million registered users. In a bid to build its presence elsewhere, WeChat will donate $5 to The Nature Conservancy for every new user who downloads its mobile app and follows the Conservancy’s official account on the service. (It has pledged up to $1 million.)

“The Nature Conservancy’s WeChat account will be a new destination where users can learn more about the Conservancy’s work to benefit nature and people, find ways to get involved and access daily nature photographs and a host of other fun surprises,” the organization writes on this Web site.

Basically, Nature Conservancy realizes many of us like posting photos of the stunning flora and fauna that nature shows to us on our social networks. The organization is seeking more visibility among that audience, plus (ultimately) it hopes to become connected to individuals that might wind up volunteering at activities it is coordinating around the world.

While this isn’t something I’d write about for my GreenBiz or Forbes gigs, this arrangement struck me as interesting — especially since the non-profit has similar relationships with dozens of other businesses from Avon and Aveda to Walmart. So, I’ve downloaded the WeChat mobile app, and will explore it as a way of organizing the text messages that seem to be flooding into my life with far more frequency. (In order to follow The Nature Conservancy account, you have to set up the app and type in “Nature_Org” in the search bar.)

Will this app be useful? Heaven knows, but if check it out can help one of the environmental groups I already support, why not give it a spin?

Are Your Kids Oversharing On Facebook? App Offers Informed Answer

I continue to come across interesting software applications that I would definitely evaluate if I was a parent in this confusing age of privacy. The one I’m reading about today — called AVG PrivacyFix Family — is specifically focused on helping parents know when their children are “oversharing” on Facebook, without necessarily spying on all their interactions.

The software builds on the AVG PrivacyFix service, which helps you understand who can see the information you’re posting on Facebook, Google or LinkedIn, and manage the settings accordingly. For example, it will tell you if you’re inadvertently allowing marketers to use your information without realizing it, because, as we know “opt-in” or “opt-out” can be kind of sneakily handled. AVG PrivacyFix also keeps up with all those surprise privacy updates that seem to happen behind-the-scenes on a regular basis, which you may or may not be able to follow based on the fact that you have something call real life going on.
The Family edition extends these services further to your family’s collective identity, specifically for Facebook (at least right now) — to make sure your parents, kids, siblings, cousins, whomever aren’t communicating things that aren’t for public consumption. It will probably be just your immediate family, but you get the idea. 
Some of the specific features include a Wi-Fi Do No Track feature that shuts down Android devices and prevents them from transmitting MAC addresses when they’re transmitting wirelessly, a data calculator that shows how much your data is “worth” to Facebook or Google, and blockers to thwart more than 1,200 trackers and advertising spam services. You can manage the settings for everyone in your family as part of a central dashboard.
The software comes as an extension for Web browsers (I just downloaded the Google Chrome one), ore as a mobile app for Apple iOS or Android. (A sample interface image for the Apple app appears in this post to the right.)
Did I mention this software is free? At the very least, it will help your family start having much more informed discussions about social network privacy. It might not change what your children think it’s OK to share, but at least they’ll be able to protect themselves should they choose.

Are You Ready To Take Artificial Intelligence Home?

In the realm of sometimes cool, sometimes creepy technology, I’ve just heard about something called EmoSPARK, which is being billed as “the first home A.I. console.” With A.I. standing for “artificial intelligence, of course. Although the developers prefer to call it “emotional intelligence.”

The computer (pictured to the left), which could be available to early adopters by May 2014, is capable of detecting human emotions by monitoring facial expressions. The creators are involved with a design group called Emoshape from London, which is trying to raise $100,000 toward EmoSPARK’s development through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

One of the initial applications will be gaming. But Emoshape is trying to attract developers who might create a range of other applications, such as information alerts or social media monitoring. The conversational features that are shown off on the company’s Web information are far superior to what you’d hear from your average GPS. Some of the potential uses are depicted in the video below:

The technology that underlies EmoSPARK comes from various resources such as the NASA Modis satellite and the Freebase database. The “cube” uses the Android operating system (the same software that runs certain smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy) and it can connect to the Internet and to other computers, smartphones and devices via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi wireless connections.

With 22 days left as of when I’m posting this article, the campaign for EmoSPARK had raised more than three-quarters of its funding goal. And the comments on the site mention that the company now is in talks with IBM about how to integrate its technology with Watson, which is IBM’s highly publicized AI technology (the same stuff behind the computer that plays Jeopardy and chess with such expertise against human rivals).

Those kicking in $1,000 will get to be a beta-tester of the technology. Those contributing $224 will get $25 off the cube (the list price looks to be around $250), along with one free mobile app. (You have to tack on $35 for shipping.)

Software Developers to Kids: Let Me Entertain (and Educate) You!

Given how many children now have their hands on tablet computers, smartphones and other mobile gadgets, it’s not surprising that more educational software developers are targeting these platforms. The buzz-phrase for this category of software is “edutainment.”

These trend was a big deal at the recent International CES show in Las Vegas, and Microsoft uses a similar idea to encourage young developers in a competition called the ImagineCup. (The latest edition, called the Kodu Cup, was focused on environmental issues and you can read about the winners here.) If children are interested in engaging this way, why not play on that?

This thinking is behind a new series of applications and games from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) called Autism Learning Games: Camp Discovery. (A screenshot of the interface appears above.)

The app uses voice narration to encourage exploration: the child answers by touching flashcards or dragging and dropping items around the environment. The interaction is all based on applied behavior analysis, which has been used in the treatment of autism for the past 20 years. Right now, the game works on an iPad, although there are versions coming for iPhones, Android gadgets, and Kindle e-readers.

“Camp Discovery incorporates preference assessments, which sets it apart from other children’s learning apps,” said Dennis Dixon, chief strategy officer at CARD, in a press release about the technology. “The app addresses the demand for mobile educational solutions that use proven techniques.”

CARD is an organization in Los Angeles that was founded in 1990 by a clinical psychologist who specializes in autism disorders. It runs 26 treatment centers around the globe and works with individuals of all ages who have been diagnosed with autism.