Embracing Change in Online Shopping & Social Networking

The world is changing pretty fast - exponentially in many cases, particularly in the technology and online industries. It’s natural for anyone, regardless of age or creed, to feel overwhelmed by the library­ of choice. Laptops, iPads, notebooks, Kindles, iPhones, netbooks, iPods and gaming consoles are all on offer under different brands and with varying specifications. This is failing to mention the infinite range of smartphones.

The wearisome part is that most of these devices are able to do the same things - some better or worse than others. Buying new gadgets­ is fun and exciting but can be stressful and daunting at the same time. Having them all is impractical, and once they are outdated, they will likely become dust-gatherers a few years down the line.

The important things to ask oneself when considering getting that new device everyone is talking about are 1. “do I need this device in my life?” and 2. “how will this gadget add value to my life or improve the things I currently enjoy doing?”

Embracing Change in Online Shopping

Embracing ChangeSome go as far as ordering their clothing and groceries online. Most would agree that these are things that we want to touch and see before purchase. Electronics, on the other hand, are certainly worth buying online.

Consider that when you shop in a computer or electronics store, salespeople are arguably hired to try to sell you the most expensive version of what you’re looking for. The products will have a store mark-up; stores need to pay to have the goods ordered, packaged and advertised. This all adds to the price of most electronics.

Online stores are able to cut out most of these extra costs. Trusted online shopping websites often offer­ free shipping to your door for orders over certain amounts. We are able to read consumer or peer reviews and assess the ratings fellow consumers have given specific products. Other websites offer comparisons of similar products. And, with a bit of Googling, we can even find video reviews and unbiased write-ups to aid our decision-making.

Embracing Change in Online Banking

There is very little need these days to stand in banks queues. The transference of funds can all be done online via online banking and PayPal. If there are still banks that do not offer these services they won’t be around for long. The only thing to be cautious of is phishing - receiving a scam e-mail, for example, asking you to supply or “update” your banking details. A reputable bank will never ask such things of you via e-mail.

Embracing Change in Social Networking

Then there is the plethora of social networking sites and services - Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Google Wave, blogs, forums and the lot. Social networking sites are in a constant state of flux and new ones will emerge while others may wither and die.

The world of social networking should not be feared, but rather embraced for all its potential. This is fast becoming the preferred way to communicate worldwide. It is also how many companies recruit new employees, how business contacts are formed and how we consume our news and media.

The best bet is to stick with the tried and tested. With any free social networking site or service, we may have to deal with copious amounts of advertising, but this is a fairly small price to pay. Social networks are inevitably under the watchful eyes of their users. If any social networking site were to seriously violate any human right, or start charging users unfair amounts, they would soon be replaced.

Obviously one needs to be careful with what information you decide to provide on social networking websites, and this does not only pertain to profile information. “Liking” or becoming a fan of a particular brand or product might see you receiving related advertising or promotions for a long time to come...

Embracing Change: Online Shopping & Social Networking

Embracing Change (image: brainleadersandlearners.com)

It is also advisable to never defame someone on a social network. This can come back to haunt you. Jobs have been lost and relationships have been broken as a result. Understand that whatever you do online effectively creates an ongoing online record of yourself.

But again, the inevitable growth of the Internet and development of technology should not be feared. There will always be those who will try to take advantage and scam us. In fact, nearly two thirds of our beloved Internet is comprised of spam. But the more you practice being a savvy online user, the better equipped you will be to filter out the bad and make the most of the good.

The Consumer Protection Act guards us and I can say with confidence that the greater good will always prevail online. There is much to learn and discover as the Internet continues to bring our world closer together. It is my opinion that its fast-changing pace is both exciting and full of great potential. Embrace and work with it and it will ultimately enrich your life.

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THE INTERNET: Feel free to be a jerk

Guest post by Tharuna Devchand

SO a little while ago the Mail & Guardian suspended a journalist intern for an anti-Semitic comment on Facebook that amounted to hate speech and was therefore in conflict with the South African Constitution. Without a warning, the kid’s career was ruined because of a social networking site where groups like “My name is Khan” (a group that disrespects Hinduism) and “F*** Islam” exist with thousands of followers who spread the hatred.

I’m not justifying what Ngoako Matsha said, nor am I implying that M&G was wrong in suspending him, but consider the medium in which he said it — cyberspace.

In cyberspace, every person should be seen as a figment of their own imagination­. Nothing is real. Nothing we say is a true reflection of who we are. On the Internet, we are all Tyler Durdens. There are no boundaries, no policies and rules to keep us neatly between the lines, no reputations to uphold or cultural conventions to keep us in place.

The Internet is like a global Fight Club. It’s where we can guiltlessly des­troy something beautiful and return to our lives feeling better about ourselves. It’s cathartic and, since we all can’t be Jackson Pollocks, it may sometimes be our only outlet.

I constantly hear people complaining about how perfect their Facebook friends’ lives are or what interesting lives other people on Twitter have. It’s not true. It’s just what people choose to show you on the website that makes it all seem perfect.

Social networking sites house a giant­ community of people all suffering from small-penis syndrome. There is a constant war to keep up with the cyber Joneses. Saying that people exaggerate on the Internet about their lives, their feelings, their opinions and how great their lovers are is an understatement. If peer pressure in real life can drive one to do things one normally wouldn’t do, the pressure to be infamous on the Inter­net can land one in a mental institution. Gosh knows what Anthony Weiner was thinking when he tweeted a photo of his, um ... weiner­.

While it is never easy to work out the true nature of a person in real life, it is 1 000x harder in cyberspace. On the Net, you can be anything and anyone you want to be.

Those who aren’t that popular or who lack friends may upload albums of them being cool with photos of them sloshed with their heads in a toilet just to show that they can party with the best of them. People who are going through tough times may exaggerate all the positive things in their lives and leave out the hardships. And people who are quite restricted or oppressed in their real lives, may go cyber crazy, voicing outrageous opinions and desires on the Net — probably under a pseudonym. It’s a safe outlet that we believe has no consequences — until we lose our jobs for letting loose.

The problem is that there is no line that determines how far is too far until we cross it. We constantly push the boundaries of what is right and wrong just to see how far we can go, whether it’s driving at 129 km/h in a 120 km/h zone or voicing mad love for Adolf Hitler and his beliefs.

Contemporary society has become mostly unaffected by things that are shocking or at least used to be shocking a decade ago, and to deal with this, people try to raise the bar. Cartoonists, comedians and teachers are continually trying to shock people into thinking about things on a different level. Look at how far advertisements have gone to prevent people from drinking and smoking excessively, and to encourage people to abstain from sex, and you’ll see just how just how numb our society is.

Is it okay for me to call my black friend a k***** on her Facebook wall knowing that she won’t be offended? Is it okay to tweet angrily about how upset I am about something the DA said and in turn label it as racist, not because I think that they are racist, but because I just feel the need to put the party down? No, but it feels good.

The South African Constitution currently doesn’t apply to the Internet. Maybe it should, but I doubt that will stop people from saying things, uploading videos and creating images that are shocking. Every day there are more stories of people being judged by their online images. Employers hire people based on their tweets, courts implicate people because of Facebook profile photos, people are fired because of some YouTube video that shows them spray painting expletives on a wall. But it’s those things that make us cool on the Net, that get us hits, that make us believe that this could one day make us famous.

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FACEBOOK FIX: Where did all the good people go?

THERE’S a little public event going around Facebook which explains why things may have been so quiet on the social network lately. We are reassured that our friends aren’t ignoring us or that we haven’t been blocked from seeing certain people’s updates. Rather it’s an annoying little setting that became the default after you switched to the all-new and blinged-out Facebook profile.

What you are (probably) seeing when you log onto Facebook is a select few individuals who always seem to have something to say and may have developed mild Facebook addictions. People who actually say "lol" in verbal conversation. Either that or no one seems to give a fig about Facebook anymore. In truth, what’s happening is that you are only seeing the updates of friends, people and pages that you interact with most. Annoying, but this can be fixed.

The Fix

On the homepage click the “Most Recent” tab on the right of the newsfeed. Click the drop-down arrow beside it and select “Edit Options”. Click on “show posts from” and change this setting to “All of your friends and pages”. You’ll now be able to view all of your friends and fans once again!

Why do popular websites feel the need to constantly “update” features that worked perfectly fine before? Is it an attempt to stay new and fresh or at least give that impression? I can understand how websites like Facebook regularly rework their design to accommodate more advertising, but when things like profile info and photo viewers are constantly changed, what’s the point eh? It seems to piss off more people rather than appease them.

I’m just saying.

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GEOTAGGING: Internet safety and online privacy

THE Internet and privacy have been major concerns in the past decade — and rightly so. Facebook alone has been caught up in several court cases in the past few years, which has seen the service making major revisions to their privacy policies.

Facebook aside, several of the latest gadgets on the market today automatically make use of geotagging. This infuses media such as photographs with location-based information or metadata, which is perhaps the bigger concern when it comes to privacy and security online.

What is geotagging?

The following definition of geotagging is taken from the official homepage of the U.S. army, which is trying to discourage troopers from using social media services and risk compromising their positions.

“Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification to photographs, video, websites and SMS messages. It is the equivalent of adding a 10-digit grid co-ordinate to everything you post on the Internet.” - www.army.mil

My LocationiPhones, iPads, smartphones with built-in GPS, and several other devices automatically create such metadata when content is shared or posted on the Internet. Smartphones in particular automatically embed geotags in pictures taken — often with users being unaware.

Social networking services, on the other hand, are being forced to be a lot clearer when it comes to geotagging photos and videos in particular when posting them on the Internet. Photo sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa for example, offer geotagging options, but this is not an automatic function.

The fear is that tagging photos or videos­ with an exact location on the Internet allows random people to track an person’s location and movement patterns.

Understand what you're using

iPhone GPSIt is therefore important to understand the characteristics of any hi-tech device you might own. Study its manual to determine how to switch off GPS functions. This is, of course, if you fear for your own safety.

Perhaps the real concern involves parents of teenage children. There is a prevalent belief that pedophiles living in basements scan the Internet on a daily basis and use such services to find their next victims. It would be foolish to think that such people don’t exist, but it would also be a shame if technology was avoided altogether because of a fear of them.

The bottom line is to practise being a savvy and cautious Internet user and teach such practices to your children. Social networking is all about bringing people together and sharing experiences with family and friends. It has also been used to successfully capture criminals online. Good measures are already in place to keep things private and secure and are being continuously improved. The choice to behave in a relatively risk-free and secure manner online lies entirely in the hands of the user.

Geotagging, the Internet & online privacy: final thoughts

As soon as you sign up for a Google account or join a social networking site or service, you immediately begin building an online track record. Deciding who you connect with, and what information you choose to supply online, will determine who gets to learn what about you.

If you use services such as Gmail, Twitter or Facebook, look under your “settings” tabs to access and edit privacy options.

Of course there are risks of genuine breaches to private information; but, if you have nothing to hide and are savvy and cautious­ when online, the chances of geotagged media seriously harming you or your family are about the same as being struck by lightning.

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MEETYOURFRIENDS: The real deal or complete scam?

IT can be forcefully argued that Facebook has set the benchmark for new and emerging social networking sites. In fact, morsels of the Facebook phenomenon can be seen in several non- social networking websites too – usually ones that allow users to provide status updates, add ‘friends’, comment willy-nilly and “like” certain things by giving them a digital thumbs up.

It almost seems that the online giant that Facebook has become could never be rivaled or surpassed by any other social networking site - no matter how enticing they appear; but there are still some that try.

MeetYourFriends dot com is one of the latest social networking websites to reach our screens and feels confident that it will “bury their rivals within days.” With a healthy initial investment and the aim of tapping into an apparent emerging market of 30 and 40-somethings, time will only tell if MeetYourFriends will succeed or fail.

MeetYourFriends

"MeetYourFriends.com is a back-to-basics social network that brings together new friends from across the globe. With simple sign-up and fast search, the website offers instant friendship using Direct Messages and Live Chat. Based on secure and powerful web technology, the social community brings the world to your front door for chat, fun, and friendship" - www.meetyourfriends.com

For those who wish to raise virtual cattle and throw sheep at their peers, MeetYourFriends will not satisfy. According to a popular MeetYourFriends press release published on Techcrunch, the site is a back-to-basics social networking site that will appeal to fans of The Beatles and sliced bread.

MeetYourFriends developer, Neil Bryant, explains that the service aims to target users who simply want to engage in casual chat. “We wanted to bring some fresh new ideas into the social networking sphere, and with a unique combination of email and live chat we think we may have just achieved that,” says Neil.

There have already been over a hundred comments from Internet users regarding MeetYourFriends - most of which were not favourable of the endeavour. There is a general feeling of “do we really need yet another social networking website that does the same things as Facebook?” as well as shared feelings that the entire venture is a scam.

One intrigued commenter tested the waters by signing up on MeetYourFriends only to find that he had to pay in order to chat to existing, high-profiled users. It was discovered that the ‘social networking’ service had a dating component to it whereby users had to pay if they wished to converse with the more exotic-looking users already on MeetYourFriends. He also found that many of the “models” on MeetYourFriends were Ukrainian and that he was unable to unsubscribe from the service.

A word of warning

Firstly, anything new in the social networking world needs to be different; different and easy to use. If legit, MeetYourFriends may win favour on the simplicity front, but I do not imagine it will become anything to write home or Facebook about.

It is also always important to consider the motives behind new social networking websites – especially ones that have invested so much into their creation. According the aforementioned press release, MeetYourFriends will not change its privacy policy or allow advertising once it’s settled on its laurels.

“We think Facebook is nervous, adds Neil. Global domination awaits.” Most will find that very hard to believe. As always, be cautious when handing over any personal information online; and if you dare enter, beware of being spammed by adware and spyware and the occasional Thai bride.

Some social networking humour: I leave you with the advert for Friend Face from that timeless episode of The IT crowd:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Pebihz0FJA&p=5AEFE7082D6AD523&playnext=1&index=24[/youtube]

Related: The Future of Social Networking

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