Moderation: When Good Tools are Used for Bad Reasons

Posted by kellie on Sep 2, 2009 in Case Study, Moderation, Online Community

Disemvoweling has been around since Teresa Nielsen Hayden invented it in 2002, although it’s only gained popularity in recent years. The concept is simple — remove the vowels from a profane, hateful, or otherwise dis-allowed comment in order to take the “heat’ out of it. The original post remains, and you can get the sense of what it originally said without needing to endure it in its entirety.

It’s one of the popular tools of moderation, but like all moderation tools, it’s not right for all situations, all reasons, or all communities. A tool is just a tool — what matters is how you use it. What matters more is WHY you use it.

As I was reading Consumerist this afternoon, I came across a story about Hearst telling a blogger to stop using the disemvoweling tool they have on their blogs. What struck me at first was that there was a lawyer somewhere in Hearst making an argument against using this tool. This seemed odd to me, so I clicked the link in their post that went to the blogger’s entry on being told to stop disemvoweling people, to see what his reaction was. What I found was a whole second layer to the story, and the real lesson here.

In his TimesUnion.com blog, Matt Baumgartner discussed why he was told to stop disemvoweling, and why he doesn’t want to do it.

For the record, I like taking away people’s vowels when they have something negative to say about me or someone else.  It feels empowering.  And it’s one of the few joys this blog brings me.  When I see someone get even more angry after they see their vowels were removed, I laugh and then dance around my room.

And, here’s the real problem. A good tool used in the wrong way. Disemvoweling a post for breaking the community standards/rules of posting/whatever you call them. (You do have some sort of community standards, right? If not, get some ASAP.) But taking any negative moderation action on a comment or post simply because they disagree with you or say something negative about you is just wrong. If you are that thin skinned, and especially if negative moderation is one of the few joys you have, then you need to take a step back and decide if blogging/posting/moderating/community management is really right for you. It’s not about revenge or power, it’s about creating a good interactive space for everyone to participate in.

You will get way farther with people who disagree with you and think negatively about you by engaging them head-on in your own space. I’ve seen people start out to be harsh critics and turn out to be raving fans, and all it took was a little interaction and reassurance that someone’s listening.

We all have our bad days and our pet peeves. I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never smiled and giggled as I’ve banned someone from a community because I was so happy to see them go. But it’s about wielding the power fairly and equally, and not getting drunk from the power. Which Mr. Baumgartner clearly has on his TimesUnion blog.

The tools you use don’t matter as much as the people using them.


Two New Speaking Engagements Added

Posted by kellie on Aug 19, 2009 in Online Community, Speaking, Travel

I’ve just added two new speaking engagements!

In October, I’ll be speaking at the Digital PR Summit in New York City. I’ll be on a panel about measuring your digital PR efforts. Now, I certainly don’t want to misrepresent myself or confuse anyone. I do not work in PR, and never have. I think there can be a lot of overlap between community and PR, but there are a lot of areas where they don’t overlap at all. Earlier this year, I co-presented at the New Communications Forum with Connie Bensen, where I talked about the different tools that we use at SEGA to measure our community efforts, including brand monitoring tools, traditional web management tools, and the stats provided by social media sites. I also discussed some of the ways in which we are limited in how we measure effectiveness. The fine folks from PR News Online were in the audience, and asked me to speak at the Digital PR Summit later this year. I happily accepted, and I’m hoping to share my unique knowledge and experience, and I’m hoping to learn a lot, too.

I am also pleased that I’ll be speaking again at the Community 2.0 conference next year. All of the speakers are still being confirmed, but it’s looking like I’ll be on a panel about the business uses of Twitter (where I hope to discuss SEGA’s Free Stuff Friday giveaways) and I’ll also be doing a solo session on managing multiple brands in community. I have really learned a lot in having multiple people managing multiple brands over multiple tools, and I hope to share some of my learnings.

If you are interested in having me speak at an upcoming conference, I’d be honored! Please look at my page on speaking, and send me an email.


Acts of Lust, or Acts of Exploitation?

Posted by kellie on Jul 27, 2009 in Case Study, Culture, Gaming, Rant, User Generated Content

I got back from Comic Con last night. I’ve been meaning to go for years, and this was the first chance I’ve had to go. I was there with the SEGA community team, covering all the action for our fans who couldn’t attend. We had a booth in the show, next to other gaming booths. EA’s booth was a few down from us. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary the dozen or so times that I walked by the booth. With that many people in such a small space, it was practically impossible to see anything. So it was only when I got to the San Diego airport last night that I read about EA’s “Sin to Win” Comic-Con promotion of Dante’s Inferno.

(I know. I work for a competitor to EA, so it might seem like I’m just slagging on them because of that. I assure you, that’s not the case. )

EA has already apologized for the contest, and provided a bit of explanation. I think this is an unfortunate case of having a decent idea, but having a completely insensitive, sexist, ham-handed execution.

Let’s start with the core idea. According to EA’s apology/explanation, they are designating each month until the game launch with a different “sin” theme for the month. July is “lust”. To enter the contest, you need to take a photo of yourself with one of the “booth babes” from the EA booth. You submit that photo, and EA picks one winner to have a night on the town with VIP treatment. From a marketing standpoint, I can see what they were aiming for with this. It gets people to visit their booth, to create content they can use later, it’s interactive, and they get to giveaway a prize that’s going to be desirable to most, if not all, entrants. But as usual, the devil (pun intended) is in the details. Or in this case, the choice of words and phrases.

To enter the “Sin to Win” contest, participants are encouraged to “commit acts of lust” by taking photos with a “booth babe”. (The graphic says “us or any booth babe” but unless the EA staff is wearing bikinis in their booth — something I’m certain I didn’t see — the implication here is clear.) Then you “prove it” by submitting your photo. One winner gets “a sinful night with two hot girls” and “a chest full of booty”.

Like I said, I can see the core idea here. But it’s hard for me to believe that nobody thought this was inappropriate enough to stop it before it happened. They are encouraging their  fans to sexually harass the people they’ve hired to work their booth. If someone thought of it and didn’t say it — that’s a problem. If someone thought of it and said it, nobody listened — and that’s a bigger problem. If nobody thought of it — that’s the biggest problem at all. I know (and have written about before) women in the gaming industry, and how sexist it can be. I wish the line was never crossed, but it’s nice to see some fairly mainstream outrage over this issue. Maybe some good can come out of these unfortunate incidents — to shine the light on, and change, how women are treated in gaming.

Besides the sexist overtones here, there are also heteronormative overtones. They’re assuming that their audience is not only male, but straight males. They’re probably right, but a contest like this is extremely alienating to anyone who is not in that straight male demographic. Not that gays (or straight women) can’t appreciate a pretty lady (just like I appreciate a cute boy), but “acts of lust” is farther than anyone really wants to take it with someone that’s not of their preferred gender.

I understand the pressure to market games well, and to try to give your audience what they want. But it’s so easy to get carried away in that without stopping to think about what you’re actually saying, doing, and encouraging. I hope we all stop and think a little bit more.


The Dangers of Unmoderated UGC

Posted by kellie on Jul 20, 2009 in Case Study, Online Community

I really don’t want to be an alarmist. Lots of companies want to be hip and  ”web 2.0″ and let users create content. But lots of companies are scared of doing so. In the debate between leaving users free to create really cool stuff and restricting their access in case they do something unsavory, I generally come down on the side of the users. Most of the time, they will create really great stuff, and a small percentage will create something you’re not wild about.

You have to hedge your bets as much as you can. This is also akin to “trust, but verify”. Companies can and should let their users create content, but there has to be some sort of moderation plan in place. When the content being created is images or video, you really have to be careful.

This was brought into sharp focus this past weekend for Food Network. They host a reality-ish show called The Next Food Network Star that is a competition to be, um, the next Food Network star. They are currently taking applications for Season 6, and that includes the ability for applicants to upload a video to the Food Network site. Video that is, apparently, not moderated by anyone.

Food Network Humor caught Food Network with their pants down (pun intended). A video entitled “Heating up the Kitchen” was uploaded, stayed up for over 24 hours, and became the third most viewed video on the site (according to the comments on that blog entry). The problem? It was hard core porn.

Food Network Humor caught a screenshot of the video on their site, which was removed from the Food Network site. (They’ve blocked the nudie bits out, but I’m linking to it instead of publishing it just in case you’re at work or are sensitive to this kind of thing.)

I applaud that they want users to create content and upload it to their site. But as a company, you have to protect yourself against something like this happening. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. It would have taken someone extra time to review all the videos before posting, but it’s well worth it to make sure you aren’t hosting and promoting porn to your members. Trust, but moderate.

I’m guessing that someone on their web/community team had a very, VERY bad Monday.


Homophobia in Gaming Communities

Posted by kellie on Jul 11, 2009 in Culture, Gaming, Online Community, Social Media

Anyone who has spent time in an online community, on virtually any subject, has experienced hatred. Almost all kinds of hatred grows wild and multiplies quickly on the internet. The internet is phenomenal for helping people find others who share their interests and views, and helping those groups to organize. This is the driving force behind every online community, from knitting communities to white supremacist communities. My friend Jessie Daniels has just published a book called Cyber Racism about how racism has made the jump from offline means (print and in-person organization) to the online world.

Homophobia is no different. From seemingly innocent comments like “That’s so gay” to explicit “I hate gay people” comments, it’s everywhere. But homophobia on the net is often more innocent-looking, and more difficult to recognize, than other forms of hatred. I’m not just talking about forums that are obviously dedicated to homophobia. Remarks like “that’s so gay” pass by in most every community without anyone blinking an eye. And many communities have cultures that don’t discourage that, even if they don’t encourage it. As managers, culture-makers, and rule-setters in our communities, we have an obligation to make sure our forums are free from homophobia, but we have to do it in a way that’s fair for everyone. Lots of attempts have been made, and I’m not sure anyone has found the silver bullet answer yet.

GLAAD is working to fix that. They’ve recently launched a project to combat homophobia in virtual communities, and they’re starting with a panel discussion on homophobia in the gaming community. The panel will take place from 11am-1pm on July 18, 2009 at the Electronic Arts campus, just south of San Francisco in Redwood City, California.  To RSVP, please email digitaltickets@glaad.org or visit www.glaad.org/digitalevent. You can also join the Facebook Event Page.

From GLAAD’s blog:

The first of its kind panel discussion will spotlight the issue of homophobia in virtual communities and include the perspectives of both gaming companies and LGBT gamers.  Discussion will revolve around the state of the problem in these communities, policy solutions that have been developed to address homophobia – some that are working and those that are not – as well as looking forward to challenges and opportunities in various sectors of the industry including production, policy and enforcement, financial, customer service and the end user experience.

Confirmed panelists include:

  • Flynn DeMarco (Alias: Fruite Brute), Founder of GayGamer.net
  • Dan Hewitt, Senior Director of Communications & Industry Affairs for the Entertainment Software Association (ESA)
  • Caryl Shaw, Senior Producer in the Maxis Studio (Electronic Arts, Inc.)
  • Cyn Skyberg, VP of Customer Relations at Linden Lab
  • Stephen Toulouse (Gamertag: stepto), Program Manager for Policy and Enforcement on Microsoft’s XBox LIVE

I really wish I could attend this panel, but I have a prior obligation next weekend. (My wife is having thumb surgery on Friday.) If, like me, you can’t attend the panel, don’t fret. It will be recorded and distributed for everyone who can’t make it. I’m really looking forward to the DVD of the panel.

In addition to promoting the panel on Facebook, Twitter, and the GLAAD blog, they’ve taken it one step further. Justin Cole, the Director of Digital Media for GLAAD, wrote an Op-Ed this week on Kotaku, a very popular video games blog. This is most definitely not “preaching to the choir”. As I’ve written before, the gaming industry can be a very male and hetero-oriented place. Kotaku, and its readers, are no exception.

In the Op-Ed, Justin cited this video as an example of homophobia in gaming.

From the YouTube description on that video:

Other than maybe a quick “hello” to the chat room or a request to “veto”, I didn’t say anything first or taunt anyone. What was said by these players was done with no provocation on my part. The vast majority of the times I wouldn’t even respond back so the audio would be clear. Things I didn’t include in this video are the betrayals (people on my team killing me), players asking me NOT to party up, or all leaving mid-game so that I’m all alone.

Justin also cited some startling statistics from a 2006 study from the University of Illinois “the social and behavioral demographics of gay video game players” as well as “the role of sexual orientation on gaming habits.” (Emphasis mine)

52.7% of those surveyed said the gaming community is “Somewhat Hostile” to gay and lesbian gamers, 14% said “Very Hostile.”

When asked what forms of homophobia people have seen in the gaming community, here are some of what the surveyed said:

87.7% – Players use the phrase, “That’s so gay.”
83.4% – Players use the words “gay” or “queer” as derogatory names.

52.3% – Stereotypical representations of gay characters in games.
42.5% – Refusal of game designers to include well-developed gay characters.
49.4% – Invisibility of gaymers and/or the gaymer community.
When asked how frequently players experience homophobia, those surveyed who responded “Always” or “Frequently” equaled 42%. Add in “Sometimes” and it brings up that total to 74.5%.
When asked how often those players respond to the homophobia they witness – 50.9% total responded “Never” or “Rarely.”

Given these statistics, it’s no wonder that Justin and GLAAD have chosen to focus on the gaming community first in their battle against homophobia among all virtual communities.

To see how much of an uphill battle this is, one need look no further than the comments on that YouTube video or, more realistically, on the Kotaku article. YouTube comments are notorious for being horrible, obnoxious, profane, and homophobic, and the comments on that video certainly live up to that reputation. The comments on Kotaku are at least more intelligently written, even if the majority of them are still homophobic and unapologetic for it.

I spoke with Justin from GLAAD this week, and we had a great conversation about these massive cultural shifts that are so obviously necessary. There are so many moving parts — the rules we implement about what is and isn’t appropriate in our communities, the consistent enforcement of those rules, and the people who are tasked with setting a positive example in our communities. But it’s also about the development of games (diverse and non-stereotypical characters), and the promotion of games. I also strongly feel that we need to have more diversity in the workforce of the gaming industry in order to really bring about change from the inside out. I know that’s easier said than done — at the end of the day, companies need to do what they can to sell the largest amount of games they can, and hitting that demographic sweet spot (ie: the young, straight, possibly homophobic male) is really tempting. But all of these things need to come together to move this ship forward.

Justin and I had a great conversation, and he asked me to help out with GLAAD’s initiative beyond the panel. I’m so excited and honored to be working with them on this important issue. He is interested in hearing from community managers from all types of communities, so I’ll probably be pulling in many of the people I know in the CM world to help with this project.

In the meantime, I urge all community managers to re-examine your approach to fighting homophobia in your communities. If you’re a member of a community, especially a gaming community, I urge you to re-evaluate how you treat people in the communities you participate in, to see if you can do more. If you live in the SF bay area, I encourage you to sign up for GLAAD’s panel on this issue. I urge all of you to treat people with kindness, fairness, and equality.

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Sony Doesn’t Want My Money

Posted by kellie on Jul 6, 2009 in Rant

My mother’s birthday is July 7th. (Happy Birthday, Mom!) Every year, I buy her an Amazon gift certificate. My mother LOVES to read, and could open a library with the amount of books she has. But a few months ago, she switched to a Sony eBook reader, and so she asked me to buy her a gift certificate for the Sony eBook store for her birthday instead.

I went to the gifts page (which was hard to find — there’s a tiny “gifts” link at the bottom of the eBook store page) and saw that they indeed had gift certificates. As I glanced over the page, I saw links to download the software, but assumed that was for someone who was redeeming a gift certificate, not purchasing one. I tried, in vain, to click on the dollar amounts in the gift certificate section and the eBook gifts banner below it. Nothing. So I read the page again, and was surprised to discover that I had to download software just to buy a gift certificate.

That just seemed unnecessary and wrong to me, but still, I pressed on. I clicked on the download link and was greeted with the system requirements for the software. Windows XP and Windows Vista only. I have a Mac.

Ugh. I’m trying to give Sony my money, and trying to make my mom’s day by giving her a gift she asked for. And Sony’s eBook store throws up roadblocks at every opportunity. So instead, I’ll just send her some money to do with what she wants. Maybe I should buy her a Kindle instead. At least I know that I can buy Amazon gift certificates for it.

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Class and Social Media

Posted by kellie on Jul 5, 2009 in Culture, Facebook, Online Community, Social Media

I have been a big fan of danah boyd for a while. When I think about my own aspirations and what I’m interested in learning more about, her name routinely comes up in my reading. Her work looks beyond the norms in online community research — how to be a better marketer, get more followers, get better ROI. Her research delves into the architecture, the politics, and the culture of communities and social media.

At the end of June, she gave a speech at the Personal Democracy Forum called “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”. In it, she shared her research on exactly who was using MySpace, who was using Facebook, and why. The results were interesting and sometimes surprising.

Before I read her talk, I would have told you that hardly anyone uses MySpace anymore. I would have told you that most people have transferred over to Facebook. After reading her talk, I understand why I thought that, even though I was wrong.

The talk started with danah asking the audience to raise their hands if they used Facebook, and then again for MySpace. 90%(ish) of the people used Facebook, but only a few used MySpace. This reflects my experience (I was never a heavy MySpace user, but I don’t use it at all now. 90% of my friends, business associates, and acquaintances use Facebook and not MySpace, too). However, danah points out that while we’re touting Facebook’s growth, we’re missing a crucial piece of the puzzle — that just as many people are now using MySpace as they are using Facebook. While Facebook’s numbers have been growing exponentially, MySpace’s numbers haven’t changed.

Two weeks ago, comScore released numbers showing that Facebook and MySpace were neck-and-neck in terms of unique user visits in the U.S. The meta-narrative was that Facebook was winning in the States and that MySpace was dying. I would argue that the numbers can be read differently. The numbers show that MySpace has neither grown nor faded in the last year while Facebook has expanded rapidly and has finally reached the same size. Of course, this is not to say that Facebook isn’t doing tremendously. In a business environment where monetization is shaky, the only definition of success is “growth.” Given that, it’s reasonable to see Facebook as more successful than MySpace this year. But we still need to account for the fact that as many people visit MySpace as Facebook and that, as exemplified by the people in this room, that’s not because there’s a complete overlap of users. Even if you think that Facebook is winning the game, we need to account for the fact that *70 million* people in the US visited MySpace. That’s not small potatoes.

When danah dug deeper, asking teenagers which site they were using and why, the answers were astounding. Some cited feature differences, but many of the answers were around culture, and by extension, class. One teenager called MySpace “ghetto”, while others said that Facebook was more high-class, more adult.

Craig (17, California): The higher castes of high school moved to Facebook. It was more cultured, and less cheesy. The lower class usually were content to stick to MySpace. Any high school student who has a Facebook will tell you that MySpace users are more likely to be barely educated and obnoxious. Like Peet’s is more cultured than Starbucks, and Jazz is more cultured than bubblegum pop, and like Macs are more cultured than PC’s, Facebook is of a cooler caliber than MySpace.

If this language seems harsh, danah says that’s with good reason.

In looking through my data, I found that teens who prefer Facebook are far more likely to be condescending towards those who use MySpace than vice versa. Teens who use MySpace may lament teen Facebook users as “stuck-ups” or “goodie two-shoes” or the “good kids.” But they’re not nearly as harsh in their language as Facebook users are of those who use MySpace.

I agree with danah’s characterization of what happened when people abandoned MySpace for Facebook — it’s a modern-day, internet-based white flight. Whites, the educated, the suburban, the wealthier were all more likely to leave MySpace and go to Facebook. Given this, descriptions of MySpace as “ghetto” and Facebook as “more cultured” take on a whole new light here. To help illustrate this, danah talks about the sociological concept of homophily, which basically means “birds of a feather stick together”. You are most likely to know people like yourself. And how this is one of the driving forces behind why people choose MySpace or Facebook — they are attracted to the spaces where the people they perceive to be like themselves are.

This concept of homophily also shows why I would have told you that nobody is really looking at MySpace anymore. I don’t, and most of the people that I know are like me. Although my group of friends, acquaintances and associates are fairly diverse in terms of race and sexual orientation, they are almost entirely liberal/Democrat, well-educated, and wealthier. Because of who I am, and because of homophily, the people I know are less likely to choose MySpace over Facebook.

The implications of this, as danah rightly points out, are increased social divides.

We can accept when people choose to connect to people who are like them and not friend different others. But can we accept when institutions and services only support a portion of the network? When politicians only address half of their constituency? When educators and policy makers engage with people only through the tools of the privileged? When we start leveraging technology to meet specific goals, we may reinforce the divisions that we’re trying to address.

If you want people to connect around politics and democracy, information and ideas, you need to understand the divisions that exist. Many of us in this room see social network sites as a modern day incarnation of the public sphere. Politicians login to these sites to connect with constituents and hear their voices. Campaign managers and activists try to rally people through these sites. Market researchers try to get a sense of people’s opinions through these sites. Educators try to connect with students and build knowledge sharing communities. This is fantastic. But there isn’t one uniform public sphere. And if the ways in which we construct the digital public sphere reinforce the divisions that we’ve been trying to break down, we’ve got a problem.

I can’t recommend enough that you read the entire text of danah’s talk. It is just this kind of research and critical thinking that we need to understand where we are, why we are where we are, and where we are going. We need to consider a world outside of ourselves and our own experiences. Until we understand it, we can’t compensate for it, let alone work to make it better.


Women in Gaming

Posted by kellie on Jun 30, 2009 in Gaming

This video was posted on Twitter (I’m sorry, I don’t remember by whom!) and I watched it with a mixture of dread and interest. I’ve only been in the gaming industry for 8 months, but already I’ve been faced with this being a predominately male industry, both in workforce and consumer. I was afraid that this was going to be a slam on women gamers. I was afraid it was going to be about how we should stick to pink DSes and cooking games, and leave the “real gaming” to the boys. I was very pleased to find that I was wrong.

I agree with the points expressed in this video. I especially agree with the frankly exploitative way that many female characters are marketed. As a marketer myself, I understand the inclination to do this. Give the audience what they want — give them something to talk about. But there is a line to be crossed here, and it’s a downward spiral of self-fulfilling prophecy to get there. Give them one semi-sexy female character, and it works well. The audience gets bolder, and demands more. The marketers give them more, which emboldens them more, and pretty soon you’ve got characters that are all T&A.

I don’t think that gender is the only issue here. The gaming industry is not just a boys club. It’s a straight boys club. I am almost a double anomaly in the gaming world — I am a gay woman. This mostly earns me puzzled looks — I’m not sure that people always know what to make of me because I’m a dyke in a traditionally straight man’s domain. And in an industry where a woman is there as a sex object, a lesbian (or even just two women) must be there to fulfill that lesbian fantasy, right? Sexual orientation just adds another level to the whole thing. As much as women can feel alienated from the industry, gays probably also feel alienated from the sheer heteronormativity of it all. I know that I do.

As an industry, and as a community, we have a long way to go to bring and embrace diversity. Just like the rest of the world, we come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, orientations, etc. From a marketing standpoint, we in the industry have to figure out how to serve the needs of all these people without stereotypes or insults. As a gaming community, we have to figure out how to embrace and include everyone, how to shatter stereotypes and stop petty turf wars. It’s a tall order, I know. But we’ve got to do it.

I don’t have all the answers, and I know we can’t get there without some good and honest communications. So let’s start right here in this blog.

(BTW, as usual, the comments on that YouTube video vary from mildly annoying to soul-crushing.)


Social Networking and Trial Juries

Posted by kellie on May 30, 2009 in Online Community, Social Media, Twitter

image courtesy of jasonunbound

I have a BA in Criminal Justice. My interest in the justice system started in high school, when I took the Government class required by the state of Ohio in order to graduate. The class was taken by seniors, and it had a reputation for being incredibly hard. I went into it without a lot of knowledge or interest in the subject, but I left the class wanting to be a Government teacher. I found the subject matter engaging and interesting, and I often got As on my work. I did the extra credit assignments that the teacher regularly gave because they sounded interesting, not because I needed the credit. When I got to college, I quickly changed my major to Criminal Justice. My aim was to become a lawyer, and I went as far as to take the LSAT and apply to several law schools. Ultimately, I decided to “take a year off” (famous last words), and never went back. But I’ve never lost my interest in government and specifically in the court system.

My work is now in social media and online communities, and some would say there’s some overlap there. :) So it is with interest that I read this article by Kathy Ossian about the use of social media by jury members, and how that can and cannot affect the impartiality of the jury and ultimately, trial outcomes.

Juries are typically instructed not to access, discuss, or read any information about the case or the subject matter of the case while they are assigned to the jury. Where this would be difficult-to-impossible, juries are sequestered. That’s pretty rare though — most jury members serve during the day and go home at night. But access to social networking, and even the web at large, is starting to play a role in motions for mistrial.

While two of the three cases that Kathy Ossian cited are in regards to jury members accessing informational websites (United States vs. Hernandez, and United States vs. Siegelman), but she also cites a civil case in Arkansas where a court determined that a party was deprived of the right to a fair trial when it was found that a jury member sent messages via Twitter indicating that he was biased against one of the parties. 

As services like Twitter grow in popularity, courts will have to face this more and more. Mistrials are expensive and time consuming. As jury members, it’s important that we abide by the directions given to us by the judge, and refrain from seeking information about the case or discussing the case with anyone — including Facebook friends and Twitter followers. 

I really do believe that social networking and online community can open up lots of avenues of communication, but there are some avenues that need to remain closed for the sake of fairness and justice.


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Tips for Fast, Efficient Travel

Posted by kellie on May 22, 2009 in Travel

Image courtesy of ferra-jordan

I don’t have one of those jobs/lives where I travel with great frequency. I’m not on a plane every week or anything. There have been times when I’ve been on a plane once a month, though. My father used to take two planes each week, going from our home in Cincinnati to his work in Grand Rapids and coming back again at the end of the week. I learned all the basics of travel from him. As I’m preparing to make 3 separate trips in 3 weeks (2 personal, 1 business), I thought I’d share my simple tips and rules for fast and efficient travel.

Never Check Bags

This is my #1 rule. You will save so much time and worry. Your luggage will never be lost. You don’t need to shove everything you might need during your travels into a big computer bag. You don’t need to stand in baggage drop-off lines. You don’t have to pay extra fees. You never have to waste time standing at baggage claim ever again. Shall I go on?

The first thing you need to do is…

Get the Right Suitcase

The right bag can set you free and make carrying on your stuff a snap. The wrong bag can make you miserable.

Here’s what I look for in a bag: 

  • 4 wheels, each that turn 360 degrees. This makes moving through the airport so much easier because you can move your bag in any direction without it toppling over. Also, you don’t have to pull your bag if you don’t want to. Leave it standing upright and use the telescoping handle to push it along side you through the airport. It’s so much easier on your arms, shoulders and back.
  • Polycarbonate shell. Poly is light, which is good since you’ll be lifting this thing over your head a couple times. Poly is durable (unlike fabric, which can be punctured, ripped or torn). Poly is hard, which means your stuff won’t get crushed. 
  • Efficient use of space. Too many pockets and compartments, and you won’t be able to pack what you need in the space. Too few, and packing just becomes a jumble. You need the right mix of space and pockets.
  • Not black. Not only is black luggage boring, it looks just like everyone else’s. When you’re trying to get your stuff from the compartment and get off the plane, you want to make sure you have your bag and not someone else’s (or that someone else doesn’t take your bag). Your bag can still look professional without being black. Find another color.

The bag that I use is a 20″ Samsonite Sahora.

It is light. It is (mostly) polycarbonate. It is expandable. It has great use of space. It has 4 spinning wheels. And it is blue. It’s just about the perfect carry-on bag. (It is available in other colors, including red.)

A bag like this costs more. But it’s worth it. And it will last a lot longer than the cheap bags do. Also don’t forget the hassle that you’re saving yourself, as well as all those checked bag fees.

Speaking of bags, there’s your laptop bag to be considered here. There are lots of options here. I always look for a bag with a pass-through sleeve in the back so I can slip it on top of my carry-on and take them both together as one unit. Helps save my back and arm strength from toting them around all day.

Now that you have the right bag, it’s time to…

Pack Efficiently

The easiest way to fit all your stuff in the bag is to not take as much stuff. Eliminate anything you can live without for your trip. Look for things that can do double (or triple) duty. For example, I try to take as few shoes as I can possibly get away with, because shoes take up lots of space. I try to pack no shoes, and just wear what I wear on the plane the entire trip. Bust sometimes I need dressy shoes, so I take one pair of neutrally colored shoes that go with everything.

Once you have everything picked out for your trip, you need to pack it. Not all packing methods are the same. Some people like to roll, some people like to fold. I find that folding and using dry cleaning bags to keep everything snug helps save room and eliminate wrinkles. I learned this method from the Manager Tools podcast  and it works really well. I fold my pants lengthwise twice, and put them next to each other inside the dry cleaning bag. Then fold the excess part of the bag inward, put a third pair of pants on top of the pair at the top, then fold the first and third pair (at the top) over the second, so you have 3 pairs stacked. You can do the same thing with shirts. I generally don’t do this with casual clothes, but I do with business/dress clothes.

Don’t Buy Travel Sizes (If You Can Help It)

Many people get tripped up by the restriction on liquids in your carry-on. But you can save money and space with just a few tricks.

First, know that medicines don’t count against you. Put them in a separate bag. So if you need your Flonase (like I do), you don’t need to put that in your toiletries bag.

Second, figure out what you really need. You might use a lot of stuff at home that you could go without for a couple days.

Third, don’t buy travel sizes. Make them when at all possible. Find some small containers (the smaller the better) and just use your existing stuff to fill them. In the case of things that the hotel usually provides you (soap, shampoo, lotion, etc), just use theirs. There are some things I haven’t found a way around yet — a good way to store and dispense contact lens solution, for example. So I do buy travel sizes of that. But I am always looking for a way around it. (Ideas?)

Put all your containers in a zip-top bag (I call this the “wet bag”) and put it somewhere easily accessible when you’re in the security line. You don’t want to open up your luggage just to get to it later.

Dress for Security Success

Gone are the days when people got really dressed up to get on an airplane. I’m never surprised to see people basically in their pajamas, especially on a red eye. Unless I have a business meeting when I get off the plane, I travel casually — jeans and a T-shirt. 

Think about what you’re wearing on the plane. Is there any metal on it? Is it excessively complicated? Metal will cause problems with the detector and you may get singled out for further screening. Think about jewelry, belts and watches. (Rivets on jeans usually don’t cause a problem.) The TSA requires that you take off coats, jackets, and sometimes sweaters, if you have something on underneath. Are you wearing something that you might have to take off, then spend time putting back on? If so, re-think.

What kind of shoes are you wearing? Lace-up shoes just require more hassle to get off and time to get back on. I like slip-on shoes, like Vans. They are easy to get off and on. Oh, and I always wear socks with whatever shoes I’m wearing. I don’t want to walk through security barefoot.

Security Efficiency

The whole point of this is to do everything you have to do in the least amount of time and with the least amount of hassle. Some planning ahead will really help here. You’ve already got a security-friendly outfit on, so you’re well on your way.

I always check in the night before, print my boarding pass, and put the boarding pass and my driver’s license in an easy-to-reach pocket of my computer bag. That way, I don’t have to fumble in the security line or stop before I get there to get my pass and ID ready. It’s already ready. Just pull it out and show it to the agent.

Once you get in line for the screening, start getting ready. Your wet bag is already easily accessible. Your shoes come off easily. Grab a couple bins and put your laptop in one (it has to go alone) and your shoes, coat, and wet bag in another. Then feed your computer bag and your carry-on into the x-ray machine. You still have your pass and ID in your hand, so you’re ready to walk through the metal detector and hand it over. 

BE NICE TO THE TSA AGENTS. I cannot stress this enough. Put yourself in their shoes — they have to deal with cranky, nervous, tired, anxious, self-centered travelers all day. I’d be in a pretty bad mood, too. And they can totally ruin your day (or worse) if they are so inclined. A smile, a thank you, and generally being super nice and cooperative will go a long way in helping the process flow smoothly. 

When you are done with screening, just put your computer back, your wet bag back, slip your shoes on, grab your stuff, put your boarding pass and ID in your pocket (you can put it back in your wallet later), and off you go. 

Extra Tips

Here’s a few things that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else.

  • Bring all confirmation numbers, record locators, and other travel details with you. I use Evernote to help me store my travel details on my phone, but I also put it in my calendar just in case. You never know what can happen, and having a confirmation number at your disposal can solve a lot of problems. 
  • Always have a snack on you. Who knows what could happen — you could get stuck on the tarmac, all the food in your terminal could be terrible, or you get hungrier at the end of the flight than you thought you would. It doesn’t have to be a full meal — a small bag of trail mix will do the job just fine. But always have a snack on you just in case.
  • Invest in an eye mask. Mine has totally saved me from sleepless flights and sleepless nights. It, and some headphones, can make the whole world go away. I never take a flight without it.
  • Take public transportation if possible. Avoid parking fees and remembering where you parked. If you need to drive and park though, take a photo of where you parked or text yourself the location.
  • If you’re in hotels a lot, text yourself the name of the hotel and the room number. Or take a photo of the door to your room (with the door number) and store it in Evernote. 

I hope these tips were helpful. If I missed your favorite, pleas share it in the comments.

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