Saturday, 3 March 2012

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “How to Maintain Traditional Customer Service in the Social Media Age”

Mashable: Latest 29 News Updates - including “How to Maintain Traditional Customer Service in the Social Media Age”

How to Maintain Traditional Customer Service in the Social Media Age

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 07:18 PM PST

Duke Chung co-founded Parature in 2000, with a vision to provide superior customer support software accessible via the Internet. Today, Parature's Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product suite supports millions of end users worldwide.

You've been monitoring your Facebook wall and Twitter pages, responding to customer inquiries. But what are the next steps you should take to stay abreast of the latest trends in social service?

The emergence of social media communities requires you to track a new set of customer service metrics. Fortunately, you’ll have a better understanding of who your customers are and their service expectations. In some cases, it might even mean the end of traditional service level agreements (SLAs).

Service Level Agreements — How Will They Change?

SLAs are becoming more complex to manage because of the public, viral nature of social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Some consumers decide to "cut the line," gravitating to these channels because they think they will get the fastest response.

So, are SLAs still relevant? Is it acceptable to let customers "cut the line?” Should you always prioritize Twitter service requests over requests placed through traditional service channels? What should be the response time on each channel — be it web, email, phone or social media?

The fact is that SLAs still have a purpose, but because of the very public nature of social media channels, companies need to know where their customers are and understand expected response time on each of those channels. It's a delicate balance: Companies must understand that some channels require faster more personal responses, but traditional service channels still demand attention.

We have a few recommendations on how to handle impact of social channels on service requests and traditional SLAs.

  • Know inside and out who your customers are, what channels they gravitate to when it comes to customer service, and the expectation for response time on those channels. For example, if the majority of your customers frequent Facebook and Twitter for customer support, invest more in personal, timely responses from both your customer service and marketing teams. When a consumer asks a question on Facebook, he does not want to receive an automated response, fast as it may be. Consumers expect both personal and fast replies on Facebook. If you find that many of your customers seek help on your social media channels, host knowledge bases on those networks. It is a good way for consumers to find answers to commonly asked questions, and it frees up the time your customer service team would otherwise spend personally answering the same questions over and over again.
  • Evaluate how urgent the inquiry really is, and see if you're able to answer quickly and personally with some initial suggestions to solve his or her problem. If the answer requires further involvement, that's ok. Tell the consumer his inquiry has been received and that it is being further evaluated by the customer service team. This will not only show that you’re responsive, but it will also give you more time to escalate the issue and route it to the correct representative in a more reasonable timeframe. Customers will understand that every service question cannot be answered instantly.
  • Social media service instantly reflects on your brand and directly impacts your company's marketing efforts. If you are slow to provide an initial response, or you don't provide any response at all, it can cast your brand in a poor light. Your social media responses are public and will be read and shared with other consumers. The fact is that social media has really blurred the lines between marketing and customer service. Just make sure the two teams work together to tackle social service.
  • Don't ignore traditional channels because you've become focused on social media. Remember that social media has simply provided a new channel for engaging with your customers; it has not replaced the other channels. And just because a customer is reaching out to you on Twitter does not mean you need to drop everything and respond instantly; you must evaluate and discern the level of urgency first. The balance is important: You can't simply move all of your great service exclusively to social media channels at the expense of traditional channels.

Better Metrics Management

In social service 2.0, it's important to track several metrics and adjust your strategy as volume and complexity grow. Response time, time to resolve, tickets opened per day and tickets resolved per day are all part of traditional customer service metrics, but social media can render them more complex.

Devise a system that allows you to track the number and complexity of support requests coming through social media vs. phone or email. Keep track of response times across sites like Twitter and Facebook. As time increases, develop a strategy to push complex requests to another channel, such as email, where customer service representatives (CSRs) can quickly match up new inquiries with cases that have already been opened. As the volume (tickets opened per day) mounts, create canned content, in the form of responses or linkable knowledge base articles, for the most frequently asked questions.

You should also monitor these additional metrics that specifically involve social media channels.

  • The “net-new” group of customers. These are the people for whom you've provided a support channel over social channels. It's likely that this new group of social users is different than the customers who have been contacting you via email or phone.
  • The number of times other customers — not the company — respond to support requests and inquiries. For example, a visitor to your Facebook page asks technical questions about a particular product release, and he or she is quickly answered by one of your Facebook fans. The frequency of this sort of event indicates the value of your social support, and shows how many brand advocates you have.

Marketing and Customer Service Both Report to Social Media Training

If a B2B company has established an online community to address technical problems, customer service probably owns the social media effort. But B2C companies are heavily invested in tracking customer attitude and effect on brand issues. In these companies, marketing will have to collaborate with support teams about inquiries via social media channels.

Make sure that each team knows the protocol for dealing with social media. Hot button issues will arise — via Twitter in particular — and sometimes you'll have to respond as quickly as possible. In such cases, it's appropriate for marketing to step in and indicate that they're responding in turn.

In anticipation of these issues, have a triage and a crisis response plan in place. As discussed, a negative comment on Twitter doesn't automatically constitute a crisis that requires interrupting a service rep. Discern the nature and depth of the complaint and respond appropriately. As a safeguard, monitor who in the company is responding to inquiries to ensure collaboration between marketing and customer service.

Bottom Line: Adapt and Evolve

Consumer facing companies will have to learn the rules of the road for social service 2.0 if they want to survive. SLAs with long windows of response time simply don't work on today's public social platforms.

Know your audience, understand the tight response expectations on social media channels, and keep in mind the very public nature of these platforms that will directly impact your brand. Use tools like knowledge bases to save time and costs, and make sure your marketing and customer service teams are tightly connected and openly communicating with one another.

While you can’t totally control whether consumers “cut the line” by racing to social networks, you can control how quickly and personally you respond on those channels. Stay on top of important metrics to make sure you are responding to each customer, regardless of the channel he is using, in a timely, thoughtful manner that will reflect positively on your brand.

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, fotosipsak, studiocasper

More About: contributor, customer service, features, Marketing, Social Media

10 Strategies for Non-Profits on Pinterest

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 06:39 PM PST

Volunteer Pinboard

Non-profits are utilizing Pinterest as an extension of their organizations, using photography, infographics and other visuals to show supporters more about their missions.

Pinterest’s goal is to connect “people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests.” Non-profits, then, can use the social site to connect people based on their social passions, and since non-profits work with and for the community, Pinterest can certainly come in handy.

Last week, we covered 10 non-profits that are particularly awesome at leveraging Pinterest for social good, but how did they get there? What are their strategies?

SEE ALSO: 8 Strategies for Launching a Brand Presence on Pinterest

Here are 10 tips from non-profits that are currently using Pinterest. With these suggestions in your back pocket, your own organization can further (or even reinvent) its image in no time.

1. Know Your Audience

It’s important to understand who is using Pinterest before you start branding through the network. Of Pinterest’s 10 million+ users, 87% are women, and the average age of users spans between 25 and 54. So, what do you do with this information? How do you know what to pin?

Daljit Singh, office manager intern at Jolkona and curator of the organization’s Pinterest, says that a fun project helped. The staff of the non-profit, which is a web platform that connects you with global development projects and shows you the impact of your donation, asked: If Jolkona were a person, who would it be? They decided that Jolkona would be a woman in her mid-to-late 20s with mixed ethnicity. She would also drink coffee, ride the bus and listen to indie rock.

“Because so many of our regular online donors match the demographic of users on Pinterest,” says Singh, “it wasn't really a question of if we should request an invite, but rather when we would receive an invite.”

Jolkona tries to keep its pins colorful, light, creative and relevant to the non-profit’s mission. Whenever Singh needs to determine if a pin is relevant, she can think back to the description of Jolkona as a person.

2. Get Personal

When it comes to social media, users respond better to personal influence than widespread branding.

Sarah Cohen, communications and development manager at charity: water, a non-profit that brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations, says it's important for staff members who are pinning to be familiar with Pinterest and really love the site. “Our staff is young, curious and hungry for information,” she says. “We love sharing books we've read, bands we just checked out, the newest gadget or some new gear for the field.”

3. Reveal Yourself


Give your followers a look at your non-profit from behind the scenes. Pin images that show staff and volunteers working with your organization, as well as those who benefit from that work. It’s a good idea to show supporters the human faces behind your logo.

When the Jolkona staff looked at its Facebook statistics, they found that the most engagement came from posting visuals. “At first, Pinterest was a great place to find new infographics and pictures to provide content for Facebook and our blog,” says Singh. “However, as we started gaining new followers, our strategy changed and we decided it was best to pin things…that help show our audience who we really are.” You can find various campaigns, projects, goals and photos of staff members and volunteers on Jolkona’s Pinterest page.

The folks at charity: water have a board called “Photo of the Day,” a concept that founder Scott Harrison came up with in 2009 for the organization’s Twitter page. Mo Scarpelli, the multimedia producer at charity: water, says, “Many of our followers [on Pinterest and Twitter] look to the POD as a daily source of inspiration and hope, a reminder that we can change (and are already changing) the water crisis.”

Cohen adds, “This idea of showing the impact is core to the work we do…The spirit and the joy of our photography was a perfect fit for the optimistic nature of [Pinterest].”

4. Focus on the Achievable

It has become a trend for individuals to use Pinterest for dreams — dream houses, dream weddings, etc. But as a non-profit organization, you’re all about making things possible.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network‘s mission is to advance research, support patients and create hope. “Our goal is to provide helpful content for all individuals who have been affected by pancreatic cancer,” says Laura Behrman, social media manager at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, “whether they are a survivor, have a loved one diagnosed with the disease or have lost a friend. In an effort to attract more support for our efforts, we are educating the general public about the organization and the disease through Pinterest.”

For charity: water, Cohen says the staff “looks to inspire our supporters with images of hope and opportunity that the water crisis is solvable.”

5. Make It a Team Effort

Get various staff members involved with your organization’s Pinterest to diversify your boards and flesh them out.

A recently added charity: water board is “Products We Love.” Cohen says that the board is comprised of brands the staff admires, most of which “are partnering with a non-profit or have a philanthropic component to their business model, like Feed Projects, TOMS and Falling Whistles.”

You don’t necessarily need to have multiple staffers use the Pinterest account directly. At the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, for example, Behrman is currently the only one pinning, but employees and volunteers contribute ideas and repin on their personal boards.

6. Fundraise

Pinterest makes it extremely simple to sell various items, helping you raise money for your non-profit. Whether it’s a t-shirt with your company logo or an inspiring poster, all you need to do is pin the image and type the “$” sign with the price in the description box. Pinterest automatically adds a nifty banner in the top-left corner of the image, displaying the cost, and the item will be added to the Gifts tab on the Pinterest homepage.

7. Repin/Highlight Other Non-Profits

Like all forms of social media, Pinterest isn’t a place to over-promote. Avoid this is by mixing original pinning with repins of images from other non-profits within your sphere of influence. Users receive an email notification when their images are repinned and they are credited on your repin, which can increase their following. The non-profit you repin may return the favor, allowing Pinterest to become a channel for valuable, non-disruptive cross-promotion.

8. Add Pinterest to Your Website/Project Pages

This may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked with new networks. You can add various Pinterest “goodies” (a “pin it” button, follow button, logos, etc.) not only to your homepage, but also to project pages for more exposure.

9. Pin Videos

Video Camera

Videos aren’t very common on Pinterest, but they’re on the rise. YouTube videos are especially easy to add, and Pinterest even has a special section for pinned videos.

SEE ALSO: Need More YouTube Views? Try Pinterest

Jolkona’s “Campaigns” board consists of numerous videos. Singh says that people are more likely to donate when they’re asked. “We wanted to make sure that that happens interactively online, so we offer [the] online campaign feature, which allows our donors to honor a special person, celebrate a birthday or special milestone, or just show the impact you and colleagues or friends can have on the world…Videos offer an added emotion and call to action that pictures sometimes don't.”

She admits that Jolkona hasn’t received many repins for videos, but it has helped to increase traffic to the blog and adds something interesting to the Pinterest page. “There are far fewer videos than images on Pinterest at this point, so use them to distinguish [your non-profit],” Singh advises.

10. Be Inviting

Pinning can sometimes seem like an individualized, solitary action, but it’s important to interact with others and keep community in mind. For non-profits, Pinterest is more than just posting interesting visuals — if used properly, it can be an extension of your organization and, when applicable, a support system.

Through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Pinterest, says Behrman, “We create a community that is inviting for others to share their story and connect with not just our organization, but with others going through a similar experience.”

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, mattjeacock, JamesBrey, 1stclassphoto, ContentWorks.

More About: features, non-profits, pinterest, Social Good, Social Media

YouTube’s Learning Quiz Asks, ‘Are You A Brainiac?’ [VIDEO]

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 06:27 PM PST

“Get your learn on at YouTube EDU,” says an erudite young student in a video promoting YouTube’s latest channels. With a bevy of new channels on YouTube EDU, this cutesy video aims to sway more people and educators toward video learning.

YouTuber Matt Koval and “star pupil” Olivia host a brief video explaining how YouTube EDU works. Launched in 2009, YouTube EDU is a collection of more than 500,000 free videos from organizations and institutions such as PBS, Khan Academy and Harvard University. Viewers can take the latest “Are You a Brainiac?” Pop Quiz to test their knowledge of general education topics. After a brief video question, viewers click on one of three answers, which will transfer them to a new screen and video.

Video questions come from educators at recently added channels: Deep Sky Video (astronomy), TED-Ed (a channel from the organizers of TED talks), Crash Course (an educational channel from The Vlog Brothers), the Sci Show and The Spangler Effect (famed science teacher). Each click will take you to a new screen.

Completing the quiz is a worthwhile effort — there are different endings depending on how well you do.

YouTube EDU allows users to search for videos according to content or browse categories such as “University & College,” “K12,” and “Lifelong Learning.” YouTube offered YouTube for Schools in 2011 to grant educators access to YouTube EDU in their classrooms. The version for schools would cut-out the comments as to not distract students.

Do you use YouTube EDU? Pros and cons? If you don’t use it, why not? Tell us in the comments.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto, hamzaturkkol

More About: educational, Video, YouTube

For more Social Media coverage:

Instagram Tops 25M Users [REPORT]

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 05:59 PM PST

Instagram has topped 25 million users, becoming the largest mobile-based social network in the world, according to a report.

Dirk Singer, the head of U.K. social media agency Rabbit, claims on his Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics blog that the maker of the popular iPhone photo app just recently surpassed that figure, while Foursquare is at 22 million users. Singer based his analysis on two Instagram web viewers, Statigram and Ink361, both of which use Instagram’s API.

Singer noticed that the URLs on the sites reveal user numbers. For instance, Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder of Instagram, is apparently user number three:

Singer cited user @holliejsmith’s user number at 10 a.m. GMT was 25,973,449 on both viewers, meaning Instagram was close to 26 million users. That’s a big jump for the service, which claimed 16 million users in December.

Meanwhile, using the same reasoning, Singer estimates that Foursquare is now at around 22 million users.

As The Next Web notes, reading URLs is far from a definitive way to get a read on Instagram or Foursquare’s actual numbers. Some accounts may be closed, the site notes, while others may be merely test accounts. Moreover, there’s no “number one” or “number two” account.

Reps from Instagram could not be reached for comment on the report.

Meanwhile, Instagram’s growth is set to skyrocket soon as the company prepares an Android app, which should be hitting any day now.

BONUS: Meet the Top 15 Photographers on Instagram [PICS]

@mikekus: Photographer's Choice

Who: Mike Kus. A graphic designer, web designer and illustrator living in Bath.

Followers: 82,085

Photos: 451

Favorite Filter: Earlybird

How he's using Instagram: "I try to use Instagram to document my daily life and to photograph what surrounds me. I live in Bath, U.K.; so most of my pictures [are] places and people around Bath."

Inspired by: "I carry my iPhone everywhere and when I see something that interests me I take a shot. There's nothing I particularly set out to do. I like photographing architecture and people, mainly."

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: foursquare, instagram

Lytro: Shooting Matrix-Style ‘Bullet Time’ Video Isn’t Far Away

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 04:53 PM PST


The Lytro camera, which launched this past Wednesday, takes photos that the user can refocus after the fact. It’s a cool trick — and you can experience it via the photo below — but it’s really just scratching the surface of what the technology behind the camera can do. Soon users will be able to create 3D effects and even, with upgraded equipment, shoot slow-motion wraparound video like the kind seen in the Matrix movies.

The Lytro creates its “living pictures” by capturing the entire light field, not just the color and intensity of light but also the direction of individual rays. The technology behind putting light-field capture into a small camera was about a decade in the making, based on research done by the company’s CEO, Ren Ng, as a graduate student at Stanford.

“Through a series of serendipitous moments,” Lytro vice president of marketing Kira Wampler explains, “Ren taught himself how to build the camera because he was so driven by this desire to take this room full of cameras and miniaturize it in such a way that real people could take advantage of taking pictures with the light field.”

Now that it’s released its first camera, Lytro has a long list of features and enhancements that it intends to pursue. Early adopters of the Lytro camera needn’t worry too much either — since the files the camera produces store all the light-field information of a scene, anything Lytro releases to take advantage of that data can be used on old pics.

First on the agenda: 3D. Lytro has already demonstrated how it’s relatively easy to use the light field to create a 3D effect on a photo. Moreover, you’ll be able to click and drag the photo to change the angle of the 3D perspective. The effect will be limited to what the camera can see, however, equivalent to moving your head an few inches in each direction.

A Lytro video camera is farther out, but it has the potential for an even more impressive effect. The light field, after all, is fundamentally the same idea used in the Matrix films to create the wraparound slow-motion effects often referred to as “bullet time.” By using more than one camera, possibly linked via wireless, Lytro users could recreate those effects on their own.

“It’s not that far away,” says Wampler. “If you had a camera over here and a camera over there — that know each other — then you can do bullet time.”

SEE ALSO: 13 Lytro Photos That Will Make You Look Twice

Besides different ways of using the light field, Lytro also says it’s going to add editing features in its desktop software, letting you do things like touch up exposure or crop photos. Pro-level features are also in the works, like being able to focus at a point in space even if there’s no object there in the photo.

“Editing will be very cool,” says Wampler. “One of the reasons we haven’t unleashed it yet is that we want it to be functionality that really takes advantage of the multidimensionality of the picture. For us, we have multiple layers. For example we could make the foreground black and white and the background sepia.”

Perhaps most importantly, the company says it will eventually make its proprietary file format — the .lfp format — available to any photo service that wants to adopt it. For example, Facebook could integrate it so instead of just sharing the photo, you could use it as your profile pic.

“It is a matter of when not if,” says Wampler. “Native adoption of the light field file format with other editing, sharing and organizing tools is a priority for us.”

What would you like to see Lytro work on next? Have your say in the comments.

BONUS: The Lytro Camera

Unboxing the Lytro

The Lytro packaging is thankfully sparse and simple, with very little unnecessary plastic.

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: 3D, Facebook, light-field camera, Lytro, Matrix, Photoshop

Apple Tops Fortune’s ‘Most Admired’ List for Fifth Year in a Row [VIDEO]

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 03:57 PM PST

Fortune released this year’s Top 50 World’s Most Admired Companies list from its upcoming March 19, 2012 issue, awarding Apple the title for the fifth consecutive time.

Apple beat tech companies Google and for the number one spot. Coca-Cola, IBM and FedEx rounded out the top five.

Big names were stacked against each other across industries. The list of top companies was compiled after surveying “business people” who voted for their favorites.

Survey participants gave Apple leading scores in areas including innovation, people management, use of corporate assets, social responsibility, quality of management and global competitiveness.

SEE ALSO: iPad Event Confirmed: Apple Invites Press to 'Touch' Something

“To say it was another big year for Apple would be a gross understatement,” states the publication. “With the passing of Steve Jobs, questions swirled around the company's future. But under new CEO Tim Cook's guidance, Apple continues to prosper.”

Fortune also attributed the win to Apple’s last year’s revenues surpassing $108 billion. An 81% increase in iPhone sales and a 334% spike in iPad sales pushed the company towards the win. Apple’s stock jumped 75% during the fiscal year to $495 per share. It hit an all-time high above $500 in mid-February.

The ranking shows the controversy revolving around Apple’s Foxconn Technology factory in China hasn’t hurt Apple’s brand, at least not yet. Petitions circled around the Internet after news of workers threatening mass suicide to protest harsh work conditions became widespread.

Do you think Apple is the World’s Most Admired Company despite reports of unfair working conditioning at the tech giant’s manufacturing plants? Tell us in the comments.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr, Robby Mueller.

More About: apple, Business, Media, Video

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Foursquare Users, Despite Badge, Do Not Love the Windows Phone

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 03:33 PM PST

Foursquare has started doling out a new “I Love Windows Phone” badge. The problem is that many of its recipients don’t seem to understand how they ended up with it.

“Not sure how. I’m an Apple girl,” tweeted one user who received the badge.

“How did I do this with a Blackberry?,” tweeted another.

Others resorted to a simple “why?” or, more bluntly, “wtf?”

The confusion stems from a promotional badge gone wrong. Designed for users who check into a Windows Phone event or follow “WindowsPhone” on Foursquare, it was instead unlocked with every checkin.

Foursquare has responded to the gaffe by sending this message to recipients of the badge:

“We just wanted to send you a quick note to apologize for mistakenly awarding you the ‘I Love Windows Phone’ badge earlier today. Who’s to say what you love, anyway? If you do love the phone, you can unlock the badge fair and square by following and attending one of their awesome events. Until then, we’ll keep it out of your trophy case – and stop meddling with the affairs of your heart.”

Foursquare has hosted promotional badges for everything from universities to the Jersey Shore — as far as we can remember, without mishap.

“We quickly fixed the problem, removed the badge from the trophy cases of everyone that had mistakenly unlocked it, and sent all of them a note apologizing and explaining what had happened,” a Foursquare spokesperson tells Mashable.

More About: foursquare

For more Social Media coverage:

QR Code Condoms Let You Check In Before Getting It On [VIDEO]

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 03:18 PM PST

The pre-coital check-in has officially arrived.

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest (PPGNW) distributed more than 50,000 condoms in QR code-emblazoned wrappers to college students in the state of Washington. The wrappers enable people to scan the QR code with their smartphone to check in to the site and anonymously let the world know where they practiced safe sex. Users can also check in to the site by computer.

The promotion was originally launched to mark National Condom Week, which ran from Feb. 14 through Feb. 21, but the site is still live.

Planned Parenthood said the site “is like Foursquare for people who don't want a sexually transmitted infection.”

The site has already attracted more than 4,500 check-ins and 65,000 visitors, PPGNW’s new media coordinator Nathan Engebretson told ABC News.

Most check-ins are clustered in Washington, but the site’s interactive map has also registered notifications from as far away as Iran, Equatorial Guinea and Bolivia.

The site allows people not just to geo-tag their sexy time, but also add a bit more detail. People can record their age, gender and that of their partner, and why they use condoms. You can also rate your safe sex experience on a scale of “Things can only improve from here” to “Rainbows exploded and mountains trembled.” And you can get more specific about where you did the deed — selectable options include “the great outdoors,” “at a party,” “in the shower,” and “someplace else.”

Engebretson told ABC News the QR Code condoms can be a useful tool in popularizing safe sex.

"This isn't about bragging. It's not about digital notches in your bedpost," he said. "Even if people have no desire to check in, they're still getting the sense of how many people like them use condoms."

Lame gimmick or great example of using tech for social good? Let us know in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStock, MissJames

More About: QR Codes, Social Good

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DARPA’s Robot Grabs Tools, Opens Doors

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 03:00 PM PST

Showing-off 18 new human-hand-like maneuvers, DARPA’s Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM) project reached the second milestone in its development, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced Friday.

In a video posted on March 1, ARM displays its dexterity. It can unlock a door with a key and turn the handle, grab a power drill and pick-up other tools. ARM completes 18 different “human-like” functions in the clip — “grasping and manipulation tasks using vision, force, and tactile sensing with full autonomy — no active human control.”

The goal of the project is to create an autonomous robot that functions better than human-operated robots. ARM’s creators not only want it to function with less human intervention, but also complete a wider variety of tasks than other robots.

“The program will attempt to reach this goal by developing software and hardware that enables robots to autonomously grasp and manipulate objects in unstructured environments, with humans providing only high-level direction,” notes the website.

ARM has an arm, hand, neck and head sensors. Check out this video to see it in action:

The bot doesn’t use the tools with much force — at least not yet. It picks up a shovel, but its grasp is somewhat flimsy. ARM grabs a power drill and drills partway into wood, but not with as much gusto that a robot created for military or other expeditions might have to possess. But even with the current functions it has, ARM still could be useful to humans in dangerous situations.

Once ARM is complete, it could serve a variety of purposes. The DARPA’s website says, “Current robotic manipulation systems save lives and reduce casualties, but are limited when adapting to multiple mission environments and need burdensome human interaction and lengthy time durations for completing tasks.”

Other robotics are used to prevent casualties in military operations and do myriad of dangerous tasks.

You can check out more information about ARM and see some cool visuals here.

What uses do you envision for this robot? Tell us in the comments.

Photo courtesy of

More About: DARPA, robotics, robots

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Real-Time Reactions, Pics From People Affected by Midwest Tornados

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 02:42 PM PST

As tornados swept through the Midwest, folks in the storm’s path tweeted their reactions and fears on Thursday and Friday.

High-wind storms and twisters hit a large region of the Midwest on Thursday and Friday causing casualties and property damage — even wiping away one town completely. People trapped in the storm and those who surveyed the damage captured photos on their phones and posted the pics on Twitter, Facebook and other sites.

The storm moved into Nashville on Friday where people closed-up shop and children left school to seek shelter. The Weather Channel operates a live Twitter feed of people tweeting about the storm. Some people Tweeted warnings about which areas of town to stay away from, while others tweeted messages saying they were waiting to hear about the safety of family and friends in the area.

By Friday afternoon, Marysville, a town of 1,900 in Southern Indiana, was “completely gone” after a tornado hit it, according to reports. The storms enveloped the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, damaging buildings and injuring people. It’s reported that a total of 19 people were killed this week in tornados that hit the Midwest.

This isn’t the first time Twitter has been used to document a natural disaster. In some cases, documenting natural disasters on social media can help loved ones connect during the aftermath. Twitter accounts have even been created for storms in the past to track the most current conditions.

Below are some reactions from people caught in the storm. And scroll to the bottom of this post to view a video of the storm.

More About: storms, tornadoes, Twitter

YouTube Streams First Play, About Prop. 8, Starring Clooney, Pitt

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 02:36 PM PST


YouTube is streaming its first live play, a star-filled reading of a new work 8, Saturday evening. The subject: the 2010 trial of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that took away the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.

The California Supreme Court forbid cameras from the courtroom during the trial for Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Perry v. Brown). The play hopes to give people a look behind the trial’s closed doors.

8 will be streamed live on the American Foundation for Equal Rights’ (AFER) YouTube channel. The reading will take place at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles at 7:45 p.m. PT (there’s a pre-show starting at 7:30 p.m.). You can sign up to watch on AFER’s website.

In a rare expression of a political opinion, Google (Yahoo’s parent company) publicly voiced its opposition to Prop. 8 in a 2008 blog post written by Sergey Brin.

“While there are many objections to this proposition — further government encroachment on personal lives, ambiguously written text — it is the chilling and discriminatory effect of the proposition on many of our employees that brings Google to publicly oppose Proposition 8. While we respect the strongly-held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality. We hope that California voters will vote no on Proposition 8 — we should not eliminate anyone’s fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love.”

Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk), who wrote the play, centers the action around the historic closing argument in a U.S. District Court. The one-time reading features George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrison, Jamie Lee Curtis, among others.

“You see, we had a problem,” director Rob Reiner jokes in the event’s announcement video (below). “We couldn’t find any famous people to be in the play.”

It’s particularly interesting that Clooney, a long-time social media and technology evader (he’s not on Twitter or Facebook), will be a part of this YouTube first. He plays the plaintiff’s attorney David Boies, who argued to overturn Prop. 8.

How important do you think it is for the public to know what went on in the California courtroom? Do you think this live streaming will advance AFER and Google’s case against Prop. 8? Let us know what you think in the comments.

More About: Arts, California Proposition 8, george clooney, Sergey Brin, YouTube

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NASA Was Hacked 13 Times Last Year

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 02:13 PM PST

It seems not even the high-tech NASA is safe from digital intruders: The space agency’s computer systems were breached by hackers 13 times last year, according to Congressional testimony this week.

“These incidents spanned a wide continuum from individuals testing their skill to break into NASA systems, to well-organized criminal enterprises hacking for profit, to intrusions that may have been sponsored by foreign intelligence services seeking to further their countries' objectives,” said Paul Martin, NASA’s inspector general, in his Congressional testimony released on Wednesday.

“Some of these intrusions have affected thousands of NASA computers, caused significant disruption to mission operations, and resulted in the theft of export-controlled and otherwise sensitive data, with an estimated cost to NASA of more than $7 million,” he continued.

Martin gave Congress detailed information about some of the attacks.

In one instance, the agency discovered late last year an intrusion into its system by hackers working through a China-based IP address. Martin said that the hackers gained full access to the network of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, allowing them to view, copy, delete and otherwise tamper with classified information.

Before closing the door behind them, the hackers uploaded software allowing them access to other NASA systems and managed to adeptly hide their digital tracks.

In a separate event, hackers managed to grab computer access codes from more than 150 NASA employees. According to Martin, the agency failed to move quickly enough to ensure that those hackers wouldn’t be able to use the codes to gain access to its networks.

According to Martin, the “sophistication” of cyberattacks against NASA has been steadily increasing. He added that NASA spends more than $1.5 billion annually on “IT-related activities,” which includes approximately $58 million for “IT security.”

Martin also pointed out what NASA stands to lose when its computer systems are compromised by hackers.

“Some NASA systems house sensitive information which, if lost or stolen, could result in significant financial loss, adversely affect national security, or significantly impair our nation's competitive technological advantage,” said Martin. “Even more troubling, skilled and committed cyber attackers could choose to cause significant disruption to NASA operations, as IT networks are central to all aspects of NASA's operations.”

The news of the NASA hacks comes at a turbulent time for cybersecurity in the U.S.

On Friday, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said that hackers could top terrorists as the main threat to the U.S. in the near future. Meanwhile, Congress is debating two competing cybersecurity bills intended to bolster the government’s defenses against digital attacks.

Does the news of the successful hacks against the high-tech NASA come as a surprise to you? Let us know in the comments below.

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, LaserLens

More About: cybersecurity, hackers, NASA, space

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Etsy Adopts User-Created App, Gets 1 Million Downloads in 4 Months

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 02:02 PM PST

Crafts Image

Consistent with Etsy’s image, its iPhone app is user-made — and gaining steam.

The handmade and vintage ecommerce site’s official iPhone app, which launched in November, is based on an unofficial app that was entered in its API contest last spring. It’s been downloaded 1 million times since launch, the company announced Friday.

Visits per month on the app have grown between 25% and 60% in each month, and users average 30 page views per visit.

Nothing about these numbers necessarily makes us want to write home (an app called Draw Something recently reached 1 million downloads in about 10 days), but it is evidence that Etsy is catching up with its mobile presence — with Etsy character.

“Why not, as a place to start building your iOS app, look at what the community does?” Etsy Director of Product Leland Rechis tells Mashable about the decision to hold an API contest in the first place. “We didn’t have an app, but we had a marketplace of apps.”

Etsy hired the designer who created the winning unofficial app using its API to help remodel it. Rechis says he never expected to find the company’s first iOS developer during the contest, but doing so was the initial step to creating Etsy’s first mobile app in just three months. At the time the developer, Jey Bidduph, was hired, Etsy didn’t even have a mobile website. It launched its first in July.

By contrast, eBay reported $5 billion in retail volume from mobile phones in 2011. If you’re not playing scrabble, Ebay is nothing like Etsy, but the company’s open books demonstrate that mobile commerce is on the rise.

An Etsy spokesperson said its mobile app engagement beats its online engagement, but declined to comment on whether that engagement translated into transactions. The company does, however, have plans to craft an Android app.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, MKucova

More About: apps, Etsy, Mobile

Google Wants You to Watch ‘Versus’ Hangout-Powered Debates

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 01:50 PM PST

Google is constantly experimenting with new ways to use Hangouts, the video-based chat feature built into its Google+ social network. President Obama used the software for a public discussion with American citizens, and the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu got together over the service to talk about their common goals. And those are just two examples.

Now Google is bringing Hangouts to a new sphere: heated public debate.

The company announced a “series of global debates” on Thursday that will “connect people on opposing sides of the social and political spectrum.” The project, named Versus, will include controversial, opinionated figures discussing and debating vital current events topics — almost like a TED for arguments between the world’s top experts.

The debates will make use of Google Hangouts’ ability to include guests from around the world by bringing in members of the public to ask questions of the participants. Versus’ global audience will also be able to say whether they agree with a particular argument by using a real-time online voting tool.

The first debate, “It’s Time to End the War on Drugs,” is scheduled for March 13 and will stream live over YouTube. The guests include billionaire Richard Brandson, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, actor/comedian Russel Brand and former presidents of Mexico and Brazil, among other participants. The panel will be hosted by the BBC’s Emily Maitlis.

Versus is being done in connection with Intelligence Squared. Intelligence Squared is based in the UK with a U.S. offshoot and bills itself as the “the world’s premier forum for debate and intelligent discussion.” Its previous debates include topics such as “What hope for the economy? Capitalism in crisis” and “Google violates its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto.”

Will you tune into Versus? What topics would you like to see covered? Sound off in the comments below.

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, Maravic

More About: Google, Google Hangouts

‘The Avengers’ Trailer Breaks iTunes Records [VIDEO]

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 01:35 PM PST

Judging by the success of the latest trailer, Marvel’s The Avengers is poised to be a huge hit at the box office.

The latest trailer, which was released exclusively on iTunes on Tuesday, was viewed 13.7 million times in its first 24 hours.

Marvel has been in a bit of a trailer war with its comic-book rival DC. The first Avengers teaser broke iTunes records in October, with just over 10 million views in 24 hours. The first trailer for The Dark Knight Rises bested that record in December, racking up 12.5 million views. Now Marvel is back on top.

The iTunes trailer campaign is just one of many tricks The Avengers campaign has up its sleeve. Marvel Studios is putting tons of digital muscle behind this release and we expect to see things heat up even more in the coming weeks.

For those unfamiliar with comic book lore, the Avengers team is Marvel’s version of DC’s Super Friends/Justice League, and is made up of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye and others. Paramount is using the film to tie together many of the franchise pictures it has released over the past five years. Since 2008, films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have grossed more than $2.2 billion worldwide.

The Avengers hits theaters on May 4, 2012. We know you’re pumped about the film so let us know your excitement level in the comments.

More About: itunes, Marvel, the avengers, trailers

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Someone at Apple Is Surfing the Web on iOS 6

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 01:24 PM PST


Apple appears to be testing the next version of its operating system for mobile devices, iOS 6. At least, that’s what device access logs to websites, including Mashable, seem to indicate.

The initial report came from Ars Technica, which says it discovered something unusual in its web logs. The technology site recorded several visits from browsers running on devices that claimed to be running iOS 6. There were also devices that were accessing the site on screens with a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 — the rumored pixel count of the iPad 3.

Mashable checked its own logs and indeed found a few visits from devices claiming to be running iOS 6. Some claim to be iPhones and others iPads. Checking the IP address info of those visits with an online database revealed they came from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. However, the only machines with 2,048 x 1,536 resolution seen in Mashable‘s logs were running Google Chrome, so they couldn’t be iPads.

Here’s a sample of some of our logs (apparently the Apple testers liked our compilation of the Best Sh*t People Say Videos): – - [24/Feb/2012:14:03:59 -0600] “GET /2012/01/27/best-shit-people-say-videos/ HTTP/1.1″ 200 15974 “” “Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 6_0 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/535.8 (KHTML, like Gecko)” – - [22/Feb/2012:12:38:13 -0600] “GET /2012/01/27/best-shit-people-say-videos/ HTTP/1.1″ 200 15975 “” “Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 6_0 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/535.8 (KHTML, like Gecko)”

The current version of Apple’s mobile software is iOS 5. Apple typically previews new versions of its mobile OS at a developers conference in the spring. Apple reps didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.

As Ars notes, there’s at least one other product on the market with the so-called “retina” resolution that the iPad 3 is expected to have. But, obviously, nothing runs iOS 6 — unless it’s an Apple employee testing software by browsing the Internet. The most recent version is iOS 5.1, but that’s only been made available to developers.

On Tuesday, Apple sent out invitations to an event on March 7. The company holds upcoming products to the utmost secrecy. Apple almost never reveals product information until it is on the verge of release. It’s a big part of the allure the company’s brand has cultivated, and why Apple rumors have such currency.

SEE ALSO: Apple's iPad 3 Event Invitation: 7 Clues You Might Have Missed

Still, it’s impossible for Apple to keep everything it’s doing under wraps. It needs to test its products in real-world environments to ensure that the work properly. That can lead to information being released prematurely, which most notoriously happened when an Apple employee lost a prototype iPhone in a bar in 2010 only to have it fall into the hands of tech blog Gizmodo.

Whereas that was a careless accident, the discovery of retina iPads running iOS 6 is more of a natural consequence. After all, Apple must test its software with the real Internet at some point, and that testing will leave tracks.

Apple isn’t expected to release iOS 6 at Wednesday’s event, but is probably testing it now in advance of a spring unveiling.

What would you like to see in iOS 6? Give Apple some tips in the comments.

BONUS: Why iPad 3 Might Cost More Than iPad 2

1. Retina Display

All reports point to an iPad 3 with a screen that doubles the pixel resolution in both directions. While that would be an incredible amount of pixels (more than what's needed to even show 1080p video at full resolution), it's also going to be harder -- and more expensive -- to make such a large-size "retina display." And if Apple goes with a new kind of LCD tech (like Sharp's IGZO), all bets are off.

Image courtesy moshy_moshy, Flickr

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More About: apple, iOS, iOS 5, iOS 6, ipad, ipad 3, retina display

Homeland Security Tracks These Keywords on Twitter and Facebook [VIDEO]

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 01:06 PM PST

Next time you write about an “infection,” cooking “pork,” sitting at the “airport” or “subway,” or even mention “social media,” know there’s a chance the Department of Homeland Security will scan the tweet or Facebook comment.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) just released DHS internal documents about the surveillance of social media and the information collected daily. EPIC gained access to the documents with a lawsuit, pushing the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents included hundreds of keywords that the government tracks.

The Department of Homeland Security initiative started in February 2011. The department aimed to use social media to stay in-the-know about breaking news as it’s happening. Tweets mentioning “attack” or “shooting” could, for instance, alert officials disturbances to national security right away.

Social media outlets provide instant feedback and alert capabilities to rapidly changing or newly occurring situations,” states U.S. Homeland Security internal documents. “The [Media Monitoring Capability team] works to summarize the extensive information from these resources to provide a well rounded operational picture for the Department of Homeland Security.”

SEE ALSO: Republican Senators: Keep Government Out of Cybersecurity

After EPIC’s Freedom of Information Act request, the DHS released 285 pages of documents. DHS paid more than $11 million to General Dynamics to help monitor the Internet and provide the government with periodic reports.

EPIC sought full disclosure about the methods and breadth of the surveillance of media content. Plus, it wanted details about the dissemination of analysis reports to government partners. Now, the non-profit public interest organization is fighting to get DHS to stop surveying online forums, blogs, public websites and message boards completely.

“The agency has demonstrated no legal basis for its social network and media monitoring program, which threatens important free speech and expression rights,” EPIC said in a Feb. 22 letter submitted to U.S. Congress.

EPIC says the surveillance of social media networks, public forums and websites violates the First Amendment and the Privacy Act of 1974.

Do you feel safer with U.S. Intelligence watching over what people say on the Internet? Or do you feel it’s a violation of privacy? Tell us in the comments.

Thumbnail courtesy of Flickr, Hello Turkey Toe

More About: government, Social Media, social networking

How To Hire a Great Developer [FLOW CHART]

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 12:39 PM PST

Thomas Edison once said that “genius” is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. In the world of technology startups, that 99% involves a heck of a lot of coding and wireframing. If you’ve got an idea for a startup, that’s great — but odds are that an idea is all you have. (Well, maybe you have passion and some savings, too.) But you’ll need more than that to bring your idea to life — you’ll need a developer who can transform your vision into an elegant app or website.

If you’re just foraying into the land of entrepreneurship, you may wonder where the to even start looking for such a person. And even if you do find a developer, how will you know the extent of his talent and whether he’s a good fit for you?

From trolling your network to attending meetups, there are myriad ways to meet skilled developers. When you find one you like, you should have an informal meeting — you’ll be spending a lot of time with the person, so it’s good to get to know him on a more personal level. Plus, you can determine whether he’s equally excited about your vision. If you’re not jibing, let him go — there are other dev fish in the sea, and it’s not worth it to force the partnership. When you find a personality match, move into the formal interview. If all goes well there, you can confidently extend an offer.

Throughout the search, there’s plenty of room for missteps, and you might not know the right questions to ask. But there are some pro tips you can employ to make the dev hunt more efficient and successful. The folks at General Assembly have created this easy-to-follow flow chart as part of the curriculum for its “Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship” program. If you’re serious about your startup idea, this chart can help you navigate your dev search and find someone who’ll turn your napkin sketches into a reality. And if you have any personal experience hiring a dev, tell us about it in the comments below.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, nullplus, Infographic courtesy of General Assembly

More About: developers, features, general assembly, infographics, Recruiting, Startups, Tech

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Going to SXSW? This App Will Match You With Key Contacts

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 12:24 PM PST

Spontaneous networking at South by Southwest (SXSW) sounds like a great idea until you realize that 32,000 people register each year for the Film and Interactive portion alone (add another 16,000 potential contacts if you plan to attend Music, as well).

A startup called Meeteor wants to help users sort through the the crowd in advance.

The company’s core product uses Facebook Connect to introduce people with common friends, interests, schools and work histories. It asks you which companies and industries you’d like to network with before making these matches.

On Friday, Meeteor is launching a special version of the service designed specifically for SXSW that instead asks users to define what they’re interested in talking about at the conference. Discussion topics, which are based on SXSW’s panel offerings, include mobile, web, user experience, crowdfunding and gamification.

After users define their interests, the app suggests other users who have noted similar ones. At about 48 hours after launching a splash page, the user pool is still modest. Only about 250 people have signed up.

Meeteor denotes if suggested contacts have something in common, such as friends or an alma mater. They can then introduce themselves through a personal message and make plans to meet up at the conference.

The networking bliss that ensues — argues Meeteor co-founder Philip Cortes — will trump mobile apps that make on-location connections.

“We connect you with the best possible people,” he says, “not just people who happen to be around you.”

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, gehringj

More About: Meteeor, sxsw, sxsw 2012

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Must See: Windows 8 Running on an 82-inch Touchscreen

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 12:10 PM PST

One of the highlights of this week’s Windows 8 Consumer Preview event was when Microsoft Windows lead Steve Sinofsky turned a giant HD display into the world’s largest touchscreen, Windows 8 “computer.”

OK, he didn't actually transform anything when he unveiled Windows 8 Consumer Preview during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Sinofsky, who is Microsoft’s president of Windows and Windows Live Division, simply revealed the true nature of the 82-inch display. It hung almost unnoticed at the back of the stage for much of the presentation, until he and Michael Anguilo, Corporate VP of Windows Planning and Ecosystem, walked over and started touching the Windows 8 Metro interface on the giant display. The screen is not a computer by itself. It still has to connect to a computer, in this case running Windows 8.

See Also: Windows 8 Consumer Preview: The Good, the Bad and the Metro [REVIEW]

Built by Perceptive Pixel, the 82-inch panel of optically bonded Gorilla Glass beat the previous optically bonded Gorilla Glass leader, Microsoft’s own 40-inch Surface 2, which it built with Samsung. Sinofsky and Anguilo explained that the screen can accept up to 10 people touching it at once, though Perceptive Perceptive Pixel’s own site puts the number of touch points at “unlimited.” That bonding, by the way, essentially removes the parallax, putting your fingers as close as possible to the pixels. As a result, the screen makes it look like you’re actually touching and moving on-screen objects. It also works with a stylus, where the “sub-millimeter touch precision” can come in particularly handy.

During the demonstration, the Windows 8 metro interface operated smoothly and the Microsoft exec explained that it doesn’t take a big, powerful PC to drive the big screen. They showed off a hand-sized AMD, Dual-core block of a system that could run the Perceptive Pixel screen. They never said, though, that such a box was running the demonstration we saw that day.

Check out the short video and then drop into the comments to help us envision what you’d do with a giant, 82-inch touch screen in your home or office.

Inside the Windows 8 Consumer Preview Event

Windows 8 at Mobile World Congress

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More About: microsoft, MWC, trending, Windows 8

To B or Not to B? Weighing the Benefits of Benefit Corporations

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 11:59 AM PST

Aiden Livingston is a cause marketing expert and the author of two books on the subject. He is also the Marketing and Communications Director at Call2Action, a New York-based social enterprise that creates online tools to help non-profits.

At first glance, a Benefit Corporation seems like a good thing. I mean it has the word "benefit" right in the title, so what's not to love?

Well, dig a little bit deeper and one finds they have to dig a lot deeper to discover what exactly the benefits of Benefit Corporations are.

For starters, Benefit Corporations and B Corps, terms that are often used interchangeably, are entirely different. A B Corp represents a certification, whereas a Benefit Corporation is an actual legal entity.

Confused yet? Now consider that the B Corp certification process, which requires a company to pass a rigorous examination of all their policies, is not actually legally binding. Whereas a Benefit Corporation, which is legally binding and currently recognized by six states, does not require a company to adhere to the same standards as the certification.

Feel free to reread the above at your own liberty and try to make sense of it. I know I certainly had to.

Evidently, this is a by-product of decisions by legislators, those increasingly popular folks who felt that forcing companies to adhere to the standards of a B Corp certification would put too much control in the hands of the governing body, B Lab, and therefore removed the requirements altogether for the new Benefit Corporations.

Thus, a ridiculous double standard and branding conundrum that would give Don Draper an aneurysm.

So What Is a B Corp Anyway?

Since the only ethical prerequisite for becoming a Benefit Corporation is, seemingly, the will to join, let's focus on the stricter certification process of a B Corp.

A B Corp is like a non-profit in that it must work with the greater public good in mind, and not just the good of a few select shareholders. However, unlike a 501(c)(3) organization, it is still taxed as a business, which doesn't seem entirely beneficial to anyone who is a B Corp. In fact, B Corps and Benefit Corporations currently receive no specific tax benefits over traditionally incorporated businesses.

Unlike traditional corporations such as an S Corp or LLC, B Corps are subject to rigorous scrutiny of their practices and policies to ensure they are holding themselves to the highest ethical standards.

The way it works is that to become a B Corp, a company must fill out what is called an Impact Assessment. In order to qualify as a B Corp, companies must score at least 80 out of the 200 points available.

The criteria for evaluation encompass a considerably large range of issues, such as: Does the company have a policy of sharing financial information with employees? What percentage of overseas vendors have you visited to tour their facilities? What percentage of employees are women? What percentage of your energy comes from renewable sources?

Sounds Painfully Tedious — Why Would Anyone Want to be a B Corp?

So on first impression, a B Corp seems like being in a relationship with a really insecure partner. There are a lot of rules about what you can't do, without a very clear idea of what you are getting in return.

But just like a good relationship, the benefits are not always things that are easily enumerated. To find out what makes Benefit Corporations special, it is best to ask some people who are currently in a relationship with a B Corp.

Charlotte Rademaekers, the founder of my organization, first became certified as a B Corp and has since double-downed and also become a Benefit Corporation.

Charlotte was anxious to become a B Corp because "I felt strongly that I wanted to not only start a business that made money but also made a difference, and that becoming a B Corp spoke to my deeply held values on how companies should conduct business in a meaningful way. It has since been a great way to meet other like-minded business owners as well as to express my ethical priorities to customers."

Elisa Miller-Out, who is the CEO of Singlebrook and another early adaptor of the B Corp/Benefit Corporation movement, echoes Charlotte's sentiments. “Singlebrook is registering as a Benefit Corporation because we believe that caring for our community and the environment is essential to creating a just and sustainable economy and because implementing these values has led to greater success for our business.”

Time and time again, when I talked to companies that were B Corps, Benefit Corporations, or both, I was struck by their dedication to the movement that B Corps represented. In a very real way, these companies were not so much interested in a legal classification as much as they were anxious to join a movement that represented the evolving landscape of how business ought to be conducted in the 21st century.

Interestingly, some even found that through exploring the moral impact of their company practices, the certification process made them work to become more ethical.

Jeni Bauser, senior account executive at Green Team, said, “B Corporations’ rigorous criteria create a structure for us to improve our sustainable practices, and stand with like-minded businesses that believe it’s their responsibility to meet the highest social and environmental standards.”

So not only do these companies not mind having their practices examined, many found that the exercise of doing so made them work harder to be more responsible businesses even beyond the B Corp requirements.

The B Corp Movement Sounds Great. How Do Benefit Corporations Fit In?

After much confusion and frustration, Charlotte was able to explain how having states recognize companies' Benefit Corporation status is important.

Normally corporations are legally required to act in whatever way necessary to ensure the greatest profitability to shareholders, which, as you can imagine, is often directly at odds with a company's ingrained social mission.

A good example is when Ben and Jerry's was acquired by Unilever in what ultimately became a forced takeover. To be specific, Ben and Jerry's rejected Unilever's offer and moved to accept a lesser offer that promised to honor their corporate mission. So Unilever sued, and won, on the grounds that Ben and Jerry's had a fiduciary obligation to ensure the maximum return to their shareholders and accept their higher offer.

Ben and Jerry's had always had a very strong sense of corporate responsibility, and certainly did not want to lose control of that by being swallowed up by a large corporate entity like Unilever. But no matter how much they resisted, ultimately they were acquired by Unilever and lost control of their own company.

A Benefit Corporation status could have prevented the overthrow of the company's strict mission statement by legally obligating the board to consider both the social implications as well as the profit implications of the decision.

This legal acknowledgment of the company's moral imperative was one of the main reasons discussed by Patagonia's CEO, Yvon Chouinard, when he explained his company's decision to become a Benefit Corporation, remarking that he was glad to know that this company, which had become his life's work, would carry on long after him and would be able to stay true to the principles he instilled in it.

Though perhaps the main thing to consider about Benefit Corporations is that they are, in fact, still quite new. S Corps were established over 50 years ago, and have been tweaked and legislated constantly ever since. Benefit Corporations are only two years old, giving them the same amount of precedent as a middle-aged hamster.

An old Chinese proverb says, "A good judge conceives quickly, but judges slowly." Given the new status of these corporations and the lofty aspirations and passion of the people supporting them, I am sure we have yet to see all the true benefits that will come from Benefit Corporations.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, tumpikuja

More About: B Corp, benefit corporations, features, Social Good

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Apple TV Sold Out at Amazon, Best Buy: New Model on the Way?

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 11:44 AM PST

Reduced availability of the Apple TV gives credence to rumors that a new product release may be imminent.

On Tuesday, Apple officially sent out invitations for a media event on March 7. While the unveiling of the iPad 3 will certainly take center stage, it’s looking more likely that the company will also take an opportunity to refresh the Apple TV.

Online retailers — including and Best Buy — are sold out of the device with no expected restock date. The Apple TV is also unavailable for in-store pickup at Best Buy stores in the tri-state area. does not have the item in stock and is only offering used or refurbished models. I actually purchased an Apple TV on Jan. 29, when it was available for immediate shipping. As I am barely within the 30-day return mark, I am sending my unit back to Amazon tonight.

9to5Mac reported that new versions of the Apple TV will be available almost immediately after next week’s event.

This is further bolstered by Apple TV stock shortages at various Apple retail stores and third-party retailers. As The Verge notes, while users can order an Apple TV directly from, many retail stores are showing an availability date of March 7.

Our own tests show that the Apple TV is in-stock at two of New York City stores, however the busier locations (including the Fifth Avenue Apple Store and the Grand Central Apple Store) show “Available Mar 8.”

Of course, stock shortages aren’t a guarantee that Apple is releasing a refreshed product. Still, the company tends to keep its supply chain full, especially with low-cost items such as the Apple TV. The lack of availability on is our best sign yet that a new model — or new service — could be on its way.

Earlier today we covered reports that Apple is struggling to get content companies to agree to the terms of its unannounced but much-rumored TV streaming service. Whether this content strategy is tied to new Apple TV devices remains to be seen.

What would you like to see in the next Apple TV? Let us know.

More About: apple, Apple TV, connected devices, ipad 3

Man Sues Google Over Street View Photo of Him Peeing [VIDEO]

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 11:29 AM PST

A man in France has sued Google because a Street View photo shows him in his front yard taking a leak. The middle-aged man lives in a small village and says the photo has made him a laughingstock in the community.

He wants the photo removed, plus €10,000 — or some $13,000 — in damages, Reuters reports.

“Everyone has the right to a degree of secrecy,” says Jean-Noel Bouillard, the unnamed man’s lawyer. “In this particular case, it’s more amusing than serious. But if he’d been caught kissing a woman other than his wife, he would have had the same issue.”

By and large, Europeans have taken a harder stance than Americans in recent years against the substance and amount of information Internet companies such as Google and Facebook are able to collect from users. France’s official data-protection agency has launched an investigation into whether Google’s new privacy policy conflicts with European law.

The litigious urinator’s face is blurred out in the Street View photo in question, but he says that hasn’t stopped fellow villagers fron recognizing him. Reuters reports that the man thought he was in privacy when he relieved himself in November 2010 in his yard behind a closed gate. But a Street View camera still got him. Many of Google’s Street View cars have cameras mounted to rooftop stanchions.

A court in the nearby city of Angers is scheduled to give a verdict on March 15, according to Reuters.

Should the photo be removed? Should the man win damages? Let us know in the comments.

BONUS GALLERY: 20 Strange and Hilarious Google Street View Sightings

1. A Fleet at the Ready

Take a minute and think about the gargantuan task of photographing every inch of road in the world. Is your mind blown? Now you may understand why Google needs so many cars.

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: Google, google street view, privacy, trending

ESPN Brings More Than 200 College Basketball Games to Facebook

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 11:14 AM PST

ESPN is streaming more than 200 college basketball games on Facebook over the next week. It’s the first time the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports has turned to the world’s dominant social network to deliver live content.

The streams of conference tournament games — precursors to the real “Big Dance” tournament later this month — began Thursday and run through March 10. Included are both obscure match-ups from far-flung leagues and heavyweight bouts from major conferences.

But not just anyone with a Facebook profile can watch. The games are being delivered through the sports network’s ESPN3 service, which typically provides live streams via the website to people who subscribe to the service or affiliated Internet providers. So to watch on Facebook, you’ll either need to be a pre-existing subscriber or get Internet service through one of these providers.

People who are allowed to access the Facebook streams can do so by going to ESPN’s Facebook Page and selecting the ESPN3 app, which should be third from the left in the row beneath ESPN’s new Timeline cover photo. Once at the ESPN3 app, users can choose from a number of simultaneously available games.

“The Facebook (option) is the result of our ’10,000 front doors’ strategy for ESPN3, which started with the ESPN3 player on this past January, where we achieved fantastic results,” ESPN3 executive John Lasker said in a corporate blog post. “We believe in making content available to sports fans wherever they are and choose to consume.”

Do you think live events streaming via Facebook is a trend that will gain more momentum soon? Let us know in the comments.

More About: Facebook, march madness, sports

Your Desk Job Makes You Fat, Sick and Dead [INFOGRAPHIC]

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 11:04 AM PST

The productivity of the average worker has skyrocketed thanks to technology, but it comes at the price of a sedentary lifestyle. And mounting research suggests that sitting at your desk for eight hours a day can have a dramatic impact on your health.

Don’t get me wrong. I burn plenty of calories typing emails. And I make a point to always click and drag through long websites and documents — scroll wheels are for lazy people. But all that strenuous activity pales in comparison to the exercise my forebears did on the job 50 years ago (killing dinosaurs). In the 1960s, nearly half of all jobs required physical activity. Today, less than 20% do. Day to day, you may not see the toll of this. But over lifetimes and large amounts of health data, the effects are pretty staggering.

SEE ALSO: Why a Stand-Up Desk Might Save Your Life

For example, from 1980 to 2000, the time Americans spent sitting increased by only 8%, while exercise rates stayed the same. The result? Obesity doubled. (The prevalence of processed foods likely plays a role here too, but you get the gist.)

Now, most experts agree that being homeless and not eating are far worse for your health than having a desk job, so don’t kick your boss’s door in just yet. But the moral of the infographic below (courtesy of is that you should pay attention to your sedentary habits, and be sure to take frequent breaks to stand and walk around. And, as obvious people everywhere will tell you, counter-balance your sitting sprees with regular exercise and buckets of vegetables.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, sdominick

Infographic courtesy of

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Have You Been SmartphOWNED? 13 Humorous Viral Texts

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 10:47 AM PST


Click here to view this gallery.

Texts gone awry have taken center stage in the viral humor arena as sites such as Damn You Auto Correct and When Parents Text take off.

This time, we’re taking a look at SmartphOWNED, a humor blog launched in January 2011 that was intended to feature auto-correct fails. The site, however, has evolved into more than that. Many of the most-shared texts on the site are witty exchanges between friends, parents saying awkward things (without an additional auto-correct blunder) and text art (such as the “iPhone Whales” slide above).

One of our favorites is this creative use of emoji to illustrate Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz’s “Get Low.” The 13 text conversations in the gallery above are the SmartphOWNED creator’s picks for funniest on the site.

“You often overhear conversations between other people but you rarely have opportunities to read their text conversations. It feels more private – like you’re reading someone’s diary,” Emerson Spartz, CEO of Spartz Media told Mashable. “It’s easy to imagine yourself as one of the characters because you can’t see or hear the authors. Because you can place yourself in the story, it’s easier to immerse yourself in the moment.”

Spartz is quite the veteran when it comes to viral web culture. He created MuggleNet, the world’s number one Harry Potter site, when he was just 12 years old. Today, SmartphOWNED is Spartz Media’s top blog with 50 million monthly page views.

SEE ALSO: Damn You Auto Correct Founder Picks 12 Funniest Texts Ever

To submit texts to SmartphOWNED, you use the custom SmartphOWNED iPhone Builder tool to replicate your conversation, rather than grabbing a screen shot.

“The funniest conversations use many of the same jokes and observations that are expressed using other formats, like stand-up comedy,” Spartz says. This trend of showing screenshots of funny text conversations exists because funny conversations are happening via text.”

Take a look through the gallery above — we bet at least one will make you chuckle.

Why do you find texting humor so funny? What’s the biggest auto correct — or otherwise humorous conversation — you’ve had via text messaging? Share your own funny picks in the comments.

More About: auto correct, humor, smartphones, trending

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Why Is Twitter’s Logo Named After Larry Bird?

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 10:32 AM PST

You know that blue Twitter bird that’s always popping up these days? Well, the little guy’s got a name. It’s Larry. Larry the Bird. As in, Larry Bird, the Hall of Fame basketball player.

This tidbit most recently came to light earlier this week, thanks to a tweet from Ryan Sarver, a platform and API manager at Twitter. He posted a photo of Twitter’s creative director, Doug Bowman, explaining how the company’s logo has developed over the years. Sarver’s tweet mentioned the “evolution of the Larry the Bird logo.”

The connection actually makes quite a bit of sense, if you do a little Internet stalking and connect the dots.

Twitter’s co-founder is Biz Stone. A 2009 interview from The Boston Globe tells us that Stone graduated from Wellesley High School, just outside Boston. And Wikipedia tells us Stone was born in 1974.

This means Stone likely was a wide-eyed, prepubescent youth at the same time Larry Bird was leading the Boston Celtics to two NBA championships, winning three consecutive league MVP titles from 1984 to 1986.

The Beantown hoops backstory has gained a fair amount of media coverage since Sarver’s tweet earlier this week. But Peter Stringer, the Celtics’ director of interactive media, was aware of the connection back in August, when he had this Twitter exchange with Stone:

More About: sports, Twitter

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Yelp Stock Soars on First Trading Day

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 10:15 AM PST

Yelp’s stock was up 64% to $24.58 per share midday Friday during the consumer-review site’s first day on the New York Stock Exchange.

Yelp had targeted its initial public offering in the range of $12 to $14 per share, valuing the company at nearly $900 million on the high end. Shares were priced at $15 Thursday evening. Yelp announced its plans to go public in April 2010, a little more than a year after turning down a $500 million takeover bid from Google.

That’s not too shabby for a web property that has yet to turn a profit. The site features user-generated reviews of local businesses, 42% of which are restaurants. Audience and revenue have increasingly steadily year-over-year, up 74% to $83.3 million in 2011, but so have costs. The company recorded a net loss of $16.86 million last year, nearly double what it lost in 2010.

Yelp’s successful debut follows a year of tumultuous public offerings from high-profile social media companies. Kevin Pleines, an analyst with stock-market research firm Birinyi Associates, found that new social media stocks were a bad investment as a category in 2011. By year’s end, 82.4% were trading below their opening-day prices.

1. Yandex (YNDX) -20.8% from its IPO Price

Yandex, a Russian search engine, raised $1.3 billion when it went public in May, making it the biggest social media IPO of the year.

Click here to view this gallery.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, gmutlu

More About: ipo, stock, yelp

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Toshiba to Launch World’s Thinnest Tablet Next Week

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 10:03 AM PST

Toshiba is bringing the world’s thinnest 10-inch tablet to stores on Tuesday.

The company recently announced that its ultra-sleek and sexy Excite 10 LE tablet — which is just 0.3 inches thick and weighs in at 1.18 lbs. — will launch in the U.S. on Tuesday, March 6. The device is 0.04 inches more slim than the 0.34-inch-thick iPad 2.

The tablet runs on the Android 3.2 “Honeycomb” operating system and will be upgraded to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in the spring. The product was announced in January at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show and has since received stellar hands-on reviews. [Check out Mashable's review here].

With a powerful Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 dual-core mobile processor, dual-channel memory, front- and rear-facing cameras and eight hours of battery life, the slim device is packing a lot of punch. It also features a 10.1-inch diagonal LED backlit widescreen display with scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass.

It’s priced at $530 for the 16GB model and $600 for the 32GB model.

"Excite 10 LE embodies what a luxury tablet should be," said Carl Pinto, vice president of product development, Toshiba America, in a statement. "We have engineered this tablet with premium materials and components, given it elegant yet durable styling and more connectivity options than any other tablet in its class, while fitting everything into an astonishingly thin and light design."

The tablet also features various connectivity interfaces and ports, including micro-USB and HDMI, a micro-SD slot to share content and files with other devices, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.

More About: android, gorilla glass, ipad, tablets, Toshiba

Can You Survive Without Social Media for Two Weeks? [CHALLENGE]

Posted: 02 Mar 2012 09:39 AM PST

With over 845 million active users on Facebook alone, it’s safe to say that social media has become integrated into our daily lives.

The social media explosion over the past few years has changed the way people and communities interact. Communication among individuals has become more dynamic, and information is delivered at a faster pace. Social media has allowed family and friends to stay up to date with what is happening in each others lives. Even businesses can now reach out directly to fans.

With all the advances social media has enabled, some people are still skeptics. They don’t feel a need to be connected online, or they believe social media is too much work or too immersive. Some even ask the question: What would life be like without Facebook? Last year one of our writers at Mashable, Sam Laird, began a social experiment by testing what his life would be like without Facebook. This wasn't because he disliked Facebook, but because he was curious to see the other side: would he miss it?

To this day, Sam has kept his Facebook account deactivated (but not fully deleted). He reported surprising results, saying that he misses out on a lot of conversation, and he always finds himself trying to catch up to articles posted on Facebook. He also reported that he had more time to browse the Internet, without worrying whether an article was share-worthy on the social network.

In order to see how fully social media has been ingrained in our lives, we want to test your resolve. We propose a challenge: Who can survive without social media for two weeks? This means you can’t update your status, send a tweet, +1 a post or “check in” to a restaurant. For two weeks you will only be able to engage with few online resources.

Interested? Read on to learn how to take part.

How to Enter the Challenge

  • Leave a comment below this article answering the question: Why do you want to disconnect from social media for the next two weeks?
  • Post your comment below by Wednesday, March 7 at 5 p.m. EST in order to be considered.

Once all the comments are submitted, Mashable‘s editorial staff will select the five most inspiring entries. We will contact those five individuals and connect with them for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, each individual will write a reflection on his or her experience disconnecting from social media. The best reflection could be featured as a guest post on Mashable.

*In our challenge, disconnecting from social media limits you to: emailing, SMS texting and content consumption via a news site or an embed video. This means you are not allowed to create or share any type of content. Actions like writing blog posts, uploading videos, commenting, Liking a comment, posting status updates, sharing a post, checking in, playing social games, chatting online, video chatting, or anything related to those actions are not allowed.

More About: challenge, Facebook, foursquare, Google, Social Media, Twitter

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