The Future of Long Distance Relationships and the New YC App Pair

Today I read about a new app showcased at YCombinator's Demo Day called Pair—the beginning of a tool designed for those in long-distance relationships. 

To be totally upfront, I haven't tried this app at all. I am not in a long distance relationship. But as someone who has been in long distance relationships over what amounts to years, I am really surprised that a similar app has not been developed yet. 

After all, when you and your loved one are apart, money feels like no obstacle. In your most lonely moments, you would pay a lot of money to be closer. And often times, you'll factor into your cost of living expensive plane tickets so that you can see one another. I know I'm not the only one. I can recall countless conversations in which people have come to me or my friends asking for advice and for tools on maintaining a healthy relationship from afar.

I say this because there's money in it for the person who uses app technologies to bring us all closer together. People would pay for apps or services and spend a lot of time on these tools. I am very eager to see Pair—and whoever else jumps into that space—perfect that tool. Pair has already had 50,000 downloads in the last four days, according to All Things D. And I would really not be surprised if this is just the beginning. 

This should be a space to watch.

How to be vulnerable on social media

Photo: Exploding Dog

Vulnerability is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. It’s kind of an inevitable subject to ponder when you’re working in social media. Sure, there are a lot of corporate standards surfacing for transparency and social media (you can just look to the work of Charlene Li as one example). But the personal question is only one you can answer yourself—will people trust me if I share my personal struggles? Will it make me look lame? Weak? Self-pitying? Or worst: emo? And when you don't fit into the old boy's club in a corporate environment, it can sometimes feel that all of the world’s distrust will weigh your youth against your eagerness and smarts and come out judging you for just your babyface.

There are a lot of arguments for being vulnerable on social media, i.e. The Public. It makes it easier for people to relate to you, people say. It shows you’re a real person. It shows that you’re authentic.

But the truth is that a lot of people love gossip, too. And there is a reason why the human train wrecks that are reality TV shows do so dependably well on the networks. People love drama. And not always out of compassion. The spectacle can become self indulgent. You can make money off of it. You can gain fame. But you can also lose yourself and crash and burn.

So it’s our job to, yes, be authentic and to relate to others. But it doesn’t need to be meaningless or a target for internet rubberneckers.

And then I started to observe that there is a way to be very successful at being vulnerable on social media. And I think one of the people who embraces all these principles best is Penelope Trunk. 

Penelope Trunk is widely recognized for her popular blog about “the intersection of work and life.” She shares with graphic, almost embarrassing honesty about her struggle with Asperger syndrome, the trials and tribulations of her sex life and love life (if you’d like to distinguish the two), and the challenges of launching a startup. As a blogger, she is able to share facts and insights about herself that make many people squirm—but ultimately she still wins the trust of a large readership.

How can we embrace the same kind of vulnerability? I learned a few from reading Penelope Trunk's blog:

  1. Tell a good personal story. When Penelope discusses her vulnerabilities, it’s more than a laundry list of insecurities, trips, and falls. She tells a personal story from her real life—and she does so with excruciating honesty. It’s an effective way to make her blog interesting instead of just emo. This is where the bulk of where she exposes herself and her vulnerability. The story is immersive and allows you to care about the author.
  2. Give concrete tips on how to beat that vulnerability. This is the biggest principle I observed. Penelope might spend 1,000 words talking about how she feels terribly inadequate at something. But then she focuses the rest of the post on actionable ways she’s dealt with those feelings. Sometimes this part even comes below the fold. It’s still effective, though—the stories that she starts have a lot of traction.
  3. Take a strong stance. Penelope’s advice is often extreme. She’ll frequently defy the conventional wisdom and stir up controversy. This not only makes her blog posts a good conversation starter. It makes her decisive and demonstrates her analytical skills. While most people focus on the actual conclusions, what builds credibility is the thinking process. In this way, we shouldn’t stress out as much about being right or wrong—we all change our minds in life. But we should focus on the quality of thinking and the efficacy of our writing to really say something.
  4. Build credit. Following this formula actually builds her credibility with her readers. So, when she does occasionally share stories without advice to follow, she’s already established herself as a smart, thoughtful person who can share hardships without wallowing.

How much do you like to share about yourself online? Do you have certain safeguards?

Pinterest and the future of photosharing

So there are a bunch of huge numbers rolling out about Pinterest—the latest of which show that the service has 10.4 million registered users, 9 million monthly Facebook connected users, and 2 million Facebook users, according to Inside Network's AppData tracking service.

And if Pinterest is going to be as huge as many people think it will be, it will be fun to watch a few things happen:

  • We will change the way we think about image ownership. It will be less about where people put our photos ("Why did that person put my photo on that website?") and more about how photos track back to the properties that we control ("Why did that person not put a link back?"). We've seen such trends with Tumblr, Posterous, and others, but the speed with which we share photos will quicken.
  • Media companies will want, even more, to control the full rights to the photos they use. Even more than before, photos are quickly going to become powerful marketing content, and companies who care about social media users will want the ability to fluidly deciminate branded images through web. Many corporations are already starting to get the efficacy of visual storytelling tools—infographics, for instance, are an incredible way to help people understand what you do. But the popularity of photo sharing services will encourage companies even more, to share stories in images. 
  • Watermark services will multiply and refine. Pinterest is fun now, but people are quickly going to become peeved about folks using photos without credit. And as a result, people will be looking for a quick and easy way to stylishly lay claim to their photos. Think Instagram for watermarks.

It will be interesting to watch how Pinterest will navigate image sharing and rights. (Side note: There was a great article earlier this week about managing copyrights on Pinterest.)

So now here's my question: Anyone found a watermarking app they like? There are a couple I want to try (It's My Photo AD, iWatermark, and Impression), but I'm not sure how good they are.

A Yahoo! kind of holiday

Good storytelling at large organizations is not only about creating strong, consistent narratives. It's about creating a real experience. And part of the way to do it is through visual storytelling.

The thing about visual storytelling is that it's really successful content on social media—it's been true for every account I've ever been behind. Visual storytelling is emotionally compelling and easy to share.

So it was a lot of fun to shoot some of the holiday festivities on campus to share with the world. The campus is full of (purple!) cheer, so I grabbed our camera, hoisted up my old photojournalism skills (thank you, Medill), and captured some of the fun holiday decorations around the office.

Looks like it's a purple Christmas (or Hanukkah or other December holiday) for us!

Because it's all about the story! The Social Media Brandsphere infographic by @briansolis

"Each channel offers a unique formula for engagement where brands become stories and people become storytellers. Using a transmedia approach, the brand story can connect with customers differently across each medium, creating a deeper, more enriching experience. Transmedia storytelling doesn’t follow the traditional rules of publishing; it caters to customers where they connect and folds them into the narrative."

I have an obvious bias toward this because not only is my official work title Storyteller—we're also spearheading corporate social media at work. So I can say with complete conviction that stories are at the center of good social media (and most good marketing, writing, and reporting, I believe).