The Challenges of Automation

The following was submitted in my Florida Institute of Technology Human Factors course (AHF5101). Feel free to provide your thoughts and input. Automation in Part 121 flight decks have certainly been a benefit but recent accidents highlight the degradation of pilot skills due to automation dependency and complacency. 


The current infrastructure of air transportation, throughout the world, is likely a concept that the Wright Brothers could not have imagined. Perhaps they had a basic idea of how manned-flight would alter the modes of transportation for generations to come, but were they able to comprehend that jet aircraft, largely controlled through automated systems requiring minimal interaction from operators would transport hundreds of people great distances, over oceans, all in a manner of 12 to 14 hours? The ability to cross-borders, continents, oceans, and desolate surface environments, by air with highly sophisticated jet aircraft has helped improve the economies of both the developed and developing world. The jet age has helped expand trade liberalization, it has helped improve the lives of many people, but beyond just the expansion of jet aircraft over the past four decades the improvement in aircraft systems and automation have improved the integrity of the air transport segment.

A discussion of automation cannot occur without recapping the significant technological improvements that autopilot/flight control systems have seen over the years. Improvements in ground based navigation aids, growth in widespread deployment of GPS and area-navigation (RNAV) long-range navigation tools, an increase in advanced avionic packages, and faster on-board computing power have all helped to improve the accuracy and integrity of aircraft automation systems. A century ago the idea of navigating without any reference to ground based landmarks that could be visually sighted by the pilot was an idea likely not even considered. As aviation has evolved, missions have changed, lives are transported, precious cargo moved, the requirement to have high-fidelity systems that help minimize risks to flight safety have increased. However, two recent accidents have underscored the role automation may have played in the eventually degradation of traditional manual flying processes due to a reliance on automation or even a systematic reduction in the maintenance of manual flying skills amongst professional pilots.

The first autopilot, developed by Lawrence Sperry, was a basic device that allowed for automated control of an aircraft during straight and level flight (Scheck). The system itself connected a gyroscopic heading indicator to hydraulically controlled elevators and rudders. This first autopilot, developed in 1912 and showcased in Paris in 1914 (Scheck) began the technological development wave that would launch the development of higher fidelity autopilot systems. In 1930 the Royal Aircraft Establishment in England successfully developed a “pilot assister” device that utilized a pneumatically powered gyroscope to maintain longitudinal and lateral stability (Popular Mechanics, p. 950). These basics systems allowed for automated control of an aircraft using an initial input by the pilot to activate and instruct the system to remain in straight and level flight. While these systems were welcomed within the aviation community at the time, they are merely the basic foundation of the exceptionally more advanced autopilot systems in use today.

As jet aircraft became the norm, a necessary advancement in avionics was required to help aid pilots during high altitude navigation and in maintaining aircraft control in the thinner atmospheric air at high altitude. Comprehensive flight management systems and improved radio technology allowed for greater signal reception and tracking capabilities from ground based navigation aids. Jet aircraft also were operating at speeds much faster than the previous piston/prop aircraft that many pilots at the time were transitioning from. Autopilot enhancements during the “jet-age” of American aviation included improved lateral and vertical modes. For example, while basic autopilot systems allowed for the maintenance of straight and level flight, the advanced systems allowed for control of an aircraft’s climb rate, airspeed, heading, navigation tracking, allowing for a decrease in overall pilot workload in the cockpit. However these advances have also come at a cost.

Thanks to an overall improved understanding of aerodynamics, autopilot engineers are able to design complex autopilot systems that provide transport aircraft with high levels of stability in a varying degree of flight conditions (Vaillard, et. al.). However, the benefits that arrived – such as improved navigation accuracy, reduced crew fatigue, smoother flight characteristics, there are actual negative consequences of significant automation usage. McKinney (2004) remarks on an how MD-80 crews would adjust the vertical speed setting within 1,000ft of an assigned altitude selected in the autopilot could wipe-out the autopilot’s successful capture of the altitude by leveling off due to the late change in input from a pilot. Certainly an error in the system’s use, but more importantly McKinney highlights how many MD-80 altitude busts, or vertical deviations, occurred due to important system management. McKinney further highlights how such an adjustment is not necessary considering the MD-80’s autopilot logic that allowed for a smooth level off from vertical speeds of even 4,000 feet per minute. The above example is likely a reinforcement of prior research from Boehm-Davis (2000), which acknowledged directly that automation was introduced in part to reduce error in the aviation system but that it has also introduced new errors that must be managed. More importantly, Boehm-Davis remarked that the automation has distinctly changed the roles, responsibilities, and activities of the pilots – from psychomotor flying skills to monitoring and delegating tasks to the automation.

A significant number of aviation accidents have contributing factors that directly point to mismanagement of the automatic flight control system, a flight crews attention towards figuring out what the system is actually doing rather than flying the airplane manually, or a reluctance to minimize the level of automation in use at a certain time. Consider UPS 1354 that crashed on approach to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Intl. airport in August of 2013, the NTSB remarked that the crew’s mismanagement of the on-board flight management system, and associated automatic flight control system was a contributing factor in the crash (National Transportation Safety Board, 2014). To a certain extent pilots have become dependent on the automation to perform a certain task, but additionally there is a level of complacency that has established. It is common knowledge to those within the piloting profession that there has been an increasing amount of dependence on automation processes to accomplish the mission. Prinzel & Pope (2000) highlight that the level of complacency with automation systems in the cockpit has grown as these very systems have become more commonplace throughout the industry, but also within the mindset of self-efficacy – or one’s expectation of their ability to accomplish certain tasks. This growing dependence, after years of fairly solid performance and a belief that the system will continue to operate as previously observed, has lead to a level of trust with advanced autopilot systems which has lead to a relaxed operational environment. Complacent behavior is most likely to be present when complacency potential exists due to a higher than average workload, for instance during periods of poor weather, heavy traffic, fatigue due to poor sleep or lengthy flight segments (Parasuraman, et. al). Remarkably in Prinzel & Pope’s research it was found that individuals who rated high in self-efficacy ended up performing poorly under conditions of high-workload when it came to managing automated processes. This correlates to the growing level of complacency with automation systems due to these very systems providing a mental, and even physical, crutch to the operating pilot or crew.

Dependence on the automation is of additional concern for aviation safety professionals. Due to organizational standards many aviation operators are encouraged to utilize automation during even some of the most basic of flight maneuvers during periods of low-work load. A flight’s takeoff is indeed a crucial stage of flight, however the after-rotation climb-out is not necessary as large of a work-load contributor and yet many aviation firms highly recommend to flight crew members to utilize the autopilot to perform a constant speed climb-out and lateral navigation. This institutionalized dependence encourages flight crews to become less of a pilot and more of a system manager. Ebbattson (2010) recognized that modern jet transport aircraft are typically flown using various levels of automation, but most importantly they showcase that manual flying skills decay over time if pilots fail to take advantage of opportunities to practice those same very skills during day-to-day operations. Organizations must find a way to safely encourage crewmembers to practice manual flying skills during low-work load environments, specifically during visual meteorological conditions. Additionally, the organizations should properly assist flight crews in performing threat analysis for certain stages of flight in which case, if even during visual meteorological conditions, crews should revert to utilizing automation in an effort to minimize workload.

Few in the aviation community could remark that automation has not had a significant role in improving the overall integrity of the transport of passengers or freight. Autopilots have evolved along with the aircraft that carry them. The reduced workload capability is highly regarded as a valuable economic benefit for a number of reasons. The issue of deskilling, or the elimination of skilled labor within an economy due to technological advances – in this case automation, has impacted the professional piloting profession. Due to improved automated systems there has been a reduction in the average crew complement within air transport aircraft, down from three to now two.

These technological advances must not restrict pilots from being pilots. Parasuraman (1997) highlights a set of automation strategies to help operators. First, the operators must have better knowledge of how the automation works. Next, a clear set of policies and procedures from the organization that provides guidance on when and when not to use automation. Following these two, perhaps the most important to the issue of pilots use of automation – operators should be taught to make rational automation use decisions. There is a fourth element of the strategies, essentially that the automation should not be too difficult to turn on or off. Remarking on the third element, Parasuraman strikes exactly at the challenges many flight crews have faced due to poor automation use, or more appropriately – inappropriate use of automation when a lower level of automation (manual flying) would have been more appropriate.

A dangerous environment can develop in the cockpit when a crew is overloaded with a certain task and fails to properly manage the automation. Ultimately it must be acceptable for pilots to disengage automation if it is not accomplishing what they believe it should be performing rather than submit to the system’s potentially flawed execution. Human factors and ergonomic engineers will no doubt continue to find ways to improve the automated controls that exist in aircraft, but pilots must step up and remain committed to the very basic skills that were learned during initial pilot training. It is those very basic, and extremely analog, skills that will likely recover an aircraft from an undesired aircraft state after poor automation management. Aircraft manufactures must take steps necessary to make sure they do not develop systems that fully take the pilots out of the loop (Ropelewski). Ropelewski also highlights how the new generations of airline cockpits are posing significant challenges for human factors experts, flight training specialists, and pilots, as the evolution of automation seems to outpace the training programs at customer airlines. The advances in avionics and automation also has a significant impact on the reactions of unexpected occurrences within the system and how crews respond. Due to the dependence and complacency that has set in, improved feedback design must also be incorporated in the evolution of automation systems in air transport application (Sarter). Design advice from Rasmussen stresses that human error trapping must begin with identifying behavior-shaping system constraints with an acceptable boundary of operation (1999). System designers should not only focus on potential errors that may pop up due to poor management of the automation, but should also dedicate time and resources to studying potential interactions with the systems by real human subjects. With an outlook on not only improving the overall systems in use, but also improving the way various actors interact with the systems and supporting the notion that pilots are – and should remain to be – pilots, and not 100% dedicated to system management, may the aviation industry see a reduction in automation related accidents.

References

Boehm-Davis, Deborah A (2000). “Cognitive Modeling of Airline Crew Automation         Errors”. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual                      Meeting (1071-1813), 44 (13), p. 95.

Ebbatson, M., Harris, D., Huddlestone, J., Sears, R. (2010). The relationship between manual handling performance and recent flying experience in air transport pilots. Ergonomics, 53(2), 268-277.

McKinney, D. (2004). Automation’s unintended consequences; there’s enhanced safety in          aviation’s pervasive digitalization. but there are unwelcome surprises as well.          Business & Commercial Aviation, 94(5), 56-59. Retrieved from          http://search.proquest.com/docview/232120397?accountid=27313

National Transportation Safety Board. (2014). NTSB finds mismanagement of approach to airport and failure to go-around led to crash of UPS Flight 1354. NTSB Press Release, 9 September 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.ntsb.gov/news/2014/140909.html

Parasuraman, R., Molloy, R., Signh, I. (1993). Performance consequences of automation-induced “complacency”. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 3(1), 1-23.

Parasuraman, R., & Riley, V. (1997). Humans and automation: Use, misuse, disuse, abuse. Human Factors, 39(2), 230-253.

Popular Mechanics. (1930). Robot air pilot keeps plane on true course. Popular Mechanics, p. 950. Retrieved from: http://books.google.com/books?id=qOIDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA950#v=onepage&q&f=false

Prinzel, L., Pope, A., (2000). The double-edged sword of self-efficacy: implications for automation-induced complacency. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Scoeity…Annual Meeting, 3, 107. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.portal.lib.fit.edu/docview/235444632?accountid=27313

Rasmussen, J. (1999). Ecoglogical interface design for reliable human-machine systems. International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 9(3), 203. Retrieved from: http://search.ebscohost.com.portal.lib.fit.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=3180011&site=ehost-live

Ropelewski, R. (1996). Control in the cockpit: crews vs. computers. Aerospace America (0740-722X), 34(8), p. 28.

Sarter, N.B., & Woods, D.D. (1997). Team play with a powerful and independent agent: Operational experiences and automation surprises on the Airbus A-320. Human Factors (39)4, 553-569. Retrieved from: http://search.proquest.com/docview/216434748?accountid=27313

Scheck, W. (2004). Lawrence Sperry genius on autopilot. Aviation History, 15(2), 46-52. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.portal.lib.fit.edu/docview/219830959?accountid=27313

Vaillard, A., Paduano, J., and Downing, D., Sensitivity analysis of automatic flight control systems using singular-value concepts. Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics, Vol. 9, No. 6, 1986, pp. 621-626.

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Where do we go from here?

As strategic communication specialists we recognize that the land we stand on today may not appear familiar to us a week in the future, much less a year or five or more down the road. The digital landscape, much like the real landscape of a yard, requires constant feeding, watering, and cutting to make it grow.

Additionally, if you do not feed it, water it, or cut it…it’ll grow weeds and and end up looking horrible next season. I have always had an interest in the way individuals consume, and digest, information. Whether this was as a meteorologist producing and “selling” my forecast to a downrange forecaster who doubted my prognosis, or as a flight instructor providing instrument navigation instruction to a newly minted private pilot still trying to wrap their heads around the awesome privilege they just accomplished, or now as a communication strategist helping a client accomplish their professional or political goals, the way we as individuals interact and communicate with each other plays such a vital role in the evolution of our society.

Taking part in Troy’s strategic communication program has brought me so much enjoyment that I am not ashamed to say I will miss it. The program was brought together by an academic leadership team that fought for years to convince various academic bodies that such a program was necessary.

The communication landscape evolved right before their eyes and the classical emphasis on mass communication was no longer the most appropriate academic food for the next generation of communication professionals. Troy’s Hall School of Journalism’s leaders recognized that they had an opportunity to set the tone for future academic programs across the nation. A tone that spotlighted the theoretical foundations of utilizing emerging technology in a way that brought about new ways of crafting messages, engaging with targeted and broad audiences, building communities.

Some may consider these things obvious due to their life experiences of simply being surrounded by these tools for the better part of the past decade and a half. Unfortunately though, there is nothing obvious or common-sense of the way these tools can be harnessed to accomplished organizational goals. There is nothing common-sense about building an audience of loyal followers who are just as equally engaged towards accomplishing the organization’s goals. There is nothing obvious about the way social media has drastically changed the way in which organizations manage crises and protect reputations.

While my time with the academic program at Troy is complete (I graduated this past Friday and just submitted my final assignments this morning), as a communication strategist I realize that if I do not want to become a dying dinosaur within the realm of communicating, I will have to remain engaged and active within the science. This is the food that will improve my digital landscape, growing a strong root system that allows for stability as a communication strategist. I cannot however, do it alone. Others from various specialties will certainly help me as the future presents itself. The relationships you make with individuals from different walks of life, different professional goals, different hobbies, provide an improved sense of clarity for the world around us. This is the water, the outside sources and influences, that will help keep my focus on improving processes and building professional relationships that prepare me to harness opportunities as they come by. Outside of remaining activity within the science and building professional relationships with peers inside and outside the industry, one also needs to know when it is time to discard the things that are no longer working or effective. When your lawn gets too tall and it starts to look unkempt, you know what time it is – get that lawnmower ready and cut it! Discard the techniques that are no longer effective for you. A constant evaluation of the process you are using as a professional communicator must occur. By staying engaged within the craft, using resources that are available to you, you’ll recognize if the process you have built up for yourself are still working, but more importantly – if they are no longer working.

When something isn’t effective anymore, it is time to get rid of it. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and learn a new skill or process.

Feed, water, and cut your digital landscape. Feed, water, and cut your creative mind. Feed, water, and cut your professional desires.

For anyone interested in pursuing a graduate degree in strategic communication, I have to recommend Troy University (www.troy.edu). I have greatly enjoyed my time over the past year and change and I know that it will pay off for me many times over. Looking into the future, my academic career is not over. I am making my pivot towards accomplishing my first formal education within the aviation industry, within the specific environment of aviation safety. I am looking forward to starting at the Florida Institute of Technology (www.fit.edu) in August.

Until next time! Take care and be safe!

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Branding – Making it Effective

It always amazes me at the somewhat common sense things that are shared through an intellectual prism courtesy of TED. Founded 29 years ago, TED has been spreading worthy ideas through its annual TED conferences, regional TEDx conferences and other events by bringing intellectuals and leaders from various industries to speak boldly about how the world can improve.

This week I was fortunate enough to watch two very powerful, and yet so very simple, TED presentations. Both of which center on the basic issues of persuasion and branding, and more importantly – using both to connect with customers. Because after all, what is the purpose of a brand? And if you’re in business, you must accomplish some level of positive persuasion if you wish to remain in business.

A brand, classically defined as an organization’s recognizable name, symbol, combination of characters or images that reflect the entities distinct characteristics that separate it from others, can be a very powerful persuasive tool in and of itself. From a marketing and advertising perspective though, the brand is not just the traditional definition – but much more. One TED video this weekend emphasized the point that an organization’s brand is “…what other people are saying about you when you are not in the room.” Principally enforcing the mantra that how you operate as an organization is far more important than simply your logo or slogan.

There is a significant undercurrent of brand analysis that occurs on a continuous basis due to the explosion of social media and an increased level of connection amongst various consumer bodies. Shopping mommy blogs have popped up, YouTube has allowed independent reviews from regular folks, Facebook and Twitter both serve as an immediate reflection of an organization’s product or service, Yelp allows wise shoppers to review an establishment and provide originally created content to reinforce the legitimacy of the review.

Perception is key in these instances of outside bodies influencing an organization’s brand. Management teams were not that fast in adopting social media policies that protected their brand’s presence online. Many organizations learned the hard way that they do not control their image and brand’s anymore. They can attempt to control the “official” external projection of who or what they are as an organization through countless slogans or logos, but there remains an underground environment that exists beyond the confines of an organization’s physical boundaries.

Tastemakers and early adopters on the cutting edge of consumerism are exploding on the scene regularly to attack or praise an organization. Thankfully organizations have improved the means and frequency by which they engage with consumers – of all levels. Organizations have successfully set-up independent social media customer-service departments with specially trained representatives that are engaging with customers nearly immediately after a customer voices a concern through a social media platform. On the positive side, organizations are regularly retweeting or sharing creative praise from consumers as well, thus reinforcing the “social proof” element of persuasion. Additionally, organizations are using reputation management software / processes to protect its brand from negative impacts in areas of the internet not regularly accessible.

Believe it or not – all of the above also applies to us as individuals. Regardless of if we have an independent business, each and every single one of us has a personal brand that is displayed whether we know it or not. Now, would you rather – as the manager of your individual brand – take steps to define your own brand, or would you rather allow the outside world to judge you and your actions and define your brand for you?

Much like an organization develops and protects its brand, you should as well. I have spoken about this previously, but as individuals we choose to either put ourselves out there or to stay within our comfort zone. We can either step out and be adventurous or we can maintain the status quo. We can decide if we will be trendsetters or if we will be trend-followers.

My professional and academic background is diverse, that is without question. However, I have tried to establish my personal brand as having the qualities which best reflect my abilities as a professional, regardless of the craft in which I am practicing for a client or employer. You will receive the same level quality of production whether I am operating a commercial flight, providing communication advice, forecasting the weather, or developing organizational strategies to maximize ________ (insert goal). Those who have worked with me, or who have had me work for them, would all say the same thing regarding my level of dedication towards accomplishing the goals of the organization. My mission oriented mindset was developed many years ago, and one thing is for sure – it is not going anywhere.

However, it is also key to be aware that one’s personal brand is not simply how they operate as a professional or practitioner of their craft. Much as Coca-Cola is well known for making the most delicious beverage known to man (according to my very unscientific research, just go along with it), Coca-Cola also does a lot more than just producing and selling Coke. Coca-Cola also works with local communities to improve infrastructure by building fun recreational areas for children and adults and also has a wide-ranging charitable giving operation. From the personal standpoint, these things an organization performs beyond its primary mission is similar to that of what it is an individual enjoys or represents when they are not working.

Your presence on social media says a lot about you. Be mindful of what you share, but do not be so concerned with the professional personal branding that you fail to show the relaxed personal branding. Future business partners and employers want to know that they are not just getting another quality employee or service-provider, they want to know you are not a robot and that you are capable of enjoying life beyond the tangible tasks of employment.

From the organizational paradigm, this is an effort to protect the organization’s brand when its is not in the room. Successfully managing this new landscape will mean proactively engaging with the online community and directly connecting with new audiences regularly, not only to protect the brand but to also remind folks of what it is the organization does and stands for.

As a defender of one’s personal brand, work to establish your brand through your actions and the way you interact with clients, your employer, and even your peers. Additionally, defend it. Be strategic about the things you share, but prove to potential clients and employers that you are not a robot.

The way in which others view you, or your organization, directly impacts the level of persuasion you have over consumers or future clients. Improve your brand – and then protect it, and enjoy the increased legitimacy. Whether as the best beverage maker in the world (Coca-Cola) or as professional in your trade. Regardless, wouldn’t you wish to be viewed as a subject-matter expert having some say in discussions that directly impact you – or are you enjoying sitting on the bench while decisions are made without your input? Get up and jump in – the water is warm – but not hot.

I certainly recommend enjoying the two TED videos that served as the catalyst for this blogy-blog. If you feel so inclined, here they are for your viewing pleasure. Until next week, take care!

http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_leberecht_3_ways_to_usefully_lose_control_of_your_reputation#t-373739

http://www.ted.com/talks/rory_sutherland_life_lessons_from_an_ad_man#t-978367

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The Power of Crowdsourcing – More than Problem Solving

Yes, without a doubt, crowdsourcing has successfully solved countless organizational problems that likely may not have been solved through traditional research and design/development processes. Traditional thinking required specialized problem solvers working in small teams to analyze, develop corrective actions, implement said actions, and evaluate the outcomes to determine if organizational flaws or product failures were resolved. Times have changed, especially for large multi-national corporations, with an increased trend towards utilizing social media platforms, or processes, to engage with innovative thinkers outside of the confines of an organization’s internal network.

An organization should be proud of the talent used within its borders. However, an organization should not be so prideful that when presented with a problem that is extremely complex and not being solved promptly internally that the organization displays a reluctance to venture beyond members of the organization to help solve the complex issue at hand. Crowdsourcing, when used with a smart foundation of basic standardization and vetting those contributing to the problem solving process, can yield significant results. These results not only help in solving a complex problem, but they can also generate new avenues of creativity from consumer-collaborators or consumer-product innovators that open up new avenues of market growth for an organization.

Three examples of consumer based collaboration and innovation can be seen in the past actions of Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, and Nokia.

Anheuser-Busch utilized internal brewmasters and over twenty-five consumer-collaborators to develop a new beer, Black-Crown. One example from Coca-Cola took a slightly different position. Rather than original product generation, Coca-Cola allowed consumer-collaborators, through social media platforms, to provide ideas and creative suggestions for new marketing campaigns. The ideas were widely used in developing Coca-Cola’s recent Happiness campaign series in the form of short-story films and television commercials. Nokia’s IdeaProject is one of the largest consumer-collaborator/product-innovation crowdsourcing platforms currently focused on product development and improvement. IdeaProject spans over 210 nations that draws on the input from consumers and product innovators to develop new ideas about specific kinds of products members of the IdeaProject desire from Nokia.

Crowdsourcing is not only a benefit multi-national corporations or big business can enjoy. There are wide ranging academic benefits as well. Academic research communities regularly open up problem solving to a wide variety of individuals throughout the world. The very notion of academic research being peer-reviewed is, depending on size, a mini-crowdsource experience. Specific problems within the medical and scientific communities have also benefited from bringing together subject-matter experts on a massive scale. Beyond the medical and scientific communities’ uses, academia – even in small project work – can enjoy the benefits of openness when developing new processes or research techniques. Skill levels may differ in these environments, but the benefits that come from the willingness to accept all input, regardless of the source initially, can be massive. One fine example was a recent crowdsourcing project that served to recover ancient medieval manuscripts that had been used as book binding. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas Austin helped build the crowdsourcing platform that successfully reconstructed countless medieval manuscripts. The project stemmed from the ancient practice of taking the parchment of handwritten books that were no longer being utilized. The words and statements on the parchment would then be utilized as book binding as the processes of binding texts became more prevalent. Fast forward a few hundred years, and technology helped to identify 94 of the 116 fragments. Through the use of a group on Flickr, the image sharing website, the group at the University of Texas Austin was able to identify a majority of the fragments by location, date, and time period. Additionally, some fragments were reconstructed.

Beyond the clear commercial and academic possibilities, crowdsourcing can, and has, taken on a different phrase used by entrepreneurs and innovators trying to get their creations from ideas to production and markets.

Instead of crowdsourcing, crowd-funding has served as a financing catalyst that has helped launch countless wonderful creative ideas and turned them into actual things, products, or services. Similar in theory as crowdsourcing, using multiple individuals outside of a traditional environment, crowd-funding is a funding process that is dependent on multiple donations or contributions from individuals or even businesses contributing toward a specific financial goal.

Largely the product of inventors or product developers, crowd-funding has been successfully used to assist families with mounting medical bills due to catastrophic injuries. Some of the most successful crowd-funding options have been for charity organizations that ask members to donate to specific causes or the specific funds of targeted individuals in need. TheChive, a website dedicated to most things internet and represented by the motto Keep Calm and Chive On, has an expansive charity organization (ChiveCharities) that has – on multiple occasions – raised over $80,000 for specific individuals in need.

To make crowd-funding successful, individuals using the platform need to follow five simple suggestions – courtesy of a recent HuffingtonPost blog, on which I have expounded. When followed, these steps can help maximize contributions and build brand loyalty and positive image reputation with contributors.

First, and it may seem obvious, but organizations must have a plan. It is not just as simple as establishing an account on Kickstarter or GoFundMe, rather organizational leaders must conduct some strategic planning and make early tactical decisions. Second, the organization must have a great product+great brand. For charities, this is clearly built in by performing something for the greater good of someone else. For inventors, this means developing a product and marketing it in such a way that tells potential consumers why they need this product before they themselves have figured it out. The second element of this step is having a positive brand, or building one that represents a value conscious organization working for the betterment of society, through a product or charity. Third, in the initial stages of development, going along with the strategic planning portion of step one, organizational leaders must contact venture capitals, investors, and angels that would be willing to step up and make initial funding available. Usually without a sizable initial contribution set, many crowd-funding attempts fail to gather enough steam to succeed due to a lack of buy-in from significant supporters. The fourth step is that the organization must connect with contributors initially and – more importantly – incentivize contributors and praise them for their efforts. Giving thanks is not enough, the organization may need to provide recognition through social media, free products, goods, or services, or something else that a contributor can spotlight and be proud of showing-off. TheChive accomplishes this by having multiple products sent to contributors and with special, targeted, recognition of regular contributors. TheChive has also successfully built a brand that highlights keeping a level head and enjoying life regardless of the challenges that may develop. Lastly though, step five suggests setting realistic expectations. No contributor wants to feel disappointed that his or her donation did not help the organization make its financial goal. Keep one’s financial goals in a level that is reachable. Perhaps the first attempt should not be focused on raising all possible funds necessary, perhaps focus rather on a smaller – more targeted – financial figure. These five simple steps, initially shared in a HuffingtonPost blog from 18 March of this year, and expanded on here, provide a stable foundation to get any crowd-funding program started.

Whether solving a problem, researching product development, or contributing towards the financial goal(s) of an organization/charity – crowdsourcing/funding can serve to improve society and product effectiveness by maximizing input with targeted application.

Until next week, take care and enjoy!

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Growth and Power of Blogs

Jorn Barger, father of the term weblog and subsequently blog, initialized the transition from Usenet discussion board or newsgroup environments to personalized websites that allowed for free expression and self-disclosure by an individualized writer. Over the past decade and a half blogs have grown in popularity, with the most popular ones raking in millions of dollars annually through fee-based structures and advertising revenue. Below the big name blogs though is an ocean of personalized websites providing content ranging from domestic life, relationship venting, analysis of subject-matter, environments that showcase creative works (photographs, videos, design work) that go largely unseen by the average user of the Internet. Rather than evaluate why people view blogs, this week lets discuss why people blog focusing on the ocean worth of bloggers doing it for some other reason besides earning money.

 
Information from a small sample group highlights that there is a similarity amongst blog writers, principally that they write to provide an expression on something that is internal to them that they wish to provide to the outside world. The medium selected, a blog, provides freedom to creatively layout their thoughts in a manner they are most comfortable with.

 
Stepping out for just a moment, I want to express my initial desire to write – and one in which I believe a majority of folks who use a blog feel at some point. Years ago I had my own website and domain that provided an opportunity to write things for friends and family. The sole purpose wasn’t only to write, but it was also for me to showcase my interests in a number of subjects, however the real catalyst for making the financial investment in web storage space and a domain were quite powerful.

 
In 2004 I was enjoying my second year of active duty service with US Air Force. During this time I was a meteorologist with a regionalized weather support center producing Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAFs) and graphical prognosis charts. These aviation weather products were used directly by mission planners overseas during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Trust me, there is great pride in the work that I did then – and that I still perform regularly as a member of the Air Force Reserves, however at the time I began to take an interest in international politics – which subsequently led to me studying political science in my undergraduate studies. My involvement, and some of my very own self-doubts about our role in occupying a sovereign country initially served as my desire to get my self-contained and restricted thoughts out and in the open. And so it was decided that I would invest money, over a matter of two years it all added up to a whole heck of not a lot in my eyes today but – $225 on a domain and storage space. This investment allowed me to write to friends and family, and anyone else that was lucky enough to find my website, about my role with the Air Force, my current golf game, my desires to improve myself professionally (through education), my very limited travel opportunities and adventures, and even the relationships and friendships that I was making. I was twenty-one heading into about twenty-three year old territory before I did not renew the website. But ultimately, it was an intrinsic desire to satisfy something within myself, a need that I had – to express myself in a way that was not necessarily supported in face-to-face environments.

 
As I found over this week’s small sampling of fellow bloggers, 4 out of 5 write for themselves – to satisfy an internal desire to express themselves. Additionally, 3 out of 5 made comment this week, or previously, that they do this because they feel some level of restriction in face-to-face interactions that could cause greater conflict in interpersonal relationships if they were to share their thoughts and feelings directly.
Technorati, an internet search engine specifically designed for searching out blogs, publishes an annual State of the Blogosphere report. Since my first attempt at writing publically occurred in 2004, let’s visit a few numbers from that time period:

4 mil. blogs Oct 2004

12,000 new blogs created a day in Oct 2004. One new blog every 7.4 seconds.

Number of Blogs tracked at end of October 2004: Slightly more than 4 Million.
Rate of Growth: The blogosphere in 2004 was 8 times the size it was in June 2003.
Daily Blog Creation Rate: By October 2004, 12,000 new blogs were created a day, roughly a new blog every 7.4 seconds.

 
Thanks to invesp, a technology company focuses on optimizing customer interactions and encounters in the online sales domain, we have this handy infographic that looks back to 2011. Click the image for the full-size version.

 

Infographic for Blogs upto 2011

Infographic for Blogs upto 2011

Of note is the impressive growth seen year over year since 2004. From 4 million blogs worldwide in the fall of 2004 to over 164 million in July 2011. The demographics are also impressive, roughly a third of bloggers are hobbyists, and at the time in 2011 only a 2% of blogs would be classified as corporate blogs.

 
Without question – blogs have grown. Additionally, a majority of blogs continue to be ran by hobbyists, with even a smaller group of bloggers earning direct income from their writings. Zero out of five individuals in my small sample group reported a desire to generate revenue from their blogs. However, when asked if they had contemplated it in the past, two out of five indicated they had but felt it was not worth the time spent trying to figure out how best to go about it – whether from advertising or direct income as a freelance writer providing content to outside third-parties.

 
Stefanone and Chyng-Yang Jang reinforced the desire of individuals to use Internet-based tools to fulfill social and interpersonal goals in their study “Writing for Friends and Family: The Interpersonal Nature of Blogs,” available through your local academic journal search. They found that blogs were used overwhelmingly to build strong network ties, even taking the place of regular e-mail between friends and family, between writer and established real-world social networks. Additionally, they found that bloggers with many close friends are more likely than those with fewer close friends to use blogs for relationship maintenance and that bloggers with both extraversion and self-disclosure traits have large strong tie social network subsets and more identify blogs as an interpersonal communication tool.

 
Ultimately I must agree, on a personal level, that yes – indeed – the majority of hobbyist blog for themselves due to an intrinsic desire to provide self-disclosure and to build interpersonal relationships through a medium in which they feel most comfortable. I began writing for my own reasons a decade ago. To some extent, those same reasons hold true today, however I will concede that the primary reason I am writing this blog post – and a few more to come – is not necessarily because I want to, rather it is because I must write due to an academic requirement. Now though, this does not mean that I do not enjoy it. This specific platform is used for personal, professional, and academic reasons. Taken to a higher level, my internal desire to attend graduate school – more specifically a J-school, was the catalyst that put me in a place (the course in which this post is written for) that pressured me to write.

 
So – think for just a moment – why do you blog?

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Social Media: A Required Paradigm Shift

“Most companies recognize social media as a disruptive force that will gather strength rather than attenuate.”

“This needs to change. We are convinced that organizations that develop a critical mass of leaders who master the six dimensions of organizational media literacy will have a brighter future.”

“They will be more creative, innovative, and agile. They will attract and retain better talent, as well as tap deeper into the capabilities and ideas of their employees and stakeholders.”

“They will be more effective in collaborating across internal and external boundaries and enjoy a higher degree of global integration.”

Courtesy of: Six social-media skills every leader needs, McKinsey Quarterly

Each of the above statements highlights the growing role of social media in the daily lives of an organization’s employees, leadership, management, and the customers with whom the company engages on a regular basis. While the growth of social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook has been explosive over the past decade, it is still important to remember that these tools are still infants in the realm of organizational/business exploitation. Yes, sure, large multi-national corporations have successfully developed and deployed very success social media campaigns and maintain a strong presence on a handful of social media websites (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress, Vine, YouTube, Yelp, FourSquare, the list goes on..and on…), however the level of exploitation has not reached its critical mass.

 There are a handful of organizations that either have no presence or a poorly management/maintained presence, on social media platforms. The number is difficult to quantify due to the operation of these organizations in the traditional realm, but the reality remains that if every small-business, non-profit and non-governmental organizations, and governments were found on social media platforms that the growth of said platforms would be not explosive, but even nuclear.

“Most companies recognize social media as a disruptive force that will gather strength rather than attenuate.”

The decision to forgo social media is extremely costly. Executives at an organization that is fearful of embracing social media is clearly fearful of losing control or power over the way information is shared with the public. Transparency and a willingness to engage with various communities in an open environment has easily become a prescription to improving, and maintaining, a positive image. The ultimate reality, and wake-up call, is that an organization’s potential customers, volunteers, and additional stakeholders are already online and using social media platforms to connect with individuals all over the world.

 Ultimately, an organization needs to have a presence on social media platforms before attempting to increase audience or outreach efforts through traditional media tools. Otherwise, an organization is very well ignoring a sizable number of people who very well may be interested in the work it does, or products it makes, by the company not exploiting social media.

“This needs to change. We are convinced that organizations that develop a critical mass of leaders who master the six dimensions of organizational media literacy will have a brighter future.”

The second point emphasized by McKinsey Quarterly builds organizational value in the skill-sets of leaders (read: not managers) who are ready and loaded to exploit the extremely deep potential of social media. Not only can organizations connect and encourage two-way communication with various external audiences, but the potential also exists to utilize internal social networking capabilities to help inter and cross-divisional employees/volunteers to work collaboratively to solve organizational problems.

Strategic communicators know very well the benefits of marketing and brand building through well known social networks to customers, but the largely untapped talent of an organization’s employees or volunteers also provides a wealth of opportunity to reach an even larger pot of people. If encouraged, and with appropriate legal understanding that doesn’t jeopardize any corporate sensitivities, employees and volunteers can engage with friends and family through internal organization networks to help solve product issues or to field organization recommendations for new products or outreach avenues. Realistically, the potential is endless. Ultimately, it will depend on leaders at multiple levels of an organization providing the positive influence on developing social media processes and encouraging exploitation of said processes that build a positive image for the organization and engage with the respective audience.

“They will be more creative, innovative, and agile. They will attract and retain better talent, as well as tap deeper into the capabilities and ideas of their employees and stakeholders.”

What better way to develop internal talent than, as a leader of an organization, to highlight the immense power of human capital by building a cadre of talented professionals that are comfortable utilizing social environments to work creatively and collaboratively?

This of which leads directly into:

“They will be more effective in collaborating across internal and external boundaries and enjoy a higher degree of global integration.”

In both of the previous statements, the “they” are those working on behalf of the organization’s chief mission with the end goal of improving the processes or products in which the organization represents. Interestingly, the grand outcome desired through this embrace of social media platforms, both internal and external, is a desire to reduce barriers to ingenuity. A true freedom to express the desires of a creative community, whether it is in the IT field with technicians using open-source and community based feedback loops or online town-hall type meetings with cross-divisional employees, young adults and teens are not the only ones who should be utilizing social media to help solve problems or to collaborate with likeminded individuals. Organizations, large and small, must embrace social media platforms, not just as a means to reaching and engaging with customers and potential customers, but to also help aid in internal and even external problem solving. Social media allows for a level of openness that is very rarely seen within the confines of a traditionally viewed business environment. This new level of openness, and the potential that it holds, is very powerful. Ultimately, a great deal of creative good can come from reducing barriers to collaboration. Use it, unless you wish for your organization to fall well behind the ever accelerating pack of early adopters utilizing social media to accomplish portions, if not all, of respective organization’s missions.

Good luck – it is not as terrifying as you may think. 

:: Six social-media skills every leader needs, McKinsey Quarterly

 

 

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Mobile Social Media the World Over

Before I continue with this post, I want to remind folks of the situation that was initially laid out in my initial post for COM6630. In short – Old media vs. new media, traditional communication tools vs. emerging technology, and lengthy period of time for information dissemination and consumption vs. immediate dissemination and consumption.

Access to mobile devices continues to grow throughout the global landscape – even in developing and emerging markets. A number of reasons are contributing to this growth, specifically in the developing world. Principally, cellular and wireless network infrastructure is easier (relative term in the developing world) than deploying extensive land-line or wired service throughout countries that may lack sufficient road or rail access to aid in construction of expensive and time consuming infrastructure projects. Wireless or cellular network deployment, however, offers faster deployment rates in the developing world when compared to wired / land-land development. Construction costs are lower and initial device purchase costs tend to be significant cheaper. Instead of digging up hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of earth, running the necessary phone cabling, or fiber optic cable, companies can now raise a cell tower in remote areas connect it to a source of power, and BINGO – wireless access is now available. The damage to the local environment is lower than the destruction caused by deploying land-line and wired service. Even in North America and Europe, purchasing a mobile phone with unlimited voice/messaging/data service is more affordable than purchasing a home phone device and monthly service with long-distance calling.

This expansive growth in mobile device deployment and growth of wireless/cellular service in developing and emerging markets has allowed for high levels of penetration rates in these same markets.

Amazingly, individuals are able to connect remotely with others throughout their country and even on the global stage. One-on-one engagement through any number of newly accessible social media environments is aiding in the growth of small businesses, female-owned businesses, and cross-border dialogue that otherwise may not have been available, much less been accessible, without the expansive development of mobile devices and cellular/wireless network structures. This small advancement may sound simple and basic to those in the developed world, but this advancement is a liberating and enjoyable experience for those in the developing world considering that it can serve as a catalyst to raise families out of poverty. These simple devices help accomplish the most basic tasks of engaging in local and global trade for those previously having zero access to marketplaces.

The expansion of mobile devices and their social use is not only limited to the growth of independent/small businesses, but also serve as a tool to build awareness of social crises. One example of such social crisis is the Arab Spring movement. How would the world viewed Arab Spring events if individual citizen’s failed to share images, videos, or developed underground media systems that utilized Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube? Here again is a liberating opportunity – the opportunity to share with the world the challenges that a community is facing – be it high levels of violence and loss of civilian lives, the uprising against an authoritarian government, the development and spread of community driven public policy changes, or even the simple expression of fear and a call to help from those who are paying attention.

Contrast the utilization rates of social media and mobile devices in spreading reports from individual citizens before, during, and after events associated with Arab Spring with the large-scale genocide in Darfur, Sudan. The information presented during the crisis in Sudan in the early 2000s was largely presented by commercial media and Sudanese ran media organizations. There was very limited presentation from individuals living and fearing for their life through the social media tools of the day (Facebook principally, but even MySpace) due to a lack of stable mobile application platforms and mobile device accessibility/availability for those living the crisis. The power of social media and the immediate transmission of information has served to protect citizens during crises and hold government leaders accountable for the actions of themselves and those working under their administrations.

By this point any individual can see the growing utilization of mobile devices in the developing and emerging markets as an apparatus that strengthens regional and even global marketplaces, minimize loss of life during regional crises, or to hold government leaders accountable.

Now, let us take a moment and recognize a growing trend in the developed world: multiple compact devices, phone and tablets.

wsj cell phonesCourtesy of yesterday’s (April 2, 2914) Wall Street Journal, When One Phone Isn’t Enough.

Featured are three individuals who utilize multiple devices, specifically smartphones, to provide a clear line of distinction between personal and work. All three of the folks featured use a separate device for work email, phone calls, texts, social media than they do their personal social media accounts or texts, phone calls, or e-mails.

While a majority of end-users in the developing world are using mobile devices for low-bandwidth, SMS-based communications to connect with individuals and groups elsewhere, to build relationships, or to highlight public atrocities, in the developed world individuals are using multiple devices to provide a clear line of separation between personal and work-related elements. In the developed world, cellphones are a staple of daily life. From the moment an individual wakes up to the time he falls asleep, his mobile phone – smart phone in most cases – is the lifeline that connects him to the rest of society. Even in the privacy of his own domicile, the smartphone provides the connection to immediately accessible news, immediately accessible information regarding meetings for work, immediately accessible content about projects, immediately accessible resources from social media that may help or slow down productivity, immediately available cues to trends within his industry of interest.

While the emphasis of this blog has been placed on the growth of mobile devices and the power of even 2G mobile devices in the developing world, you should be able to see how the purpose of the devices differs between the developed and developing world. Penetration rates continue to increase as devices become cheaper and technological advances aid in signal reception across the globe. Ultimately, the end user will determine how best to utilize the available technology resources. If that means forgoing the use of a desktop computer for a lighter tablet device to sell their goods, then that is what will occur. Individuals, not multi-national conglomerates, will decide how best to utilize the devices which they have access to. Through the lens of social media exploitation, individuals are becoming more comfortable sharing information through various tools. This can help in sharing current events and political situations that mainstream, or big name, media outlets would not be able to cover due to a lack of available resources – one example is CNN’s utilization of iReporters.

Ultimately, social media and the desire to connect with others will, and is, developing a population of global citizens that are eager to see the world and share their world. The lens cap has been removed and the photos available for viewing are from all corners of the world. There are cries for help and there are cries for attention, but ultimately it is the individual poster and viewer that will provide credibility to those sharing content via mobile devices and social media.

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