American Forum

@acarvin and Katheryn Montgomery

@aCarvin and Katheryn Montgomery

Are Media Making Us Dumber?” The question may sound like an oxymoron in an age where information is instantly accessible, but ubiquity of human knowledge does not always equal individual understanding. So how are media changing the way we learn and communicate important ideas?

I went to an American Forum last night to hear different perspectives on the issue and try to get a few answers.  Although consensus was difficult to reach in this panel discussion between academics and communications professionals, I think everyone agreed that people read a website differently than a book or newspaper article. Continue Reading…

The Resume Website

a public, pay-per-use internet terminal

I knew it would help to build a website with my resume, but I didn’t realize how much.  Ever since publicly launching this site less than a month ago, I have been humbled by all the positive feedback from colleagues, classmates, prospective employers, and on social networks.

A few have even asked me to help build their own websites, although I haven’t decided how much to charge.  The truth is that almost anyone is able to build a website like this one. I had never learned how to buy a domain name, web hosting, or to set up the website until I tried it for myself.

I am a firm believer that blogs are capable websites for almost any purpose, so I devised my resume website as a WordPress blog (this part is free).  By hosting my own blog (not necessarily free) I needed to set up WordPress in their famous 5-minute installation.  This open-source software gives me the ability to customize by adding features and designs to my blog.  And since this is a blog, it doesn’t take any advanced knowledge of codes or programming to build it; making this website is as simple as writing with a word processor.

While I would be happy to make a few bucks helping my friends build nice looking websites, but I think they might learn some valuable skills by trying it for themselves.  At least a few of my friends have been doing just that on their own websites.   And until this site makes the first page of Google search results for my name, it’s going to take a lot more to make my own name stick out from all the other Matthew Hurst’s of the world.

Building this website has been an ongoing process, helping me to consider how it could be improved by incorporating feedback.  There is almost always a better way to do this work, so I really appreciate all the feedback so far, but I have trouble taking credit; after all it’s just another WordPress blog.

In Your Hand (an Internet)

You have seen them walking along the street with their heads down and their hands out in front of them, thumbs fidgeting on a handset that looks less like a phone and more like a mobile computer.  And you wonder what they see that could possibly be so interesting that they’re about to walk into a streetlight (or get mugged).

Although you can’t tell if they’re reading an important email or just texting their friends, there is an increasing chance they are reading a website.  In a Pew study of mobile phone use before 2008, at least 19% of Americans had already used a cellphone or PDA to access a website, and since then use of cellphones like the iPhone that can access web represent an increasing portion of any website’s visitors.   Because these devices use a smaller screen, and mobile websites might be loaded for different purposes, communicating on a mobile website is different.

Some differences seem more obvious than others: like most writing for websites, a mobile website should be succinct, with catchy hooks that make you want to click through and read the rest of the story.  Most mobile web browsers will only display around 50 to 75 words of legible text on screen at a time, so you’ll need to make the point quickly.  The screen itself promotes sites that are easy to navigate with narrow vertical scrolling, as opposed to the wide horizontal columns used on monitors for navigating most desktop web browsing.  And because people are using the web on the go, they are visiting sites for different reasons; one trend is location-based information services that take advantage of GPS and Google Maps (which should be the subject of another post on this blog of its own).

This website is specially configured for reading on mobile browsers, including the iPhone and Blackberry handhelds; simply visit the site on your mobile device and it should look a little different.  By utilizing a plugin to WordPress, you will be able to use most of the features in this site on your mobile device, including the latest blog posts, sending an me an email, leaving a comment, or just searching the site.  I would like to welcome any feedback you might have about my own mobile website, so that I can make adjustments for these rapidly changing communications tools.

The Twitter Internship?

Work ExperienceSure Twitter is great for getting feedback from your work and building relationships online, but what if Twitter actually helped generate work opportunities instead of just creating work for you? That is exactly the opening I discovered for myself, and all I had to do was make a comment on Twitter to find it.

In my search for a summer internship in DC, using Twitter has become indispensable for learning about the social media and PR firms I might apply to for work.  Not only does it help me understand those communications companies on the cutting edge, but the participatory nature of Twitter helped a company find me.  Before I knew it I had the inside-line on internships offered to me, even as no such positions are being publicly offered.

About 3 weeks ago I bookmarked the website for New Media Strategies, using a service which publicly shares my bookmarks through Twitter.  I was surprised when NMS, who must have been following public discussion of their company using Twitter (as they would for any of their clients), replied almost immediately to my update on Twitter directly.  I was impressed, and we started to follow each other on Twitter.

Almost a week later I had finished a short internship inquiry application, with the intent to discover any more job openings at NMS, but their website did not make it entirely clear where such applications might be sent.  So I sent another message on Twitter directed towards NMS, inquiring about where to send my application, which replied to me a name and email address of the right HR rep for social media.  Their employee was also polite enough to include their personal Twitter feed, giving me access to someone inside of their organization that could help keep track of my application.

After a few modifications to my resume and a new cover letter, I am happy to say my application has earned the attention of New Media Strategies.  I am definitely excited in learning more about this possible internship, although I am still seeking and applying for positions around DC.

To me the most revealing aspect of this whole development is how new communication tools, like Twitter, mirror the process of networking in real life.  While NMS took advantage of Twitter as a tool to monitor public opinion about their organization, it also gives individuals like myself powerful access to information that might otherwise have been achieved with a phone call or a fishing letter.

At the very least, the counselors at American University were impressed with the job offering I found outside of those being posted online.  Perhaps a little initiative and novelty in communication might help me stand out from the rest of the job market in my internship applications for this summer.

People to People

Before I turn 24 years old on March 15th, I have been asking my friends to donate $24 to a favorite non-profit of mine, People to People International.  So imagine my surprise when friends from Facebook, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, donated the suggested amount without having ever heard of this charity before.

Using the Causes application of Facebook can be a great source of new donations for a non-profit like People to People, a Student Ambassador program I took part in for six years (age 13-18).  I was prompted by the Causes application to create a Birthday Wish for one of my favorite causes I had joined as a group member.  After selecting PTP I was provided with tools to promote my birthday wish automatically, including: pre-written status updates, posts to the wall, and private messages to send to friends asking them to give to your Birthday Wish.

Although I was impressed with the ability to utilize the power of my social network on Facebook to gain support behind this cause, I remained skeptical that anyone would give such a large donation for my birthday.  On my Birthday Wish page, I decided to put my money where my mouth was by donating $24 of my own money towards the $240 goal ($24 x 10 donors) I had set.  So naturally I was surprise when one of my Facebook friends from high school has donated the next morning.

Facebook Birthday Wish

So far I have raised at least $96 from 3 people for People to People, who took notice of the new donations almost immediately.  They like me had become excited about the new possibilities for small donors that the Causes application had enabled with the Birthday Wish function.  I was happy to discuss some of the social media tools they had at their disposal.  They also gave me a short interview that promoted others to try using these tools on Facebook.

Although many people are quick to dismiss social media as merely a trend that is difficult to measure actual results, I think this small effort by an individual shows its potential when this communication tool is used appropriately.  In this case the Birthday Wish was more effective than merely randomly asking my friends for donations; it used an effective appeal rather than posting just another link to ignore.  For non-profit organizations, social media like the Causes function in Facebook offers exciting possibilities by connecting the power individual networks with an audience of small donors that were previously much more difficult to reach.  The power of interpersonal communications is meeting the reach of public communications over the internet.

Follow me on Facebook, or learn more about People to People International.

Coming Soon

Under ConstructionPlease excuse the mess while I set up the future home of my professional, public website.  In the meantime, feel free to follow my progress on Twitter.com/MattHurst .

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