Going beyond male and female


After encountering backlash last year over their profile naming policy, Facebook has made a move to improve relations with the LGBTQ community by amending their gender options.

Previously, Facebook only offered two gender options for their users to self-identify as (male or female). Now the site includes a custom gender option, which encompasses over 50 gender identities for users to choose from, including gender fluid, gender nonconforming, agender, intersex, a number of different trans identities, and more.

Furthermore, Facebook is making an effort to respect the gender you identify with by also asking you to select the pronouns Facebook will use to refer to you (ie “him,” “her,” or gender-neutral “them”).


This feels like a long-cry from Facebook’s disregard of the Trans community with their “real name” policy last year. (Long story short, Facebook blocked several users from their accounts because they weren’t using their legal names. This quickly became an issue for trans people whose Facebook accounts were under a name they had chosen for themselves rather than the one that was on their birth certificate. Facebook eventually apologized for the issues the policy created.)

I think the custom gender option is a good move on Facebook’s part. Not only does it create a more inclusive and understanding environment – that is, in as much as Facebook itself can create that space with its procedures – it sets a positive example for other social media sites to begin doing the same.  To my knowledge, other popular social media sites only offer the traditional male/female gender options for users to select on their profiles. Even more, I’ve noticed that often times selecting male or female is not just an option when creating an online account – it’s required. Many spaces online will not allow you to create an account without identifying as male or female, which can feel limiting and even distressing to people who do not identify as either.

The unfortunate fact of life (and the internet) is that I can see everyone isn’t as happy about this development as I am. I tried to read some online comments on the articles I read about Facebook’s changes and I instantly regretted it – as I pretty much always do when I read internet comments, so really, I should have known better. There’s clearly a lot of confusion about gender identity out there – in addition to rampant transphobia – which is disturbing to read. I hope that with steps like Facebook’s custom gender option we can start to normalize other gender identities and become more accepting of others.


The future of translation


A year ago Google bought the Word Lens app from Quest Visual, and now the way we think of translation is changing.

If you’re unfamiliar with Word Lens/Google Translate’s new feature, it feels like it’s straight out of a sci-fi flick: you point your camera at a sign in a different language, and the translation appears right there on the screen almost instantly.

Google Word Lens iPhone GIF

Admittedly, the system isn’t perfect. When I tried it on my phone, sometimes the translations flicker and change, like when words have multiple or unclear meanings. And of course, the app only works for select languages right now, including English, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, and Russian.

Still, I am incredibly impressed by how far our translation abilities have come; I never would have imagined this kind of technology would make it off of movie and tv screens and into the real world. I can’t help but wonder how this will change our ideas of language barriers, particularly when visiting another country. Will we feel more open to explore, confident in the translating power of our devices? Or will we become locked into depending on our device instead of trying to communicate directly with others?

I could see both. I was fortunate enough to spend a month traveling in Europe last summer. I went in with minimal language skills – besides some rudimentary Italian, I only know a couple words and phrases in French and German – so at times this improved translation system would have been very much appreciated. That being said, I survived my trip alright without it. You can understand a lot from people’s body language and other nonverbal cues, and plenty of signs have accompanying pictures or symbols that convey messages universally.

Bottom line? You can probably get along without this high-tech translation tool…but you gotta admit it’s pretty cool.

Wearable books


Lately I’ve seen a lot of technological developments trying to move into the hands-free “wearable” sphere, like Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens. While I’m not really a fan of these developments (that’s a post for another time), I can at least see how they might be a logical progression of the devices and services we already use. A development I didn’t see coming, however, is wearable books.

Litographs is a company that creates T-shirts and tote bags printed with the full text of over 100 classic novels, plays, and poems, from Bronte and Fitzgerald to Poe and Shakespeare. If that wasn’t enough, the company takes wearing books to the next level; you won’t see a giant, boring block of text on one of their shirts – you’ll see a picture.


It’s basically literary pointillism, where tiny letters are used instead of dots to form a picture. And those letters just happen to be the entire text of a classic novel or play.

hamlet text

Then, Litographs started another project to “celebrate the importance of books in our lives,” launching a Kickstarter campaign to create yet another new way to look at (and wear) classic literature: the world’s longest tattoo chain.

To create the chain, the entirety of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was divided into 2,500 parts. Each of these parts – some full sentences, some snippets – became (temporary) tattoos to be distributed to people around the world.

drink me

The response to the Kickstarter was so impressive – Litographs raised nearly $60k, far surpassing their $7500 goal – the chain was expanded to include the continuation of Alice’s adventures in Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Now the chain has 5,258 tattoos.

who are you

Right now there are about 1,400 Through the Looking Glass tattoos still up for grabs. $5 will get you two tattoos and the opportunity to be part of the world’s longest tattoo chain. (Yes, I’ve already put in for mine.) Two bonuses with this deal: first, the project is being managed by Tilt, which means you’ll only be charge for your tattoos if the project reaches completion (ie, all the tattoos are claimed, completing the chain). The other bonus is Litograph’s partnership with the International Book Bank, which sends a book to a community in need for every five tattoos purchased (as well as one for every poster, T-shirt, and tote bag).

Litograph products aren’t going to replace books of course. The T-shirts – while well-made and pretty cool looking, in my opinion – would be too impractical to actually do any extended amount of reading.

Still, I like the interconnected nature of the tattoo project. People submit pictures of themselves with their tattoo on the Litographs site, so you can page through and read the entire book tattooed on different bodies all over the world. It’s fascinating to see the different places people come from and the different ways they highlight the tattoos on their bodies. (Of course, it also helps that Through the Looking Glass happens to be my favorite book.) Again, I don’t think literary tattoo chains are going to become the next big thing. But then again, that just makes them all the more interesting, doesn’t it?

Glazed and offensive


Did Krispy Kreme plan a benefit night for the KKK?

No, but a poorly-named promotion for one of their events had a lot of people questioning the company: an advertisement for a week’s worth of special events at a Krispy Kreme store in Hull, England listed February 18th as “KKK Wednesday.”

The acronym was meant to stand for “Krispy Kreme Klub,” a donut decorating activity planned for children during half-term, a week-long break from school for kids in the UK. Unfortunately, this was not made clear to customers, who began questioning why the donut makers were promoting an infamous hate group.

Krispy Kreme Klub

The promotion was posted on the Krispy Kreme UK’s Facebook page, where Facebook users began pointing out the unfortunate acronym. The post was removed this morning after the public backlash. A company spokesperson for Krispy Kreme called the ordeal a “completely unintentional oversight.”

To be fair, the KKK is an American hate group, and the questionable promotions took place in the UK. Still, the Klu Klux Klan is pretty well-known (and likely has subsets in England as well), which makes me inclined to say Krispy Kreme should have spotted this promotional faux pas from a mile away. I would go so far as to say if my company name was already 2 out of 3 K’s into being offensive, I would be actively avoiding any other “K” words. Clearly, Krispy Kreme is not in the same mindset.

Lesson to us all: double-check those acronyms. Don’t accidentally endorse the KKK.

No marketing is the new marketing?


Just over a year ago, Beyoncé made people lose their minds when she dropped a surprise album without any promotion or notice. Just a few days ago, Drake pulled a Beyoncé and dropped a surprise album of his own.

The 17-track If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was released on iTunes Thursday night. The question is, did the zero-marketing approach work?


Judging from the iTunes charts this morning, I’d say it did. IYRTITL is currently the #1 album, beating out the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, Taylor Swift’s 1989, Ed Sheeran’s x, and Grammy-winning album of the year, Beck’s Morning Phase. One of the songs, “Energy,” is #9 on the top songs chart.

Still, will Drake have the same success as Beyoncé? I’m not sure. Sure, Drake’s pretty popular, but he doesn’t have an SNL skit about how disliking him is akin to treason (Beyoncé does). Drake is a talented artist with a strong following, but I don’t think he has quite reached the Beyoncé level of public reverence.

When it comes down to it, I think these “surprise albums” only work when the music buyers have a strong personal attachment to the artist. Let’s face it: lesser-known artists drop “surprise” albums all the time – only theirs lack extensive advertising because they couldn’t afford a full-scale marketing push, not because they thought it would be a neat experiment to go without it. People who rushed to buy Beyoncé, who are scrambling to get IYRTITL – they are willing to purchase an album they know nothing about because they’ve been buying into the artists’ brands for some time beforehand. If you’re a diehard Drake fan, of course you’re going to be excited to hear he suddenly dropped his first mixtape since 2009.

twitter reacts to drake

With “surprise” albums becoming a recurring theme in the industry, is no marketing the new marketing? I doubt it. While the “surprise” factor is intriguing, it has to be backed up by the social relevance of an incredibly popular artist. And even then, the concept loses its uniqueness – and its intrigue – with each occurrence. The headlines are already saying Drake “pulled a Beyoncé.” Surely the next artist who tried to go the surprise album route would generate headlines saying they followed the approaches of Beyoncé and Drake.

Conclusion: Beyoncé’s surprise album? The concept feels novel, and we’re really excited about it.

Drake’s surprise album? Eh, it’s been done before, but we’ll go for it.

The next surprise album? Ok, we’re kind of over this now.

Love in the time of Facebook


Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Singles’ Awareness Day

Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day to all!

Single, desperate, and addicted to Facebook? I have good news for you! Facebook now has a matchmaking service to help their single members find love.

Lovebook is actually a marketing service created by CJ James that intends to help Facebook users get dates by creating targeted Facebook ads. You select a package (First Date, Lovebug, or Casanova) based on how many responses you want to receive, submit some photos, select your interests, pay the man, and BAM! You’re on someone’s sidebar asking for a date. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of Lovebook:

The Good

Facebook has a lot of users.

There are approximately 1.2 billion people on Facebook, which means a lot of potential partners if you’re in the dating market. It’s also a significantly higher number than the membership of other dating sites (Plenty of Fish has about 76 million members, and Match.com has about 22 million).

Facebook is cheaper to use.

Your initial Facebook account is free, and the cost of the dating feature starts at just $15. That’s half the price of a Match.com account ($30) or a Plenty of Fish account ($35).

Facebook targets interests.

Your dating ad will be seen by people who like the same things on Facebook that you do – TV shows, celebrities, sports teams – which means you’ll have something in common with the person right off the bat.

Facebook guarantees results for your money.

Each package level guarantees a certain number of “leads” (page likes or direct messages) before the ad will stop running. The cheapest package, First Date, guarantees a minimum of five leads. The next level, Lovebug, includes dating advice to “attract a wider pool of respondents” in addition to an increased lead minimum. Finally, the top Casanova package includes everything from the other two levels, plus a 10-minute prep talk before a first date.

The Bad

Facebook has a lot of users.

Sure, 1.2 billion members sounds like a plenty big enough number, but logistically that’s not the same as 1.2 billion potential dates. After you narrow the category “Facebook user” down to “single, looking to date, living within a reasonable distance from me and within an acceptable age range” Facebook user, that number has to be a lot lower.

There are other (free) dating sites.

There are a TON of dating sites, and many of them can be used just by creating a free account. There’s also newer and more up-to-date dating apps like Tinder.

You don’t need Lovebook to create your own personal ad.

Technically you could buy your own ad space and do all of the work yourself, cutting out the middleman James.

The Ugly

It’s a Facebook ad.

I repeat: IT’S A FACEBOOK AD. Do you click Facebook ads? Ever? Do you even read them? Would you be inclined to date someone you saw in an ad? Would you even think they were a real person? No, no, no, no, no. Personally, if I happened to notice a Facebook ad for someone looking for a date, I would find it kind of sad and desperate at best, and hella creepy at worst. Right now accepting a date from a Facebook ad would be my second-to-least-likely approach to dating, losing out only to receiving a personal letter from a prison inmate.

Clearly, I’m not planning on using Lovebook anytime soon, although I have to give credit where credit is due: James is really just conducting a series of strategic online marketing campaigns, all in the name of love. You pay him to create your personal brand and make it appealing to others; he finds you potential dates and teaches you a little about the dating world.

James is basically the new Hitch.