Monday, June 27, 2011

Verizon's 4G network fastest in Charlotte, study says

Verizon's 4G wireless network is the fastest in Charlotte, according to a new study out today from The survey, the second in an annual series from the respected tech magazine and website, includes road-testing of eight networks from six wireless carriers across 21 cities and four rural regions.

Verizon's 4G LTE won in 20 of the 21 cities, making it king of the digital hill in the test. It logged average download speeds topping 12 Mbps in Charlotte. That, the magazine notes, is faster than most people's home internet connection. All four of the major carriers' 4G networks did well in Charlotte, the study found.

The magazine did the research by driving around and making phone calls on Android 2.2-powered phones. The fastest Verizon spot the researchers located in Charlotte was just "east of Midtown" (meaning the old Midtown mall?), where they got 31 Mbps download speeds. T-Mobile came in second in Charlotte.

The results will perhaps confirm what my friends on AT&T have long suspected. But the AT&T guys, no longer blessed by their long monopoly on the iPhone, are running hard to build up their network in Charlotte. We'll see what happens in the long haul.

I say it's just good to have head-to-head numbers being published openly. Most of the network performance data nationally either comes from the carriers themselves or from researchers who sell the data to the carriers. In both cases, consumers rarely, if ever, get to see city-by-city performance data, and thus have no sure way of knowing which network is better. Given how intensely competitive the wireless industry is today, I'm sure the carriers who didn't come out on top here will say they still don't.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Facebook is turning into serious business

It used to be that businesses, especially small businesses, just scratched their heads when it came to Facebook. Sure a lot of people were on it, but companies were used to thinking about one main channel for reaching customers: advertising. And Facebook's advertising wasn't exactly the magic bullet -- people were so busy looking at cute kid pics that they barely noticed the lonely paid ads floating over there on the far right.

Consultants have been telling companies for years they can't afford not to be present on social networks. Now, it seems they believe them. It's not just about advertising, they've realized. It's about customer engagement, and building customer and brand loyalty. As former Observerite and social media consultant Jeff Elder says, companies can use Facebook as their own personal media "channel" to play their greatest corporate hits for their followers. He's playing host to a meetup on Monday where he'll be talking more about how companies can harness social media to connect with customers. Social media strategists Jason Keath and Corey Creed are plowing the same territory with a series of Web videos from their Social Fresh Academy training center.

All of life, it seems, is on Facebook now, for good or ill. (Even guys in the middle of causing a 16-hour police standoff). It was only a matter of time before corporations got serious about their presence there -- with or without a scientific way to measure the all-important ROI (return on investment). There's been some talk about Facebook's meteoric membership growth perhaps finally peaking. That's probably coming. But will Facebook shrivel up and go the way of MySpace? I wouldn't bet on it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

IBMers roll up their sleeves for charity

IBM employees joined their colleagues around the country today in donating their skills and services to local charities in need of technological help. It's part of the technology giant's celebration of its 100th anniversary. More than 200 individuals from 26 area nonprofits benefitted. The United Way of Central Carolinas and NPower Charlotte Region, a nonprofit technology consulting firm, helped put IBM with needy charities. In the picture above, IBMers are helping install solar panels at the Carolina Raptor Center.

"As IBM celebrates its 100 year anniversary as a corporation, it’s fitting to commemorate this milestone by sharing our technology skills across the communities where we live and work," said Anne McNeill of IBM's corporate citizenship office. "By partnering with NPower on Tech Service Day, together we are able to help make a difference in the lives of our neighbors across the Charlotte region."

Good job, guys. Now who wants to come help me figure out how to switch all my iTunes files from my old laptop to the new one?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Facebook finally hitting the wall?

Inside Facebook, a site that tracks the metrics of the world's favorite social network, is making a splash with new data suggesting the meteoric growth of Facebook might finally be peaking. After having gained at least 20 million new members a month over the past year, Facebook picked up 13.9 million in April and 11.8 million in May. Could be nothing. Could be Facebook, with nearly half the U.S. population and nearly 700 million worldwide, is finally maxing out.

My highly unscientific theory: Facebook just isn't for everyone. (Lots of commenters to this blog aren't shy about reminding me of that). And as more and more businesses get on Facebook, and more and more people play games, and more and more people "friend" people who aren't actually their friends (the bigger your network, the more impressive your social profile), the more uninteresting/impersonal clutter starts turning up in your news stream. And the more "noise" in your stream, the less likely you are to visit.

That's not to say I think Facebook is in any immediate danger of losing its chokehold on the social networking scene. But the novelty has definitely worn off. The only thing left to hold people is quality/interesting content. And Facebook has little control over that. Its vast unpaid army of content producers -- i.e., us -- decide that. If we get tired of listening to each other blabber on about current events or get weary of thumbing through friends' vacation pictures, we'll eventually stop logging on. The future of Facebook, or any other social network -- or any business, really -- is entirely up to us.

I don't think we've reached the point of Facebook fatigue yet. But if indeed there's a wall out there for Facebook, we're close to it. Mark Zuckerberg and Co. will really have to earn their money from here on.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Was uptown unrest accelerated by social media?

As Charlotte-Mecklenburg police continue investigating the recent melee uptown during Memorial Day weekend, questions are being raised about whether social networks played a role. Given the drawing power of Facebook and other social networks, such questions make sense. After all, a German teen recently had to flee her own home after some 1,600 strangers showed up for her birthday party. She'd mistakenly posted her invitation on Facebook as a public invite rather than a private one for her friends. Would it be surprising if posts on social networks helped swell the crowds uptown that night?

CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano would say only that police continue investigating all information gathered concerning the unrest "and that does include social media networks." He wouldn't say whether they've proven any cause-effect link with social networks, though. Sgt. David Schwob, who oversees the school resource officers stationed on local public school campuses, said his office has checked the Facebook pages of eight to 10 juveniles arrested in connection with the unrest, but found no evidence those youths used their networks to rally people to come uptown.

If anybody knows of any such posts going out on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks that night, post a comment. I'd be interested to hear about it.