How to avoid your ex online

Breakups are rough. Especially in the age of social media, which require a whole extra level of separation. Enter Blockyourex.com, which makes the whole process much easier:

ExBlocker
Thanks to @Skydiver for pointing this one out!

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Think your work Blackberry is private?

Today's Poked column was inspired by a coworker, who came to me with a query I suspect is fairly common, about privacy and our work phones. It made me think that many folks have spent quite a bit of time complaining about Facebook and its privacy issues, but it also made me wonder if they've taken the time to look at another privacy issue: what's being monitored on our work equipment like Blackberries.

It also made me realize that I haven't really read our company's IT policy? It's 13 pages long, single-spaced. If I had read past the first few paragraphs, I would have come across a very clearly stated policy -- on page two -- that details how I have absolutely no "reasonable expectation'' of privacy or confidentiality when I'm using company equipment like a desktop computer or Blackberry, even if I'm using my personal e-mail account.

I wonder if Sgt. Quon of the Ontario, Calif., police department read his company policy before he signed it. His was fairly similar to mine. Still, Quon argued that when the police department read personal text messages he sent from his company-issued pager, they were violating his constitutional right against unreasonable search.

Quon took the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him.

The court took care to say that it was a narrow decision, cautioning that it should not be used to establish "far-reaching premises that define the existence, and extent, of privacy expectations of employees using employer-provided communication devices.''

Journalists, like many professionals, practically live on their Blackberries. (Well, not me -- but I do live on my Droid, although I own it.) They have their work e-mail accounts, but also personal e-mail, Facebook and instant messaging, at least, installed on their smartphones.

I've always been skeptical about anything I do on a work computer or device. But I'm just one camp, says employment lawyer Chris Parlo. Parlo, who is based in New York with Morgan Lewis, says there's a whole other group of people out there, like my co-worker, and like Quon, who have different expectations of privacy.

Parlo thinks the Supreme Court decision has put companies and workers on notice.

Employers need to make sure they have policies that are well-known, clear and broad, so it captures all devices, situations and scenarios in which this might be an issue.

Workers need to have a reality check, too, he says. "I think the average worker has to understand that they're not free to do whatever they want, and should pay careful attention to what the employer has told them about what restrictions of personal use are on workplace devices.''

Have you read your company's IT policy? Did it made you switch from one camp to the other?


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How strong are your passwords?

Think malware is just something annoying, but not costly?

A study out today from Consumer Reports calculates Americans have lost $4.5 billion over the past two years, including replacing more than two million computers, because of malicious programs. (They're livestreaming an event today at 12:30 p.m. to talk about the report)

Something as simple as a better password can help.

I'm the first to admit that I fail at the password protection test. Unlike my super techie friends, my passwords are pretty lame because of my fear of forgetting them.

Bridget and I have realized that it would be easy for the two of us to figure each other's passwords out -- and if that's the case, it's probably not that hard for someone else to do that, too.

This week we're changing that. We're taking control of our passwords and creating a system that makes it easy for us to remember them, but really difficult for others to figure out.

I've probably missed the window for calling this spring cleaning, so maybe think of this as a May e-Cleaning.

To avoid the disaster of forgetting all these passwords once you've created them, come up with a system. Find an odd combination of numbers and or symbols. Don't use your birthdate, or your kid's birthdates, or an anniversary. If you can't deal with a random number combination you make up and memorize, use something like your dog's birthdate, your best friend's birthday -- combinations others can't figure out.

Yes, this is a pain. I've already created several passwords that I've forgotten, but it's just the hassle of clicking "forget password" and waiting for the email to come. This helps you remember your password, and, it's worth it.

Consumer Reports recommends inserting a random symbol into a password as well. To make it easier to remember, find one you like and use the same one each time.

Now that you've gone through the trouble of creating better passwords, be aware of phishing scams that try to steal your login data. If you click on a link that someone's shared with you, and it asks for your user name and password, stop and think before you fill it in: Is this legitimate? If the URL looks complicated for a sign in page, it should raise a red flag.

Do you have a system for managing your passwords?

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Please tell me how you'd like me to talk to you

A friend in Dubai recently e-mailed me with the subject line: "a note about the e-mail I owe you."


In the message, which she sent to practically everyone she knows, she said she needed to own up to how bad she is at returning e-mails.

I e-mailed her to say Bravo! and asked what was the response from our other friends. She said it felt great to have the in-box albatross off her neck -- and this was her way of not just reaching out, but also getting more organized.

When there are a variety of ways to communicate with people -- text, instant messages, Twitter, etc. -- shouldn't it also be a part of netiquette to learn what form of communication people prefer?

EcardEmail In other words, if a person hates voice mail, don't use it. If someone only wants to be contacted via e-mail, respect that.

In the case of my Dubai friend, she's not bad at communicating: she uses Facebook daily, chats with people via Skype and Google instant messaging, and still uses old-school devices like the phone and even writes actual letters. What I thought was great was that she articulated all of her communication preferences to her friends.

I think this is even more important in professional situations, because it gives you a chance to distinguish yourself. Everyone's got the e-mail signature that lists the variety of ways they can be contacted (Follow me on Twitter! Read my Blog!).

But I think in the rush to be available to everyone on all platforms, we've failed to indicate the way we prefer to be contacted.

This goes both ways: It's not just about asking people how they would like to communicate, but also about making your own preferences clear.

Anyone who has ever called my work phone knows that for years, my voice mail has contained a message asking public relations professionals to e-mail me (if they don't have it, I spell out my e-mail address.)

There are a few reasons, but mostly, it's because I like to store things via e-mail so I can go back -- even if months later, to retrieve what was sent. I'm not opposed to picking up the phone: sometimes, that's the fastest and most efficient way to communicate. It just seems, though, like SUCH a waste of time to retrieve voice mails when it's just easier to have that email as a record. (And for those who ask, no, the Herald doesn't have any type of automatic transcriptions of voice mails, or then I wouldn't be so picky about this.)

And that's my point, as well. It's not just about courtesy, it's about efficiency. These days, couldn't we all use a bit more of both?

What's your preference, or pet peeve on this matter? Weigh in below, please:

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Generations and the netiquette/etiquette gap

The backstory to today's column: this topic came up last week at a Social Media Club South Florida's event that focused on education and social media.

I wasn't there - I was at another event - but heard that some interesting topics came up. I called some of the panelists to talk to them about what they were seeing with this generation - and it struck a chord because it was similar message that I hear from teachers these days:

We've created a generation that looks great on paper, but has some trouble when it comes to real life.

That was the main message that stuck in my mind last week when I spoke with Rosanna Fiske, who teaches at Florida International University's communications school.

Her students are early adapters, finding the latest technological innovation "none of us can,'' said Fiske, who teaches advertising and public relations students.

"They do so well because they're connected -- they've literally been connected their entire lives,'' she said. "But what that's also done is create a whole issue with their social skills and face-to-face interaction.''

In some cases, it gets even worse.

Johnson & Wales' Maureen Lloyd-James told me she has some students who include texting language like LOL (that's laughing out loud) in college essays.

"I think in this day and age we presume students have a lot of computing knowledge -- but it's only in a specific area,'' she said.

Fiske counteracts this at FIU by emphasizing hands-on work. Some students have a class that features in-person interactions, so they must meet clients in addition to create websites, do writing, research and preparation.

Both Fiske and Lloyd-James emphasized that these assignments are about creating a different mind-set for students who have never thought about these things.

For Betsy Soler, a senior at FIU who is already working full-time, it was also about learning how to act as a professional -- something every college student must learn, regardless of their generation.

In her case, that has meant getting more comfortable with using the phone for work conversations, said Soler, who still puts "text-friendly'' next to her business phone number.

Soler, 19, thinks part of the issue is that because younger people are viewed more as "experts,'' they're being thrust into the working world at a much younger age.

"Professionals are approaching us a lot quicker than before,'' said Soler, who started college when she was 16.

What netiquette challenges do you see when working between generations? Share your stories in the comments below.

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Rick Sanchez gets Kanye'd at the Shorty Awards

Bridget and I have that familiarity with Rick Sanchez that all native South Floridians have - we think it's even more so when, like us, you grew up watching him on Channel 7, aspiring journalists such that we were back in the day.

Rick's been quite the YouTube sensation this week already when Jon Stewart (oh, Hulu, what will you you do without Stewart!) took him to task for his tsunami coverage. So it's with great affection that we present, for your Friday viewing, Rick Sanchez's "Kayne" moment at the Shorty Awards, where he hosted the awards which go to the best producers of "short, real-time content" on the Web. On a side note, I was thrilled to see my long-standing crush Nathan Fillion winning in the celeb category.

Watch below for the moment just after Sanchez presenteds a Shorty to a llama. Yes, a llama. (I guess, in the interests of accuracy, that poor woman who tweets this llama account was really the Taylor Swift in this story, but we just like that Rick was involved). Hey, it was the "weird" award, made more bizarre, as you'll see, when he was interrupted by this guy known as Eastside Dave:

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Just for fun, for all you social media addicts

Passed on by an alert Poked reader, this is a commercial, I think, but it's funny. My favorite line: "Stop writing on the wall!"

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CrisisCamp comes to Miami

"I just want to help".

That's pretty much what every one of the more than one hundred people said this afternoon as they went around one of the largest conference rooms we have here at The Miami Herald, which helped host  CrisisCamp Miami, one of now 12 such gatherings that is focusing on technology relief efforts for Haiti. The room was full - of web developers, programmers, software engineers, people who focus on bringing Internet and VOIP services to developing countries - and others who just wanted to help.

CrisisCamproomWeb CrisisCamp started in DC last week, days after the earthquake hit Haiti. It's basically a grassroots effort that brings together the tech community in a series of collaborations, all designed to help Haitians and Haiti recover.

"I saw the DC one, and when I heard there was one coming to Miami, I said "Yes!"," Haitian-American web developer Harry Casimir told me. Casimir, a native of Port-de-Paix, now lives in West Palm Beach, and came down with his cousin, Jean Petit-Bois, and another friend, David Anderson, for the day, hoping to lend a hand with both their technological and language skills.

Casimir and Petit-Bois have family all over Haiti, and told me how frustrated they've been with how bad communication has been.

That's the idea behind CrisisCommons projects like Open Solace Haiti, which is trying to set up ways for Haitians in and outside of Haiti to communicate.

The goal for the day is for everyone to meet, brainstorm and begin collaborating. Organizer Alex de Carvalho told me he was excited about the turnout, and thankful that people had responded with such goodwill.

"I'm hoping some of these people will plug into these projects," he said, adding that he's hoping to further develop an infrastructure here not just to help Haiti, but that could even be used the next time South Florida gets hit with a hurricane or other natural disaster.

For more information on CrisisCamp, you can visit its wiki page, or, to keep up with them on Facebook, you can fan their page.

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For those in Haiti, Facebook's a lifeline

I suspect you always feel disconnected when tragedy strikes and you're far from home. Last Tuesday, I was working in Los Angeles for the week when I found out about the earthquake in Haiti -- via a text message.

My first phone call was to my dad in Miami. My entire life, my father has run a small nonprofit organization that partners with Haitians on education, nutrition and employment projects in several villages. I first visited the country when I was 12. Between college and graduate school, I taught at one of two American schools in Port-au-Prince.

That year, I lived with some close family friends -- the call to my dad was to find out if they were OK. He didn't know.

Els My next step was to check Facebook, where I saw friends in Haiti posting status messages. Inside my Facebook in-box, Els Vervloet, the alumni director for my old school, Quisqueya Christian, had sent our alumni/students/faculty group the first of what became a series of heart-wrenching messages that were, for the first 48 hours, my best source of information.

She described how teachers from my old school had run to the Caribbean Supermarket to start pulling people from the rubble. She talked about landmarks and neighborhoods that I knew and what she had seen and heard. And so many people started messaging her to help find friends and family that Facebook shut down her account because it suspected she was spamming people.

She posted a frantic message on her Facebook wall, where others also mentioned their accounts, or the ability to message people, had been temporarily disabled because of the high volume of activity. I contacted Facebook to find out what they were doing. (For the full post on that, click here.)

When I got in touch with them, a spokesman told me that in "rare cases,'' regular users can get caught in the site's automatic spam defense system. He suggested people in Haiti e-mail Facebook tech support and said they would screen messages to find people mentioning Haiti to expedite their cases. In the past, Bridget and I have described Facebook's user community evolving faster than the site -- this seems to be the most poignant example.

In the first few days, my feed was full of status updates like this one:

Facebook-Haiti-status

I spoke to one of the daughters of a family I know that lives in Haiti. She went to college in Indiana, got married and stayed in the United States. She's used to using social media to stay in touch with family in Haiti.

For her, and many others, Facebook was all she had. She, too, told me stories of how friends were rescued because of status updates that directed help their way.

I continue to see posts that are difficult and inspirational from friends in Haiti and colleagues reporting there for The Miami Herald.

Usually in this space, Bridget and I write about ways people use social media to connect, mostly for business. Last week, it was something so much more. Els, the alumni director, summed it up to me in a email she sent me this week: "Facebook Facebook has been my lifeline these past days!", she said, adding: "I never thought I would say this, but THANK GOD we have Facebook."

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How local Make-A-Wish Foundation is using social media

I spent some time last week with Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida's Richard Kelly talking to him about how the organization has developed its social media presence. In the past six months, the group has created a local fan page on Facebook, a Twitter account and a YouTube channel.

I'll post the entire Poked column about what Kelly is doing later, but in the meantime wanted to share some video clips of my interview with him talking specifics of how they did it.

Here's Kelly talking about all the practicalities of how they got started, especially with Facebook:


And here, he speaks about how they were able to grow their local Facebook fan base to more than 4,000 people in six months:




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