Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hey Everyone! Stop Advertising, Start Communicating

We hear it from our teens all the time – they want to hear from the brands they care about but they don’t just want any old advertisement. They want information that is relevant, useful and meaningful.

Today, on, I came across a new bit of research that offers an interesting perspective. One of the best ways to reduce the perception of one-way advertising and create more of a “conversation” with consumers is to use Web 2.0 tools - like social networks - to establish a relationship.

research found “consumers rely on social media websites as much as company websites for product information and 70% of consumers have visited a social media website such as message board, social network, instant messenger, blog, video sharing site or chat room in order to get information about a company, brand or product.”

What is essential in using these tools it to make sure the communication is two-way. To create interaction and to actually listen to what you customers are saying. One of the biggest benefits to listening to today’s youth is that you can identify new ways they are using Web 2.0 tools to communicate with each other and then mimic that behavior in a way that enhances your relationship with your customers.

“But I am afraid of what my customers might say!”

I hear this concern lot from my clients who are working to try new things but are very afraid that “opening the lines of communication” may backfire. This study has good news to report on that front:

“The survey also discovered that people who search for information exclusively via social media websites are more likely to spread the word. More than one-third of consumers have passed along information found online, and among those, six out of 10 used social media websites to pass along the information. Nearly three-quarters (74%) said that most of the information they passed along was positive.”

Sure, there are those who will say something bad about you. But wouldn’t you rather embrace that customer, get closer to him/her and deal with the concern head on? Or risk them posting in blogs all over the web and not having the chance to deal with their concern.

We’ll be back with more in 2009. We hope you have a chance to take a little time off, relax with your friends and family and make big plans for the New Year.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dear TiVo: Help Me Find New Music

An open letter to TiVo:

Dear TiVo:

You know I love you (and I am not alone). Without you, I would rarely – if ever – get to see my favorite shows. There’s nothing better than knowing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are waiting for me whenever I need them. And now I find out I can even program you from my phone! Ahhhhhh…..

But here’s the thing, there’s more you can do for me.

As you can imagine, I don’t get out much and while I enjoy listening to music, it’s mostly the old stuff I know and love. But when I watch Gossip Girl or 90210 or Privilege (did I mention I have a tween in the house), they play new music that I kind of like. But here’s the thing, I can’t find it very well after the show – even though the CW does a good job of featuring artists.

Wouldn’t it be cool if at any point during a program, I could hit a button on my TiVo remote and find out the name and artist of the music playing - at that moment!? Not only that, but with one more click, it could send that information to my email or iTunes account so I could make the purchase when I get to my computer?

I realize IPTV is just around the corner, but I probably won’t be an early adopter. And I already own two TiVo boxes. AND my daughter is starting to buy music. It seems like you should get some sort of referral fee from iTunes or from the labels if you pass along a lead. I am sure there’s a business model waiting to bust out of this idea.

So get to work on that would you? I am ready to order my new music today!

Love, Jen

Thursday, November 6, 2008

When Kids Rock the Vote: Tech Educates, Unifies

Now that the elections in the U.S. are over, I am inspired by the culmination of what was a tedious, arduous, sometimes aggravating process. I am inspired because in the end, my daughter, who is nine, became engaged, excited and encouraged about the process and the result.

In California, we had a number of important propositions on the ballot, and my daughter was actively consuming information - on TV, the web and with friends and relatives - to do her best to understand the issues and decide what she thought was right for our state and our nation.

Wonderfully, our local County Board of Elections sponsored a "Kids Vote" at the polling places. They provided kids with ballots and then announced the results of the Kids Vote on their web site. Katie spent all day yesterday waiting for the results.

When we went to the polling place, we brought one of her friends with her. As they poured over the ballot, I was amazed to hear my daughter explain each proposition to her friend. I had no idea how much my kid had picked up. She had spent time on the Internet learning and even the Weekly Reader had helped her think through the issues.

We have a rule in our house - you are entitled to your opinion and it can be different from others - but you have to do your own critical thinking to justify your position. My daughter took that advice to heart and used the tools we have - most of them technology-based - to make up her mind in the election.

And thanks to a shared medium - the television - we sat together on Tuesday night as history was made. As we watched people all over the world share in an event that we can only hope will lead us all positively into the future.

I write a lot about kids, technology and relationships and this election was proof that these things can come together to help us think, connect and share.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Santa Cruz Style: When does social networking become Social Networking?!

I have a secret. I am one of the luckiest people on earth.

Not only do I have a great job as a partner at Listen2Youth, studying young people all over the world as they tell us about how they use technology, but I get to do it while living in Santa Cruz,California.

Until now, I have working in a home office. Sure it sounds glamorous, but that’s because you haven’t seen the laundry piling up in the corner, been toppled by the cats chasing underfoot in the office or heard the chickens squabbling over a snail. I have realized it might be time for a change.

That change is what brings me to my big social networking news – and wouldn’t you know it - it has a “youth” angle. I rented an office today in a newfangled workspace in downtown Santa Cruz that puts the real social back into networking.

The idea is great and it something that is taking off in a number of business hot spots around the country. In Santa Cruz, it’s called NextSpace and for the price of a membership, you have access to one of three different kinds of services that deliver an office experience without the commitment!

NextSpace promises to give me something that I have missed – the social networking aspect of working that I still don’t get on Facebook; or via my many conference calls. At NextSpace, I will work in a carrel with a view of downtown Santa Cruz while listening to the background noise of my co-workers – all of whom will be doing something entirely different from me. And yet I hope to find some interesting opportunities for collaboration, consultation or just plain shooting the …well, you know.

The corollary to this workspace is the promise of an online community that mirrors our workspace community offering ways to meet each other, find mutual interests and even allow for cool new concepts like presence (imagine if I allow the community to know I have “arrived” at the office because my mobile phone tells them I’m there – too cool). This is the workspace of the newest generation of workers – today’s recent grads – my highly coveted youth market and many of them will be there with me.

I can’t wait to join the workspace of a new generation. I have blogged about them before and the new ways they want to work. From what I hear, I will be surrounded by some amazing office mates working on the cutting edge of technology and business.

Now I won’t just Listen2Youth, I will get to be part of it!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby. And Disney. Have I Piqued Your Interest?

Advice: The following blog contains mature content.

At the Ypulse Mashup in July, two amazing people joined my table for lunch. I was hosting a discussion on using tech to build a brand and these two folks described their struggle. They actually have the “tech” part figured out. The problem is the brand. Or more to the point: their product. I think it’s absolutely awesome, but it tends to scare people. Their product is sex. Well, more fairly put: sex education.

The Midwest Teen Sex Show is an amazing set of webisodes that tell the truth about sex (and all its fancy flavors). I used to listen to Loveline with Dr Drew and Adam Carolla and I was always amazed at what teens did (and didn’t) know about sex. If you think about it, so many teens know just enough to be dangerous; we tease them with bits of information but never the full story. I thought that show was so good because Dr Drew honestly answered kids’ questions while Adam provided the humor (because let’s face it, the subject can make one a little tense). [Note: turns out Loveline is still one – show’s how old I am – and you can learn more about it here!]

[If you clicked out to watch the Midwest Teen Sex Show and are sitting there with your mouth hanging open, hang in there, you’ll be okay. They are honest and direct but seriously, you have seen worse on your TV, currently being rerun on TBS. You really have.]

The Midwest Teen Sex Show is direct like Loveline – providing honest, funny, straightforward advice to young people who often can’t get the answers anywhere else. So what does this have to do with Disney? Well, here’s the thing. The Midwest gang needs sponsors but they are having a hard time because, you know, it makes people blush.

Meanwhile, over on ABC Family, Disney has rolled out a new show called “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Vicki Collier, VP Digital Media for Disney-ABC TV talked about the show briefly at Ypulse explaining the surprise hit and how it has generated a lot of web traffic for the company. The show has raised some eyebrows.

I watch a lot of tween and teen television because of my daughter and it helps me do my job, but when I watched this show, I ended up turning it off. It seemed the entire show was focused on teenage sex – not love, not relationships, not even education – just sex. But get this – it has sponsors.

So this leads me to my big question:
how is it advertisers have no problem throwing money at a Disney show that really features the worst of American youth and yet don’t have the courage to sponsor a website that is working to bring out the best in our youth? The Midwest Teen Sex Show may not offer content that makes everyone feel comfortable; but it’s truthful, funny and the underlying message is to protect yourself, your feelings and your health.

“Secret Life” is broadcast on cable television – available in most homes – and broadcasts during the day. Children at home have easy access and chances are there’s no one there to help them “process” what they are watching. The Midwest Teen Sex Show is available only online and you have to choose the content you want to see. There are discussion groups and referrals to experts who can offer more help.

I encourage brands that cater to youth to do more than make the easy media buy. If you really care about the health and well being of your customer base, you have an opportunity to support something beyond the obvious. Yes, it’s not for everyone and it should make business sense but at least consider sponsoring the Midwest Teen Sex Show. Help something good become something great.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Is Disney Trying to Keep Parents Out of the Loop?

Last week I sat through three different sessions at the Ypulse National Mashup (a great event) where I heard from three different representatives from Disney: one from Disney Interactive, one from Disney Mobile and one from Disney Music. The Disney Music presentation was near the end of the conference and I left his talk feeling incredibly provoked.

What I found interesting about all three presenters is that they didn’t mention parents. Actually, Stephen Saiz, manager of consumer insight and strategy of the Walt Disney Internet Group's North American mobile division did mention parents but it was in a less than flattering way. This CNET article quotes Saiz as saying, “Teens are pushing their parents to go on mobile because they don't really want to communicate with them directly.” I am not sure about the conclusion he’s drawing from his research but I am sure it was the only time I heard the Disney folks talk about parents.

Disney Music: Tweens are Cogs in the Machine
Damon Whiteside, senior vice president of marketing of Walt Disney Records, shared slides with us describing their musical success (read more about his talk here). High School Musical, Miley Cyrus aka Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers have all added to the Disney coffers as tweens and teens have spent boatloads of money on music, merchandise and more. The bulk of the purchases are made by tweens and young teens and that’s when I noticed he wasn’t mentioning parents.

When he put up a slide that literally had gears representing the machine used to get these kids to buy their stuff, I felt my hackles rise.

It seems they have this all figured out – how they are going to build and ship the next batch of new artists that will snatch the dollars out of your wallet. From Demi Lovato, featured in Camp Rock and now being teased incessantly on the Disney Channel, to KSM, an all-girl rock band that was “casted” by Disney to have maximum appeal, it’s all coming your way. Wow, I remember the old days when bands were created organically by the artists who were compelled to make music.

I Say: Talk to the Tween
If tweens are your market, it seems to me you need a parent strategy of some sort. I have been very involved with my tween’s music choices and yes, we do have every album Miley Cyrus has made (including the new one coming out tomorrow – currently in transit to us via preorder). But we don’t buy them blindly and the purchase is balanced off against other things my kid “wants.”

When I got home, I talked to my daughter about what I heard and asked her about why she likes Miley so much. Turns out she really likes her character on television and likes what’s she’s heard in interviews. My daughter believes Miley is like her especially because she’s so close to her real dad; she said the relationship between Miley and her dad is like the relationship between the two of us. And, she explained, I really like her dad (Billy Ray Cyrus) so Miley must be a good person. Hmmm, look at that, parents matter.

So Disney, I know you are a giant and you see us all as part of the machine, but there’s more at play here than just bombarding us on every media channel you own. I believe you need parents on your side and it would be nice to see you acknowledge our role in our children’s lives.

Even at a marketing conference.

PS: I asked my kid about Demi Lovato and it turns out she thinks she sucks. Who knew? She said Camp Rock was a pretty lame movie and the screaming singer (Demi) was just plain bad. What a relief, my daughter has independent thought.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Baby Borrowers: TV You Can Watch with the Family

Have you watched The Baby Borrowers yet?

I am not a big one for reality TV, I don't even watch American Idol. But I had read about the impact this show had when it was done in the UK and I was anxious to see if American television would somehow mess it up.

Good news: I don't think it did!

I am watching this show with my eight year old daughter and it has already made quite an impression. Okay, she's clear I want to be a gramma but only if she has a great job, owns a home and is absolutely prepared to be a patient, involved parent. But after watching this show, I am not sure I will get any grandchildren.

It's a simple premise: five teenage couples who think they are not only ready to play house, but also ready to have kids get to spend three days with a baby. Incredibly brave, generous families have volunteered their children (the kids are uber-supervised) to be the "test" babies for these teenage couples.

The teens have to shop for, bathe, feed, change and entertain their kidlets. One of the teens has to go work during the day while the other stays home. All of them are rapidly brought to their knees as they learn babies really don't negotiate.

We have the show on TiVo and my poor child has yet to watch one episode without me pausing the show half a dozen times to "discuss" what's really going on or to validate that it really is that hard. As the show goes on, the teens will get to spend time with toddlers, preteens, teens and then senior citizens. Imagine how overwhelming all this care-taking is on a self-absorbed teenager!

I believe you can watch episodes online and I highly recommend it.

If you have kids, it's an interesting show to watch together. If you don't have kids, this may help you make sure you stop by the drug store before your next date. If you get what I mean (wink, wink).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

If You Care About Your Child’s Future, You Must Read This Blog

If you are a parent of younger children, this blog will depress you. If you are a parent of younger children, you need to read this blog.

I just finished reading a long, intense article in Fast Company about the relationship between China and Africa. At first blush, you might wonder what it has to do with you. Trust me, it has everything to do with you – and your children’s future. If you can bear with me, I will try to net out the big picture.

Let’s start here. Note the part that says, “the next 50 years” – that’s in our lifetime folks. All the quotes are excerpted from the article.
“Humanity, the doomster argument goes, is on a collision course with the natural world, and the signs are everywhere: shrinking forests, croplands, fisheries, and water tables; rising pollution and temperatures. During the next 50 years, if current trends continue, humans will use more energy than in all of previously recorded history. More environmental stress will mean less growth and will trigger more conflict -- bitter clashes among civilizations over a dwindling resource pie, mass migrations, "climate refugees," uncontained diseases caused by "superbugs" impervious to modern medicines, water wars, maybe even food wars. In other words, the world will become like an episode of Survivor, except you can actually die.”
Essentially, the article explains in gut wrenching detail how we have abandoned Africa while China is rapidly depleting the country of its resources. We Western countries, with our high-minded principals – have done little (and participated in our share of the corruption) and the end game – holy crap 50 years!? – looks grim.
“When Bill Clinton was first elected president, the U.S. trade deficit with China was $18 billion. It is now $256 billion. Ravenous Westerners have become partners in Africa's environmental destruction.”
I realize I am woefully uneducated in this area because my first thought is what can I do to make a difference? I have been working on “saving the planet” by doing my part to think green. But now I the situation is far more dire if the problem is that there won’t be any resources left because there are just too many of us consuming. Simply consuming. Much of it needlessly.

Even as we begin work on a series of home improvements, I have started to change the questions I am asking – are the products we are using made in China? What are they made from? Is that a renewable resource? Can we use products made closer to my home with materials that are easy to grow or produce?

It’s not much, but I am thinking if we all start asking these questions, cut down our consumption and therefore the demand of products manufactured in China, we might have at least an economic impact. The author makes the point that the Chinese aspire to be like us. Really? How many more Starbucks to we need? Is that really the epitome of a self-actualized life?
“Oxford's Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and a former head of research at the World Bank, is a leading expert on African economies. "I think the sad reality is that although globalization has powered the majority of developing countries toward prosperity," he says, "it is now making things harder for these latecomers." In other words, he says, Africa "missed the boat." And on a divided, demoralized continent, one where the United States has lost both its economic leverage and moral authority, Beijing can cherry-pick almost at will. That spells trouble not only for Africa but also for our ability to outthink the global consumption death spiral we have all set in motion.”
It’s far easier for me to pull the covers over my head and focus on getting the kid to summer camp. But then I think about her future. We all make assumptions our kids will live lives similar to ours – but will they?

We are already experiencing economic changes in the U.S. that are rocking our world. We have made choices that won’t help us endure (driving cars that aren’t efficient, using food for fuel, but crap imported from China, allowing debt to be the norm rather than the exception).

I think it’s time to pull together. To make different, thoughtful choices. We need to ask our leaders to take a stand. And I think it requires introspection, prioritization and sacrifice. This is not going to be easy – at least not for me. But maybe we can do it. Don’t we have to for our kids?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the article and what you are doing in your life to adapt. Maybe you think I am nuts? Please let me know. Discussion is a great place to start.

PS: if you don’t want to read the whole article – it is really long – the last section is a good place to start. Read it here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Green You Can Do: Offsetting Your Google Footprint

I live in California and I am served by Pacific Gas & Electric for my utilities. Last month, as I proceeded to review my online bill, I saw an interesting ad for ClimateSmart. I was being offered to businesses, but as a student of Jim Rockford*, I have learned that just because your name isn’t on the invitation, it doesn’t mean you aren’t invited!

My daughter, in line with so many of today’s young people, is a freak about looking for ways for us to “save the earth.” When I told her about this program, she was thrilled that we could offset her watching “Saved by the Bell by participating in ClimateSmart (I am not sure what will offset the earworm I get from that show’s annoying theme song). For me, I need to offset my Twitter and Google addiction.

Check with your local utility company to see what’s available in your area!

This program appears to rock! Here’s how PG&E describes it:

The ClimateSmart™ program provides a voluntary option for Pacific Gas and Electric Company business customers to reduce their impact on climate change. When you enroll in the program, PG&E will calculate the amount needed to make the greenhouse gas emissions associated with your organization’s energy use “neutral” and will add this amount to your monthly energy bill. Your organization’s monthly ClimateSmart amount will vary depending on actual energy use. Your organization can choose which gas and electric accounts to enroll, and you can opt out at any time with no penalty.

So what does it cost? Frankly, not much at all.

My summer bill is about $80/month for both gas and electricity. The ClimateSmart charge for that same bill was $2.46. I don’t drink coffee, but isn’t that about a single frappacrappa something at a coffee place? I know it’s cheaper than a single scoop cone at Baskin Robbins. Seems like the least we could do, doesn’t it? And you don’t have to be a business. In fact, if we “consumers” got on board, we could really make a difference.

So there’s the challenge. Check with your utility company, find your local program and sign-up. Let’s all “offset” together and leave something good for our kids. Will you join me!?

*Seriously? You don’t know about or remember Jim Rockford from The Rockford Files? While my mom swears he’s Maverick and not Rockford, James Garner taught me so much when I was a kid. I think I need to blog that one day: What I Learned from Jim Rockford. Sounds like a plan.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why I Hate Spam (Filters)

A of couple weeks ago I was talking with a business associate who surprised me with some bad news. Happens all the time right – except I got emotional and realized it would benefit our business relationship if I got the heck off the phone and stopped talking. So I begged off to get my head back in the game.

Within a few minutes when I had stabilized and had my thoughts together, I shot my associate an email. For me, email is a safe way to communicate especially when my emotions take over. And it usually works. Except, this time it didn’t. Because – wait for it – he never got it! At least not that day! No, my email was redirect by a spam filter and dumped into the same bin as his message from the Nigerian businessman and the super-duper body-part enlargement salesman.

Another case of an important email missed; sacrificed to the random discrimination of the spam filter.

All of us hate spam – and in fact, spam is on the rise! But let’s get real, how hard is it for us to delete a message we don’t want? In the balance of things, isn’t getting the messages you do want much more important than the half second of time it takes to delete the garbage?

Look at what this poor man is going through trying to protect his company – he’s a wreck. In an article in Business Week, author Gene Marks states it simply; “They all suck,” referring to spam filters.

Can I get a halleluiah? It’s time to pull together a culture of change.

If someone could make a spam filter that actually worked with a modicum of reliability, I am all over it. But so far what I have seen appears to still operate with a woeful amount of random success.

Thankfully, I have a relationship with my associate that could withstand the gaff, but with business relationships at stake, I don’t understand why anyone would trust a spam filter rather than spend three minutes reviewing and deleting the garbage.

So I say throw the filters out. Stop assuming they are doing their job. Check your spam.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chicken Little: The Night the Sky Fell

Today’s blog is strictly personal. Last weekend, we made a mistake. We accidentally forgot to open the door to our chicken roost so the chickens had to sleep in the coop without the protection of the roost. Around 3am, I heard a horrible noise. I cannot say enough about how horrible that noise was. I thought, don’t worry, “the girls” are safe – they are in their roost.

But of course, they weren’t. When I finally heard what was clearly a chicken sound in the melee, I ran outside to find a huge raccoon attacking my darling little Sweet Pea. She was already dead and our other bird, Lily was in a stupor. I chased the raccoon away in a screaming fit that shockingly, my neighbors did not hear. I managed to get the roost open, get Lily inside and get myself back into the house.

I woke my eight year old daughter up to tell her the news. Frankly, I figured she had to have heard the noise but she hadn’t so instead she had to deal with a freaked out, adrenalized mom. She did a good job too because I was a wreck. Who knew I had become so attached to my little chickens? As a telecommuter, I realize they have become like co-workers to me. I go out and talk to them when I need a break. They are steady, centered companions who don’t react to stress or office politics.

Sweet Pea had a rough start in life – bullied by another hen we had originally. But we made a change and life was good. She was a beautiful Silkie mixed with Cochin and had the prettiest gold chest. She had just started laying and while the eggs were rather small, I admired her steadfast effort.

A friend from Flickr – a woman whom I have never met but shared great chicken stories with via photos and comments – was a great support. She offered advice and consolation. My cousin, who reminded me we share a “farm girl” legacy offered by our grandmother, told me we should get a new chick as soon as possible so Lily, my stunned survivor would have something to focus on.

Meanwhile, on a pragmatic front, my mom, always the trooper – saved the day. She offered to come clean up the mess and brought supplies for a proper burial including a headstone that Katie fixed up. We said our goodbyes and went to the feed store to bring home a new baby chick: a Rhode Island Red. The cutest darn thing you’ve ever seen.

Lily was a godsend for Sweet Pea nearly a year ago and it turns out her mothering instinct is still there. We slipped the baby under her wing as soon as it was dark and the magic began. She’s already taking the baby out for walks in the coop since we are having warm sunny weather. Just wait until she finds out her “baby” will grow to twice her size. She’s going to feel like Michael Jordan’s mom – no doubt!

So this is my little tribute to a sweet little bird that made a difference in our lives. We pet owners share that sweetness: the joy of new love, the enduring attachment as we care for them and the sad farewells.

If you’d like to see some of the pictures, I have posted them on Flickr.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Wii Fit: How to Improve the User Experience

Just a quick note. I wrote one more blog about the Nintendo Wii Fit from a user experience perspective that's published on my "other" blog. Check it out! And let me know if you agree with my observations!

Read it here.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Family Feud: Three Generations Compete on the Wii Fit!

I had no idea what I was getting into. Sure I wanted to try the new Wii Fit. It sounded great. Only I blew it. I didn’t preorder it – what was I thinking – and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t find it locally. And then it happened. Kismet. Chance. Divine intervention. I got a Wii Fit.

As usual, we put the new toy to the three-generation field test. I started – privately – because there was no need to share my weight, body mass index or Wii Fit age with everyone else. I mean, I am testing the product, why do I need to share anything else? The bad news, my little “Mii” who represents me in the game gave away the bad news. Both my mom and my daughter laughed when they saw my plump little me welcoming them to the game.

The humiliating initiation was strikingly similar to that first session at the gym when the great looking 20 year old athletic “trainer” weighs you in and does your measurements and then enthusiastically says, “okay, let’s get started!” The upside? This is a machine and I can mock it as much as I want. I went through as many games as I could, working my booty through yoga, balance, aerobics and strength training. Did I mention humiliation yet?

Both my mom and my daughter tried each of the games and did well and some and failed at others. I have to say it was nice to see the playing field leveled and it turns out each of us is better at one particular area.

Mom, who’s 70, is really good at yoga. She thinks it’s because she goes to Curves. I think it’s because she’s retired and spends most of her day breathing.

Katie is really good at balance. At eight years old, she’s still lower to the ground and hasn’t experienced her first hang over. I give her time, she’ll get crooked soon enough.

As for me, who would have thought I would excel at aerobics? At 46, I am anything but athletic, but I have always been able to take a punch, I can still carry the kid to bed and chase a group of school kids on a field trip. I also really like to dance - all that booty shaking of mine paid off. I have rhythm and can hula hoop with the pros (well, not really, but on the Wii Fit – booya)!

I have my goals set – a great feature – for this month and I have committed to using it to work out at least 20 minutes every day (folks are reporting how they are doing in online diaries). It’s pretty fun and it is getting me moving in ways I would have never managed on my own. I will let you know in a month if there are any “results” worth mentioning.

Is it worth the investment? You can check out the personal reviews. It’s about the same price as a month’s membership at the gym. I woke up this morning with an achy butt, er um, glutes and a burning in my abdomen. Something must be happening because those were some new muscle groups getting my attention. I think it’s worth it and the whole family can benefit. I mean, I will never be able to do what that woman in the video below can do, but I want to meet the guy over 40 who can! (I mean seriously, I want to meet you!)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Got Your Innovation Right Here! Top Ten Ways Tech Could Help Tired Moms

Some days, I am so wiped out I just want to make a bowl of microwave popcorn, grab a Diet Pepsi and watch reruns. But no, I decided to be a mom. So I must soldier on. But it seems like tech could help me out just a bit. Here’s my list of what tech should do for me.

10. Get the kid ready for bed. It has to check to make sure she brushed her teeth and did her homework. It also tucks her in and makes sure she starts reading. All I have to do is stop by for the loving – a kiss goodnight.

9. Kill spiders. I hate getting rid of the things. I want a zapper – I am thinking a modified Wii remote - can just evaporate them with a flick of the wrist. Advanced skills let you zap flies too.

8. Make dinner (or any meal). Think The Jetson’s. This combo microwave/refrigerator lets you press a button and the meal is served. Beautifully prepared and ready to eat.

7. Fold the laundry and put it away. This would work like a Roomba: it would swoop up the clothes, deliver them to the washer/dryer and then somehow magically return them to drawers and closets.

6. Take out the garbage. This man-bot looks like Steve Young (yes, I am a 49er fan) and would kick it all to the curb while looking good! And it wouldn’t forget to change the kitty litter.

5. Help me prioritize. My cell phone would call me when something important was happening – like warning me when my mom was coming by for a surprise visit, telling me the cats are out of water or when the chickens have laid an egg.

4. Automate my shopping. Anytime I used something in my house, a real-time Bluetooth inventory would know about it and then generate a shopping list and send it to the computer. Then I would send that to the store and have everything delivered.

3. Nintendo babysitting. She’s playing the thing anyway. Let’s add a video camera and a GPS and I could know exactly what the kid is doing while I run an errand. I can see her, hear her and track her. What else do I need?

2. Burn calories for me. This is the ultimate device; I am thinking a modified taser, would boost my metabolism and increase my heart rate while adding tone and definition.

1. Energy boosting subliminal entertainment. Instead of drinking a Red Bull – or Diet Pepsi Max – I could just plug in my iPod and via special audio tracks, I would get a powerful energy burst that didn’t wouldn’t screw up my sleeping patterns later in the day.

Have an idea for the perfect technology? Let me know. We can always dream – if we can ever get to bed…

Friday, May 23, 2008

Santa Cruz Summit Fire: Keeping Up with the Breaking News

[Photo from the Santa Cruz Sentinel - see the rest here.]

Day two of the Santa Cruz wildfire and things are looking a bit better. We are cautiously optimistic with 20% containment (as of 10:30am). The wind has shifted and is coming off the ocean which means it is cooler, wetter and going a completely different direction from yesterday. Even the smell, which was horrible this morning, is much better with the wind change. Now if the wind will just stay mellow and gentle, maybe the firefighters can get a jump on things.

The real reason I am blogging today is that I want to publicly thank KGO television for the incredible service they provided yesterday – it demonstrated the power of technology and hopefully the future of how we all begin to respond to disasters. Early yesterday morning, KGO interrupted Good Morning America to begin fire coverage. On their website, they took a lot of crap for that move because the fire only affected those in the very south of their market – KGO covers the entire Bay Area which is huge. But they stuck to their guns.

And I heard from my friends that they stayed on the air nearly all day providing invaluable video of where the fire was going, evacuation information, air quality updates, school updates and more. I didn’t know about the TV because I was working but here’s the thing, I was able to watch streaming coverage non-stop during the day. I sat here on conference call after conference call and I was able to watch the video. It was incredible.

According to my friend Lisa, our local radio station, which goes by the name of KPIG - stop laughing – okay, keep laughing, anyway “The Pig” was also Johnny-on-the-spot with regular updates of a “pig” kind helping out with all sorts of community support including animal evacuations. In fact I understand they worked as a broker helping to match those offering housing to large livestock with the needy when the fairgrounds got full. Awesome.

Finally, over on Twitter, which was acknowledged for publishing the first news of the earthquake in China, there wasn’t much traffic. Aided by a great tool,, I was able to watch the tweets coming in about the fire. Notably, folks directly in the line of fire didn’t tweet. I am going to guess that’s because most of them are what we beach folk call “mountain folk” who are known for coveting their ability to stay away from us flatlanders.

Today we aren’t getting the same level of coverage yet the fire is raging on. I am really feeling the loss. I hope more television stations consider running scaled down live broadcasts via the Internet on an on-going basis. Goodness knows their reporters are in the field.

As I have talked with my buddies this morning, I wasn’t the only one watching. Spouses who work “over the hill” in Silicon Valley watched, relatives in other parts of the nation watched and evacuees stuck at a local coffee shop with Internet access watched. Clearly this is a value public service. One we all appreciate so much.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Did you Purchase a Wii Fit at Best Buy? Maybe you were put on hold…

I was supposed to be at the store today at 10am when the product hit the shelves. I stupidly didn’t pre-order. This has been a busy week and I just didn’t pay any attention to what was going on. So, thanks to a conference call that ran long, I didn’t get to the store on time and didn’t get the Wii Fit. Bummer. But I did get a story.

My hunt started at Circuit City – got there too late. So I ran across the parking lot to Toys R Us – the last product just sold minutes before. Okay, I will try the new Best Buy that just arrived in our one-horse town. Maybe it’s not on people’s radar yet. I am an idiot, of course it was but they offered me something the others did not – customer service. So I made my way to the desk where I was greet by an incredibly nice young person, let’s call her Susan.

Susan did her best to locate a Wii Fit for me while she handled the calls coming in to the customer service desk. She ably put calls on hold and searched for other employees to field the calls. But then everything went wrong. It seems that Susan can surf the net, manage the vast online inventory management system for Best Buy, handle a two-way in her ear, but she can’t figure out how to get a call off hold.

I watched as customer after customer was put on hold only to see two smart women and then a manager struggle to “figure out” the phone system. It was a Cisco phone and I used one a few years ago when I contracted for Cisco so I offered to help. But I was no help at all. “This thing is so old fashioned,” Susan exclaimed as she slammed down the receiver. She had every intention of delivering good service, but it simply wasn’t possible to get the call back.

“We haven’t been trained on the phones yet,” said the manager. Trained. Hmm. These youngsters seemed to have all the other elaborate systems down. Could it be this really was “old” technology? Or maybe it was just too complex. Did someone overlook the user experience?

I want everyone in Santa Cruz that called near the lunch hour today to know the good people at Best Buy really did want to help you, but once your call was put on hold, it was lost; simply gone. As for business phones, we might want to think about making them a bit more intuitive.

As I was leaving the store – without any Wii Fit – I thanked Susan for all her help and for giving me fodder for my blog. And I could hear the phone ringing. Again.

Here's a trailer of the Wii Fit just in case you have been hiding under a rock!

And if you had time to waste on the video above, you have time to watch this - just too precious - sarcasm at it's best!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The School Talent Show, Twitter, American Idol and the Joy of Parenting

Permission slips were due last Friday for the school talent show. Let’s get real, this is elementary school – how much talent can there really be? The slip specifically noted no “lip singing” which appalled me. Is there no one proofreading these documents or do they really think that means lip-synching? Anyway…

After a day of gut wrenching self analysis, my daughter decided not to try out. Her girlfriends abandoned her (not a surprise to me) and aside from desperately trying to convince me she could mime, we agreed she has no “talent” for this year’s show. Sure, the little singing and dancing act she had prepared with her friends would have been cute, but my kid is no Ashley Tisdale. Or Nicole Richie. Or, well, you get the idea. Which brings me to Twitter.

I just started Tweeting last week and I have to admit, it’s a guilty pleasure. If you are unaware of what’s going on, this Business Week article does a nice job summarizing what you have been missing. There are lots of folks who think it’s a flash in the pan, like Mark and a summary from the WTweetJ blog. But I don’t care, that’s not the point. The point is Tweeting is all about me! I have a place to publicly vent, share and tell 140 characters that summarize exciting things about me! It is awesomely self-centered. I am sure if one does it enough, it might even make you go blind.

In a world where we are all just cogs in the wheel, Twitter gives you this little place where you can feel important. And the cool thing is, you can connect with others and find out they are doing things that are as unimportant as the things you are doing. And it is fun. But does it turn us into self-centered monsters?

Monsters. You know the ones I am talking about: like the kids who try out for American Idol who have no business wasting anyone’s time. Could it be that these kid’s parents never told them they can’t sing? At no time have their friends said; could you quiet down a bit, you are drowning out the radio? Or like my mom told me, “You’re okay Jen, but that’s a voice you might want to save for the shower!” Is today’s culture hopelessly, helplessly addicted to themselves, convinced they are worthy of Idol fame? And does Twitter give validation to this culture?

Big questions that I can’t answer, but rest assured you won’t see my kid trying out for American Idol. I am gentle. I let her down easy – ahhh the joys of parenting. I do let her know there are things she does well and but there are times when she should let the professionals, like Paris Hilton, do the heavy lifting. I am bummed she won’t be in the talent show, but seriously, does the world really need another mime?

Join me on Twitter – just keep in mind, it’s not the best forum for mimes!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bloggers Unite for Human Rights: Five Family Films that will Foster Discussion

Today, around the world, bloggers are coming together to write about a single topic: Human Rights. An online event sponsored by Bloggers Unite, this effort is intended to “shine a light” on a single topic with different – lets face it millions of – perspectives from all over the globe.

When my daughter finally ends up in therapy, my mom assures me it will be because I talked her to death. I am a communications major and I love to talk. And one of the best parts of parenting is having the opportunity to have great discussions with my daughter – we talk about everything – and one subject that comes up a lot in our household is human rights.

It takes many forms and contexts, but the essential underlying theme is that all people deserve to be free – to be able to speak freely, pursue religion as they see fit and have their basic needs met – food, water, safety. Many of our discussions have happened while watching movies. As avid Netflix members, we have family movie night on Friday and Saturday nights.

Family Movie Night: Dinner and Debate

Gramma comes over, we make a good “picnic” dinner and settle in for a family film. We usually allocate about three hours because I am notorious for hitting the pause button to stop and explain what is happening, why it happens and get Katie’s perspective on what she’s seeing. This process tends to drive my mom a bit crazy, but the overall result is I have a child who understands things on a very “connected” level. And I see her bring this wisdom to the events that happening in her eight-year-old world.

So, I sat down with her last night and talked about some of the best movies we have watched and asked her which ones made lasting impressions. There have been so many, but we decided to choose our top five. We hope you watch them with your kids – and I encourage you to look at the reviews on Common Sense Media to make sure they are a fit with your values and to make you aware of what subjects may come up. Four of the links provided for each movie will take you there.

Our Top Five “Discussion” Films (in no particular order)

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Surprise! Aside from this being one of my all time favorites, it turns out there’s a rather interesting back story with the Nazi’s pursuing the Ark. We stopped during the movie to talk about Nazi Germany, the war and who owns national treasures. We also ended up discussing the Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban as an example of how some people don’t respect the values of others.


Based in fact, this story is about an African American swimmer, Jim Ellis, who deals with discrimination in different ways. The story is inspirational if not aggravating at times as it shows how race was perceived in the 1970s. We ended up having a great discussion about how man (humans) can be so cruel to one another and that we all have a responsibility to stand up when we see something bad happening. I think Katie got the concept of just because everyone does it and condones it, does not make it right.

Bend It Like Beckham

This one is great for girls (boys too) as it shows the contrast between cultures and the struggles many kids have when their parents believe in one thing and the kids they live with every day believe in something else. For us, this lead to an interesting talk about doing what you believe is right despite what your parents’ tell you to do. Is it okay to lie? What if it is for the right reasons? I believe teaching Katie to be a critical thinker is essential to helping her fight for what she believes in, including the rights of others. This movie gave us a chance to talk about values, principles, behavior and having the guts to stand by her convictions.

Pursuit of Happyness

Based on a true story, this looks at homelessness, parenting and the struggle one can have when things aren’t going well. It also demonstrates human kindness, perseverance and the power of the parent/child relationship. We talked a lot about compassion when we watched this movie. We see the homeless is our own town and some of them have children in tow. Like most kids, Katie is compelled to help. So I have given her a way to take action. I help her give her old toys and clothes to the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center and we donate regularly to the Second Harvest Food Bank. She understands we are lucky to have what we have and she feels good about sharing what we have.

Ruby Bridges

Another movie based on reality, this is a great movie about the strength of a small girl, her parents and how her strength helped change our culture. We ended up Googling the woman, Ruby Bridges, after the movie desperate to learn more about what she had become after living through such an incredible childhood. Ruby is one of the first children to attend a white school in Louisiana at the request of the NAACP. The movie is awesome as it tells the story in a way that older children will understand. Katie and I talked about racism, courage, fear, anger and honor as we watched her story play out. This is a great movie to watch with the whole family.

Do you have movies you would add to this list? I would love to hear about it. We are always looking for new movies to watch and discuss. Please add a comment and let me know!

PS: not every family movie night is mommy propaganda time – we also watch the fun ones like Ratatouille, Enchanted and Jurassic Park!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cyber Gramma: Why I Still Need My Mom in a High Tech World

It’s Mother’s Day and my kid has been sick all weekend so I really didn’t get a chance to pull anything together for my mom. Somehow she snuck a bear claw into the house yesterday so my daughter, coughing and gasping, still managed to surprise me with breakfast in bed (said bear claw and a diet Pepsi – I don’t need much!). What a nice surprise.

I tend to have a push/pull relationship with my mom – like most mom’s, she can drive me to the brink, but despite all that, she can also really come through when I least expect it. And she is truly helpful in my “high tech” life. So here’s to you mom, a little ode to how you help me every day.


is for medical advice.
This is incredibly relevant right now with my daughter sitting in the other room sporting a fever. I could Google until the cows come home but nothing can substitute for having mom around to tell me the best way to treat a sick child.

is for old school.
With so many cyber toys around our house, it seems my daughter likes nothing better than playing some “old school” games with gramma including a game called Hüsker Dü – a memory game from Denmark. Having gramma around for these moments are the things memories are made of.

is for talking.
As in, I do the talking and she does the listening. I work from home and while my colleagues are terrific, they aren’t sitting in the cube next to me. So when I get a brain fart (which can be often), it’s usually my mom who has to smelt what I dealt. Over the years, she has had to listen to me tell her the most boring stories and now she even has to read emails and follow web links. I am so glad she does.

H is for hearing.
This one is really important to me because I am often faced with ethical situations that can be really confusing. She doesn’t just listen to me talk about them but she hears what’s really going on and offers me advice on doing the right thing. And let’s face it, we all have difficult decisions to make but having mom on your side to help you through the tough times can really make the decisions easier.

is for endurance.
I don’t know how she does it, she’s not getting any younger, but she manages to keep up with Katie and I as we drag her across America, around the town and through any number of kid events – from grade school open houses to camp performances. Despite the fact she raised three of her own, she never fails to be enthusiastic at all my daughter’s childhood events including fawning over artwork, strange homemade food and encounters with various living creatures my daughter finds fascinating.

is for rock on.
My mom’s been through some pretty crazy Hannah Montana dance parties. Despite Disney trying to possess my daughter’s mind, I can always count on my mom to crank up The Who or The Kinks and get my daughter rockin to classic rock and roll. There’s nothing better than watching my mom shake it while she refuses to get old.

So here’s to you mom, I couldn’t do it without you.

Happy Mother’s Day – and to all you rocking grannies in a cyber world – we love you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

DTV Transition: Does it discriminate? Is it equal opportunity television?

Still ranting on the topic of how our culture is becoming stratified I am kind of getting myself worked up about it. When I wrote my other blog, I had forgotten about the changes taking place in television in the US in 2009 (forgotten isn’t really the word, I have been in denial, deep denial). I think I am okay because I have cable – analog cable – but it’s a pipe and it delivers signal. The point is, I can afford cable. Yet many of my neighbors can’t.

And thus it continues: the plight of the haves versus the have nots.

In this case it raises a real issue that should concern us all. And the quote below nails the question: do we have the right to television?

"The prospect of good, honest, television-loving Americans losing their signal has caused a lot of hand wringing of late. According to a January survey by the National Association of Broadcasters, (only) 79 percent of Americans are aware of the transition. ... All this despite a huge information campaign and an incentive program that amounts to an investment by American taxpayers of up to $1.5 billion. ... That, to me, raises the question: Do Americans have a right to television? ... The question is not meant to be cynical. There is, after all, a public-interest rationale for as many people as possible to have access to the television medium. ... Nevertheless, it would be naive to think that television's primary function in most households is as an emergency alert or learning tool. And it's illuminating to put the government's $1.5 billion allocation in perspective. Consider: The proposed 2009 federal budget for adult basic and literacy education is $574.6 million."
-- Glenn Derene, Popular Mechanics' tech editor, questions the priorities reflected in the spending to get Americans ready for the digital TV conversion next year.

What is the benefit of over-the-air broadcast? Safety? Speed? Accessibility?

As I talked about this with my mom, she reminded me that we all use our portable televisions when there’s an earthquake and the power is out. It was huge for me in San Francisco in 1989. I didn’t have power for a few days but I could see what was happening on my battery powered television.

When September 11 happened, we all gathered round the television to watch events unfold and understand what – if anything - we needed to do. I believe over-the-air broadcast television is a public utility and cutting people off – people who may need it most because they don’t have access to computers, mobile phones or other technology – puts part of the population at risk including the elderly and the poor. Who is going to make sure my elderly neighbor is hooked up? What about the family in the trailer who doesn’t even have a phone?

And one more thing about what Glenn says above, is anyone else outraged that we are actually spending our tax dollars on subsidies that are helping cable companies get more business?! And we are spending three times more on this than on helping adults learn how to read!

Is it too late to cancel this party? To make it stop and leave everything alone? I would love to hear your thoughts.

DTV 2009: Don’t know what I am talking about? Here’s the scoop:

On February 17, 2009, the era of analog broadcast television in the United States will end. The nation's full power television stations will complete their transition to an all-digital system. While this change will mark the end of the traditional analog method of broadcasting over-the-air television, it won’t signal the end of free broadcast television, and your favorite broadcast programs and local television stations will still be available…

All you have to do is follow these easy instructions (yeah right):

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Kids and Tech: Are we Googling our way to a stratified society?

These are strange times. I listen to the news and worry about the price of gas, global warming and if my child will have a future. It’s almost surreal and yet I realize my parents and my grandparents also had things to worry about as they raised their children.

While my mind swirls with “big people” problems, I juxtapose these thoughts with the daily craziness that comes with raising an eight year old. I am not talking about homework, making sure the chickens are fed or the trials and tribulations of friendship. No, I am talking about the language the child is using!

In a world where technology changes as fast as the weather, my daughter can stop me in my tracks with the words she uses to manage her world – ripped from the headlines of the technology found around our house. Here’s just a sampling of what I am talking about:

“Mom, power off the car while I run in and pick up my jacket,” she said as she ran back to the classroom.

“Put it on pause just a second,” she said, asking me to stop talking for a moment while she ran to the bathroom.

“Let’s just delete those,” she muttered as we cleaned out old clothes from her dresser.

And of course, like any good household, the minute grandma forgets what she was going to say, my daughter suggests she just “Google it.” In fact, her answer to most things is to “Google it” and I hate to say it, but we do and it works!

I was a rhetoric major so I am comfortable with language and its evolution. But I wonder if we are heading into a
Max Headroom future where we will have a stratified society with those that are part of the information/technology world and those who are merely observers. If you remember the show, the way the bosses controlled the masses was to give them a steady stream of television. Make it free, manage the information and make sure the constant drone pacified everyone.

I see these differences happening even in my daughter’s small world. In our house we consume information. She’s exposed to the latest technology and she quickly adapts to new devices and services. But most of her friends, who have limited to little access to information and technology often don’t understand some of her references. She readily admits she can’t explain what her mother does because they just wouldn’t get it.

Thankfully in third grade, these differences aren’t deal breakers. But as she gets older, I can see how the kids will start to self-select. The techie kids hanging out with the other techies. So I wonder, are we heading toward a truly stratified society? And more importantly, will it matter if the polar icecaps melt and California ends up under water? Can you see why my head is spinning? These are strange times.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wrist Strong with Stephen Colbert on our trip to Washington DC

We also dropped in on Obama and Hillary!

I read a headline today that caught my attention, “How Do People Find the Time to Watch Television?” Boy, I ask myself that all the time. I should quickly tell you that this great headline was in a blog I read called TechDirt which is a hot read of you like tech, law and culture. Anyway, back to television.

The point of the article was about a shift we are all making from passive media to interactive media. For me, it really is the difference between having content spewed at you and actually finding a way to make it personal and relevant to your life. And as I thought about it, this is what’s been happening around our house. It’s totally cool and I have a very recent example!

My eight year old daughter has been very engaged with this year’s election. Like so many of her older peers, she loves Obama and really wants him to win. Her interest in politics has been nourished by the media (we watch Good Morning America during breakfast). We decided to turn it into a trip to Washington DC for spring break. With her growing interest in government and the process, it seemed like a natural fit.

In DC, we spent a great deal of time in the Senate buildings – did you know there are three? – and visited Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton’s office. The staff in both offices were very kind and open to having a family drift in and check things out. Katie was truly excited to be that close to the candidates. It made something she has seen on television very real.

Signing Barak's book was memorable.

Clinton's office is a beautiful butter yellow. Very feminine.

We also stopped at the National Portrait Gallery – a place we might have missed if it hadn’t been television – because we had to see a very important portrait. No, not George Washington. Not Thomas Jefferson (have you ever noticed his profile looks remarkably similar to Steve Carell?). No this man focuses on “truthiness.” If you watch Comedy Central you know I am talking about Stephen Colbert.

Jefferson and Carell share a profile - can you see it?

Because she watches the occasional Colbert Report, she knew his portrait would be hanging near the bathroom in the National Portrait Gallery while we were there. So we added the Gallery to our itinerary and took a photo of her showing her Wrist Strong (her wrist was anything but – it was broken) with Stephen’s portrait. Once again, TV came to life.

When Colbert broke his wrist, he founded Wrist Strong! We salute him!

So what does this all mean? That my kid watches too much television? No, she really doesn’t but her mom is a current events junkie. What I think it does mean for today’s youth, the gap between what they see on television and what is real is much smaller. They might actually put TV more in perspective than what it was when I grew up. That interaction is an important component of their media experience – be it online or in person – and they believe they have the power to question, interpret and participate.

I bet these kinds of things are happening in your house too. Pay attention. See what you notice. And then please, share your stories.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Burger King, McDonalds: My daughter asks, “Why are fast food meal toys so stupid?”

Yep, that’s what she asks every time we order a kids meal at a fast food restaurant. She’s eight and has actually been asking this for a long time. Over the years, we have accumulated – like millions of household across America – tons of fast food toy crap. Little plastic things that really don’t do very much (except one truly awesome telescope that still works).

Now that Katie is older, she wonders why these companies would want to do so much to destroy the planet. She understands that these toys have no value – in fact they are worse than a long walk to the land fill. In most cases, they are so useless they are never touched again beyond the visit to the restaurant. (See our photos for examples.)

From Taco Bell: football in April. "Mom, these aren't for girls!"

From Burger King: Squidward "High Low" toy. You actually need two of these to get the full stupid effect. You manually move the numbers of both toys to see who got "high" and who got "low." Really.

Carl's Jr: Bee Movie car. "Mom, that's for babies." Except babies can't have them. No one under three years old can have them. So why give them away at all?

Since I am in marketing, I try to explain to her that toys have become something consumers expect in a kids meal and that they are often used to get children to demand a particular brand when choosing a fast food meal, “please mommy, we must go to McDonalds because they have Dunder Mifflin bobble heads!” sort of thing.

Katie simply doesn’t buy it. She says she’d actually makes her eating decisions based on the food served (or, let’s face it, where I take her) and she does like getting a present with her meal, but she’d prefer something that didn’t hurt the earth. So she offered me a few ideas. I think she’s on to something and with that, I challenge the fast food industry to think twice about what they are doing and try an little innovation.

Here’s Katie’s List of How to Make Meal Toys Better:

iTunes: even at eight, she loves iTunes. Since a song is 99 cents, we realize one song per meal would be too much, but if three visits to the same place equaled one tune, collecting iTunes credits would be worth it – and would make her want to go back to the same place.

Webkinz: she needs cash in Webkinz World. If she were to get a Webkinz collectible trading card (think about the exclusive potential here) it would give her added powers and points for her Webkinz account. With a decent partnership, it could get her access to new worlds or games.

Earth-Friendly Collectibles: she cares about animals – a lot. She’d love to get trading cards with information about different animals that she could share with kids at school or interact with on the web. Maybe for every card code she enters, money goes to saving the rain forest. From frogs to polar bears to lady bugs, she wants to learn about these things and save them from extinction.

Relationship Cards: she doesn’t really know what to call this but what she’s looking for is a way to get more information about the characters on shows she cares about (iCarly, Hannah Montana, etc.). Getting “inside scoop” is meaningful to her and gives her a social advantage with her friends. To keep it earth friendly, the “key” could again come on a card with an SMS text number or web code where a bevy of paperless information could be provided to her.

Sometimes I am amazed at her ideas. I think they have merit, would be “green”, would meet the needs of most children and could be used to create interaction rather than landfill. All her ideas could last much longer than a stupid plastic toy and could actually create more of a relationship with her as a consumer not just with the fast food brand, but with the secondary brand (Hannah Montana, endangered animals, Webkinz, etc.) as well.

Katie and I would love know how you feel about the toys in your kids meal. We also want your ideas for premiums that don’t involve plastic or pollute the earth. Ideas? Thoughts? Let us know!