The 411 on 350, 400, and 450 ppm

Yesterday, we featured one of the most famous and important infographics in science – the Keeling Curve. When Charles Keeling started collecting measurements of the atmosphere’s CO2 levels in 1958, they were at 315 parts per million (ppm). Last year, climate scientists anxiously watched – as should we all – as these levels surpassed 400 ppm, something never before seen in human history. This makes the number 400 a symbolic infographic in itself.

Credit: EcoWatch

Credit: EcoWatch

Why is 400 significant? It’s not just breaking the century mark. It is showing us that we are just 50 points to the next big number you’ll be hearing about – 450 ppm. At 450 ppm, there’s a 50/50 chance that the earth’s climate will be so changed that it will lead to dangerous and deadly consequences. Ralph Keeling, the son of Charles Keeling and who is also a  professor at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography like his father was, predicts we will hit the 450 ppm reading in less than 25 years if we continue down the same path we are currently on. So, if you are 25 now, your 50 year birthday may include a radically different environment. If you’re 50, your retirement years on Florida’s beaches may not look like the place to be. And if you are just now being born, you may never know a perfectly temperate spring season.

 Those who will be most affected by climate change are the poorest people on our planet. The next 25 years could bring an increase in floods, extreme heat waves, devastating storms, and food shortages where the people most in need will also be the most exposed to these dangers.

In an attempt to limit damage from climate change, many countries have put in place a target CO2 level of 450 ppm. However, the world’s two largest emitters of CO2, the U.S. and China, have refrained from adopting their own binding national targets.

An infographic of the global climate footprint.  (Credit: Carbon Action)

An infographic of the global climate footprint.
(Credit: Carbon Action)

Most environmental organizations in the U.S. endorse the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, also known as the Wasman-Markey Climate Bill and its stated goal of 450 ppm. This backing was due an assessment that 450 ppm is the most feasible goal for the political conditions. This strategy relies more on incremental reform, assuming there is time for national legislation and negotiations to bring about international cooperation and enforcement.

Credit: Grist Magazine, Inc.

Credit: Grist Magazine, Inc.

As the numbers are showing, our climate is nothing to procrastinate about. So, there are counter groups that advocate for a more aggressive goal of 300-350 ppm. One of these advocate groups has made their mission their namesake –  These advocates reason that climate change is abrupt and irreversible and that we should counteract this reality by being quick, vast, blunt, and global in our reduction of CO2 emissions.

Numbers are important and you’re going to see a lot of them in the coming years. These numbers raise issues like what do we need to do to change course and adapt? Great questions and the subject of our next post: infographics about what you can do to make a difference.

The Collaborative Service Blog Team

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The infographic that curved the conversation on Climate Change

Last week, we introduced you to the art and science of infographics. These visuals communicate complex information in its most distilled form, which makes them often the most understood form. From a stop sign to a flow chart, valuable information is relayed to the viewer in these graphics. Where newspapers  told the story in the headline and caption, modern communication is more and more relying on these graphics to relay hundreds of pieces of information within the timeframe it takes you to glance at it.

This week, we present you with infographics about the most critical issue  - climate change. It’s easy to make a hard topic like climate change too complex to understand. What’s difficult is to make it easy to understand. This is where infographics can do the talking and very effectively so.

We start with one of the most well known and reputable infographics of our time – the Keeling Curve. Developed right here in San Diego by Scripps Institute of Oceanography’s Professor Charles Keeling in 1958, he started collecting the data shown in this curve and created the basis to project the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2). So important is this curve that if you flew across the country to Washington D.C. and walked into National Academy of Sciences, there you would see the same curve carved into its wall. Keeling’s son Ralph who works as the CO2 Director also at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography continues his work today.

Credit: Climate Central)

The Keeling Curve (Credit: Climate Central)

What is CO2 and why track it? Well, CO2 comes from a variety of natural sources and human-related emissions. Since the Industrial Revolution when we started powering our lifestyles on the combustion of fossil fuels, we’ve contributed more CO2 to the environment than it can absorb. This extra CO2 along with other gases are trapping heat in the atmosphere and that is causing the climate to change.

The Keeling Curve is important for many reasons: it shows where we were at the time the curve was developed. It shows us where we were headed. It shows us how quickly we would get to where we were headed. It introduced us to an important number – the number 400. And within its graph, its red lines show annual spikes and dips of CO2 levels, as well as the continuous upward trajectory.

We estimate that you can look at the Keeling Curve and within seconds start to understand and gain the benefit of over a half a century of research. Within that graphic, daily measurements of atmospheric CO2 concentrations from the Mauna Loa Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii are communicated to you.

You might ask, why Mauna Loa? The answer is many reasons. Keeling found the upper-north face of the Mauna Loa volcano to be the perfect location to track the atmosphere’s CO2 levels. It’s isolated location was free from human activity like factories and vegetation like forests that could influence the readings. And its sampling location is normally upwind of the volcano’s vent. This allowed it to take the most accurate samples from incoming clean breezes directly from the ocean. Keeling also perfected methods for detecting and correcting intervals with the wind blew the wrong way.

The Mauna Loa Observatory (Credit: Global High-Resolution H-alpha Network)

The Mauna Loa Observatory
(Credit: Global High-Resolution H-alpha Network)

Keeling spent his lifetime developing the data that the Keeling Curve allows all of us to see and know in moments. We thank him for his efforts and we thank this graphic for showing us our starting point, as well as our trajectory. We share many things and one of them is the environment we live in. The Keeling Curve gives us a  better opportunity to know what is happening with that environment.

Next up, more about that number, 400.

The Collaborative Services Blog Team

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Full is Fun: Our Latest Public Service Announcement

As we continue our exploration of visual communications this month, we wanted to share a visual delight that our multi-disciplinary team of communications and creative professionals produced. Featured below is a 30-second stop motion public service announcement we developed for the City of San Diego’s “San Diegans Waste No Water” program. The purpose of the PSA is to provide a water-saving tip to thank San Diegans for their good work. The “indoor” tip of washing only full loads of dishes was selected. To communicate that in San Diego water conservation is an enjoyable way of life, the message “Full is Fun” was defined. The visuals in the PSA reflect that fun spirit. And without further ado, here is the City of San Diego’s most recent effort to encourage conservation during our region’s drought.


We hope you enjoyed watching this fun form of visual communications as much as we enjoyed making it. New readers, please stay tuned the rest of this month as the Collaborative Services blog team continues our series.

This summer we will transition from the ways we communicate visually to the ways we communicate with words. As professional word lovers, we will take a few months to share with you all things related to words including their origins, word choice, and slang, jargon or acronyms. Updates are posted weekly via Facebook and @CollabServInc on Twitter.

Edward Tufte: The Galileo of InfoGraphics

This month our blog is exploring visual communications. We are looking at everything from cave art to signage to infographics and beyond. Understanding visual communications such as infographics will help you identify ways you can communicate better and will help your audience have a better grasp on the information you are presenting.

When a designer hears “infographics” there is one name that comes to mind – Edward R. Tufte. So much so, he is even referred to as the “Galileo of Graphics.” Tufte recently explained in an interview with NPR that he is secretly working to make people smarter. Citing the strong connection between fine art and the sciences, his writings assert that the best data visualizations will pique audience’s interest and encourage reasoning.

A self-described generalist, Tufte holds a bachelors and masters degree in statistics from Stanford and a PhD in political science from Yale. His philosophy is that data visualization – the process of presenting information visually – is a necessary endeavor relevant to all disciplines.

Tufte’s most acclaimed book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, is accepted as a classic reference tool on the design of data visualization. Shown below, the second edition of this book includes the fundamentals of infographic design and an evaluation of 250 full color graphs, charts, and tables.



Tufte’s acclaim in the subject of infographics largely stems from his bold – and sometimes disputed – assertions on how best to present data. In his multiple writings on data visualization, Tufte has explored the concept of “chartjunk.” This is additional information on a graph, chart, or table that is not necessary to process the data being presented. He cited the  graph shown below as an example of chartjunk. Chartjunk goes hand-in-hand with his “data-ink ratio,” or the amount of ink used to represent data divided by the amount of ink used to print the graphic as a whole. Tufte explains that this ratio ought to be 1, as further ink beyond what’s needed to display the most information detracts from the data itself. Tufte-Chartjunk

Instead, Tufte proposes methods for presenting data that showcase the full breadth of information in a way that is concise and non-disruptive to the reader. In his book Beautiful Evidence, Tufte coins the term “sparkline,” calling these miniature visual cues “Intense, simple, word-sized graphics.” In the following example from Beautiful Evidence, the sparklines demonstrate glucose levels at text height and without pulling the readers attention. In addition to medical data, sparklines are frequently used to convey current stock market conditions, and in today’s digital age can be produced in real-time.

"Sparklines: Intense, simple, word-sized graphics" - Edward Tufte in his book Beautiful Evidence


Another takeaway from Tufte is the success of presenting small multiples. He explains that simplistic side-by-side comparisons of data on the same axis or chart are generally well understood. An example from Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information shown below shows the idea of color coordination through small multiples.



How can Tufte’s teachings apply to your line of work?

Consider this: as a fervent opponent of PowerPoint, he has blamed the program for becoming a crutch on which presenters rely on for the outline of their speaking topics. Rather than depicting clear data that evokes reasoning, he asserts that PowerPoint provides an easy means to oversimplify data in favor of concluding a presentation.

Instead, he recommends briefing your audience with a fact-sheet distributed at the beginning of a presentation before delving into the material. To see Tufte present on his work, take a look at the video below that shows highlights from his lecture at Intelligence Squared in London in 2010.

Data visualization is an integral part of nearly all fields. Where have you seen blaring examples of chartjunk or the successful presentation of small multiples? Better yet, how can Tufte’s teachings improve the presentation and visualization of data you interact with in your line of work?

Julia Smith, Project Assistant
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Visual Communications: The Stop Sign Nears Its Centennial

Stop, look, and listen. Stop, drop, and roll. Stop in the name of love. No matter how or where it is used, you know what to do when you see that red octagon emblazoned with bold white letters that spell out S-T-O-P. We wanted to learn about the origin of this international symbol and share our findings with you this week as we continue our series on visual communications. Road signs are all around us. But have you ever thought about their color, shape, or height? The design of these forms of visual communications are thoughtfully planned. The stop sign originated in Michigan, the state home to the motor city Detroit, where else? It turns 100 next year. The first stop signs looked much different than those we have today. They were originally 24 x 24 inches with black lettering on a white background. To get to the design we know today wasn’t easy and didn’t happen overnight.

One of the first stop signs installed in Los Angeles, circa 1925 Credit: USC Libraries

One of the first stop signs installed in Los Angeles, circa 1925
(Credit: USC Libraries)

In the 1920s, not all stop signs looked alike which could cause driver confusion. So, in 1922 the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) decided that stop signs should be standardized. The octagonal shape was selected as it allowed drivers facing the back of the sign to identify it and know that oncoming drivers will be required to stop. Another reason for the octagonal design was so it could be more easily identified at night as the original stop signs were not reflective. AASHO later merged with its main competitor, the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety (NCSHS) to form the Joint Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. In 1935 this new committee published the first Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) creating the official specifications for the stop sign. Previously NCSHS had wanted the stop sign to be a smaller pink-on-yellow sign. Nearly twenty years later in 1954, the white lettering on a red background was selected for the stop sign. Red was used because it already signified a stop on traffic lights. This decision unified the color red as a requirement for motorists to stop whether they saw it approaching a sign or traffic light. While the MUTCD stop sign we know today was widely used throughout the United States after its standardization, it didn’t became a law for motorists until 1966.

Collection of STOP signs from the 1920′s through 1950′s Credit:

But the history of the stop sign doesn’t STOP here. It went global. The MUTCD stop sign came under international consideration during the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals in 1968 as part of the effort to to increase safety by standardizing road traffic signage. The convention was agreed to by the United Nations Economic Commission and Social Council at its conference on Road Traffic that same year. The convention produced a treaty that specified ‘stop’ should be written in English or the country’s national language. A yellow circular sign was also determined to be an acceptable alternative to the standard stop sign at the convention.

Various international stop signs, each with STOP written in English or the country's native language Credit:

Various international stop signs, each with STOP written in English or the country’s national language

The stop sign we know and use today has come a long way since its beginnings in Michigan. In fact, it represents one thing the international community agrees on. It shows even the visual communications we take for granted may have undergone an intricate design process. Do you have a favorite piece of signage? Feel free to share it with us and any history you may know about it.

The Collaborative Services Blog Team

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Visual Communications: The first motion pictures

This month we start our series on visual communications. We are looking at visual communications because they are all around us. They surpass language barriers. They record our history. Our first look is at some of the earliest forms of visual communications known to be created by humans: cave paintings from ancient societies dating back 30,000 to 40,000 years. These paintings told stories of struggles and successes.

While these paintings may appear to be artistically simple, there is actually more than meets the eye behind many pieces of cave art. These first forms of visual communications may have been intended to produce the illusion of movement.

A painted rhino appears to be shaking it's head Credit:

A painted rhino appears to be shaking it’s head

Archeologist Marc Azéma and artist Florent Rivère have spent the past twenty years researching paleolithic animation. According to their research, one method for creating these early motion pictures was to superimpose the same image in slightly different stances to make images of animals appear to be in motion, as is seen with the eight-legged bison piece discovered at Chauvet Cave in France and featured below. Azéma and Rivère  found this latter technique used with fifty-three images in twelve caves.

The eight legged bison found in Chauvet Cave (Credit: Above Top Secret)

The eight legged bison found in Chauvet Cave
(Credit: Above Top Secret)

Another example that supports Azéma and Rivère’s research is the use of bone disks with engravings of an animal sitting on one side and standing on the other side. This may have been an early version of the popular 19th century toy the thaumatrope that when spun fast enough merged the two images to create a combined animated image. In this case the animal would appear to be changing positions.

An example of a 19th century thaumatrope toy. (Credit: St. Anastasia Catholic School)

An example of a 19th century thaumatrope toy.
(Credit: St. Anastasia Catholic School)

Azéma and Rivère also hypothesize that some cave art was created sequentially and intended to be read in that order, like a comic strip, long before Marvel Comics created the superheroes we know today.

What are the earliest forms of visual information you remember from your life?

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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How do we get what we see?

Credit: Sign Art Plus

Credit: Sign Art Plus

Over the past couple of months, we have discussed how the way we communicate is changing. We featured how our world and the 4th Estate have become more visual and the history leading up to that, as well as online and social media tools that are changing the way we report and receive our news.

This month, we shift our focus to visual communications. We often don’t realize how much we rely on visual communications or understand the process behind coming up with what we see. Many of you use visual communications to navigate your way through your daily life and understand the world.

Beyond being necessary for many of us, visual communications help enhance information. Adding an image to text brings a story to life. While the concept of putting art and copy together revolutionized the advertising industry in the 1960′s, visual communications have been used for thousands of years. Ancient communities told stories and recorded their history with cave paintings before there were formal words. The industrial revolution brought change to economic development, new manufacturing processes and an expanded transportation system. These advances created new needs for signage. Visual communications can aid in the learning process and help you to more throughly grasp information. Today, picture dictionaries are used to teach children their language and to teach adults a foreign language. Visual communications are in large part how we get information to make decisions.

Like all information, you have to be a wise user of it. So we’ll end the month evaluating visual information. We hope you enjoy.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services

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Goodbye Social Media. Hello Visual Communications.

Credit: mediabistro

Credit: mediabistro

In March, we took you through the evolution of social media. We interviewed the experts and got their take on how to succeed in a field that is constantly changing. We talked to a professor and author about how important it is for journalism to adapt to the digital age. We talked to the annual awards ceremony that honors the best in social media and found out what criteria they use to determine their selections. We ended by talking to a top government agency that is creating social media that is out of this world, reaching new audiences and keeping journalistic standards in tact through their social media credential program.

Our goals were to show you that every industry can use these resources and how to catch up if you’ve fallen behind. The bottom line is that these resources make it easier for your community to get engaged and participate, increasing your odds of better meeting their needs and expectations.

We want to thank our interviewees -

Credit: Whiny Pencil

Credit: Whiny Pencil

This month we will focus on another way we communicate – through visual information. We will feature the common, the important and the unique visual communications that are all around you and learn why they were chosen for their intended communication purpose.

We hope you stay with us and share the visual communications you like or want to know more about. See you (pun intended) soon.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services

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Social media that is out of this world

Democracy depends on participation. Participation depends on transparency. Transparency depends on sharing information. That’s where social media comes in.

Tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are increasing the information you have access to. And public agencies are using these tools as ways to gain and keep public trust by providing that information: early, often and in ways that give you as direct of an experience as possible.

NASA is one of the top government agencies giving you a behind the scenes look at their work and providing you outlets to get involved.

Last year NASA was named the 8th most engaged brand on Twitter. It also won back-to-back Shorty Awards for best government use of social media. Ever since their launch into social media in 2008 with their @MarsPhoenix Twitter account, NASA has proven that they know how to navigate cyber space just as well as outer space. Today, @NASA on Twitter has 6.19 million followers and growing, the most of any federal government agency.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

One of the agency’s most engaging programs, NASA Social provides opportunities for active social media users to learn more about NASA’s missions, people and programs and share this information with their followers.

Earlier this month, we told you about NASA’s Social Media Accreditation program. Active social media users who earn these social media credentials gain unprecedented access to NASA Social events including space launches and their budget roll-out. They are treated the same as traditional media. This program aims to keep the standards of the 4th Estate in tact while gaining more exposure for the work of the agency in the realm of the 5th Estate. It also helps NASA to reach new audiences beyond those of it’s more than 450 different social media accounts.

This week we hear from John Yembrick, NASA’s social media manager. He tells us more about the NASA Socials program, how social media is creating new journalistic standards and shares NASA’s secret to social media success. We hope you enjoy his insights.

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What inspired the NASA Social program?
Government agencies such as NASA can sometimes feel large, cold and walled off. The NASA Social program, formerly the NASA Tweetup program, began as a way to open our doors to the public and provide them with an inside, behind the scenes look at what their space agency is doing. In exchange, we hope that the NASA Social guests get inspired by what they’re seeing and communicate it to their friends and followers on social media.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Entry into a NASA Social is not randomly granted. Can you explain the criteria you used to select participants and why?
There are different types of NASA Social programs, and each has a different requirement. A traditional NASA Social simply asks that you be active on social media. In a sense, it’s not entirely random because we do review people’s accounts to ensure that they’re not only on social media, but that they actively post content. We also review posts to look for inappropriate content in posts that aren’t family friendly or are spam. That said, as long as someone is active on social media, they can be randomly chosen. We don’t pick favorites. We do allow for a few VIP slots for highly influential folks or people who may reach a different demographic. But overall, we don’t judge someone’s value based on the number of followers they have. We often have many first-time NASA Social participants who have small, yet active followings.

We also have a NASA Social Accreditation, which basically badges NASA Social guests the same as news media. For these Socials, we also try our best to mirror the experiences with social guests and journalists. For a Social Accreditation, it’s certainly not random. Folks fill out an application instead of a registration form and are evaluated against the stated criteria. We are generally looking for robustly active users who are followed by audiences that NASA doesn’t fully reach organically.

What other agencies do you think are breaking new ground in using social media?
Overall the Federal Government has made strides to improve the quality (and quantity) of information being shared via social media. A few examples of great things include the U.S. Department of Education’s #askFAFSA office hours that provide amazing customer service to student loan applicants. Also impressive is the U.S. Department of the Interior use of visual imagery to share America’s public lands via social media, especially Instagram. These are just two of many incredible examples of the federal government meeting the challenge of communicating with citizens using social media.

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover  (Credit NASA/JPL-CALTECH)

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover

An important part of social media is personality, and “having personality” often means offering an opinion. What is the personality NASA is trying to project through its social media?
As an agency, we have over 450 total social media accounts, and with that come a variety of voices. But our overall goal is clean the windows so the public can get a clear view of what their space program is doing. To do this effectively, we aim to write creative posts with compelling images. The @MarsCuriosity account, for example, tweets in the first person, humanizing the rover and helping to make it more relatable. Is the rover tweeting? Of course not. It’s three brilliant women from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. At the end of the day, we represent the agency, so it’s NASA’s work, messages and goals we try and communicate.

How do you balance your followers’ opinions with that of NASA?
NASA doesn’t project an opinion. We’re neutral in a sense. There are members of the public that don’t always agree with the direction of the agency, and many of them aren’t shy about telling us on social media. This, I believe, is a good thing. Before social media, there was very little way we could communicate directly with these people, but today we have a channel to respond to their questions and clear up mis-perceptions. You can’t always change people’s minds, but powerful content often has a way of slowly convincing people the value of space exploration and how it impacts their lives.

What is the most significant way you’ve seen social media change the news industry?
I’m a career government public affairs officer. I spent many years writing and distributing news releases, pitching stories and catering to news media. We had no choice. If the media didn’t report what we were doing, it’s likely no one would know. For an agency like NASA, that is literally making new discoveries daily about the universe and benefiting the world we live in, that’s a huge disservice to the public. I always understood that there’s only so much ink in a newspaper, but the digital world is here, so if you want to know about what NASA’s doing, we can open that door for you. The news industry no longer has to be the single source for information, and that’s made a significant difference to how we’re connecting with the public. We’re telling our own story.

It’s funny, we as an agency still spend a lot of time crafting news releases. That voice – “NASA announced today that…” – isn’t appropriate for social media. Many journalists get their information directly from social media. We see it happen all the time at NASA. Stories get reported that never had a news release associated with them.

In general, what journalistic standards should apply reporting via social media?
That’s a great question, because we often forget the importance of having standards when posting to social media. There are a few simple ones, such as referencing a source and being timely. Credibility matters for any brand, and there’s a lot of responsibility for us to post content in a professional manner. Therefore, we try and use AP Style when posting and not abbreviate unless absolutely necessary. We always avoid slang and poor grammar. Above all, accuracy matters. When we write a news release, 15 people may review it before it goes out. But with a tweet, it might be just one person at their computer. We try our best to ensure we fact check before we publish.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Has social media created any new standards?
We’ve worked to transform the way our public affairs officers think about how they do their jobs. Social media has to be thought of for every NASA discovery and news story. For example, news conferences used to be the standard way we broke big stories. But also, we have to write content in a way that is relatable to our followers. This includes using the right terminology. Internally, we’ll call it an extra vehicular activity or EVA – but everyone else will know it as a spacewalk. That’s important to know if we are to be effective communicators and social media has given us an instant feedback mechanism as our followers modify our tweets and posts to change the wording. It’s examples we can learn from all the time.

Of the 100 most followed Twitter accounts, last year’s Nestivity Study determined that NASA was one of the most engaged brands. What do you think sets NASA’s social media presence apart from the rest?
One word: content. Jason Townsend, my colleague and NASA’s Deputy Social Media Manager, and I are proud of the work we do to share space exploration with the world using social media, but at the end of the day, our job of engaging the public is easier than most. After all, we’re sharing stories that fundamentally change our understanding of the universe. We’re posting images of Earth from the International Space Station and of planets and distant galaxies. Who else can do that?

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Social media is increasingly becoming a political force. Were you expecting the largely supportive reaction NASA received via social media during the government shutdown?
There are few things that make me as proud as when the community posted #ThingsNASAMightTweet during the government shutdown. Our community on social media, which is made up of many NASA Social alumni, is powerful when motivated. The level of support for NASA during the shutdown wasn’t random. It was based on people’s love and commitment for something that inspires them and influences their lives. When a NASA Social concludes, people return to their lives, and often go back to posting about things other than space exploration, and that’s okay. But we like to think we helped make a positive impact on their lives, and that was on display during the shutdown.

What can people look forward to from the NASA Social Program this year?
We’re constantly learning and evolving. There isn’t a day that goes by that Jason and I don’t see a way that we could do things differently and better. I suspect you’ll see us share and package our live programs a little differently to be more engaging. We want to have the NASA Social community at the table with us, asking questions and making suggestions. We want to transform the experience where the public goes from observing what NASA is doing to participating with us.

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We look forward to following all of the great content NASA posts on its social media accounts. If you are an active social media user interested in applying for the NASA’s Social Media Accreditation Program click here for upcoming opportunities. For all the ways you can follow NASA on social media click here.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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The Shorty Awards: Growing at the speed of social media

The Shorty AwardsTelevision has the Emmys. Theater has the Tonys. Film has the Oscars. Social media has The Shorty Awards. Now in its 6th year, The Shorty Awards honor the people and organizations producing real-time short form content on social media sites. In just six years, the Shorty Awards have grown from what was originally anticipated to be a small casual gathering among friends at a bar to a star-studded and highly anticipated event. Presenters and honorees have included Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, George Takei, Rachel Maddow, Suze Orman and Shaquille O’Neal, not to mention the millions of people who participate each year by tweeting their nominations.

Each year, The Shorty Awards offers a bevy of nominations divided into categories for “Everyone” and categories for “Brands and Agencies.” Categories that everyone can enter include: Entertainment, News and Media, Technology and Innovation, Arts and Design, Global Issues, Countries and new Community Categories that are created by tweeting a nomination and adding a hashtag for the new category. Categories specific to brands and agencies include: Industry, Twitter, Facebook, Social Network, Mobile, Integrated Media, Social Content, Overall Agency and Overall Brand.

As we continue our series on online and social media, we wanted to end this Awards Season with a bang, or maybe a tweet. This week, we hear from Greg Galant, co-creator of The Shorty Awards. Greg gives you a look inside the history of the awards, the latest  trends, how a site can continue to hold its ground in the ever-evolving world of social media and the fascination with selfies. We hope you enjoy his insight.

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How did the idea for the Shorty Awards originate? How did these awards get their start?
The idea came in late 2008. Twitter was still pretty small. It was within its first couple years of its existence, but we noticed there was something different about it than anything that had come before it like Facebook or Friendster or Myspace. People were actually creating good content that they wanted to share with people other than their friends. It was really hard to know who to follow if you were interested in news or sports or politics.

We built the Shorty Awards in two weekends. The idea was to create the first-ever site to crowd source who’s the best in what topic. It was the first site ever where you could vote with a tweet. When we first launched the site, we thought we might get a handful of people together in a bar to celebrate the winners and crank out certificates on our ink jet. Within 24 hours it went so viral it became the top trending term on Twitter. Nobody knew what a Shorty Award was, but they knew they wanted to win one. Also, over that time Twitter tripled in size. It was hard to conceive of Twitter being all that big at the time, but of course it grew like crazy.

Where did the name Shorty Awards come from?
We had an $8 branding budget which is what it costs to buy a domain name on We wanted to think of an original name and the distinguishing thing about Twitter is that it is for short content. Not just Twitter, this had expanded out to all of social media and humanity in general. Depending on the translation the 10 commandments are all under 140 characters as are Twitter and most Facebook status updates, hence the Shorty Awards.

The Shorty Awards are in their 6th year and honor everyone from celebrities, journalists, athletes, politicians, brands, agencies and people from all walks of life. How does someone get nominated for a Shorty Award?
Every year hundreds of thousands of people are nominated. All it takes is for someone to tweet out “I nominate @(fill in name or company) for #(fill in category name/word/key term).” You can also submit nominations via our website. Nominations are for what you do on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. We have categories for animated GIFs and Vines and Instagram. We honor any form of social media.

The winners in each category are ultimately chosen by the members of the Real-Time Academy. Who makes up this academy and what criteria do they use to differentiate the best from the rest?
It’s a whole bunch of luminaries – anyone from Alyssa Milano to Kurt Anderson to Steve Wozniak, you can see them all at They look at a few things to choose the winners depending on each category. A lot of it comes down to how good of a job does the nominee does of listening to their audience, creating content to share on social media and how good of a job do they do at talking about a topic in interesting ways. They also look at who is innovating with all of these platforms. I remember the first time I used Twitter back in 2007, I thought it was awful because the people I followed weren’t tweeting anything interesting and weren’t being clever with it. It’s all about who has figured out a clever way to use Twitter or Vine or Instagram or Facebook to really delight their audience or inform them in a unique way.



Social media is helping communications of all kinds be more visual. We are moving from using 140 character tweets to using a photo on Instagram or a six second video on Vine. What are your thoughts about social media’s impact on communications becoming more visual?
It’s been kind of a roller coaster. I remember when I was growing up the big criticism of my generation was that nobody was reading or writing anymore, all we were doing is going home and watching TV, which was largely true. We now have had this revolution where the first generation of the web and social media has been all about reading and writing. Look at Twitter and Facebook, which have gotten more visual, but where it started was reading what your friends wrote and writing status messages. It was something inconceivable 20 years ago, but kids were going home and they were reading and writing to communicate with their friends. It’s been sort of a renaissance. Apps now do have audio and photos, but the thrust of it really is people writing text to each other. You’re now seeing it’s becoming a richer place for both reading and writing. It’s hard to understate the value, but there is a lot more visual media getting created too.

There are Shorty Award categories for Social Media’s Best Journalist and Best Newsworthy Photo. How do you think journalistic standards are evoking in the social media realm?
My company, Sawhorse Media, also created another product called Muck Rack giving journalists a place to connect using social media. With that, we’ve seen it grow from 150 journalists to more than 20,000 journalists. Just like with the Shorty Awards, it’s been wild to watch this revolution take place with journalists. What’s interesting is that journalists used to apologize for being on Twitter. Now, we are seeing journalists apologizing for not being on Twitter. The few who aren’t on Twitter know that they should be. It’s transformative because it’s the first time in history journalists can write something without having to go through an editor. With a newspaper they had to ask their editor, and even with blogs they wouldn’t be allowed to blog unless their editor or outlet approved it, which they usually wouldn’t. It’s a completely different mode now where journalists have a direct connection with their audience. They can write whatever they want, as long as they don’t go too far and get fired. I think it’s a good thing because they have a new way to get their name out there and spread their stories. It’s a really rich sea of potential sources and scoops.

What do you think social media does best when it comes to delivering the news? What are some examples of this?
I think one thing that’s really nice about it is that you get to see a bit of how the news sausage is made. You used to have to wait until the story came out. I used to work at and I remember it was always tough because you would see a story come across the wire, then get on TV and then on the web like everything else. Now, you can see the news spread instantly. This really struck home for me when there was an earthquake in New York a couple years ago. I saw tweets about an earthquake in Washington D.C. and seconds later I felt the building shake. I would have thought the building was falling down, but having the context that there was just an earthquake in D.C. I put it together, but it took that level of being instantaneous. Faster than the speed of an earthquake.

It’s great for finding out breaking news, but even more interesting is that you can see how a story is evolving especially if you follow journalists. Such a big portion of tweets have links in them so you are also getting into commentary and getting to see what other people are thinking about a story. Are people debunking facts in it? Are they backing it up? Are they questioning sources? Instead of reading the newspaper alone it’s as though you are sitting around with 20 smart people instantly giving their take on what this article means.

Credit: Mashable

Credit: Mashable

Facebook just celebrated its 10th anniversary, quite a feat when it comes to the ever-evolving world of social media. How do social media sites and applications manage to stay relevant with new competition continuously emerging?
To always change. With Facebook,  it is a completely different product than when it launched and it’s a completely different product than what it was five years ago, and I imagine in five years it will be hard to recognize it from what it is today. What they have done really brilliantly is handle that initial reaction to change by humans and particularly internet users, you look at this negative backlash. I remember when Facebook launched the newsfeed, the largest Facebook group was “I hate the newsfeed.” Facebook has had the courage to try and change their product to be more relevant to what they think people want and what they will want in the future. Having the guts not to just do what the crowd wants in the short term, but also knowing when to listen when you actually have screwed up, which everybody does and change. Facebook has been able to get that mix right and I think that’s why they are still doing great 10 years later, despite being called a fad for 9 of these years.

“Selfie” was declared Word of the Year for 2013. What do you believe is the fascination with this particular use of social media?
We added the “Selfie of the Year ” category this year and I’m still trying to understand what it all means. For 20 years people thought that video conferencing was the way of the future. Even now we can video conference with Facetime or Skype, but not a lot of people do it because once you know what the person looks like it doesn’t really add that much to just hear someone talk. I think the selfie is like the still video conference. It goes back to what I was saying about writing. It’s a form of creation where instead of just consuming things with TV or newspapers, people can express themselves and create something to share.

What’s on the horizon for social media? Are there any new sites, applications or other trends that are on the verge of becoming the next big thing?
The trend of short-form video like we have seen on Vine and Instagram will continue to play out. I think this kind of flip on social media, making things more ephemeral and making things anonymous is going to be pretty powerful. Of course there is Snapchat, which has grown a lot and other apps like Secret where you can post anonymously to your graph of contacts. For users it’s not unlike Twitter or Facebook in that the user doesn’t use it to text each other one-on-one, but to share an idea or a photo or a video with everybody they know. What they are posting isn’t anything more inappropriate than the type of stuff people are posting to Facebook – selfies, photos of their meals, things like that. It’s a funny world that we live in that anything you put on the web is going to be on the web forever or at least until one of these sites go out of business, and with billions of dollars in the bank, they are not going out of business any time soon. We are now a whole generation of people who are posting stuff that is going to live online forever and potentially this is how our great great grandchildren will remember us, by some selfie we took or whatever meal we just ate and took a photo of. I think that this generation using Snapchat and apps like it might know what they are doing more than we do. They know that there is some stuff that they want to write for the public record that will stick around forever, but there is a lot of stuff that I don’t want to share like the average phone conversation with a friend, I’m not going to record it, it’s just going to happen.

Credit: The Shorty Awards

Credit: The Shorty Awards

The 6th Annual Shorty Awards will be held this year on April 7th in New York City and will be livestreamed on the web. What can viewers look forward to?
I can’t tell you that, you’ll just have to tune in. The main reason I can’t tell you is because I have no idea. We don’t know who the winners are yet, they’re announced that night and so much is driven by the talent that shows up to it. That’s really the fun thing about it. It’s not like an industry award like the Oscars or some professional group award where it’s just a bunch of ad executives. Because we have so many different categories you’re getting celebrities, but under the same roof we are getting people who built their whole career out of social media. We’re getting people who are foodies, people who know science really well, astronauts and sports stars. Social media is so broad and encompassing, so we are able to pull all these people in under one roof. It’s just a really fun celebration. I learn something new every year.

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Make sure to turn in to find out what happens at this year’s Shorty Awards on April 7th. Click here to receive an email notifying you when the livestream of the ceremony is available or to purchase your ticket if you will be in the NYC area.

Check out the finalists and let us know who you thinks deserves to take home a Shorty Award?

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services

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