Can we change habits with a hashtag? #MaskUpMN

The connection to broadband is tenuous here – except it’s a great use of technology to help keep our businesses open and our people healthy! Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has started a social media campaign – #MaskUpMN…

With COVID-19 cases surging in other states, and with the busy Fourth of July weekend ahead of us, it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect your customers and your employees. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage customers to wear masks. The Walz-Flanagan Administration is helping businesses spread the word that by masking up, your customers are helping your business stay open.

We invite you to participate in the #MaskUpMN campaign this weekend to raise awareness that the best way we can keep our economy open is to wear masks. …

But masks are more than just a courtesy – they are the most effective tool we have against the spread of COVID-19. CDC recommends that you wear a cloth mask over your nose and mouth in restaurants, bars and all other public places where it is hard to stay 6 feet away from others. The Minnesota Department of Health offers up-to-date guidance on when and how to wear a mask here.

As Minnesota makes progress towards fully reopening the economy, we’ve continued to release updated guidance on best safe practices for businesses. From protocol for managing occupancy to general food safety, you can find stay safe guidance for businesses and organizations here.

They even offer a few suggestions, I’ll include my fave…

Please share the following social media messaging on your channels and encourage your networks to celebrate safely this holiday weekend. We’ve also provided some graphics to accompany these posts, which you can find here.

  • Happy Fourth of July, Minnesota! This weekend, please remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep your friends, family and neighbors safe. #MaskUpMN

This might be a message readers can share with their constituents, clients and favorite businesses.

Minnesota Children’s Press Story Scouts use Instagram to encourage COVID precautions in the community

Happy to share a sun story from Anne Brataas in Grand Marais about the Story Scouts, young  writers, editors, artists, community historians and more in grades 4-12. Anne works with these kids on interesting projects – such as making tourists feel welcome and promote good health with Instagram.

This week, the Minnesota Children’s Press’ (MCP) Story Scouts group in Cook County rolled out an Instagram feed that has a community focus of gentle, friendly positive health messaging to build positive community revival of their summer tourist industry, while teaching kids practical communication skills.

Story Scouts are working with MCP mentors to create signage and posters; some inspired by Burma-Shave! They are documenting project on Instagram. They have already received some good press and have plans to expand the signage.

Can broadband ring in a rural renaissance? If not, why not? #Rural2pt0

Spirit of full disclosure – I think Roberto Gallardo is inspiring. He spoke at the Minnesota Broadband conference last fall. I love the idea of the digital era making way for a rural renaissance. So I wanted to share a piece of work he did recently (but recommend you check out the whole article), which was reprinted in the Daily Yonder and I wanted to invite folks to start using the hashtag #Rural2pt0 when you share something that feels like rural renaissance in action…

You see, the digital age and its applications has the potential to eliminate density and geographic proximity requirements, that were so critical during the industrial age.

It is possible then, in the digital age, for a rural community to maintain its “rural” feel and continue to leverage its natural amenities while taking advantage of what only dense urban areas enjoyed last century. Things like access to funding (crowdfunding), worldwide markets (e-commerce), savvy employees (teleworkers) and real-time information; collaboration and innovation (videoconferencing and soon mixed reality); certain level of healthcare (telehealth); and educational opportunities (massive open online courses, online certifications).

So, what is in our way to achieve #Rural2pt0?

For starters, ubiquitous ultra-fast internet connectivity. Just like electricity, internet connectivity needs to be everywhere. Data limits need to go. We have a long way to go before reaching parity regarding broadband infrastructure between urban and rural.

Another thing getting in the way to #Rural2pt0 are digital skills. The vast majority of digital savvy workers are located in urban areas. Investments to improve digital skills in rural are lacking, or very inadequate. This needs to change. A digital literate rural society is a must.

Lastly and the most serious challenge, is that the traditional 20th century mindset still exists in rural communities. A change in mindset, that better understands the implications of the digital age, is a key ingredient for #Rural2pt0. This change in mindset can take place through increasing awareness, be it through spreading the word, education, presentations and/or formal or informal conversations helping rural communities transition to, plan for and prosper in the digital age.

Two hackfest events are coming to Bemidji

I’m pleased to share info on these fun events…

A Youth Game Design Challenge
A 2 hour workshop followed by a game design mini-challenge. Enjoy exhibits of cool technology including virtual reality, robotics, and more.
The youth game design challenge schedule is Friday, 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm.

True North Hackfest
A fast-paced event where teams of creatives, coders, programmers, designers, marketers, and alike compete to design and build a technological solution to a perceived problem or need.


LaunchPad – Mayflower Building
April 7 – 7:00 PM – 11:00 PM
April 8 – 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Please visit the True North Hackfest website for more information and to register!

Martin County provides social media training to residents with disabilities

I’m pleased to share a guest post – and curriculum (agenda and details) from Ramona Harper, who has been working with the Martin County BBC initiative on a project with MRCI. MRCI provides employment services and training to individuals with disabilities and/or disadvantages. They are very focused on getting people out into jobs in the community and competitive wages. One of their concerns has been that the people they work with understand that prospective employers can view their social media pages which can affect their hiring decisions. Their instructor, Rita Craven spent time explaining safety and security in a training and open dialogue.   She explained some of the pitfalls, as well as helpful tools or apps to use.   They did 3 sessions with a total of 36 individuals.

Last week MRCI WorkSource Fairmont hosted 3 sessions of free training for 36 participants on internet safety and security. This was funded through a Blandin Foundation grant awarded to Martin County to provide technology training education to its citizens.   Two one hour sessions took place on April 5 and another on April 8.   Instructor Rita Craven went over what is social networking ; risks of using social networks; techniques used by predators; and safety measures you can to use to protect your personal information.   The last part of each session was spent discussing a variety of useful apps such as companion apps ; google maps for walking; games; sports updates; weather apps; Level Money for budgeting; food/health apps; music, camera; “any list” or “ out of milk” apps for grocery shopping; and tools such as flashlight, alarm & pedometer.   Individual participants also shared their thoughts on apps they frequently like to use.

Following the sessions, a few individuals commented on how much they enjoyed learning about this and would like to have similar trainings brought to MRCI Fairmont.

I want to thank Rita Craven for doing a wonderful job in communicating this information to the individuals we work with at MRCI. It was enlightening and well received by all. Kay Wrucke and Diana Scott have both been instrumental in organizing and spreading the good news via several Coffee Connection events throughout our county with instructors John Landsteiner and Rita Craven.   I am grateful that MRCI was able to be a recipient of this recent training.   I also want thank Martin County and the Blandin Foundation for providing the grant that enabled people with disabilities to be included in this county-wide technology training and education project.


Ramona Harper, Branch Manager
MRCI WorkSource – Fairmont

New technology of hotspots brings about a new and unexpected art form

I love when the Internet does more than make what we do easier or faster, it introduces us to new things. So for a fun only post, today is an introduction to the folk poetry of network names. Andy Sturdevant is an interesting guy and writer in the Twin Cities, he recently posted an article in MinnPost on the name of wifi networks in my neighborhood. It’s a fun look at something that just didn’t exist 20 years ago.

He also make an offhand remark about living on his phone rather than the real world – a complaint I hear often about the ”next generation” – it’s a good reminder that my kid’s definition of the real world is different that mine. Who are we to make the claim when we don’t really know?

Recently, I set out through residential St. Paul to see if I could detect any patterns in the neighborhood Wi-Fi network names. My route between Macalester College and St. Catherine University was fairly arbitrary: the two schools seemed like good endpoints, though in retrospect, I ought to have chosen a route with more apartment buildings. Apartment buildings tend to have more tightly packed, publicly facing clusters of Wi-Fi, making for more density and liveliness in the names chosen. However, these neighborhoods are a good mix of businesses, apartments, duplexes and single-family homes, making for a variety of nomenclatural approaches.

So I wandered over about three or four miles, staring down at my phone nearly the entire time, taking screenshots every block or two. The list of Wi-Fi networks changes in almost real time, and I didn’t want to miss anything. I’m sure at least three or four self-righteous passers-by shook their heads as they walked by and thought, “Ah, these fatuous thirtysomethings with their faces buried in their smartphones, totally ignoring the world around them.” Not true! I was deeply engaged in the world around me, and now I pass my findings on to you.

He goes on to share a few – I’ll excerpt but it’s fun to check out them all…

However, the networks with custom names tend to fall in a few different categories.

Geography is a good place to begin. Wi-Fi routers tend to be located in very specific parts of a building. Beginning on the most micro level, a number of networks took names from their specific locations or functions within a building, as in the case of Chromecast Living Room or IA-Upstairs. Expanding from there, many were names for the house number, as in the case of the 115SnellSquad, or for the street specifically: Ashland, Stclair and lincoln.

Franken questions Google’s approach to privacy for students

According to AdAge (and based on a letter from Senator Franken)…

Sen. Al Franken (D.-Minn.) has released a letter he wrote to Google CEO Sundar Pichai to express concern about how the company is collecting and sharing the data of K-12 students who use its Google for Education technology products. According to a statement released by the senator’s office, “Sen. Franken said he is concerned that, as a result of this data collection, Google may be able to create detailed profiles of students and ultimately target them for advertising or use the profiles for other non-educational purposes.”

One of the big sticky wickets is shifting the types of interactions students have with Google education products versus non-education products such as Google Maps or YouTube. Senator Franken has asked Google to answer a series of questions before Feb 12…

1. When a student is signed in to their GAFE account but is not using one of the GAFE services, what kind of data does Google collect on an individual student?

2. When a student is using a Chromebook but is not using one of the GAFE services, what kind of data does Google collect on an individual student?

3. If Google does collect any individualized data on a student, such as browsing information or viewing habits, when a student is using a Chromebook or is logged in to their GAFE account but is not using one of GAFE services, please address the following questions:

a. For what purposes does Google collect this information?
b. Is it necessary to collect all of this information for the provision of GAFE services or to deliver other valuable features that may be relevant for educational purposes?
c. Has Google ever used this kind of data to target ads to students in Google services, either in the GAFE services or other Google services, such as Google Search, Google News, Google Books, Google Maps, Blogger, or YouTube?
d. Has Google ever used this kind of data for its own business purposes, unrelated to the provision of Google’s educational offerings
e. Is it possible to make this data collection opt-in?
f. Does Google share this information with additional parties?

4. Google has indicated that it compiles data aggregated from student users of Chrome Sync, anonymizes the data, and uses it to improve its services. Can you expand on how the aggregated information is treated? For example, does this include sharing the aggregated data with third parties for research purposes or otherwise?

5. Can you describe Google’s relationship with school districts and administrators that choose to use Google for Education products and services? Apart from publicly available privacy policies, does Google offer any explanation to parents, teachers, and education officials about how student information is collected and used?

6. Can you describe all the contexts and ways in which both school administrators and parents of students using Google for Education products and services have control over what data is being collected and how the data are being used?

I think these are great questions. Most parents do not fully understand how much privacy they give up themselves when they use free online tools (such as Google, Facebook or others) so are not in a strong position to decide for kids or even advise kids. Schools are so strapped for resources that they may be willing to give up too much too soon. And many educators are in the same position of parents – they don’t fully understand the implications. I am glad that others are stepping in and asking good questions.

It reminds me a little bit of soda machines in the schools debate or having brand name soda companies sponsor school activities. Do you do what makes sense financially or what might be best for health of the kids today and as habits are forming? I’m not saying we shouldn’t sell soda in schools or that Google shouldn’t continue to provide educational tools (and expect some compensation) just that we need to understand the full extent of the compensation.

Thinking about a Hack in your community? This bibliography might help

Months ago I told myself I’d create a How to Tool for developing Hacks in rural areas. Then I got busy and distracted but sometimes that’s a good thing. I realized that there was no need to recreate the wheel. Instead of creating another wheel, I’ve compiled a bibliography of wheels that I thought were pretty darned good.

I’ve been involved with hack in metro and rural areas. These mostly focus on hack in general, which by default means urban. But I have links to some of our rural Minnesota events that will give a flavor of rural. I think the main difference is critical mass. It’s easy to get more people to attend an event in the Cities – I think that’s true whether you’re talking about a Hack, a concert or a wedding. But it can be easier to get to local media and schools to promote the event in a rural setting. And of course you might promote to techies (or others) in the Cities to attend the event. You might spread the word via Open Twin Cities, Nonprofit Tech Talk, Open Minnesota – maybe others have suggestions they want to add to the comments below.

Otherwise, here’s the bibliography (you can download it in Word too):

Hack Bibliography

Explaining Hacks to Others

Tactical Checklists

Strategizing for Hacks

Got an app idea to help students get to College? Here’s the contest for you!

I love this idea from the US Department of Education. I hope to see some Minnesota names among the winning app developers. As someone who is looking at college for kids in a few years, I hope someone creates an app to find the best financing for students!

In effort to inspire students to pursue an education beyond high school, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) launched the Reach Higher Career App Challenge to promote the development of mobile apps that will help students navigate education and career pathways, including career and technical education (CTE). …

OCTAE is eager to see the innovative solutions that our nation of solvers will bring to the challenge. The submissions period was opened on October 7, 2015 and closes on December 7. The challenge enables developers, educators and data mavens to compete for a share of the $225,000 cash prize pool.

You can find all the information about the Reach Higher Career App Challenge on and enter the challenge at

Increased broadband providers led to increase in hate crimes

I debated about sharing this not-great news about broadband, but it seemed like an opportunity to promote digital and information literacy. According to EurekAlert

New research from Carlson School of Management Professor Jason Chan and NYU Stern Professors Anindya Ghose and Robert Seamans finds that broadband availability increased the incidence of racial hate crimes committed by lone-wolf perpetrators in the United States during the period 2001-2008. The addition of a single broadband provider led to as much as a 20 percent rise in racial hate crimes in areas where racial tensions were especially high.

Ouch! There were a number of other factors that also contributed to the rise – broadband does seem to play a role. The research indicates that broadband had little effect on recruitment efforts of known hate groups – but seemed to embolden the lone wolves as the excerpt above notes.

One issue is that people can really hone the news and information that they choose to receive online. One preventative measure might be digital literacy training and public service announcements. In library school I took a whole class in how to teach people to qualify resources, to understand authorship, ownership and purpose. We can start in the schools where the audience is captive but it seems like there’s a need to reach a broader audience too. The goal would be to recognize information versus option as well as to understand hate speech.

Another preventative measure is to combat the messages of hate with messages of tolerance or appreciation of diversity. Now granted that’s difficult because as I just said, each user can really filter the information we get online but maybe we go offline to address the issue.

One interesting aspect of the research is that they found that this wasn’t true in all communities and in researching the different communities they found that the ones with elevated hate crimes had searched for racially charged phrases. Ars Technica explains…

However, one major factor altered the relationship between rising broadband access and rising hate crimes. “Counties that have higher racial tendencies tend to have a higher effect,” study co-author Jason Chan said in a phone interview with Ars Technica. Meaning, if a county has more population segregation by race, added broadband correlated with a much higher rate of hate crime. The same was true if a county’s Internet users searched for more racially charged phrases online—often with the words “hate” or “jokes” attached. If not, then the impact, while present, was far less significant.

It seems like that information might be useful to pinpoint communities that could use help fighting hate crime. We could use the technology to find those communities and as an early warning system to future. That’s where to focus prevention efforts.

It also opens a Pandora’s Box of using search results (in aggregate or honed) by geography to get a snapshot of what’s going on in a community. Wouldn’t it be fun to know who is Minnesota is searching for broadband?

Willmar Hack2.o: apps for bikes, fires, encrypted email and zebra mussels

grouppicOver the weekend I attended the Hack2.o in Willmar. It was hosted by WorkUp (a coworking space in the area), Kandiyohi EDC, Ridgewater College, Minnwest College and the Blandin Foundation. Many of the attendees had a connection to the local college, some were tech-interested residents and a few of us came from out of town – the Twin Cities and Iowa.

While there are similarities, each hack I attend has its own personality – especially in a rural area. The gist remains the same – to gather folks who are interested in developing technology to solution specific problems. Often there’s a civic slant and that was the case in Willmar. People came with ideas on how technology could solve local issues and four teams formed to solve the following:

  • How can I receive, save and store encrypted email in a way that keeps the contents private to the email provider?
  • How can we reduce “false” fire alarms by helping citizens tell fire departments that they are going to build a campfire?
  • How can we better manage and monitor our local, free bike share program?
  • How can we keep lakes clean by helping people identify, report and remove zebra mussels and other invasive species?

I’ll include the PowerPoints and videos from the event below and just share some high level notes. First, the event was really fun. It’s so nice to see a roomful of people who are willing (happy even!) to give up a weekend to work on projects to make their communities better. Technology is inspiring greater civic participation! Some people are passionate about an idea. Some people want to code. Some people want to practice what they are learning. (I used to be the librarian for the National Service-Learning Library so I love that doing to learn aspect.) I think the draw of techies is obvious.

The draw for non-techies is less obvious but in the land of the coders, someone who can manage a project, create a flowchart, write, present or cheerlead becomes pretty valuable. If in your real world you work (or want to work) with tech folks, I think it would be a valuable exercise in how techies collaborate. There is a lot of brainstorming, a lot of talking things through, a lot of charts. This weekend, there weren’t a lot of egos. There was a lot of listening and a lot of mutual learning. If a hack event comes to your town and you’re interested but feel you aren’t that technical – come and see what you have to offer.

On a community level, I think the draw has obvious and less obvious benefits. First, I think all of these projects will continue. So Willmar has four new tools in their arsenal. Second, a handful of us came to town. A larger handful went out, bought drinks, had a good time and would come back. Connections were made. I know I’ll stay in touch with a few – even if only via LinkedIn or Twitter but the human network is there. More importantly the local tech community got a chance to build a rapport. They have learned together and I suspect will continue to do so.

Often when we talk about digital inclusion or digital training we think about the elementary level, such as showing seniors how to use email or an iPad. But it’s important to seed the training at the graduate level too, such as learning to use Python for digital recognition. For a community the investment is having the space, hosting the event, getting people to the door. Willmar has a great space – it was nice to see it get used and I think an event like this draws in more people.

Continue reading

Social Media Rockstar Event: Sept 16 at Jackpot Junction (Morton MN)

I have heard great things about this event in the past…

The Social Media Rockstar Event is a one day conference featuring the best in social media and digital marketing experts. The Redwood Falls and Willmar Social Media Breakfast Groups bring the best of the social media marketing community to our backyard, rural Minnesota.

2015 Rockstar event on September 16th, 2015 at Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel Meeting and Event Center in Morton, MN.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the speakers…

Rockstar Speaker Presentations

Without further ado…here are the rockin’ session topics. Click on each presentation to learn more.

Jason Falls – Digital StrategistMining for Gold: How Discovering Insights Through Social Data Can Explode Your Business with Jason Falls

Most marketing campaigns are developed around guesswork. The brand or agency in question makes broad assumptions about audiences and their behaviors because qualitative market research is often cost prohibitive. But thanks to social technologies, every marketer now has access to cost effective consumer research — that of online conversations — that can uncover the important insights that drive your customers to engage and even purchase.In this exploration of social listening and monitoring techniques, Jason Falls will explain the difference in monitoring versus listening, show examples of insights gained by analyzing online conversations and illustrate how you, too, can take the guesswork out of digital and even broad scale marketing campaigns.

Marcus Sheridan – The Sales LionThe Digital Consumer: How Today’s Buyer Has Changed and What Your Business Must Do About It with Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lion

More than any other time in the last 100 years, the buyer of today has made a dramatic shift in the way they make purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, many companies haven’t adapted to this shift and are ill prepared for the continual evolution of this “digital consumer.” In this talk, Marcus Sheridan brings clarity to the way buyers have changed and exactly what companies must do to not only align themselves with this shift in buyer patterns, but take advantage of the digital age as well.

If you like to be engaged, challenged, and moved—You’ll love this keynote with Marcus Sheridan!

And a few sessions specifically on agriculture…

Wanda PatscheHow to use the Power of Social Media in Agriculture with Wanda Patsche

Learn how to use social media as a platform to bridge the disconnection between agriculture and consumers. Learn why using social media in agriculture is both different and similar compared to other businesses. And learn why it’s imperative for all farmers to become involved in social media. Audience members will be shown what key messages work with consumers and how to use those messages in various social media channels.

Moo, Oink, Gobble: Calling Attention to Agriculture Online with Michael Crusan

This presentation discusses the obstacles both agriculture and government experience when trying to engage an online audience.  If your social media accounts are meant more for education and outreach, you need a strong plan to capture attention.  Whether posting for your peers or wading into a new online audience, you’ll learn different approaches to ignite your platform.  Plus, we’ll discuss how to handle negative and critical responses online.

Martin County students create tourism app for the county

KEYC (and Fairmont Sentinel) report on a fun program supported by the Blandin Foundation…

Martin County Recorder Kay Wrucke says, “What they are doing is creating an app for the Martin County website to be used and it covers sites and spots in Martin County to come, if a visitor come in or even Martin County residents.”

The creation of the app is being used as a learning opportunity to teach high school students how to program applications through programs available online.

App Camp Instructor Laurie Aaronson says, “Teach the students not only to be consumers of technology, but to also be developers.”

Eleven students are taking part in the eight–day camp, which wrapped up today.

It was made possible through a grant the county received.

In addition to app for the county, they are also given the tools to create apps of their own.

But the students are using what they learned as a stepping–stone for their future.

Student James Hodge says, “It will look good on college applications and it is a good thing to know for yourself and teach others.”

Imagine if you sent a text to your local government – and they read it?

There are at least three things I love about this story

  1. It takes place in Minnesota
  2. It’s a project that started out at a Code for America event
  3. It’s a way that technology can increased civic engagemen

The details come from Minneapolis St Paul Business Journal

GovDelivery has acquired Textizen, a Philadelphia-based startup that lets government agencies communicate with the public through text messaging.

St. Paul-based GovDelivery didn’t disclose terms of the deal.

Government agencies can use Textizen to send texts containing surveys, event reminders, project updates and other notifications. It also allows governments to receive and analyze messages sent by residents.

The company previously participated in nonprofit Code for America’s incubator program, which funds and mentors government-technology startups.

“The Textizen team has demonstrated that it can use interactive text messaging technology and creative problem solving to help improve government and engage citizens,” GovDelivery CEO and founder Scott Burns said in a news release. “Textizen’s capabilities allow us to help government succeed in the critical area of driving individuals to take action.”

My secret wish – GovDeilvery hired the Textizen staff (that is true) and they moved to the Twin Cities and infused new enthusiasm, skills and experience into the local civic coding scene!

Social media bridges gap between weekly rural newspapers and news

According to the Rural Blog

Rural areas typically only served by a weekly newspaper are seeing an increase in Facebook pages that offer up-to-the-minute local media alerts, Able Allen reports for Mountain Xpress in Asheville. In the past year in rural Western North Carolina, “almost a dozen local alert pages (some with affiliated websites) have cropped up in various rural counties in the region, and some are already attracting followers in numbers comparable to the established print outlets’ circulation figures.”

The local shift reflects a national trend, with a Pew Research Center study saying 30 percent of adults say they get their news from Facebook, Allen writes. The difference in rural areas is that the news is localized, mostly concerning traffic, weather, Amber alerts, arrest reports and information about public events and meetings.

Social media (Facebook, Twitter even an online blog) seems like a natural fit to keep rural areas in the know between editions of a weekly newspaper. It’s something worth considering if your community doesn’t have an online news channel. It’s free, which is almost a necessity. (I am on the board of an online newspaper in the Twin Cities. I know newspapers can be tough to sustain.) It just relies on people reporting the story.

There may be some decision making there. Do you allow anyone to post news? Or do you continue with the newspaper model and find an editor to post or at least approve/disapprove citizen input. I suspect the answer will be different for different communities.