Friday, April 24, 2009

Summer Camping at Disney Turns Out to Be Cool

Last July when a friend asked if it was hot enough for me, I blurted out “No, I think I’ll go to Florida and camp at Disney World for two weeks”. Most people in the Washington DC area couldn’t believe we were even contemplating such a trip in the summer swelter. Since I would never take my kids out of school and we couldn’t afford a hotel vacation, this was our only option.

Our friends’ doubts about our sanity were very much on my mind as we drove over the Florida border and I spied a road crew working on the side of the highway. Before I could stop myself, I thought they were crazy to be outside in Florida’s summer heat. Soon I realized the ridiculousness of the thought. Life goes on in Florida just like everywhere else in the summer.

When we pulled into the Disney campground, Fort Wilderness, the only thing we had was a printout of our campsite reservation. Since so many people had discouraged the trip, we had only booked the campground two weeks earlier and didn’t have tickets or restaurant reservations. Everyone plans these trips a year in advance and we arrived for our dream vacation with nothing but the sweltering heat. Parental fears of failure were strong as we walked up to the check-in cabin. As our two boys watched Disney shows on an old-fashioned TV, a staff member arranged our tickets and meal reservations. In short time, we were making our way to the campsite in our Class B RV. With trees creating a full canopy, we found the campground shaded, clean, and comfortable.

Early mornings were cool and relaxing as we ate at our picnic table. We decided to forgo the bike and golf cart rentals and depended on the regular bus, boat, and monorail lines to get around Disney World. Our loop was situated between two bus routes so we would pay attention to the buses during breakfast and head to the road where the next one was expected. The air conditioning on the buses was consistently near freezing. Most of our trips were spent shivering rather than sweating.

In ten days we visited all of the Disney theme and water parks. Each morning we arrived for the park openings with a plan to get wet on a particular ride and see the air-conditioned shows during the hottest part of the afternoon. However, in our drenched clothing, the air-conditioning was almost always too cold.

We religiously followed a schedule from The subscription for this service was cheaper than the tour books. We choose “Tween Boys” and our days were efficiently planned for us. We knew exactly where to go, when to get a FastPast, and when to wait in line. As we breezed past others and experienced everything by mid-afternoon, I found myself joking that I would send them more money when we arrived home. Following the tour plan and avoiding lines, kept us out of the heat.

Months later as I think about our summer camping trip at Disney World, I don’t remember feeling hot. If anything, I remember dreading the cold bus rides and freezing theaters. Since most afternoons brought quick thunder showers, we spent our time trying to stay warm and dry.

Summer’s a great time to visit Disney World, and you can even camp outside with an RV.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Can Yahoo Be the Better Facebook?

According to Alexei Oreskovic in his Rueter’s article, Yahoo’s Plan: create community from isolated sites, Yahoo Inc co-founder, David Filo, and new CEO, Carol Bartz, are planning all kinds of social networking features for

Yahoo is turning up the volume on many of its communications and community features and building bridges between the collection of Yahoo sites that have at times operated like virtual islands.

"You start to introduce Yahoo users to other parts of Yahoo," said Filo.

Whether users warm to Yahoo's vision of the social Internet with the same zeal they have for social stalwarts like Facebook and News Corp's MySpace remains to be seen. But if Yahoo's social networking features catch on, advertisers will take note.

Here’s why I’m intrigued:

* While she was visiting, my sister-in-law hit all the Day-After Thanksgiving Holiday Sales on my laptop with Yahoo. She surfed the web and charged her purchases to her Yahoo account.

* My friend, who leads a support group for parents of children with food allergies, wouldn’t start a Facebook group because everyone is happy and active with their Yahoo Group.

* My husband, an early adapter to Yahoo, cruises the daily photos from around the world. As I peak with my head on his shoulder, the popular photos summarize the world’s news, catastrophes, festivals, fun, nature, and … everything, in just a few glances.

Ms. Bartz is on the fast track to turn Yahoo into a social networking site. Yahoo would be packaged with a live stream of friend’s activities from the real groups in their lives. Saying it could be successful if done correctly is an understatement.

Facebook is a take-it-or-leave-it place for most of the people I know. Most users sign in when bored or procrastinating. I’ve been accused of updating my status too much and I only do it once or twice a day. “No,” I reply, “You should see some of the other people I connect with on Facebook, they send out stuff all day long.” But for most users this is not the norm.

For me, and almost everyone I know on Facebook, it’s a place for friends. We fan famous people and products, but it hasn’t morphed into actual sales for products and services on Facebook. Bottom line: companies want to make money, so they need customers or potential customers buying what they are selling. Companies can interact on a more personal level directly with customers on Facebook. Pages can encourage product loyalty. Also, the herd mentality of fanning what your friends fan is another quick/free marketing benefit. However, the ultimate goal of sales cannot be ignored.

Since Yahoo is such a commercial site already, it could happen in a spectacular way with Yahoo. We don’t think of as a place for friends but rather a place for information.

Mr. Oreskovic writes:

When an individual recommends a news story from the Yahoo homepage, uploads a photograph on Flickr or makes a trade on a fantasy baseball team from Yahoo sports, Yahoo will send an alert to a network of friends or contacts.

Yahoo is developing technology to broadcast roughly 100 types of such posts and actions.

Many of Yahoo's properties rank among the most popular on the Internet. Yahoo's homepage had 329 million unique visitors in February, according to research company comScore; Yahoo Mail had 282 million unique visitors in February, second to Microsoft HotMail.

In the last decade, in order to stay informed by my kid’s school, the delegation of PTAs, and my support group, I had to join Yahoo. Plenty of other people were forced to do the same. We’re all still there. It’s a big job for Yahoo, but there’s potential.

I’m going to go update my profile on Yahoo right now and give it a chance.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Facebook Un-Friend

Friends keep asking social etiquette questions about Facebook. For the most part, the interactions are unchartered. Although I advise the same good common sense as in real life, I’m now struggling with my own situation and how it will spill over.

I’m not by any means a public figure in my city but because of a local community blog, people know me. A city staff member once wrote, “We haven't met (and I'd like to remedy that) but I am ______________; and I am in need a of a great big favor.” So we corresponded and I tried to help.

A short time later her city email showed up on my friend finder in Facebook and she accepted my offer of friendship. As I like to make personal contact with all my new friends, I wrote on her wall, etc.

But she has unfriended me. I find myself wondering why. She could have just blocked me from seeing her status updates.

Gosh this whole Facebook thing is getting complicated.

I’m sure the college kids are way past this. Truthfully, I don’t care. To me it’s a friendship lost. I liked her status updates and thought she was fun and wild like me.

But this is the communications person for my city. Since I blog about our city, I’ll have to interact with her in the future. What do I do?

1.) Directly send a message on Facebook and ask why? Did I do something wrong?
2.) Ask her why when I see her in person?
3.) Pretend nothing happened both in emails and in person?

Yes, we weren’t really friends, but I was hoping to get to know her better. Yes, I understand it is more of a professional relationship with me and you don’t want your crazy everyday observations to go public. Today she has 195 friends, not many by a younger person’s standards, but obviously more than just a close circle. Plus, she has kept my fellow community blogger as a friend as well as other city staff, so it’s just me kicked off the list.

It’s just Facebook right so I have to ignore it? I guess I will.