#MarchMadness is happening on Twitter

With Selection Sunday behind us, 68 college basketball teams are now vying to cut the nets down and win the #NationalChampionship in Phoenix. Follow all of the live #MarchMadness action on and off the court on Twitter.

Facebook is rolling out yet another Stories feature — this time on your News Feed

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Surprise, surprise. Facebook is copying a Snapchat feature yet again.

After debuting Facebook Stories — its near identical clone of Snapchat Stories — in Ireland earlier this year, the company is rolling out its feature to users more widely. 

Stories live in a horizontal layout above the News Feed, similar to Instagram Stories. The Messenger shortcut has moved to the bottom center of the screen, and its previous location has been taken over by "Direct," more on that below. 

Image: instagram

Image: facebook

 A side-by-side comparison with Snapchat shows a nearly identical layout. Read more...

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DoJ accuses two Russian spies and two criminals of 2014 Yahoo hack

 The U.S. Department of Justice has confirmed earlier reports and accused two Russian FSB officers and two criminal hackers of being behind the hacking of at least 500 million Yahoo accounts. Read More

Everybody gather ’round and name this taxidermied rat

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Here's something: The District of Bonnyville in Alberta, Canada is holding a contest to name a taxidermied rat.

Is Bonnyville's other name Pawnee, Indiana? We don't know for sure, but maybe.

The district posted the contest to their Facebook page, along with a picture of the unnamed rat.

"Agriculture and Waste Services has added this little guy — a Norway rat — to their pest control education toolbox, and want YOUR help to name it," the caption of the post reads.

Before you start firing off your ready list of great rat names, please check if you live in Bonnyville. If you do not, you are ineligible to participate. Read more...

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Good Bots vs. Bad Bots: How to Tell the Difference

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Navigating the web these days can make a person feel like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

There’s so much to be seen here that -- until somewhat recently -- was fairly unheard of. And we don’t know what’s good or bad. It’s as if we’re constantly coming across a new cast of characters and are forced to ask, “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?”

Replace the word "witch" with "bot," and you might be summing up the modern digital landscape. There's a lot of talk about AI, but it can be confusing. Is it helpful, or harmful? Is it going to make us better at our jobs, or take them away from us? And these bots of which we're constantly speaking -- which are good, and which are bad? Easily build user-friendly web pages with HubSpot's Website Add-On. Try it for  free here. 

As it turns out, there are ways of distinguishing them. It requires a bit of a discerning eye, but you certainly don't need to be an expert -- you just need the right information. So, without further ado, allow us to present our tips for distinguishing good bots from bad bots. 

Good Bots vs. Bad Bots

The Good Bots

Copyright Bots

These bots search the web for content that’s potentially been plagiarized. Think: Illegal uploads, copying someone else’s work without proper attribution, or other improper use of proprietary content. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, these bots are commonly used within the realm of social media, especially where original content creation is a major part of the platform’s use. One prime example is YouTube’s Content ID, which is assigned to copyright owners on the network.

Data Bots

According to eZanga, data bots are those that provide up-to-the-minute information on things like news, weather, and currency rates. With that criteria, tools like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Siri could be classified as data bots -- especially since eZanga also calls these “media” bots. However, one technology developer, Botler, classifies one of its products as a data bot -- “a new way to quickly store and access info that is important.” Its primary use, it appears, is for the academic sector, as it allows course information to be easily shared between students and faculty.

Botler.png Source: botler

Spider Bots

Think about what a spider does -- it crawls. Search engines do the same thing, by crawling the web’s content to produce query results, and using spider bots to do so. Google, for example, has its very own Googlebot, which uses the constantly-evolving Google algorithm to determine which sites to crawl.

These days, spider bots aren’t limited to search engines. The Siemens Robotics Lab, for example, has developed spider-shaped robots that combine the ability to autonomously perform physical tasks with information-crawling capabilities. How does that work, exactly? Siemens Research Scientist Hasan Sinan Bank explains:

The robots use onboard cameras as well as a laser scanner to interpret their immediate environment. Knowing the range of its 3D-printer arm, each robot autonomously works out which part of an area – regardless of whether the area is flat or curved – it can cover, while other robots use the same technique to cover adjacent areas.”

Trader Bots

These bots might be my favorite. They’re the ones that crawl the web to help you find the best deals on something you might be looking to buy online. eZanga notes that these bots are used by consumers and retailers alike -- for the latter, the biggest advantage is their ability to “help inch out the competitor by posting a better price.

As for the consumer, these bots come to mind with tools like Honey: A browser extension that automatically presents coupons and discount codes when you’re about to initiate a site’s checkout process. Here’s how it works on Amazon, for example:

HoneyTraderBot.gif Source: botler

The Bad Bots

Click Bots

Each year, Incapsula publishes a Bot Traffic Report, which measures and analyzes the website traffic generated by bots. And in 2016, bad bots accounted for 28.9% of that traffic -- outnumbering the good bots by 6%.

One of those bad bots is often found to be the click bot -- the kind that fraudulently click on ads, causing data reported to advertisers to be skewed. But not only does that result in misinformation for marketers, but if you’re using pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, those clicks add up to wasted dollars on fake visits that didn’t even come from humans, let alone your audience.

Download Bots

Similar to click bots, download bots also fraudulently game engagement data, but for download counts, instead of website visits. If it sounds familiar, it might be because of a 2012 incident involving Apple, in which many iPhone app developers were using “third-party advertising services guaranteeing top rankings,” according to AdWeek.

Imposter Bots

It’s easy to confuse imposter bots with click bots, since the former work by “masking themselves as legitimate visitors,” according to the Incapsula report. But the intention of imposter bots is much more malicious than generating a false clickcount. Instead, their purpose is to bypass online security measures. And of the aforementioned traffic generated in 2016 by bad bots, imposter bots accounted for over 84% of it. They’re often the culprit behind distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks -- in fact, you might recall a day in October 2016 when it seemed like half of the internet, including Twitter, stopped working. That was a DDoS attack, and an imposter bot dubbed Mirai was responsible for it.

bot-report-2016-graph-2.png Source: Incapsula

Scraper Bots

Web scrapers achieve the opposite effect as copyright bots. Rather than protecting proprietary content, scraper bots are designed to steal and repurpose it elsewhere, often unbeknownst to its owner.

itemeditorimage_55b0075c5aaaa.png Source: Distil

Spam Bots

You would think that spam bots (often spelled “spambot”) have been around long enough that they would have become a thing of the past, like VCRs and the plague. But it seems that they’re just getting smarter, and finding new ways to permeate our lives.

These are the bots that basically distribute “spammy” content like unwarranted emails, or senseless comments on articles and blog posts. More recently, you’ve probably come across them on social media -- one 2015 study found that nearly 8% of Instagram accounts, for example, are actually spambots.

It’s worth noting that in 2014, Instagram made efforts to purge the network of millions of spam accounts -- but people were less than thrilled about it. Even if they weren't "real," it seems that many Instagram users were upset to see their followings drastically shrink.

instagram.0.0.jpg Source: The Verge

Spy Bots

Have you ever received an email from a complete stranger, and wondered how that person got your contact information? Maybe the sender got it from someone you know, or is just particularly good at research.

But it also might be the work of a spy bot, which is the kind that mines data about individuals (or businesses) and often sells it. There’s a reason, after all, why the HubSpot Email Marketing Software prohibits the use of purchased or third-party lists. Emailing people who didn’t ask or expect to be contacted by you completely contradicts the inbound methodology.

Zombie Bots

Contrary to what the name might suggest, zombie bots don’t try to eat humans. Rather, they’re the kind that find a way to permeate your computer’s security system, but take it a step further than imposter bots -- once they gain access, they operate in the background, often using your computer to transmit viruses and other malware.

It might begin with one machine, but often this type of bot activity leads to an “army” of zombie bots -- a.k.a. a “botnet” -- which Cloudbric describes as “a network of zombified sites [that] receive commands from the head zombie, who is likely a spammer, a hacker, or a mercenary.” Many times, the motivation behind this is financial, as these “head zombies” have been known to sell this type of hacked computer access to others, allowing them to use it for similarly malicious distribution.

But Don't Be Afraid

As terrifying as some of these bad bots might sound, don’t let them scare you -- there are ways to prevent them from encroaching on your content and technology.

First, awareness is a good first step. Now that you’ve reviewed the different types of bots out there, you might be able to more easily recognize any potentially harmful activity. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and if you suspect any malicious bot activity, let your network administrator know as soon as possible.

But try to prevent these attacks before they can even start. Always make sure your antivirus software is up-to-date, and learn more about the security protocols available for your iOS, web hosting platform, or internet service provider.

What other bots should marketers be aware of? Let us know in the comments.

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Are Notifications Driving Us Crazy?

How do you start your mornings?

If you’re like me, your morning routine might look something like this: You check email from your phone before even getting out of bed, you scan headlines on Twitter while you brew your morning coffee, and you look at Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat during your commute to work to see what your friends are up to.

I do all of this because I’m curious to see what’s going on online, but I also do it to clear out the red symbols that pop up when I have an unread email, text message, like, snap, or tweet.

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As it turns out, there could be a downside to all of the benefits mobile technology provides. We might be able to work from anywhere on our smartphones or tablets, but such mobility and accessibility come at a cost -- and too much technology could actually be making us less productive.

In this post, we’ll explore how notifications impact your brain and your mental and physical health, and what you can do with your devices to help minimize the negative impacts of the little red dot.

Notifications, or Drugs for Your Mind

Studies have shown that receiving text messages and other mobile notifications triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with reward-seeking behaviors and addiction. And like drug or alcohol addiction, notifications can make us feel great when we’re receiving them -- and go into negative feelings of withdrawal when we aren’t. That’s right, people -- notifications are sort of like drugs.

Constant information overload puts our decision-making and productivity skills at risk, too. According to Microsoft Research, it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back on task after being interrupted by an email notification during the work day. Multiply that by however many emails you receive in a given day, and think about how much time you could be wasting.

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Push notifications, or notifications that are automatically sent to your phone, are particularly pernicious. A study of more than 2,000 workers in the United Kingdom found push notifications were causing toxic levels of stress, especially when email notifications were left unread. This issue was most prevalent among media, marketing, and PR professionals, 60% of whom used push notifications as part of their day-to-day job.

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Source: Future Work Centre

Additionally, excessive social media use, especially Facebook, is linked to negative feelings of social comparison and the fear of missing out (FOMO). Research shows that users who check social media apps often start to believe their friends lead better lives, and these feelings of FOMO and competition can lead to social anxiety, feelings of loneliness, and mood swings.

This constant liking and seeking behavior -- eagerly clicking to learn what the email, notification, or text says -- is impacting our ability to pay attention to things, especially the written word, says Emily Yoffe at The Atlantic. It’s also hurting the dopamine centers in our brain and making these behaviors stressful and less enjoyable the more we do them over and over again.

To prevent all of this, there are a few steps you can take to avoid notification overload -- while still being able to use your phone and do your job.

What You Can Do to Minimize Push Notification Anxiety

1) Turn off notifications for specific apps.

Turn off desktop notifications, sounds, and icons that will distract you during work hours so you only receive notifications when you choose to look at them.

How to turn Gmail notifications off:

Navigate to your Settings gear icon and select “Mail notifications off” on the Desktop Notifications menu.

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How to turn Slack notifications off:

Tap the bell icon to manage your notification preferences. From there, you can customize how and if you want to receive desktop notifications by clicking “Notification Settings.”

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You can even turn off the pesky red dot that indicates any unread activity if you really need to focus.

slack desktop notifications.png

You can also manage notifications settings for specific channels by tapping the gear icon at the top of each channel.

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2) Turn off notifications entirely.

Turn off push notifications for every app you don’t absolutely have to check immediately. A recent study showed push notifications can be as distracting as a phone call -- even if you don’t immediately check the notification. Turn them off entirely for apps where you can manage how often you jump in to check on things, like social media or gaming apps.

How to turn off notifications on iOS devices: 

Navigate to your Settings menu, tap Notifications, and scroll down the list of your apps. There, you have the option to turn off "Allow Notifications."

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How to turn off notifications on Android devices: 

Navigate to your settings menu, select "Sound & notification," tap into "App notifications," and block notifications from specific apps, as shown in the second image below.

androidstep1-1.png

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3) Customize notifications.

Customize the sound or vibrations patterns different applications make so you know what messages you receive without having to check your devices. For example, create a longer tone for text messages, and a shorter tone for incoming emails.

How to customize notifications on iOS devices: 

Navigate to your Settings menu, select "Sounds," and scroll down to "Sounds and Vibration Patterns." From there, you can click into different events ("Ringtone," "Text Tone," "New Voicemail"), and choose a specific pattern for each.

mobile notifs 2.png

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How to customize notifications on Android devices: 

Navigate to your Settings menu, tap "Sounds and notifications," then "Vibrations, and click "Vibration intensity" and "Vibration pattern" to change how different events sound and feel when you receive alerts.

android_vibrations_final.png

Source: Inside Galaxy

4) Change how your mobile device displays are organized.

Organize your mobile device desktop and move less important apps to your second screen off your default phone screen. That way, when the notifications do pop up and start flashing, you’ll only have to access them by choice when it’s time to see what’s going on.

For example, if you’re an iOS mobile device user, you know the App Store has a near-constant red notification symbol indicating an available app or device update. This isn’t an exact science, but I’ve organized my iPhone’s two screens by moving my notification-prone apps to the second screen. This way, I have to decide to go look at them instead of getting stressed and distracted when I open my phone to make a quick phone call or text.

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The notifications are still there (unless I turn them off), but at least I’ve achieved some separation and minimized distraction from the dreaded red number icon.

5) Designate specific times for answering emails, texts, and social media messages.

Try turning off your email push notifications when you leave the office at the end of the day. Set time limits on when you can use your social media apps during your personal time. At the very least, try to enforce one limit on yourself so you feel like you have enough time to check your notifications, and enough time to enjoy life without notification stress.

You could also monitor your usage habits on a productivity tool to restrict the amount of time you spend on websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others -- especially while at work. Here are a few you might like using:

6) Delete apps you don’t use.

This one’s simple enough. It’s easy enough to forget about an app you’ve downloaded but aren’t using anymore. If there’s an app that’s sending you notifications you don’t use, just delete it from your browser or mobile device.

How to delete Chrome browser extensions:

Tap the three dots on the right-hand side of your browser to access your Chrome settings on the drop-down menu. Then, go to the Extensions menu, and either disable notifications or delete the extension altogether by clicking the trash can icon.

chrome_extensions.png

How to delete iOS apps:

Delete iOS apps by holding your finger down on an app icon until all icons start floating with small gray x symbols in the upper left-hand corner. Then, simply tap the x icons of the apps you want to delete.

delete ios apps.png

How to delete Android apps:

Head to the Settings menu, click “Apps,” then tap on the name of the app you want to delete. From there, tap “Disable” or “Uninstall.”

uninstall.jpg

Source: UpToDown

How do you deal with push notification stress? Share with us in the comments below.

Productivity Guide

Demystifying Creative Success: How to Build a Creative Career from Scratch

If you start your career at a corporate bank, the path to success is usually presented as a clear progression of incremental promotions, straightforward skill requirements, and predictable time lines.

For those of us hell-bent on pursuing a creative career, there is no luxury of a well-trodden path.

Achieving big league success in a creative field can seem like an elusive confluence of meeting the right people, pushing your work into the right hands, and stumbling into the right room at just the right time. It's grueling, inexact, and more than a little dependent on luck. 

While there's never going to be a simple, tried-and-true road map to creative success, there is value in speaking to people who have forged their own path in a creative industry, and learning from their experiences. 

To start demystifying the path to creative success, we turned to Vanessa Holden, the newly-appointed executive design director of Sub Rosa, a strategy and design practice based in Manhattan.

If anyone's "made it" in a creative field, it's Holden. Her expansive career includes creative leadership roles at some the world's most highly-regarded lifestyle publications and brands, including West Elm, Williams-Sonoma, Martha Stewart Living and Weddings, Vogue Living, Real Simple, and Marie Claire.

In her new role at Sub Rosa, she'll be leading the agency's design team, guiding the direction of multi-media projects for clients like Adobe, Comedy Central, and GE. 

Below, Holden discusses her unique path from freelancer to agency leader, how she evaluates creative risk, and the absolute best career advice she's ever received. 

Vanessa Holden Talks Creative Success

What advice would you give to someone at the beginning of their creative career?

Holden: I started out freelancing because I wanted to try a lot of different things. I have always throughout my career toggled between full-time and freelance or consulting roles. I think there's no better way to start your career than to freelance and ask questions. Be a person who's really looking to learn, and you'll gain a lot over just a few short projects or only a handful of clients.

One thing I would caution people about is that although the fluidity of freelancing is really appealing and there's plenty of that work, committing to a full-time position and building something over a two or three-year period offers its own unique opportunities for growth.

Don't take on freelance projects passively. Do it actively. Then, when you really want to learn more about yourself, commit to something for a longer chunk of time. Because there is a big difference between designing things or producing things on a project by project basis, and building a career. Creative people build careers over decades and every project you take on should be actively shaping your career in some way.

Do you still use any of the connections you built as a freelancer today?

Holden: Absolutely. No question. There are people that I call on now 25 years later who I can work with as easily today as the day that we first worked together. My network at this point is truly global.

Certainly the other thing about freelancing is that you get a marketing mindset, because you're always reconfiguring your narrative. Who are you as a designer? How are you positioning yourself and your network and your contacts? There's tremendous cumulative value to maintaining those relationships over time, not least because they're super energizing and it's exciting, and it's fun being creative and working with people for 20 plus years and growing together.

Wherever you end up -- for me starting in Sydney and having friends now literally everywhere across the world, or even just knowing a bunch of people in agencies or different kinds of creative roles across the city -- there's nothing more valuable than building your network. I'm actually right in the thick of having these conversations with my daughter. It all happens right there in the beginning. It does.

How do you decide it's time to take on a new career challenge?

Holden: I moved to America to work in publishing. I had always worked in publishing and always imagined that would be my entire career. I was a print brand girl, always multichannel, but print was really at the center of any brand I was developing or working on.

In 2008, there was a radical acceleration in digital. The explosion of mobile apps created this really intense, almost immediate shift within the industry, and made me really reconsider what my skill set was and how it was applicable to things beyond print.

I was at a point where I could have gone in lots of different directions. I was then at Martha Stewart Living. I had a fantastic opportunity over three years there to flex into the multichannel space as digital was evolving.

By the time I started having a conversation with West Elm and thinking about what my next growth opportunity might be, I was keenly aware that publishing was just one facet of a more rounded toolkit I had. It became more about brand building -- regardless of the actual output.

When I started that conversation with West Elm it became a story about being a proficient visual storyteller, which is really what I had been throughout my entire career. I started out as a graphic designer and an art director. Visual storytelling had always been central to what it was that I was doing anyway, and then the question was, "Oh, but am I ready for retail?"

Moving into editorializing a brand felt really like new territory. To me it was a very natural kind of extension of what I was doing in my day-to-day anyway, and for me was the best kind of risk because I had the toolkit that I needed to apply to it. I just needed to learn about a completely new context.

I think it's risky to stay still. I think it's risky to stay with what you know -- which isn't to say you should constantly be moving. With the freelance economy right now, it is possible to move too much, where you don't learn enough about yourself and your skills because there's so much movement.

But I do think it's risky for anybody to say, "Oh, this is what I do, and I'm going to keep doing it for the next 10 years." That's just, I think, completely unrealistic.

When I think about risk or stability and what that ideal balance is, I think I have a pretty fluid approach to growing a career. I'm just always looking to expand my toolkit.

How do you decide which projects to pursue, and which to pass on?

Holden: I think I'm actually leaning how to do that now. I think I'm a person who says yes to everything. I also have a family, and that's definitely always been the thing that comes first for me.

When I look at which ideas to scrap or which to move forward with, it's like what's my maximum capacity and what can I fit in there? I am learning to be more selective about my time, I guess, right now.

Seeking out spare time that's truly just down time is also really important. I like to be really busy, but you need open time. How do you not just chase the ideas, but also prioritize unstructured growth time? It's everybody's challenge right now. I wouldn't say that I had that figured out. I don't know that I'm ever going to have that figured out!

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

Holden: My three-part thing is: Get in front of it, ask for what you need, and own it.

Jim [Brett] at West Elm told me, "Imagine what it is that you want. Do a vision exercise for yourself, whether or not that's a facet of a job or a bigger vision for where you want to be over time. What are you looking for? Get in front of it."

Ask for what you need is the second part. People don't know how to help you until you can ask them for something, until you actually verbalize that. I think people don't ask for help with as much frequency as they probably should. Then once you have those two things -- you have your vision and you have what you need -- own your responsibility in delivering on that.

That to me creates extraordinarily rich creative space, because you have everything you need to execute what your vision -- whether it's for yourself or for a client on a project.

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Google expands its African startup initiatives

 Alphabet is committing to training another 1 million students under its Digital Skills for Africa program in the next 12 months. Read More

Ben Affleck opens up about his alcohol addiction on Facebook

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Ben Affleck took to his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon to share that he had been in rehab.

The actor said he'd completed treatment for alcohol addiction, which was the "first of many steps being taken towards a positive recovery."

He mentioned his family and three kids several times in the short statement and talked about his estranged wife, Jennifer Garner, as his "co-parent." The 44-year-old said Garner has "supported me and cared for our kids as I've done the work I set out to do."

The star and producer in the upcoming The Batman movie noted that he's dealt with addiction in the past and that it's an issue he "will continue to confront." He also went to rehab in 2001 for alcohol abuse.  Read more...

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I’m starting to love Instagram Stories more than Snapchat because I’m incredibly thirsty

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Instagram and Snapchat are basically the same thing now, with one major difference: Everyone you know is on the first, and not the second. 

I know, Snapchat is cool—the superior offering, really—but it's true. Instagram, quickly becoming the dad-rock of social media, has 300 million daily users versus 158 million on Snapchat. I didn't think this mattered until Snapchat shot itself in the foot with a small but significant update recently.

It's all to do with Stories, which work similarly on each platform. Basically, you take a picture or short video and post it under your profile, where your followers—all of them, or a select group, depending on your settings—can watch it for a span of 24 hours.  Read more...

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