In an attempt to stay competitive with popular messaging apps such as Snapchat and Facebook’s Messenger, Google recently launched its own service, Google Allo.
Allo is advertised as “a smart messaging app that helps you say more and do more.”
As messaging apps go, Allo’s features are somewhat similar to those found on Messenger and Snapchat. Users can add text, emojis and stickers as well as Snapchat-like creative features, such as doodling on images.
Where Allo separates itself from other messaging apps is with Google Assistant, an artificial intelligent feature comparable to Apple’s Siri and Amazon Echo’s Alexa.
Not familiar with Siri or Alexa? Open a Siri-enabled Apple device and ask, “Hey Siri, what’s the closest Chinese buffet to me?” Or, if you have an Amazon Echo, ask Alexa, “Who won the 1979 World Series?”
You’ll get the answers or be directed to websites with the answers.
Google Assistant doesn’t have a catchy name like Siri or Alexa, but it’s quick to provide answers to even the most puzzling questions.
On a personal note, because it doesn’t have a cool name, I’ve named Google Assistant “Goat.” Borrowing two letters from each word, “Google” and “Assistant,” seemed like the cool, hip, tech-naming thing to do.
Plus, I like goats.
I have yet to connect with any human being on the app, so I’m left to test Allo’s interactive features using my only friend: Goat.
I asked Goat, “Why am I so addicted to social media?”
Goat replied, “I found this on the web,” followed by a link to Alex Kazemi’s “An Earnest Guide to Breaking Your Social Media Addiction.”
I replied, “I was kidding.”
Goat replied, “Oh. What is a sea monster’s favorite snack? Ships and dip.”
Clearly Google has some work to do in the humor department. That aside, when I asked the question again, in varying forms, being sure to swap key words such as “compulsion” or “dependence” for “addiction,” Goat provided different results each time.
Still, each link provided relevant resources for answering my social media addiction questions.
Apparently, when you’re in a conversation, you can ask Goat for help by typing “@google” and your question into the message window. I plan to test that feature as soon as I find a real Allo- using friend.
Allo has also taken some of the frustration out of not knowing how to reply to someone. Want to reply in all CAPS, but not sure you’ll get the message across? You can easily increase the font size, or whisper by decreasing the size.
Allo also offers emoji suggestions, important for those of us trying to bridge the generational gap with younger users who seem to have a quirky image for every occasion.
The launch of Allo comes on the heels of another recent addition to the Google catalog, including Duo, a video-calling app similar to Apple’s Facetime.
Both apps are available on iOS and Android.
A week ago, I tweeted:
“@mbearn and I r Samsung people, but I’m calling B.S. on @IMKristenBell & @daxshepard1 doing their own laundry. Suspension of disbelief? ;)”.
Of course, I was referring to the commercials for Samsung appliances featuring actors Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard. The commercials often feature the real life married couple sweetly bantering back and forth while performing household chores.
In this ad, they’re hocking washers and dryers.
After seeing the commercial several times, I told my wife (she’s the @mbearn in my snarky tweet) there’s no way Bell and Shepard actually do their own laundry. They’re big-time movie stars. They’re married with kids. They obviously pay someone to do this stuff.
My wife and I have four kids, and laundry is always a disaster. If we were rich and famous movie stars, we would pay someone to do the Earnheardt family laundry. It’s awful.
To my surprise, Shepard, who starred as Crosby Braverman in NBC’s drama “Parenthood,” tweeted back:
“We do our own laundry. Trust me. And it never ends.”
I was a little surprised Shepard tweeted me back. Before our brief interaction, I wasn’t a huge fan, and I only knew a little about him from conversations with my wife (she’s my pop culture encyclopedia).
But that he took the time to call me on my 140-character missive was important. It showed that he’s a loyal, albeit paid, brand ambassador for Samsung.
More importantly, he’s engaged with his Twitter fan base.
His tweet was followed by one from my wife:
“If @IMKristenBell @daxshepard1 say they do it, I believe!”
A few minutes later, Bell tweeted:
“I’m workin on a batch of dirtys as we speak.” (see the screenshot above)
This tweet included a picture of a clearly peeved Bell holding a basket of dirty laundry. Of course, I couldn’t tell if she was upset with me for questioning the sincerity of those delightful commercials or annoyed that she was actually washing clothes on a Wednesday night.
This opened the door to many supportive tweets for the actors, including one from my friend Matt Stone at WFMJ:
“Nice! The professor got called out by a make-up free Anna. Detroit folk do their own laundry!”
Stone was referring to the character Anna from the Disney animated movie Frozen, and the fact that Bell wasn’t wearing make-up.
Bell is attractive without make-up, but the fact that she let someone (Shepard?) snap and post this image is a fantastic representation of what it means to be a brand ambassador.
And Samsung has clearly hit brand ambassador pay dirt with Bell and Shepard.
My wife was quick to point out that there should be some level of retribution for calling out someone on Twitter, and losing.
“I think @adamearn should be on Team Earnheardt laundry duty all week. Punishment for questioning your integrity.”
Snapchat used to be about one thing: sharing selfies with friends and followers.
Make a duck face, snap a picture, and post it to your Snapchat story.
Now, with more than 10 million videos viewed each day, Snapchat wants to help users tell a deeper story.
If you’re not a Snapchat user, a “story” is simply a photo or video you post to your own account feed. Think of it as your Facebook home page (or “wall” for you old-school users) or your profile page on Twitter.
Swipe from right to left on any Snapchat tab until you find the “Stories” screen tab. You’ll see stories of the people you follow under “Recent Updates.” You can view stories from news and entertainment sources such as CNN, Comedy Central and ESPN.
When you open Snapchat, the first screen is usually a front-facing camera, aimed directly on your face, of course (which is always a little disconcerting for me). The idea behind making this the opening screen is to prompt you to share what you’re doing in that moment.
After taking that amazing shot, you can decide whether to share it with the world or just a few select friends.
If you’re not an active Snapchat user, and feel like it’s an app for a younger generation, you’re only partly right.
According to statista.com, 60 percent of Snapchat users are in the 13-24 age group.
However, 38 percent of users are in the 25-54 age group, a broader age category to be sure, but Snapchat adoption among this older age group is on the rise.
This is probably because Snapchat has become much more than just a place to share adorable selfies by a mostly self-absorbed teenage user base.
In early 2016, Snapchat reported that about a third of its daily users created “stories” with photos, and that they were posting more videos to complement those photos and add to their story.
When Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel met with investors earlier this year, he noted that video views increased over five times from the same point in 2015. This is likely due to the large amount of video and live content posted by The Wall Street Journal, Food Network and other media outlets.
Spiegel said that users were watching about 10 million videos a day. He also reported that the app had more than 100 million daily users in the first part of 2016.
Of course, 100 million users pales in comparison to social media behemoth Facebook’s 1.7 billion users. But the fact that Facebook entered the live video realm shortly after Snapchat launched its video-sharing capabilities may be a sign that the social media giant recognizes competition when it sees it.
Because of this, it’s likely that Snapchat video and other live video will be a dominant social media trend throughout the rest of 2016 and 2017.
Food. Insults. Crude jokes. Football.
These words best describe a typical Sunday in early September each year for the 10 owners in the Northern Ohio Fantasy Football Alliance, or NOFFA.
Now in its 24th season, NOFFA started in a Bowling Green State University dormitory, and most of the original owners are still active.
One owner chuckled, “Yes, you could say we’re still ‘active,’ but it’s a little more surprising that we’re all still alive.”
For most owners, draft day is the only time they’ll see each other all year long.
Ted Keilman, NOFFA’s commissioner and an original member, said, “We only do this once a year, but it’s great to see everyone, to get everyone together.”
Last Sunday, team owners started arriving at 11:30 a.m., followed by a short ceremony at noon during which trophies and prizes were awarded to the 2016 season winners.
The draft didn’t begin until 1 p.m. and ended about 5 p.m.
According to Tony Perrone, one of NOFFA’s original members, previous drafts lasted a lot longer.
“This used to go on forever,” Perrone said. “We’d take breaks after a few rounds, but most times, we didn’t get out until after dark.”
That NOFFA’s owners get together face-to-face only once a year and still maintain friendships over great distances is remarkable. What’s equally notable is that they operate their league on their own web-based platform.
While most fantasy football players will use online sites provided by the NFL, ESPN or Yahoo sports, NOFFA operates on a homegrown, members-only website and database.
Of course, 24 years ago NOFFA members did their research and stat analysis with newspapers, paper grids and pencils. Last Sunday, when NOFFA members assembled around the U-shaped table, almost everyone pulled out a laptop or an iPad. Some had both.
David Strukel, who has been with NOFFA for 15 years and is their “newest” member, prepared for the draft that day.
“I just bought my draft magazines this morning. But I’m prepared,” Strukel said.
Mike Pehanic, notably the quietest guy in the group, came only with a notepad and a paperback fantasy football guide.
“He’s old school,” Perrone said.
The only time the poker-faced Pehanic really spoke up was to announce his player selections.
The men are all at different stages in their personal lives. Some are single, some married or divorced. Some have kids. Their occupations range from banking and finance to IT and physical therapy.
The one constant, however, is fantasy football.
Next year marks the 25th season, an important milestone for the group. As the day concluded, members batted around ideas for a special location for the 2017 draft.
“Maybe we should head back to [Bowling Green State University],” Perrone suggested, referring to the leagues’ birthplace.
After a short pause, and almost in unison, several members said, “Vegas.”
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.