Monday, July 26, 2010

Where Are Your Customers and Why Geolocation Applications Matter

Geolocation. Say the word and expect a puzzled look, stunned silence, and the question “Who would ever need to know about such a thing?”

Simply answered: everyone.

The speed at which internet-technology-created opportunity presents itself is stunning…and it isn’t letting up or slowing down. The latest trend is geolocation applications for mobile devices like the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. Because the need to understand and engage this platform is so critical, Durham News Service will feature several articles helping Durham businesses understand these tools in addition to learning how to “claim” one’s online real estate.

These applications are simultaneously social media and wildly powerful business tools. They allow a business to deliver and target messages to people who want to receive them AND to those close by in real-time. Think of it like this – as a geolocation application user gets physically closer to a business, a notification (and possibly an ad) for that business pops up on the user’s phone or mobile device. This is coming – soon.

These applications also permit users to see where their friends are in real-time so long as they “check in” using the application. Doing so earns users points and wins them badges. Scvngr, a relatively new mobile app, has created games where players earn points by checking in and completing tasks. Savvy businesses that befriend their patrons on these services can see who is close by – which opens the door to a host of marketing possibilities.

These services are all part of the so called “online real estate” spectrum. Business owners need to stake their claim on these by ensuring posted information is correct, by loading tips and images, and by utilizing other features that permit further personalization.

DCVB will host a series of seminars this fall on how to engage services like these. Additional information will be forthcoming soon.

Durham News Service Online

Most consumers use media in very different ways now compared to just a few years ago. So much, in fact, that it can be hard to remember just how inefficient the old ways really were. Times have certainly changed for the better, and the Durham News Service is about to change, too.

In the next few weeks, the Durham News Service will be shifting to an online “news aggregator” website-style format and allow readers to subscribe to their desired interests via RSS feeds. The shift is major and it accomplishes a number of DCVB’s communication goals:
  • Widen the appeal of, and access to, the Durham News Service to everyone in Durham and beyond.
  • Allow readers to be more focused about what they want to read via RSS feeds.
  • Convert to a website format to allow up-to-the-minute updates – much more real-time information.
  • Share daily headlines about Durham from a comprehensive global media search.
  • Include a DCVB staff blog about Durham, living here, and related subjects.
  • Create a page that will serve as a community gathering place that is used by residents as their home page.
  • Create opportunities for local businesses to communicate directly with local stakeholders.

So what does this mean for readers? Faster access to more current information updated in real time during the work week, the capacity for filtering to see stories of particular interest using tags and the ability to receive content of interest via RSS feeds.

The site will launch in the next few weeks, and instructions on how to use the site will be sent in upcoming issues of the Durham News Service. Email versions of the newsletter will still be sent for several more months, but they will change to being “recaps” or “digest versions” of what was posted on the website that week. Major research and white papers will still be sent in full in email.

As always, feedback is desired and it can be emailed here.

Shooting the Bull in the Bullpen

Chances are that most people have used the phrase “shooting the bull” or the word “bullpen” in their everyday conversations. If so, then thanks. Durham sure appreciates the coverage.

Confused? Well, both of these phrases originated in Durham and they are globally used today with few understanding the origin. Here’s a primer:

Shoot(ing) the Bull

It’s an odd phrase that people use to mean having a conversation to pass the time, since on the surface, it seems a tad violent. In fact, it refers to the act of spitting while chewing (Bull Durham) tobacco – the act of “shooting” the Bull was done often while in conversation.

Bull Pen

This one is actually derived from the placement of an advertisement. For years, Bull Durham Tobacco had an advertisement in Yankee Stadium behind the pitcher’s warm up pen. After a few years, announcers began calling it the Bull Pen…the rest is, ah, history.

So, there you have it. Go forth and repeat.

TOWING – A Visitor’s Nightmare

There was an interesting discussion on Bull City Rising last week about a bill in the General Assembly (since ratified) that would regulate towing from private parking lots.

At issue was whether the proposed regulations are fair to private parking lot owners. The bill, effective October 1, 2010, will require owners to:
  • Post a sign no smaller than 24 inches by 24 inches prominently displayed at the entry to the private parking lot.
  • Display the name and phone number of the towing and storage company.
  • Ensure any vehicle towed is not transported more than 15 miles from the place of removal.
  • Inform the owner in writing at the time of retrieval that s/he has the right to pay the towing and storage fee, request immediate possession, and contest the towing charges.
  • Not require the person retrieving the car to sign any waiver of rights as a condition of the release of the vehicle.
Some private property owners contend that those who park illegally are “law-breaking whiners,” and this is just another attempt to “legislate behavior and make property owners yield to irresponsible consumers.” (See comments on Bull City Rising.) And it’s true that some probably are intentionally taking their chances on breaking the law, but consider the thoughts going through a visitor’s mind driving in an unfamiliar city:

Now where is that restaurant… road names hard to read…some don’t have their street numbers clearly displayed….whoops, watch the cars in front of me…was it 2611 or 2116?….whoa!...street names changed…was I on Chapel Hill Street, Chapel Hill Road or Durham Chapel Hill Boulevard?...Found it!…looks busy…hard to find parking…the lot next door is empty…there is even a nice pathway from the lot to the restaurant.

The accounting below is a true story from someone who visited Durham within the past four months.
  • Patron parks car in private lot next door to restaurant for just over 60 minutes.
  • Returns to find car was towed. Looks for sign and realizes she had been parked illegally.
  • Called the number on the sign and was told to bring $235 in cash.
  • Calls Durham Police to ask if they can really charge that much to tow a car???
  • Policeman calls tow company but can’t do anything since the car was on private parking.
  • Visitor met a friend at the restaurant, so had means to get to the tow place and to an ATM to withdraw cash, but drove around for an hour trying to locate both.
  • Waited 20 minutes for tow person to show up (it was a Sunday afternoon.)
  • Tow person swears at visitor for calling police.
  • Visitor requested business license number and published rates of the tow company. Tow person refuses and threatens if visitor doesn’t “shut her mouth” he will not release the car until Monday.
  • Visitor agrees she made a mistake; that private property owners should be able to tow cars; and that she should have to pay a fine. However, also wishes signs were more visible; notice was given before towing; and that Durham would impose rules and regulations on their towing and storage industry.
  • Visitor also notes she likely won’t be coming back to Durham.
If the visitor hadn’t met a friend at the restaurant, the taxi fare over to the storage facility would have been $17.35. The time and money to find an ATM could have more than doubled that cost.

Had this bill been made into law at that time the visitor may have seen the sign that prohibited parking to begin with. She definitely could not have been threatened to not receive her car until the next day.

Ironically, when this restaurant opened, they were required to put in a cross connection to the neighboring businesses, which by all appearances “invites” patrons to park in one spot and walk to neighboring businesses (which on this street is a combination of retail and restaurants.)

Other cities (Chapel Hill and Raleigh, for example) have passed regulations that require limiting the total cost of towing to $100; requiring towing companies to take debit or credit cards; limiting the "storage fee"; and requiring all spaces that you can be towed from to be clearly labeled. Is it time for Durham to move in this direction as well? Does the new law go far enough?

Top Ten Ideas to Beat the Heat This Summer

When temperatures hover in mid- to high-nineties, many people head inside to cool off. Durham News Service checked with its Facebook fans to see how they liked to “stay cool.” For the more adventurous at heart, here are some ideas for “cooling off” outside in Durham:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

North Carolina Central University Throws Birthday Bash

North Carolina Central University officials are inviting the public to a 100th birthday bash on campus on July 8.

The celebration will include dedications of a newly installed Centennial Garden on Fayetteville Street, the Centennial Chapel, (the relocated and repurposed Holy Cross Church) and a historic plaque commemorating the former site of Hillside High School. It is the final celebration of NCCU's centennial.

The birthday celebration will be held from 3pm to 6pm on and around the Brant Street plaza. After the dedications, the party will start with birthday cake and music.

Free parking will be available at NCCU lots on Lawson Street and Nelson Street and with shuttle service from St. Titus and St. Joseph's church lots.

The Centennial Garden, currently under construction, will be a swirling pattern of walkways and perennial plantings, with a mix of shrubs and hardwood and flowering trees. It will feature a fountain, and is situated on Fayetteville Street between the Shepard House and the former Holy Cross Church.

At first named the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua for the Colored Race, NCCU opened its doors to students on July 5, 1910, when Durham was a small tobacco town, and opportunities for higher education for African-Americans were slight. In less than two decades, the institution had become the first African-American liberal arts college in the nation to receive taxpayer support.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the NCCU Office of Public Relations at (919) 530-6295.

Eno River Then and Now

The Eno River began pretty simply—probably in the late 1600s—as nothing more than run-off from tobacco and corn fields in Orange County. Now the second largest river in North Carolina, it runs some 40 miles through Orange County and Durham County before merging with the Little and Flat Rivers and flowing into Falls Lake.

Three hundred years later (1966), the Eno River Association was founded as a non-profit 501 (c) (3) conservation organization with a mission to conserve and protect the Eno River basin.

On the site where Durham's old West Point Mill stood since 1778, the story goes that one of the mill buildings along the river collapsed from old age and neglect in 1973. The Association was able to take the remains of an old mill in Virginia and reconstruct the mill on that site and establish a park in time to host 100,000 people at the Festival of North Carolina Folklife in 1976, one of many U.S. Bicentennial celebrations.

A version of that Festival began in 1980 as Festival for the Eno, a fundraiser that has allowed the association to purchase and protect nearly 6,000 acres of land along the river. In addition to the Eno River State Park, which straddles Orange and Durham counties, there is a city park along the river named West Point on the Eno, which is the actual site of Festival.

As the 31st festival gets underway tomorrow, DNS is happy to provide some "then" and "now" blurbs for readers to learn about this lush treasure.

1752 Michael Synott was granted 100 acres of land on both sides of the River including his mills.

1865 General Sherman stationed a cavalry unit at West Point prior to the surrender at Bennett Place.

1866 The wedding of Rebecca and Robert Russell took place exhibiting early hospitality on the site with the entire county invited to the ceremony and wedding feast, with music and dancing.

1887 Durham tapped the Eno for its first water system and built a pumping station.

1942 Mill shut down after 160 years of continuous operation due to a flood.

1972 The state of North Carolina granted a request to establish a state park at the Eno river.

1980 Margaret Nygard, founder of the Eno River Association stationed 100 volunteers at various posts for the first Eno River Festival which drew 12,000. Internationally-known performers Shirley Caesar, Doc Watson, and the Red Clay Ramblers are tapped to headline the Festival.

1995 A flood almost shut down the Festival, but was saved with hundreds of volunteer hours spent moving stages and crafters.

1998 The festival (longest running and largest ticketed Independence Day Festival in North Carolina) draws more than 40,000 people for music, dancing and feasting.

Event Round Up for July

Durham is full of diversity - diverse people, diverse ideas, diverse food, and diverse events. Just check out this partial list of events for the coming month; there's sure to be something for everyone.

Don't miss the 2010 Festival for the Eno July 3, 4, and 5, which will deliver non-stop performances by more than 100 performers on four stages, hands-on exhibits, demonstrations, and workshops celebrating regional nature, culture and history, and a juried crafts show of 100 of the Southeast's most talented artists. Tickets can be purchased online in advance of the festival for $13 or at the festival for $15 per day. A 3-day pass is available for $30.

Also stop in to see professional athletes, collegiate players, and local high school all-stars under one roof and on one court at the Greater NC Pro-Am, running from July 1 through August 8 at the McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium on the campus of North Carolina Central University. In its third year, the Great NC Pro-Am takes the game of basketball to a whole new level with rare opportunities to watch and seek autographs from Carolina, Duke, and N.C. State players as well as professional NBA players such as John Wall and Kevin Durant. Admission is free.

There are also many more opportunities to see the American Dance Festival shows through July 24. Still on tap for July performances: Pilobolus, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Martha Clarke, Rosie Herrera and more. For a full schedule and to purchase tickets go to ADF at DPAC or ADF at Duke.

Other July events include:
Bull Moon Ride – July 10, at 8pm. Ride through Downtown Durham, past Duke Chapel at twilight and on the American Tobacco Trail while supporting Habitat of Durham. Interested participants can register online or the day of the race.

National Night Out Kickoff – July 24, from 10am-12pm. Come out for activities for kids, police motorcycles, K-9 unites, entertainment and refreshments.

Interested in a weekly reminder of all the great things happening in Durham? Sign up for a weekly calendar snapshot email. Or get an RSS feed of events delivered automatically, leaving no reason to miss out on all the fun.