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Road work wearies business owners, more projects to come

After almost six months, the construction that bogged down East Milwaukee Street has finally been completed.  Unforeseen delays added almost two months to the project’s lifespan.  Local business owners agreed that the project needed to be done, but are glad it is over.

The goal of the public works project was to replace utilities along East Milwaukee Street, which were not replaced the last time the road was overhauled back in 1967.  Other streets in Whitewater were shut down and repaired, but the sewer systems being replaced for those were roughly 6 to 7 feet deep.  The sewers along East Milwaukee were almost 25 feet below the surface.

Public works director Dean Fischer says the extra work was necessary, and that by digging the sewers several feet deeper the city can remove two lift stations.

Sewage flows along streets and lift stations help carry materials to the top of hills so that it can flow down the other side.  Fischer says it costs between $250,000 and $500,000 to purchase and install a single lift station, and that estimate does not include maintenance expenses.

Project Details

  • Estimated cost $3.2 million, accepted bid $2.4 million
  • Construction started April 30th
  • Extension approved September 28th
  • Officially reopened for traffic November 2nd
  • Landscaping work completed November 12th

Time is money and for local business owners the extension of the construction project meant a decrease in business.  Jene Mills owner of Mills Automotive has been located on East Milwaukee Street since 2000, and she says her business dipped almost 30 percent over the summer.

Mills says she knew about the construction far enough in advance that she was able to save money to pay her bills, but that other businesses, which rely on traffic for business, did not have that luxury.

Mills also says that summer is typically a slow season for business because she loses about 11,000 customers when the university empties out for the summer.

The Eastsider Gas Station is owned by Mike Frawley and he says his business declined by almost 22 percent over the summer.  He says the decision to extend the project was a difficult one, but that all he could do was grin and bear it.

Fischer says the width of the street by the residential area was reduced by four feet to include bike paths, which removed on-street parking.  On-street parking remains in the commercial area.

Fischer says the city went to great lengths to provide the business owners with information and signage to inform people which roads were open.  Fischer says the businesses’ livelihood is just as important to the city as it is to the owners, and that he is well aware of the hardships they faced.  He tried to limit the disruption as much as possible.

Future Projects

  • 2014 Downtown Eastgate- Whitewater Street to Milwaukee Street
  • 2015 Clay Street Reconstruction Part 1- Dann Street to Esterly Street
  • 2016 Clay Street Reconstruction Part 2- Esterly Street to the roundabout
  • 2017 Milwaukee Street Reconstruction Part 2
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Social Media: The Strongest Media

For Lower-Profile Olympians, Social Media a Key to Branding Success

I think the author and the swimmer hit the nail on the head.  Lesser known people or those who want to attract a following must use social media.  Unless you have a way of writing a book or appearing on TV, establishing a following online is the best way to get exposure.

Especially for someone like Ricky Berens.  I mean the Olympics only happen once every four years and even when it takes place the people who represent the U.S. are not exactly icons.  There are usually a handful that garner quite a bit of attention but because there is such a strong professional sports scene in the U.S. Olympians are not as godly as they are in smaller countries.  Especially if the compete in what would be considered an obscure sport, which is pretty much anything aside from football, baseball, basketball and maybe hockey or golf.

Broadcasting a personal message is what social media is all about.  It’s merely a platform for people to broadcast their message and very few do it well enough to convince others to invest their time and attention.  This is a trend that won’t disappear any time soon though and anyone who seriously wants to be in the spotlight must take advantage of these opportunities.  From the niche athlete to the President of the United States, anyone that wants to attract a following will have to do it with a digital persona.

Why Marketers Shouldn’t Get to Know Customers’ ‘Digital Selves’

Why Marketers Should Get to Know Customers’ ‘Digital Selves’

So what this guy really thinks is that companies need to try much harder when backdooring into someone’s personal life.  If you work for a company that exists to make money, then you should be doing everything possible to make as much as you can.  Several large companies have already set that precedent, most notably Nike for outsourcing its labor to kids in foreign countries and Apple for legally avoiding income taxes.  That’s the responsibility you have to the other people you work with and to your stockholders, but there has to be a line and it needs to be drawn to protect the consumer.

Yes, people send out information all of the time on the Internet but it’s usually to someone they know or at the very least a real person, not a corporation.  A marketing or communication analyst would tell you that in a very literal sense we are constantly sending signals, but that does not mean that we are seeking or expecting responses to those signals.  Just because someone tweets that they want an iced coffee or would love to go golfing does not mean they are hoping Starbucks or Titleist will send them special offers linked to their profiles.

Now some people do communicate that way.  They tag or link to something on Twitter when they want a product replaced or want something clarified and companies with a good social media presence will send a response.  It’s an innovative approach to marketing I will admit and with advertising costs always increasing money does not go as far as it used to.

It’s cheaper and much more direct than traditional forms of advertising like print or broadcast but my God is it creepy.  Even email isn’t safe anymore and in an age where identity theft can happen in an instant that is a very real problem.  Just look at the American business world of the last decade or so.  How many people were caught embezzling money or were charged with fraud?  Maybe I’m just paranoid but I don’t trust every single person at every single company that employs targeted advertising.  Greed pushes people too far sometimes and it’s going to be up to the public to tell companies what is okay and what isn’t otherwise they will go as far as they have to in order to improve their bottom lines.

The Chicago Tribune: Website Critique

The Chicago Tribune
The Tribune’s website was overhauled in 2008 and while I don’t remember what it looked before the remake I think today it’s a great news site. At first glance, I really like the website’s layout.  It’s clean, well-organized and is extremely easy to navigate.  The homepage is full of content giving readers a wide selection of stories to choose from and almost every headline or teaser has a photo with it.
Their slogan is breaking news and there is a column at the top of the page that is for breaking news. This is a great feature that allows readers to stay updated with the stories that are currently trending. Also all of the stories on the page are time-coded and tell you when they were last updated, which lets people know how timely the article they are reading is.
I like the little weather graphic in the top right corner because everybody needs to know the weather and it can be one of the most searched for items on a site. The spread of ads is done well.  There isn’t that many on the homepage, only about 6, and they are displayed on the page in a way that does not disrupt the flow of content.  It’s actually quite smart because they are situated at the top of the page around the biggest or most recent stories where most people will be looking and then they stop. The Tribune displays Chicago specific ads too which is a good idea because obviously the largest part of its readership is in Chicago so it makes sense to advertise things they would want.
Every once in a while a pop-up ad fills the whole screen and you have to close it or you will go to a page with an expanding banner ad. These rarely appear but are incredibly annoying when they do. It seems you find more of them in the ‘classified’ pages, which makes sense since pretty much everything in there are advertisements anyway.
A big reason why the site is so functional is because of its top-bar navigation. This particular top bar has dozens of links that filter down from the large sections down to niche content and to a few specific columns. This is a great way for the reader to find what they want instead of scrolling all the way down the page or clicking link after link.
One thing I thought was great was the amount of control readers had over certain sections. The real estate, cars, jobs and shopping sections are basically just data bases for users to play around with. There is some content on the section homepages but the search functions of these sections is what makes them so useful.
Much of the editorial content is Chicago specific, like the ads. For example there is a section just for stories that use maps of Chicago. As well as content dividing the city of Chicago and the suburbs and of course sports, which is almost exclusively Chicago-based franchises. Every story has a photo to go with it and many even have video as well.
There is very little in terms of social media on the pages, as far as polls, likes and comments go, but there are links to the paper’s Twitter and Facebook. The Tribune seems to take its social media presence seriously and has even expanded to other platforms. The site has a link for the Tribune apps, mobile alerts and the mobile site. There is also a link to an iPad exclusive web magazine. This focuses on the Chicago Bulls and might use some of the same content as the sports section but otherwise is entirely unique.
The online edition costs $10 a month, or $2.50 a week. I did not run into a pay wall and couldn’t find anything mentioning a pay wall.  However the Chicago Sun-Times recently put one up so if the Tribune does not have one they will definitely be considering it.
Overall this is a solid news website. It’s simple, functional and does a great job of addressing the needs and wants of its Chicago readership. The use of multimedia, searchable data bases and platform exclusive content are all things the Tribune has made priorities and quite frankly most newspapers have not. For those reasons I foresee the online edition outliving the print edition of the Tribune, as well as most other newspapers.
If I had any criticisms about the site it would that there is a little too much content on the homepage. While most of it is divided by section some is not and it appears a bit cluttered in some areas of the page. I don’t like that there are a handful of headlines with slightly larger text and then everything else is the same size. Aside from the larger photos or something being listed in the breaking news section there is very little hierarchy on the page.

The page is very user driven as far as deciding what is most important, which is not all bad, but if someone is just browsing headlines on their break this setup is not very skimmable. Also nearly all of the text is black and more importantly all of the body text and headlines are the same color. What’s worse is that teasers and excerpts are the same color as links, which makes it almost impossible to determine what is clickable without scrolling over everything.

 

Sex Robots Make for an Interesting Read, Who Knew?

Robot Red-Light Districts by 2050?

This story was an obvious bait tactic to drum up more traffic, but I read it all the same.  I now feel dumber for having done so.  I don’t think this is a horrendous piece because it focused on improving the sex trade or because it made a series of outrageous claims for the year 2050, but I do despise this story, however short and pointless it might be, because someone allowed it to be posted on their website.

This is a prime example of just how little the opinions of ‘experts’ are worth these days when they spew half-baked ideas and waste who knows how much money on ridiculous ‘studies’.  If these people have jobs and somehow their words carry enough weight to be heard around the world, why am I wasting my time pursuing a college degree?

Something like this speaks to just how morally bankrupt society is.  This piece was liked and shared several hundred times.  There are people starving all over the world, there’s always a war of some sort in the Middle East or in Africa and yet garbage like this generates discussion.  If someone really wants to eliminate the sex trade, then put forth suggestions with merit.  Go after the people running these operations or better yet, improve economic conditions so people don’t have to sell their bodies to make ends meet.  It might seem trivial but this is why I hate online publishing and why Internet journalism is still behind print and broadcast, more so print.

No newsroom with a shred of integrity would run a trashy story like this.  Yes, there are those sleazy tabloids who get their ‘news’ from celebrities’ garbage cans but no legitimate news outlet would subject its readers to this.

Mobile Devices: Can They Revive the Newspaper Industry?

You know if people spent as much time developing solutions to problems instead of complaints and half-baked studies their troubles could be solved much quicker.  The mobile market will not save journalism; journalism will save journalism and it will use mobile devices to do so.  Also, more than Apple devices will be used.  Yes, they were the first and yes, they are they biggest, but Apple does not comprise 100 percent of the electronics market; there are others out there who are trying.  People buy tablets and smart phones as well as iPads and iPhones.

Print-based mediums are dieing and will disappear in the next 10 years or so.  The average reader now wants their news in a digital format and on a platform that offers the flexibility for them to consume content whenever and wherever they choose.  So of course smart phones and tablets seem like the logical successor to current news mediums.  The biggest problem with this theory is that only a fraction of the market actually owns them.  Say what you want about newspapers being archaic and a waste of paper but at least they are cheap.  Go pick one up at a newsstand for a buck or go online and browse for free.  Some people just can’t justify committing to a lucrative data plan for a smart phone or investing several hundred dollars in a tablet that’s really only good for web-browsing and apps.

The other obstacle blocking the newspaper industry’s path to progress is the industry itself.  Here is a great product, mobile devices, with a new market that has an undetermined amount of potential and they squander their chance at redemption by releasing poor quality apps and content or release nothing at all.  That being said, everyone needs to lower their standards and let things take their course.  This is a new platform with different needs and functions that have not been fully explored yet and there is no chance that newspapers will get everything right in the first few years.  Some have to fail before progress is made.

Now the only ones who shouldn’t lower their expectations are journalists and newsgroups.  They have the most to gain and/or lose with the advent of this new field, but should also be excited that they are being presented with another medium with which to inform the masses.  If they are not, they why the hell are they in this field to begin with?

They have the benefit of hindsight this time around and, rather than releasing tons of free content on the Internet, now they will decide the best way to get every cent out of readers and advertisers.  If the 90s taught us anything it’s that you cannot simply make money by creating something with new technology.  If consumers are going to use it, and more importantly going to pay for it, then newspapers must give them a reason to care.

Why LinkedIn? Use Something Concrete

LinkedIn Industry Trends: Winners and Losers During the Great Recession

Another study telling us what we already know.  Time well spent.  It’s interesting that information from a networking site, LinkedIn, was used to gather the information for this study, but if all they found was that newspapers are shrinking and that people love the Internet it was a monumental waste of time.  The extremes on the chart are common knowledge but I found it interesting that construction and telecommunications are shrinking.  I suppose a lack of funds for public works projects and things like Facebook and Skype would explain those changes though.

I feel this report is quite shallow.  I mean Internet and online publishing are among the highest on the graph, but they make no effort to explain what that includes.  The fields of news, banking and retail conduct most of their work or business online now, which has led to the rise of Internet-related opportunities, but none of the magic circles are broken down.  The second chart divulges even less.

I really wish there would have been more discussion with this article or at least a link to someone who dissected it.  The extent of the information used to construct the charts was LinkedIn and its users.  The problem with this is that not everyone uses LinkedIn so it’s only possible to get a sample size of the job market not the entire picture.  If the idea was take the job market’s pulse, then something broader like Facebook or census data should have been used.  Better yet, use Twitter.  Twitter is used by mostly professionals or companies looking to update consumers, or in the case of journalists, to release and collect information.  I have a feeling some, not all, of those lines and circles would change if a different source was used.