Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What do I do, where do I go?

Over the course of the next several posts, the Plum team will be taking a deeper dive into the everyday world of our Plum users.  More specifically, we want to find out how our users envision utilizing Plum and what questions they have about using Plum that we can answer.

We begin the series by speaking to a user, Dalia G., who describes herself as a well educated, single Mom of 3, who has a full time job with a non-profit organization that advocates for individuals with disabilities.  And while she herself is wheel chair bound, due to a diagnosis of Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), that certainly doesn’t stop her from staying active with her children and giving back to her community.  Furthermore and in honor and celebration of the 25th anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) this year, the Plum team wishes to express our heartfelt gratitude to Dalia G., for her time, candid perspective and insight on the value of Plum.
We began our discussion by reviewing the two primary components of Plum.  The first being the tool bar, located at the bottom right corner, and the second being the Web App itself. 

Toolbar on lower right of screen with red box around it (Click Image to see full size)

Plum web app (Click Image to see full size)

Upon review of the features, Dalia G., shared that she really liked the idea of Plum giving the user the option to “share your thoughts,” either anonymously or under your self-created Plum User Name.

“Share your thoughts is a great feature and one that separates Plum from other channels available today.  Simply stated, there are just some things that you want to ask someone that you may not want to self-identify yourself on.”

The other stand out feature that our user found appealing was the discover wheel, which we here at Plum define as your “Plum Profile.”  The discover wheel, located in the “Discover tab,” is a feature that provides the end user with the ability to customize and find other similar (in general or for a specific interest) Plum Users.   We’ve also enhanced the feature to filter the list of discovered users by proximity.    

With that said, a Plum User can make the decision to ask one or multiple Plum Users, a question or initiate a chat; either way, the choice is the Plum User’s.  And because our enthusiasts are able to sift through the masses and find other Plum users, like themselves, the end result is a more fruitful experience, which we believe will keep our Plum User returning.
During the course of this interview, Dalia G., shared how she could see real value in using Plum for specific topics such as finding a great jam recipe, for her child’s 4-H Fair Project, or in a professional self-improvement scenario, such as preparing for that next job interview. “You can use Plum for just about anything you can dream up!” 

Now, we just need for more Users to sign up so that we can improve and increase our chances of finding more people like us. 

From the Plum Team:  If this blog post rang a chord with you and you are interested in speaking to us about how Plum can help you find advice, support, and community, reach out to me at russell@plumgroups.com.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Difficult Moments

Starting college can be a stressful time for a freshman. You have to relearn time management, choose the right major, and also make friends. There is a college standard most are expected to live by: go to school, get good grades, learn to become a positive contributor and make as many lasting connections as you can. So when something happens to throw this standard process off balance, it’s hard to combat the changes with confidence and clarity. Nobody expects to be diagnosed with type one diabetes, or go to 15 doctors appointments in a year. When this happens during your first year of college, it’s easy to feel alone and overwhelmed.
When diagnosed with a chronic illness, you start to see a split, the normal people and the people with illnesses. In college, the “normal” students are counting carbs to get ready for bikini season, but the occasional mess up is fine. While the diabetic is counting carbs, religiously, so they can maintain a healthy level of insulin and not end up in the hospital. A friend of mine who is currently dealing with the diabetic transition was suggested by her doctor to take a year off of school, so she could learn how to manage her new life. Most students take a year off to travel the world, they don’t take a year off to learn how to live their life in a new way. Another college aged celiac patient mentioned that her mom was adamant that she leave school for a while after the patient lost 30 pounds in 5 months and was riding the line of malnutrition. Both students stayed but had more on their plates than either ever imagined.
It’s easy to feel isolated, like the only person in the world going through something so big. Large college campuses have groups for you to meet in if you are experiencing new diseases but smaller campuses let you fend for yourself. That same student struggling with celiac disease, the summer after her freshman year, told us that she felt so helpless because she got sick any time she would eat at the cafeteria, but she was on a mandatory meal plan. She spent her entire fall semester working with the disabilities services to get taken off of the meal plan, while also dealing with depression. It was hard to manage her health, school and friendships so they all suffered. There is a gap in active communities where people can help each other manage their new life circumstances.
People of all ages are being diagnosed with illnesses that can change their life in drastic ways. While some have support from families and friends, there isn’t as much community from people going through the same issues. With blogs being the leading connection between people with diseases,one or two voices are the prominent speaker while others get lost in the comments. The communities need a place where they can all connect, as equals. Plum wants to offer that to people.
Plum wants to help those struggling through new diseases by making it easier for people to find others like themselves. A recently diagnosed patient could find comfort in a group of people going through the same experiences, but also be comfortable enough to anonymously ask questions about some of the issues they may not want their friends and family to know. Many patients being tested with celiac disease have to get colonoscopies and endoscopies. An 18 year old might want to anonymously ask questions to a group who has been through those procedures, rather than asking about them from the only person she knows has been through the procedure, her grandmother.
The whole hope is that Plum can be used to start conversations and community for people dealing with a sickness that your average person may not be going through. We want parents of kids struggling with a chronic illness to be able to connect. Most of all we want to help build communities that will decrease the likelihood of a patient going through depression. We want you to use Plum to connect with sports fans or passionate gardeners like yourself. However, we want you to know that we measure the success of Plum in how well it helps you through those difficult moments in life. When your life has been turned upside down after something as simple as a yearly checkup, that is when you need a community of people like you and me more than ever. 
Plum Intern

Monday, July 20, 2015

New Plum Team Members

Plum is growing, and we are excited to welcome our two newest team members Dee Guo and Morgan Monzingo.

Dee is a passionate designer and app developer that loves developing seamless applications for practical use, as well as for entertainment. When not programming or scripting, she enjoys spending her time outdoors (when it's not too hot or muggy!), hanging out with friends, playing video games, learning new things and doodling in her sketchbook. She believes in technology and what it yet has to offer the world and loves all manner of subjects, including the humanities and natural sciences. Above all else, she wants to learn all that there is to learn (such that learning will never be over) and impact the world through what she creates. 

Morgan is a junior at Southern Methodist University pursuing a degree in computer science and EMIS. She is a member of the Gamma Phi Beta, Alpha Xi chapter and loves to be as involved on campus as possible. Morgan is the co-captain of the ballroom competition team and is a project lead for the Engineers Without Borders Bolivia project. Morgan is also a director of the largest student run hackathon in Dallas, HackDFW. "You could say that I overbook myself, but I call it leaving no room for boredom. I’m originally from Pflugerville, Texas, so the fast pace of Dallas was welcomed." Morgan is passionate about technology's impact on health and hopes to one day pursue a career in that field. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

How many times have I been bought and sold?

In recent years, many of us have become more and more uncomfortable with the idea that the government, and quite a few of our favorite websites, know more about us than we ever wanted them to. I can’t count the amount of companies who know the brand of shoes I bought 4 months ago, the blog I browsed to find a dinner recipe for tonight, or even the exact amount of times that I have clicked on a cat lovers website, all of which gives me chills.
The e-commerce, business and publishing sites you visit have made a faustian bargain with sometimes shadowy 3rd party advertising companies and this bargain is called retargeting. Publishers get paid to sell your site visit information to the ad company and then host ads targeted to your recent site visits. Then e-commerce and business sites trade your data for the ability to advertise their products to you as much as possible.  Just glance at your Facebook feed and you might notice an ad about the brand of glasses you just finished purchasing on Amazon. That’s retargeting in action. Yet, advertising companies don’t stop at retargeting or trying to sell you more stuff, many sell your data to anybody willing to pay. My question is, where was I when the company made this bargain?
The companies that take part in retargeting argue that if consumers were so upset about them collecting data, they would boycott the internet, or do more. That is completely wrong to assume. In the TechCrunch article, “The Online Privacy Lie is Unraveling”, it says, “91% (of the survey respondents) disagree (77% of them strongly) that “If companies give me a discount, it is a fair exchange for them to collect information about me without my knowing”. This article continues to explain that a majority of internet users don’t even know they are allowing companies access to this information, or that it’s legal.
Regardless of our ill feelings towards the bargain which buys and sells our data, we continue to log onto twitter, our favorite airline, amazon, google, Facebook or any number of product and business sites. There is a fear of what information people have about us, but we haven’t stopped using the internet in the ways we have been in the past. We are uncomfortable with what people know about us, but have no way to combat the loss of control of our data and our privacy.
Ultimately, people are unhappy with the idea of sites taking their personal information and spreading it out to these shadowy 3rd parties. Nobody feels like they have ownership or control over their data, or they feel it’s too late to do anything to stop these companies. Users of technology and the companies that serve them need to change their way of thinking if we are going to gain control of our data and our privacy.  
Companies should build products and services based on a consumer's willingness to give them their data. Then the company could build products or solutions based on the needs of that specific user. I would have no problem ALLOWING my choice of companies to use my browsing history.  If this were an option, I would love for Pillsbury to have my information on how many gluten free biscuit recipes I’ve looked at. Maybe then they would feel encouraged to create this product in a can. The whole idea is that I approve of Pillsbury using my data and they don't have to take my information in secret. There is a lot of good that can come from our browsing history but it is something that we should be able to take ownership of, it’s property.
It’s reasonable to predict that consumers are going to switch to wanting to only work with companies that respect their data as the consumer's property. The internet is too important for consumers to not take control of their data soon. I encourage newer companies to address data privacy when building their business plan, and recognize that consumers will hold them accountable. Because consumers, it’s time for us to control our data.
Your loyal Plum intern,

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Plum is Transparent

The term transparent has recently received a really “bad rap.”  Politicians and corporate America have guaranteed transparency, however, they have usually disappointed their respective constituents and customers.
Nevertheless, Jason and I believe that not only is transparency a core principle of Plum, it is essential in establishing trust. 

Transparent, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is as follows:

a :  free from pretense or deceit :  frank
b :  easily detected or seen through :  obvious
c :  readily understood
d :  characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices

Why have attempts at transparency, despite good intentions, failed so miserably?

First, I think it is really difficult to be all of those things when talking about complex issues.  Second, their motives are usually different than their audience.  For example, taking advantage of users and their money is much more difficult to do if you're completely honest about the reasons behind a certain product feature.  Additionally, it might be impossible to pass a law if the majority of voters oppose it based on their understanding of the motives behind it.  Thus, businesses become very opaque and politicians do what politicians do.

In TechCrunch’s recent article, “Why Privacy is the WrongConversation,” they highlight transparency’s role in these data-driven times. 

What makes Plum different?  Simply put, Jason and I are like you; we are the audience for Plum.
We do not want to participate in any social platform if we do not understand why and how our data is being used.  In addition, we accept the responsibility you entrust in us when you agree to join Plum. We commit to you, as the co-founders of Plum, to be as open and honest as possible.

To that end, Jason and I would like to share our Plum Pledge to you.

Our Plum Pledge  

  1. Ask - We Answer - We will always tell you what we are doing with your data and why.  To help this process, we will have a global group called, “Ask Plum Anything.”  
  2. Plum will not sell your data – That is a pretty bold statement given how much data is being bought and sold today, but we strongly believe that each of us are the sole owners of our data.  We want to make it perfectly clear, that if you join any Groups or Plum Groves, the creators\owners of those Groups or Groves will have access to aggregated information about the users.   For example, if company ABC were to have a Plum Grove and you joined it, then ABC would have an aggregated view of the data for all its members of that Plum Grove.  However, ABC will never be able to buy data about XYZ’s Plum Grove users.
  3. Protect and Respect – We will work to make sure that Plum protects its users’ privacy and provides a safe and respectful environment for users to connect and discuss topics of interest that range from the trivial to the sensitive.  To help provide this kind of environment, we will ask you to take a Plum Pledge when joining.   The User’s Plum Pledge will be about how a user will treat other users, what they will NOT do, and how each user will help enforce the community guidelines.
  4. Be Accountable – We acknowledge that mistakes will be made along this journey. However, we will be honest about them by taking responsibility and learning from our mistakes.  We ask for your patience and understanding. 
  5. Abusers will not be tolerated – If a Plum Pledge is broken, the issue will be addressed.  Except for Hate Speech, which will be handled immediately and unequivocally, we will take action on a case-by-case basis.  Hate speech is defined as: speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.   At the beginning, we will rely on your assistance to identify the abusers and abusive content. 

We hope you have enjoyed learning more about Plum and our company’s three core principles:

Plum is Transparent

We look forward releasing a beta in the near future and encourage you to stay connected, after all, its what we have in common.

Signed By: Jason Cone and Russell Cowdrey

Friday, March 6, 2015

Plum is Anonymous

Why have anonymous apps become such a big deal lately and why are we building Plum to be anonymous?  The lack of anonymity on social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn mean that those systems are little more than billboards for the best parts of your personal and business life.  Where do you go to talk about the real issues you have?  A pseudonymous forum or apps like Whisper and Yik Yak are likely destinations.
Side-bar: Pseudonymous means that you have some sort of permanent made-up name that represents you to other users. For instance, your Twitter handle might be @3CircusRings and people will know your real name only if you share it. They will, however, be able to tie everything that @3CircusRings tweets to a single identity.

Facebook and LinkedIn expect you to use your Real Names and Facebook has even gone so far as to drag some people into the spotlight in order to enforce their Real Name rules.  We believe that people want the freedom to discuss delicate subjects without revealing who they are in real life or they want to be completely open and honest without fear of social, corporate, or political retribution.  Gabriella Coleman of the New York Times seems to agree in her column Anonymity Online Serves Us All.   Another example is when seemingly-innocent tweets result in suspension from school, as the following ACLU article describes; In Disturbing Trend, Kansas School the Latest to Punish Student for Harmless Tweet. You can see why someone might want to hide behind a pseudonym or even complete anonymity.
Side-bar: Anonymous means that there is no traceable representation as to who you are (pseudonymous or real-life) to other users.
Anonymity can be used for both good and bad reasons. Anonymity is not, however, a means of avoiding personal responsibility/accountability nor a tool to advance criminal/rebellious causes. We can assure you that Plum will never support such applications of anonymity and will actively remove users who exhibit such behavior.

The need to discuss sensitive topics with honesty has led to the popularity of apps like Whisper, Secret, and Yik Yak.  These new applications give the user the ability to spout off in just about any manner.  The down side is that the only thing the poster has in common with the readers/responders is the proximity to one another or their college affiliation.  Having discussions with complete strangers can be fun but imagine how much more productive those conversations can become when the participants have something in common?

Besides letting you connect others with common interests, Plum will let you be as anonymous as you want to be.  When you join Plum, you can choose to be completely anonymous for all of your posts or you can choose a completely arbitrary Plum name.  In the latter case, Plum places you in the driver’s seat by allowing you to control when to use your Plum name or when to turn it off and be completely anonymous.  You can make this choice for each chat you participate in and/or each group you join.  In this way, you can build a history and longer-lasting relationships with specific users while remaining completely anonymous with everyone else. 

We hope that Plum is a way for you to meet and build new relationships and that some of those relationships can grow outside of Plum.  To safely facilitate two people getting to know each other’s real identity, you can reply to a specific user’s post/comments using a one-on-one chat.  It is during these one-on-one chats that you can optionally share more personal information, such as your real identity or actual location.  For similar reasons Plum, will not be adding support for pictures and video until the community has grown and matured enough to handle the issues that can arise from those types of content.  While we understand that multimedia is a great way to express yourself, it is also the easiest way to accidentally expose the identity of yourself or another user.

As you can see, Plum is trying to walk a fine line between protecting your anonymity and providing an easy way to connect with people like you.  We feel strongly that the only way we can connect people while respecting each user’s anonymity and privacy is by being completely open, honest, and transparent.  This leads us to our final upcoming article about how and why Plum is Transparent.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Plum Connects

First, it is imperative for us to build a social network that truly helps its users and, quite possibly, society at large.  Techies categorize applications that attempt to accomplish this goal as Social Good applications.  And while we recognize that a new social network, which can be used by anyone to connect with others for a multitude of reasons would most likely not fall into this category; our measuring stick of success will be when certain groups that currently have a hard time finding people like themselves, no longer struggle to do so.
Specifically, it will be our goal to partner with organizations that serve special user segments such as home bound senior citizens, patients with a particular condition, parents with special needs children, or caregivers with elder care concerns, to just name a few.  Plum will enable these users to connect with other Plum users to socialize and support one another.  We know that the best way to help grow these communities is to get as many people as possible using Plum and to let the masses connect for every reason under the sun.   The more people that use Plum, the more people Plum will automatically connect.   

When we started this endeavor, one critical question we asked ourselves was, “Will users want to use Plum to connect with complete strangers?” We have found that while discussing the concept of Plum with a wide variety of individuals, people see the value and they welcome the ability to connect with “strangers” that share common interests.  In addition, the market has proven - through the recent popularity of anonymous chat applications - that people do not mind connecting with strangers with which they have absolutely nothing in common.

Currently, it is standard practice that you have to go outside of your immediate social connections in order to find a community that shares your common interest.  That is why there is a forum and a Facebook group for everyone and everything; however, the following three problems exist:

  1. How do I find the forums, groups, or associations that are for me?
  2. How do I trust that these people are really like me?
  3. How do I have these interest-based conversations without revealing my true identity?

We have all experienced it: if Google does not instantly point you to the correct community, then it can take you a long time to find your place.  In addition, every new person with the same need has to go through the same tedious or seemingly impossible process. In the event that you are able to find what you believe to be the correct community, the experience may be a lengthy process to determine whether or not the “community” has people like you.  Finally, if you want to have anonymous conversations, you will have to find a community outside of Facebook and LinkedIn.
Our mission at Plum is to elegantly address the above mentioned issues.
With the simple touch of a “find” button within Plum, you will be able to see all of the users who are just like you and how closely they match you.  For example, you will be able to see if a user is a 10% or 90% match to your Plum profile. Once Plum has found your closest matches, you can connect with them either individually or as a group.
Does the Plum score guarantee that this person shares your interests and beliefs?  This is a good time to clarify and define what the Plum score is and is not.  The Plum score you see will show you how closely you and other Plum users match based on the level of interest you share in the same subject matter.  The Plum score is not a reflection of a person’s inner beliefs and values.
In closing, you may have noticed that I did not address the third problem- facilitating anonymous communication- stay tuned to Part II of our Plum’s Core Principle blog series where we will cover what we mean by saying that Plum is Anonymous.

If you would like to learn more about the Interest Graph problem that Plum is solving, here is a link to an article written over 3 years ago talking about How the Interest Graph will shape the future of the web.

Plum’s Core Principles

Jason and I have never built a social network.  In fact, we are not big users of existing networks available today.  In A SocialNetwork for the Non-Narcissist, we highlighted some of the reasons we are building a new social network; one that we would actually want to use.  When we agreed to form the company to create People Like You and Me (Plum), it was very important to the both of us that 1.) we were clear on what we wanted to accomplish and 2.) the manner in which we wanted to conduct business. 

Before we move into the core principles of Plum, Jason and I would like to share with you a little more about our business model.  For starters, we know that Plum is going to require money from an operational and support perspective.  With that said, we also know that we want Plum to be a free service for every end user.  Oh yes, and did I mention that we are not opposed to making a profit? 

In order to accomplish the objectives stated above, Plum will support advertising and affiliate marketing links from day one.  We will also be selling business licenses that let a business build customer-based communities within Plum.   As for the specifics behind the business relationships, it is a little early in the journey to provide you with all of the details; nevertheless, rest assured that as we continue to develop the concept, we will share the details with you.

What follows in this blog is a three part series of our company’s core principles.  This lays out the foundation for Plum and how Jason and I intend to conduct business with both the users of Plum and the businesses with which we aspire to partner. 

Plum Connects

Plum is Anonymous

Plum is Transparent

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Social Network for the Non-Narcissist

We keep getting asked who is your target customer and until now I've had a less than ideal answer.  Investors don't want to hear that we want to build a cool social network with a unique value proposition for the entire world.  That changed when my partner, Jason Cone, recently described why he believed enough in People Like You and Me (Plum for short) to throw his lot in with me.

"I really… really… like helping people. I will go out of my way, provide any amount of time, and supply any amount of resource to help someone that could use my help. At the same time, I don’t have an effective way to make myself available to those who could use my set of skills. Plum solves a large component of this problem by connecting me to people based on the interests that we have in common. Existing social networks are completely deficient in this respect, which is a huge reason why I’m not active on any of them. In order to have a beneficial voice, you have to constantly generate content (that others find interesting and cause them to “follow” you) and continually evaluate connections to people to ensure that your audience is who you think they are. Plum largely removes this task by providing me with an in-the-moment audience to whom I can provide assistance and from whom I can solicit help. You might say that Plum is a social network for the non-narcissist."

Now, don't get us wrong, narcissists are encouraged to participate in Plum but the point remains - we are building Plum for people to automatically and continuously connect with others based on common interests so they can share stories, answers, help, and support.  Plum is targeted to the introverts like Jason and the extroverts like myself who want to cut to the chase of a social interaction. We don't have the time or motivation to do the work it takes to have 5 much less 5 million followers within other social networks.  This is just one persona of our target market however now when I get the question, "who are your target users?", I can confidently respond that we are building Plum for people like you and me, whether a narcissist or not.

Here is a related infographic and article.