The Breaking Even Communications Blog - since 2007!

Crystal: Creepy Or Helpful?

26 June

I listen to a few podcasts related to technology, one of them being “Note To Self” (formerly called New Tech City). The last episode I listened to, it talked about a service called Crystal Knows. When you go to email someone, Crystal analyzes things they have written online and generates a sort of personality profile for them.

So I decided to start the free trial. I installed it within Gmail. During this trial period, I’ve gotten a new client (someone I have never met) and also have dealt with a few touchy customer service situations. You know, the kind of thing where it would be nice to have an email coach for.

Crystal: Confirming What I Already Knew

Of course naturally, the first thing you do when you get a piece of software like this is test it with people you know. In fairness to others, I’ll use myself as the example here:


First of all, I’ve done this analysis with about ten people and each summary sentence was pretty different. (Not one of those online quizzes that has one of five outcomes.)

My accuracy level is 85%. As someone who has been blogging for seven years, this is higher than most people I tested for. Still, even when someone had a 45% accuracy rate, it was better than having 0% knowledge (ie going in cold with the new client.)

The thing I think is funny with this is how it thinks I like conversation. My tone on our blog is quite conversational but if it was socially acceptable, all my emails would be like. “Can you send me this file? Thanks.” I have cultivated this friendly, approachable personality online so that… well, I seem friendly and approachable. I am very much so in real life but in terms of online/texting interactions, I prefer to be really utilitarian. Ask my husband about our texting relationship.

Now this isn’t the only thing it gives you. Scrolling leads to deeper:



It’s true, I do seek consensus. If I am working in groups, I want to agree then move forward. Nothing drives me more nuts than having to redo work because all the stakeholders weren’t consulted before I proceeded. I also appreciate feedback but it needs to be given to me in a certain way (again, ask my poor husband.) Crystal Knows, indeed.

Now, I keep scrolling and this is where it for some people may get creepy. It tells you how you can sell to me and what NOT to say to me. If you have a paid account, it will help you write an email to me:


Understanding My Relationships Better

While Crystal couldn’t find my husband (he’s difficult to find on the internet, you should have seen how panicked I was before our first date when I saw his lack of public record online) but it did find my coworkers. It is interesting how I subconsciously write differently to the different people I work with. Crystal confirmed my style with each.

It was also nice to put in my new client’s name and have it say “If your email is over 250 words he won’t read it, try to be concise.” I would have rambled on, as I tend to do. With a new colleague, it urged me to be specific and break things down into steps, something I wouldn’t have normally done in that case but seemed to please him. Hmph.

I found this lovely blog (which has more about Crystal) but also has this compelling animation showing how Crystal coaches you as you write an email:


Please appreciate that at first, as Crystal was saying ‘Good job’, I thought I was supposed to give the person I was writing to a pat on the back. Apparently it just meant keep going. So if you got a compliment from me via email in the last two weeks that seemed odd, that may have been it.

There is a relationship analysis feature in Crystal available to premium (paying members)… but Crystal will let you try it for 2 weeks. Then you can decide for yourself if this tool is creepy or helpful.

Is it creepy?

I’m still on the fence personally but I did ask to extend my trial another two weeks. In a world where he who has the most information wins, it seems like this tool may be good, especially if we are in contact with someone who has done a fair bit of online writing (so Crystal has data on them).

I guess I’m on my own with my husband. But maybe some relationships shouldn’t be coached by an algorithm anyway. But for those people who I don’t know well, I thank Crystal for making me at least feel like I am not going in blind.

PimplePopper, Stretchmarks, NoMakeup- Normalizing The Human Body

21 June

At first, I think some of us were worried the internet was going to give us all unrealistic body expectations. Photoshopping, #thinspiration, and just the amount of images there are have done some of that. Listening to a WNYC program about what the internet/social media has done with respect to eating disorders shows this unrealistic end of the spectrum pretty well.

As a backlash to this, I’ve noticed more recently is a wave of events moving towards the other end of the spectrum. Not just “I like who I am” but “Here’s my flabby stomach”. This natural evolution seems to be a combination of things happening at the same time.

Medical Social Media: Figure 1 and Dr. Pimple Popper

I heard a podcast about ‘instagram for doctors’ and had to check it out. Figure 1 is an app where doctors can upload photos in an attempt to not only amuse each other but share information.


Suddenly rashes aren’t something terrible and horrible but something hundreds of people are posting and commenting about.

Since I’m not fantastic with blood (but mainly not fantastic with eyeballs), I wanted to find some way to be medically fascinated online. Enter Dr. Pimple Popper.


Slight background: Now I had TERRIBLE acne as a teenager/young adult. And I know everyone says that but I really did. Like count to 100 pimples and keep going. I was super self conscious about it and eventually went on Accutane in my mid 20s to get rid of them.

There is something very satisfying to me about these people being free of their blackheads. Is it because of my background? Is it because my work is do digital and watching someone do something start to finish physically is satisfying? Is it just generally mesmorizing? I’ll never know. (The ‘Mr. Wilson’ video series in particular is amazing if you want to see this in action.)

Yes, a whole Youtube channel with millions of views of people watching skin extractions. Did you think we’d ever see this day? Medical stuff, even weird medical stuff, is getting more normal to see.

Normalizing Human Experiences: Stretchmarks and Breastfeeding

If we step away from the ‘medical’ camp, we also see regular people and celebrities beginning to draw attention to less than desirable or traditionally ‘controversial’ things.

Chrissy Teigen has famously recently posted this photo of herself on Instagram:


I noticed bruises but she captioned the photo: “Bruises from bumping kitchen drawer handles for a week. Stretchies say hi!There is an Instagram account called ‘Love Your Lines’ with over 100,000 followers and the ability to submit your own stretch mark photos. And if you think of any traditionally negative body trait, I bet there is an Instagram movement to flaunt it.

Similarly, not just parts of bodies but body processes/activities like breastfeeding or getting your period unexpectedly have been getting more normalized, online and offline. Model Nicole Trunfio breastfed her son during a cover shoot for Elle Australia and they decided to turn it into a subscriber only cover.


It’s brave to like yourself. But it’s brave to say “I have this thing that isn’t sexy/beautiful but it’s part of me so I love it.”

#NoMakeup And Posting Less Than Perfect Stuff About Ourselves

For years, women have been posting their own #nomakeup selfies (though there was an uptick recently when Amy Schumer released her boy band parody song ‘Girl You Don’t Need Makeup’.)


Rather than women calling each other out on social media (though I know that still happens), it seems more like people are moving towards posting more normal things about themselves. I mean I’m not necessarily going to show you all my leg stubble but if someone takes a picture of me at the beach, I am perfectly fine with it being posted. Because we live in a climate where it has become more and more accepted that ALL of us are online visually, not just the wealthy and beautiful with modeling contracts.

This culture has resulted in an internet of diverse bodies and experiences we can easily reference. And as a society, it’s nice to not just see what media companies put out there in the way of images and messages. Teenage Nicole would have appreciated  seeing some people like her but Adult Nicole appreciates that the internet has gotten us there.

Money for Nothing and Apps for (Almost) Free

19 June

The ability to send someone money online has been around for a few years now, but there are still interesting innovations being made on a regular basis. There’s crowdfunding apps that we’ve discussed before (GoFundMe and Kickstarter, for example), but even these are becoming niche-y and hyperfocused. Even though it’s easier to spend money online these days, there are also ways of saving and even making money. And, if you owe someone, it’s so easy to transfer at the touch of a button. My brother and I often join forces for parental gifts (we figure one awesome gift is better than two sub-par gifts- macaroni art is apparently sad when you’re in your twenties). The apps in this post go beyond the usual money apps that we tend to think of, like Mint or whatever our personal banking system uses, and if my brother and I had our act together, we wouldn’t have to exchange money like this:


Yes, this really happened.

Tilt. This crowdfunding app is popular among college groups, and I can see why. Tilt is an app for group fundraising towards a goal, like a spring break trip, for instance. To get started, you set a bare minimum amount. If at the end of the fundraising period you haven’t reached the minimum amount, no one will get charged. There are three ways to raise money on Tilt: collect, fundraise, or sell something (yes, that’s what it’s referred to on their site). As a person unfamiliar with Tilt, I didn’t quite grasp the difference between fundraising and collecting. “Collecting” means pooling resources for your personal gain (i.e. that spring break trip I mentioned earlier), while “Fundraising” is dedicated to a particular non-profit. Afterwards, anything you raise will go directly to that non-profit (it seems like an attempt to eliminate any potential shadiness).

Tendr. This is a prime example of a really specialized app. I discovered Tendr accidentally while looking for a different app (which I’m not even truly sure exists at this point and I’m starting to question my sanity a bit…if/when I ever find it, I’ll explain). Tendr is a wedding registry app, but instead of seeing what items the couple wants, you just give them money. It’s crowdfunding for brides and grooms! Sure, you could probably start a wedding registry via crowdfunding on Indiegogo, but people might think that a) you’re weird or b) it’s not legit. With something as niche-y as Tendr, at least it’s clear what the end goal is. Personally, I’d much rather give a bride and groom money via Tendr than Indiegogo. I’m curious what other niche fundraising apps will start appearing- wedding registrations are one of many common transactions that can be made more convenient.

Smarty Pig. This program is similar to your average piggy bank, but smarter. It’s like setting up a savings plan through your usual bank, but for a specific goal (parameters are at least $50 – $250,000), but you can also make additional one-time contributions. Your family or friends can also contribute via the “Find Users” link. If you want, you can even make your fundraising efforts public and link to your Facebook and Twitter accounts (a recommendation- if you are going to make your money raising attempt public, try to make it compelling and give people enough information- we made a whole Tech Thursday about this). One great thing about Smarty Pig is that it doesn’t let you cut corners. Even those who are hopelessly undisciplined with finances (me…) can’t thwart Smarty Pig. I hate it when apps outsmart me…unless it’s for my own good.

Acorns. If you have some spare change at the end of the month, and are interested in investing, Acorns is the app for you. This app is designed to make investment suggestions based on your age, location, and available resources. How is this different from having someone else manage your account? You don’t have to pay commission or account management fees (read: it’s awesome if you are kind of broke). It’s free to try and for accounts under $5,000, it’s a dollar a month, and there’s no fee for withdrawing your money when you’re ready. To fuel your Acorn account, you can pay via lump sum (one time payments), recurring daily, weekly or monthly payments. You can also use “round-ups,” which is what caught my eye. When you set up an Acorns account, you can link it to whatever online payment accounts you have (checking, credit card, PayPal) and Acorns will look at the dollar amounts of each transaction and round up to the nearest dollar. The change will go towards your Acorns account. Honestly, if I could just have a round-ups feature on my savings account, I’d be one happy (and potentially rich) camper (this round-up ability might exist somewhere, but as I mentioned before, I’m not great with financial stuff).

These apps are just a small sampling of ways we can raise, save, and exchange money on the internet lately. What are some cool money-related apps that you’ve seen go by recently?

Tech Thursday: The Art of the After-Party (How to Follow Up Post-Event)

18 June

As a business or individual, you may find yourself throwing an event. A lot of energy gets put into the preparation and actually hosting the event, so by the time it’s over, most of us don’t want to do anymore work. But, to take your event from “good” to “great,” consider some of these ideas for following up with attendees after the “party.” Start with a “Thank You,” maybe a survey for feedback, and see where it goes from there!

Tinder: A Case Study

12 June

Note: this post is purely for fun, and all social observations are based on a very small sample of the population. Actually, just 2 people. 

A couple months ago, I was visiting my family in the midcoast Maine area and went out to lunch with my cousin JD and one of his friends. While we were waiting for food, JD decided to play on Tinder. Having never actually been on Tinder, it’s intricacies baffled me (everything I knew actually came from this Conan bit with Dave Franco). Besides that, I’d only heard about it through friends who live in cities and articles like this one. The popular swipe technology used in Tinder has been used for shopping, personal stylists, music, and even investment apps, and that’s just the beginning.

But I still didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Since Tinder is location based, it didn’t make sense for me to have it- in small town Maine, odds are I would already know anyone else using it. Watching JD play on Tinder was fascinating, so I started grilling him about it. Fed up with my questions, he asked “Why don’t you just get it and find out?” “Because…fine.”

So this is the story of how I had Tinder for less than an hour.


Step 1: Download the app. It’s free! Boom.

Step 2: Profile setup. This  was a piece of cake, 30-60 seconds, max. You just log in with Facebook and it automatically pulls in your profile information (admittedly, I didn’t look into the privacy information very deeply because I knew this was all temporary). So far, this whole Tinder experiment seemed awesome. It correctly assumed two things about me: a) that I had Facebook and b) I’m a bit lazy, so the less set up I have to do, the better. After lazy profile setup, you’re ready to make some matches.

Step 3: Swipe Away: Once you hit “Discover,” the location-based technology kicks in. It felt like I was sending out my own little “Check it, I’m on Tinder!” Bat-Symbol. Or that I was a killer whale using echolocation to avoid an iceberg.

Once Tinder located me, the fun started. The first picture came up: “Greg, 21.”

Me: Wait, so how do I play?
JD: It’s not a game.
Me: You know what I mean.
JD: If you aren’t interested, swipe left. If you are, swipe right. Easy.
So, I swiped left.
JD’s Friend: What was wrong with him?
Me: Meh. Too young. And his picture had part of another girl’s face cropped out. C’mon…

And then, I just kept swiping left like it was my job. In fact, if swiping left was a career path, I would have risen from unpaid intern to CEO in ten minutes. Mentally, the whole thing felt like more of a game than a dating app. You never know when people swipe left (i.e. reject) you, unlike real life (depending on your level of self-awareness). It’s anonymous until you match someone, so it’s low stakes (and we’ve talked about anonymity in social media before). The stakes felt so low, in fact, that at least 50% of my mental energy was spent debating whether or not I should have ordered fries.

FullSizeRender (1)

Me: Why am I not getting any matches?
JD: You haven’t even swiped right yet…
Me: *Stares blankly*

So, after a few more left swipes, I made my first right swipe.

Me: How many times do you swipe right? I don’t want to overdo it.
JD: Uh…I pretty much always swipe right. Even if I think I want to swipe left…I swipe right.
Me: Oh. Pause. Am I playing wrong?
JD & JD’s Friend: It’s not a game!

Still convinced this was totally a game, I was a bit more generous with right swipes (the final countdown was 5-6), and lo and behold, actually made a few matches. Once you match up with someone, you can start chatting with them, which made me feel weird and uncomfortable (yet another sign that I wasn’t grasping the basic concept of Tinder). Keep in mind, the last time I blind-chatted with someone was back in the early 2000s when chat-rooms were cool.

Step 4: Match & Message (…maybe).

JD: What’s wrong?
Me: Some guy I just matched with messaged me. What do I do?
JD: Uh…write back?
Me: But…he said “heeyyyy.” That’s terrible. Can I take back that swipe?
JD: *Stares blankly*

The highlight reel of my brief foray into Tinder chats: I didn’t realize that my Facebook “About Me,” and subsequently my Tinder bio, was a quote from Hot Rod (see below). Excited by the lazy setup, I never thought to actually look at my profile. One fellow broke the post”It’s a match” ice with “Heyy there. Nice Hot Rod quote. Solid movie!” This Tinder win was followed by a chat with a guy who, through the course of the conversation, I discovered does Crossfit with one of my uncles. So much for escaping the small town aspect. The third person who messaged me asked where I was at the moment, and if I’d be down for grabbing coffee later. In response, I deleted my account and the app, and contemplated setting my phone on fire (ok, maybe not the last part). But, by this point, I felt that I’d seen enough.

Thanks for nothing, 17 y/o me.

Thanks for nothing, 17 y/o me.

This all took place before our food had arrived. JD continued happily swiping, and I resolved the fries debate by eating most of his.

Step 5: Abandon app altogether and enjoy food. And we all lived happily ever after.

In short, the swiping technology used in Tinder is pretty incredible, and I’m intrigued to see how it will be adopted by businesses/industries in the next year or so. As for Tinder itself, I still don’t understand what the fuss is about. But then again, maybe I just wasn’t playing right.

Tech Thursday: There’s a Plugin for That!

11 June

Ok, remember how a couple years ago everyone was saying “There’s an app for that!” (at least, Kassie is pretty convinced this happened)? Well, we thought we’d take some time this Thursday morning and appreciate the fact that when it comes to WordPress sites, there’s pretty much a plugin for everything. From simple display preferences to online booking systems, and functional things like security and back ups, if you have a problem, someone has (most likely) already created a solution in the form of a plugin.

We take a moment to appreciate some things that we’ve used plugins for and reflect on some of our favorites. Plugins for the win!