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Archives: September 2009

Join The Twittercism Community With Facebook Connect

Facebook has really simplified how bloggers can add Facebook Connect to their websites and I’ve taken the liberty of doing this for Twittercism.

If you look on the right sidebar you’ll see a Connect With Facebook button in the Connect With Me! pane. Click on that, log on to Facebook, and you’re now connected to the Twittercism community.

All of these connections are important to me, and hopefully you can use this feature to meet other cool people, too.

Don’t forget you can also become a fan of Twittercism on Facebook, too. :)  

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Want To Get Re-Tweeted? Memorise Your Number (Reloaded)

Back in March I wrote an article that explained how you needed to ensure that you left a certain amount of characters at the end of your tweets if you wanted to seriously improve your chances of being retweeted.

This is the mathematics:

Your Number = length of username + five characters

To give yourself the best possible chance of a retweet, you need to make sure you leave this many characters free.

In the article I noted that my own number was 12. When sharing links and content, I always ensure I leave a minimum of 12 characters at the end of each and every tweet. This is a great habit to adopt. Otherwise, those wanting to retweet you are forced to edit your submissions so that they can give the proper credit. Because f this extra work, many times, they simply won’t bother retweeting you at all.

Worse, your prose can be severely impacted – personally, I hate it when somebody trims down my carefully-worded remark into something that (shudder) looks like text speak. Everybody who reads that now thinks that I write in text speak. The horror, the horror…

As said, I’m always very careful to leave the necessary 12 characters. Recently, however, I started to notice that despite this effort, a few were still editing my prose to fit it all in. At first, I couldn’t understand why they felt the need to do this – after all, I’d made every attempt to ensure that my update could be easily retweeted.

Then it suddenly hit me – they weren’t using Twitter’s more common RT. They were using via.

What’s quite tragic about all of this is I use via, too. That’s pretty much all I use. I like via because it places the emphasis on the content first, and credits the original poster second. Content is king, but it’s also important that credit is given where due.

But it’s not all roses, as via adds an extra couple of characters to each retweet. Typically, via is credited within parentheses, like this:

Want To Get Re-Tweeted? Memorise Your Number (Reloaded)

Because of those parentheses (and the space before the first), I (@Sheamus) actually need to leave a heady 15 characters of blank space in my updates to give myself the best possible chance of a retweet.

Jack Schofield, using the example above, needs to leave 21.

Hence, the mathematics has changed.

Your Number = length of username + eight characters

This is the absolute minimum amount of space you should always leave at the end of each and every tweet. Particularly if you’re sharing linked content or an important message.

That’s assuming, of course, you actually want the world to see it.

POLL: Does Twitter Need A Ratings System For Avatars?

If you’re a blogger, or regularly comment on blogs, you’ve likely heard of Gravatar, a service that provides globally recognised avatars that follow you from site to site, appearing whenever you make a comment.

Gravatar also implements a movie-style ratings feature for avatars, ranging from G (suitable for all) to X (very mature content) which allows blog owners to control what kind of images appear on their site.

As you’re probably well aware, Twitter has a bit of a problem with spammers. And many of these individuals, real or robotic, like to use pictures of scantily-clad women to capture the attention of the easily-pleased.

Here are just a few I found amongst my followers:

POLL: Does Twitter Need A Ratings System For Avatars?

The thing is, it’s not always spammers. Often it’s real people with large numbers of followers, and they’re using these provocative images for the exact same reasons. And it’s not just ‘women’, either – there are plenty of men who think it’s big and clever to upload a headless picture of ‘their’ bare chest.

At this point, I’d like to state that I am not a prude. (In fact, far from it.) But while it is true that Twitter is comfortably the most ‘professional’ social network, with an average age amongst all users in the mid-to-high 30s, I’m not entirely comfortable with an ‘anything goes’ approach to profile images. I also don’t want Twitter to turn into MySpace or Bebo, where it’s entirely the norm to see individuals flaunting themselves in their birthday suits.

And it’s not just about sex – as it stands, anything can be placed within an avatar, and there’s nothing specific in Twitter’s TOS that addresses this. Twitter is an open, public network, and while you can of course unfollow somebody who causes offense, that isn’t the end of the matter.

The issue of censorship is always a difficult one to balance. On one side, nobody likes the idea that a corporation is enforcing a ‘nanny state’ approach to political correctness (Facebook’s ongoing mess regarding the removal of breastfeeding photos is a notable example) but equally ratings systems in movies and videogames exist for a reason. Many countries also have a watershed (or safe harbour) for television programming, too.

One way that censorship works extremely well is if it is self-moderated. By adopting a Gravatar-style rating system to any avatars uploaded to the network, Twitter could avoid a Facebook-style PR disaster while affording those with stricter sensibilities towards what is (and what is not) acceptable on a social network greater control over what they can (and cannot) see.

Here’s how it might work:

  1. When you upload an avatar, you tag it with a rating. Using Gravatar’s system, this would be G for General, PG for audiences 13 and above, R for audiences 17 and above, and X for very mature content.
  2. Users would select which level of avatar they were prepared to see in their settings.
  3. Avatars that clearly breached their rating level could be marked as inappropriate. This would work similar to spam, where Twitter would need to step in if a person received enough complaints.

Now, the risk here of course is that what is a masterwork of art to one person is sexually explicit filth to another. However, because a Gravatar-style control system would allow us all to set the level of image we were prepared to see, those who are very easily offended could set their level to G, and where an avatar exceeded this it would be replaced by Twitter’s default.

Moreover, if Twitter adopted such a policy, they would need to look at other areas, too, such as background designs on profiles.

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on this. As said, the idea of censorship often raises a red flag in and of itself, and many are opposed to such regulation on the internet. This is why I think self-moderation is usually the best way forward.

Please take a moment to vote in the poll below, and then share your thoughts in the comments area.

Remember, Twitter: The Early Bird Gets The Worm, But The Second Mouse Gets The Cheese

The title of this article (at least, the part after the colon) is one of my favourite Stephen Wright jokes. Actually, it’s not fair to limit it as simply a quip – it’s a sound philosophical observation, and one that may very well apply to Twitter, the company, if not Twitter, the idea.

What Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey and (to a lesser extent) Evan Williams have introduced to our culture is a game-changer. There is no doubt about this in mind. The concept of micro-blogging – exchanging concise but powerful tranches of information with an engaged network of contacts – is here to stay.

And it’s going to get bigger, and bigger, and bigger. When Twitter moves above 100 million active users, the mobile phone companies are going to get nervous. And when Twitter – or whatever supersedes them – heads North of 250 million users, I guarantee that SMS text message prices will be slashed to a fraction of what they are now (which is almost all profit charged to the end user at an obscene mark-up) just so they can compete. After all, why would you pay 20 cents to send one message to one person, when you can send that same message to however many people you like – tens of thousands, even – for free, using the same mobile handset? Fifty times a day.

There’s some buzz right now about Twitter raising some new venture capital which values the company at around $1 billion (MG Siegler at TechCrunch has a nice angle on this). Skeptics continue to point at Twitter’s lack of a clear business plan and, more importantly, revenue. There’s talk of premium accounts for brands and even advertising, but it’s still very speculative. And however Twitter decides to monetise, it’s essential that it doesn’t come at the expense of their user base, because that’s where all of the value is, and always will be.

In its brief history, Twitter has quickly set two benchmarks. It’s the first professional, adult social network – Facebook, MySpace and the others were (and are) dominated by a younger demographic. More crucially, it’s also the first time business has been able to build large, relevant and engaged communities. And because of this engagement, permission-based marketing opportunities are not just available, they’re welcome.

What this means is that there’s an enormous amount at stake for the brands that get really, really big on Twitter. I don’t think is any better illustrated than what has happened to the social media blog, Mashable. Mashable was already a pretty big deal before Twitter took off, but thanks to a consistently strong push on the network (and a lucrative spot on the suggested user list) the website has leap-frogged rival TechCrunch, both in web traffic and on Twitter itself.

Mashable has about 1.5 million followers on Twitter. This ranks them in the top 35 on the network, but is still quite a bit short of the numbers boasted by the more-popular celebrities on Twitter. Ashton Kutcher, Ellen Degeneres and Britney Spears are all closing in rapidly on four million followers. Despite flat and even negative growth for Twitter and social media overall in the past couple of months, each of these will likely have edged past five million followers by the end of 2009. In six months, that number will be closer to ten million.

And the brands will get bigger, too. By this time next year, several businesses will have more than five million followers on Twitter. Five million people they can sell product to multiple times each and every day, seven days a week, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year.

For free.

Read more

When YOU Block Somebody, I Would Like To Know

Throughout the Twitter week I get lots of rogue messages from spambots and other ne’er-do-wells who I then immediately block. You know, this kind of thing:

When YOU Block Somebody, I Would Like To Know

This charming individual illustrates exactly why replies are far more of a threat to your Twitter experience than direct messages. (At least it wasn’t to the level of what happened to me previously.)

What I thought would be a neat implementation from Twitter would be a facility that alerted all the members of my network each time I – or anybody else in that network – blocked somebody, and more importantly why.

This would have to be opt-in, as not everybody cares. But perhaps when you block somebody Twitter should ask you for a reason. It could be a drop down list of choices (spammer, retweet bot, etc) and an ‘other’ option where you could wax a little more lyrically.

When this was completed, everybody who ticked the box within that network would be sent a direct message saying

@username just blocked @troublemaker because reason

For example:

@sheamus just blocked @BeverleyBestg because "it's a spambot."

You could then click on the person I’ve blocked, check them out yourself, and block where necessary.

I could do this manually, but sometimes publically stating why you’ve blocked somebody is not always appropriate, and not everybody will care, as said. And publishing a big list of blocked users is of no interest to anybody but the person who created it.

Moreover, by actually asking us for a reason when we block, Twitter could get a rough indication of problem areas within the network. We know spam is already a big issue, but there’s no real indication how much of a problem trolls are on Twitter. Or stalkers. Or good, old-fashioned weirdos. Many of us have had bad experiences with individuals on other networks – that knowledge could be passed over to everybody else.

Of course, it’s all relative. One man’s guru is another man’s con artist. And likely there will be cases where somebody would use the block system to defame another’s good reputation. And that’s why it’s always important that you check these things out yourself before deciding to make what should be a fairly considered decision to block somebody.

Hey, @UberTwiter, Why Is God Bothering Me In My Tweets?

It took a while before I became a convert, but I’m a huge fan of ÃœberTwitter. It’s fast, easy to use and packed full of features, and in my opinion it’s far and away the best Twitter application available for Blackberry handsets.

The ÃœberTwitter software regularly updates and they’ve had problems in the past with their advertising model. Sure, everybody wants to make money, but there’s a right way to do things.

And a very wrong way. Yesterday, for example, I noticed that God was trying to reach out to me within my tweets.

Screenshots:

Hey, @UberTwitter, Why Is God Bothering Me In My Tweets?

Hey, @UberTwitter, Why Is God Bothering Me In My Tweets?

Hey, @UberTwitter, Why Is God Bothering Me In My Tweets?

At first, I wondered if it was just me, so I put a shout out to my network. Fortunately, it transpired that I wasn’t being singled out for my sins. Moreover, it seems many are unhappy with ÃœberTwitter’s holy campaign.

Hey, @UberTwitter, Why Is God Bothering Me In My Tweets?

Hey, @UberTwitter, Why Is God Bothering Me In My Tweets?

Hey, @UberTwitter, Why Is God Bothering Me In My Tweets?

Hey, @UberTwitter, Why Is God Bothering Me In My Tweets?

The adverts link to Four Steps To God, a mobile-focused website that delivers you a generic prayer. Say the prayer, click to receive more information, and you too can become a follower of Jesus. The program is powered by Global Media Outreach, a global ministry whose mission is ‘reaching the world for Christ through the internet’.

It’s all very… tacky. And, to be honest, a little offensive. I’m not a religious person, and I’m not about to become one because of a by-the-numbers prayer that’s delivered to me via a mobile handset. And if was a Christian, I’m not sure how I’d feel about my faith being repackaged into a trite, one-page, please-all religious message. Which was then exchanged for money.

Moreover, as always with these things, if the Church of Satan was reaching out to us via Twitter, or Scientology, or – God forbid – atheists, there would quite literally be hell to pay. One rule for one, one rule for everybody else.

ÃœberTwitter is a great product but this strikes me as a strange business decision. The holy tweets are regular enough in my timeline to be a problem. It makes me want to go back to Dabr. And it reminds us why advertisements within Twitter are always going to be a cause for concern – particularly when they come with an agenda.

Who Is Saving Your Tweets As Favourites? Favstar Lets You Know

Favstar collects all the Twitter submissions that have been marked as favourites by users – which includes your tweets, those of your friends, and everybody else – and ranks them accordingly.

Who Is Saving Your Tweets As Favourites? Favstar Lets You Know

You can look at favourites in lots of appealing ways, including what is currently popular, as well as the all-time most-favourited users (@sween ranks #1), and the all-time most favourited tweets.

The most favourited-tweet of all time!

Barack Obama’s presidential-victory tweet ranks number one, although the rest of the countdown is dominated by Twitter favourites such as @shitmydadsays, @badbanana and, uh, The Jonas Brothers.

You can also check out who is favouriting your submissions to Twitter, and how often. For example, here are my tweets that were recently favourited by others.

If you’re looking for cool stuff to retweet – certainly if you enjoy one-liners and funny observations – it’s worth bookmarking Favstar and regularly hitting the front page.

How Should You Respond When Somebody Asks You, “Can You Retweet This For Me?”

Example: One of your Twitter followers retweets you on a regular basis. You’re pretty good friends. One day, they approach you personally and ask you to retweet something for them. The problem is, the tweet concerns a viewpoint to which you do not subscribe. In fact, you’re actively opposed to it.

What’s the right thing to do to maintain your principles but not cause offense?

How Should You Respond When Somebody Asks You, "Can You Retweet This For Me?"

I have a guest post over at Twittwoch.de that addresses what can be quite an awkward situation. Click here to read it.

Five More Tips For Twitter Newbies (And Veterans)

Last week I wrote a post that gave advice to people who were new to Twitter and wanted to get off to the best possible start. The article has been quite popular and follow-up conversations I’ve had with readers led to me thinking a little bit more about the subject.

Here are five more tips that I think will help anybody who is using the platform for the first time. If you have friends who ‘don’t get it’, or are finding Twitter disappointing, then please share this with them.

And if you consider yourself a veteran of Twitter, there’s still plenty of value to be found!

1. Twitter Isn’t Third Person

Remember the old days when Facebook status updates were always third person? The status box used to come with a fixed ‘is’ before each message, which encouraged you to always be doing something – i.e., Jack is eating his dinner, Jill is going for a walk, etc.

Because it was so limiting, Facebook eventually dropped the ‘is’ part of the status box, but the majority still updated in the same way. Recently, likely in an attempt to emulate (and keep up with) Twitter, Facebook has almost entirely abandoned the third person status update, and most people (certainly those with whom I interact) update in a similar way to Twitter (albeit with less character restrictions, and significantly less reach).

Twitter has never been third person. Each tweet is a standalone piece of news delivered in 140 characters or less. It is not your name doing or saying something. It is not an action. It’s a message.

Hence, you should NEVER write tweets such as:

Twitter isn't third person

I see this all the time with new Twitter accounts (and many established ones). This is partly Twitter’s fault – by specifically asking of us, “What are you doing?”, they encourage people to think of their tweets in the same way they used to think of Facebook status updates.

Read more

I Don’t Care About Your Trending Topics

I’ve written before about how Twitter’s trending topics feature isn’t really all that useful beyond being a basic idea of what’s currently popular on the network. Most of the time, it isn’t of any benefit to me at all.

If you’re interested in fringe material or have slightly unusual (or specific) tastes or preferences, it’s a safe bet that you’ll never see anything of much interest in Twitter’s trending topics as it works now.

For example, often I see Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers trending. I’m not interested in these subjects at all. They are absolutely of no use to me. While being able to filter trends by a given subject (or keyword) would be better, a partial solution could be a little X that pops up when you scroll over a topic that you can then click on to remove it.

And then, like magic, the next most-popular trending topic appears in its place.

This way, I can delete the current top ten, or even the top one hundred trending topics if they’re of zero appeal.

(Alternatively, Twitter could simply expand the trending topics so that one click opens up the full list, which you can then peruse at your leisure, possibly with a search option or filter.)

The first page of anything that is ranked by popularity is not necessarily indicative of the most important or best things in any given (overall) list. The best albums, books and movies don’t always make the top ten. Sometimes, perhaps more often than not, the really good stuff is just a little outside.

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