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Archives: November 2009

How Do YOU Feel About Ads On Twitter?

Like it or not, advertisements are coming to Twitter, and they’re coming soon.

“Twitter will have an advertising business, ready in the near future, and available to partners.” ~ Dick Costolo, Twitter COO.

The company has to make money. Nobody knows how or even where Twitter is going to implement this business model – Robert Scoble speculates it might come in the form of a supertweet – but this was always something of an inevitability. It’s also a bit of a no-brainer – Twitter is becoming so huge, ignoring this opportunity would be more than a little foolish.

But here’s the thing: they have to get it right. This is art as much as it is science or technical wizardry, trying to balance an online advertising model that is effective inasmuch as people see and click on the ads, but not at the expense of millions of others who categorise it as little more than spam. (And Twitter already has some pretty major issues there.)

Google is the benchmark for this, and Facebook has modelled their own advertising system after the Mountain View giant. But both of these have the luxury of the full screen to play with (they’re not limited to 140 characters), and the knowledge that their visitors are coming directly to them, and not viewing a version of their site through any number of external software clients. Whatever ads Twitter supports need to also go out to Seesmic Desktop, TweetDeck, Tweetie, HootSuite et al, otherwise around three-quarters of the user-base will be completely untapped.

And what about disclosure? Does an ad have to clearly be labelled as such? And if so, what does that mean for the tens of thousands of Twitter accounts now that do nothing but link to affiliate schemes and ‘power systems’? Aren’t they ads, too? Or do only official Twitter ads count?

It will also be interesting to see if Twitter allows its users to participate in the revenue stream, like with Google’s Adsense program. After all – if they’re going to be making money off my tweets, shouldn’t I be entitled to a little of that myself? If not, then don’t be surprised to see a Firefox-style AdBlock bolt-on being made available to Twitter users shortly after ads are turned on.

Right, on to the poll. Let’s assume ads are a given – that sooner rather than later, we’ll start to see ads show up somewhere when we use Twitter. I want to hear how you feel about that. Please complete the poll below, and hit the comments to flesh out your thoughts.

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15 Google Wave Invitations Must Be Won By #Twittercism Readers

Google Wave has been a top ten trending topic on Twitter for weeks now and gets thousands and thousands of mentions each and every day. Google originally limited the preview release of Wave to just 100,000 users, and while over a million people are using the service now, access to Google Wave remains invite-only.

Demand for the invites is so high that several less-than-scrupulous individuals have even started to sell them on eBay.

Here’s the good news – I have 15 Google Wave invitations to give away to Twittercism readers! All you have to do is enter my competition, and it’s really, really easy.

What Is Google Wave?

If you’re not sure what Google Wave is or whether it’s something you’d be interested in, take a look at this video.

The Competition

It’s very simple – just retweet or link to this blog post, making sure you include the #Twittercism tag within your tweet and a link back to the article.

Or copy and paste this into your favourite Twitter client:

15 Google Wave Invitations Must Be Won By #Twittercism Readers. http://bit.ly/7YTLoa

Once you’ve done this, each time you use the #Twittercism tag again – in any tweet or link back to any post in this blog – you will gain another entry in the competition.

There are no limits as to how many times you can enter. The more you do, the better chance you have of winning. So go crazy!

This competition will finish at midnight on Wednesday, December 2, 2009.

(It’s lasting just five days so entries don’t drop off from Twitter search.)

The Small Print

On Saturday, December 5, I will use Kosmix Lucky Twit, Tweetaways or a similar tool to randomly select fifteen winners from all of those who entered the competition, searching for mentions of #Twittercism. You can only win once.

Winners will be announced in a separate blog post, and notified via email. I will obviously need your email address to invite you to Google Wave – we’ll communicate via Twitter. Google Wave requires that you have a valid Google account.

Note that once your invitation has been sent out by me, it’s totally up to Google in terms of when it actually arrives. It isn’t instant, and is actioned on a per user basis. I have no control over this whatsoever.

Any questions, or to announce your entry (in case I miss it!), hit the comments area below.

Good luck! :D

Does Twitter Need An Ombudsman?

Dave Winer wrote an interesting piece this week concerning Twitter’s reaction to an account he had used for testing applications. The @bullmancuso profile was closed by Twitter in October, and when Winer questioned their reasoning he was told:

“Your account was suspended because our specialists found that your tweets were primarily links to other sites and not personal updates, a violation of Twitter Rules.”

(read the article in full here)

Ultimately, Twitter restored the account, but Winer observed that, once again, “we’re playing in somebody else’s ballpark, and they make the rules.” He’s quite right of course – it is Twitter’s ballpark, and we are very much at the mercy of their whims and fancies. They were absolutely within their rights, as per their terms of service, to suspend the @bullmancuso account.

But there are a couple of major problems here.

  1. Consistency, and
  2. Fairness

Consistency

Twitter’s actions above might seem a little excessive or harsh, but if that’s their policy then that’s their policy. Except it really isn’t, as there are thousands and thousands of accounts, many of which are high-profile with a million or more followers (such as the New York Times, Mashable, TechCrunch, CNN and The Onion) that do nothing but link to other sites (predominately, of course, their own) and have nary a ‘personal’ update between them.

I’m reminded once again of Twitter’s decision back in March of this year to suspend the Christopher Walken parody account, even though many other parody accounts with equal numbers of followers existed at the same time, and continue to do so today.

More examples? Why is @mashable a verified account, and @techcrunch is not?

Why do some people who ask for help get it immediately, whilst others have to wait months or, with increasing frequency, get brushed off with the standardised response of a list of frequently asked questions whilst their support ticket is immediately closed?

We could live with all most some one or two of these things if we had a little consistency. It’s the randomness of the outcome that makes it all so maddening.

Fairness

Sometimes, corporations make decisions that suck. And the bigger the corporate entity, the more sucky those decisions seem to be, especially for the little guy at the other end of the stick.

When Twitter suspends or deletes an account, most of the time it’s for the right reasons. Perhaps the individual was a spammer or crossed the line in some other severe fashion.

Occasionally, however, and I would say more often than most people would suspect, they make mistakes. Or they misunderstand a situation. Or they act in some totally irrational manner which goes against everything else they’ve done since day one.

It’s these instances that concern me. I’ve written many times about how and why it’s so important that we’re given a way to easily backup and (critically) be able to restore out Twitter accounts, because things do go wrong, and sometimes Twitter has a strop, picks up its ball and says that it – and more important you – are not playing any more.

But in all these examples, irrespective of where the fault actually lies, it ultimately comes down to your word against Twitter’s. Dave Winer has the clout and track record for the powers-that-be at Twitter to pay a little attention, but would they have been quite as forthcoming for somebody with a little less internet presence? Who was slightly less well-known, and perhaps not quite as persistent?

Or would that individual have been completely ignored?

And Then What Happens?

What options would that person have left? Sure, they could open another account and complain that way, but what’s that really going to accomplish? And who exactly is going to listen, or even care? It’s worth noting that several leading mathematicians recently calculated that your odds of winning the lottery are only slightly worse than those of you actually getting a reply on Twitter from Biz Stone.

Twitter is rapidly becoming a really big hairy deal. In less than a year it has firmly embedded itself, taken root and began to parasitically feed upon and nourish the minds of the public at large and the global media. It’s changed the game, and perhaps for the first time in our history, made it a level playing field.

And the thing is, they’re our tweets. As a collective, we own Twitter. Take away the tweets, and the company isn’t left with much more than a boardroom table and some ill-considered pieces of art. Shouldn’t we expect a little courtesy? A little fairness? Some consistency?

All of which leads me to ask this question: does Twitter need a trusted intermediary that can fairly and honestly investigate complaints against it? An appointed official or entity that would investigate complaints and issues raised by individuals who felt they had been unfairly treated by the social network?

More importantly: do we need it?

I think we do, and I think we need it now. Twitter is a big deal today – just what exactly is it going to be in two years from now, or five? Too big, perhaps, to do much about. Better to start setting precedents on both sides in these relatively early stages, than having them laid down upon us in the future to come.

After all, it was us that scorched the sky.

10 Cool Things YOU Can Do Today To Improve Twitter For Tomorrow

It’s early Monday morning. You’re tired after a weekend that was long on thrills but short on recovery. You log on to Twitter, but you just don’t have the energy. What to do, what to do?

Fear not: here are ten things you can do on Twitter today – or any day – that will massively improve your experience on the network.

  1. Help your friends understand how to use Twitter. Email them the link to my Twitter 101 tutorials, or if they’re already on Twitter, hook them up with tips to help newcomers hit the ground running.
  2. Learn how to defend yourself from spammers, trolls and automated direct messages.
  3. Understand why everybody needs a follow policy – eliminate those phony followers.
  4. Want to get more retweets? Memorise your retweet number (and sharpen your pencil)!
  5. Take a minute to fill in the description box on your Twitter lists – it really does make the feature significantly richer and lists with descriptions are going to attract more followers. (And yes – I mean all of your lists!)
  6. Fight Club celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this week – find out what Tyler Durden can teach you about Twitter
  7. Start a conversation with a total stranger – that’s what puts the social in ‘social media’.
  8. Play around with the new retweet mechanism – while it’s not currently as good as the organic and original RT@ function, it’s here to stay, and will come with improvements in the future (including edits).
  9. Take a Twitter poll! For example, how do you rate Twitter’s technical support? Would you pay $1 a month to access Twitter? How many celebrities to do you follow? What reasons do you need to block somebody? What kind of avatar do you like to see?
  10. Having problems? Learn how you can submit a help ticket to Twitter.

BONUS: please, please, please – don’t be a metweeter.

What are you waiting for? Get stuck in!

Twitter No Longer Cares What You're Doing – Wants To Know 'What’s Happening?'

It’s a minor cosmetic change but quite a significant one – earlier today, Twitter dropped the (increasingly infamous) ‘What are you doing?’ question from above the tweet box on Twitter.com and changed it to ‘What’s happening?’

Twitter: What's Happening?

Biz Stone notes in his write-up about the tweak that it’s unlikely to change the way anyone users Twitter, and this is certainly true for existing users. However, newcomers to the service will instantly be presented with what is quite a significant introduction into exactly how they can interface with the platform, specifically because of what Twitter has become.

No longer is it just a simple mobile status update service – it’s a massively important tool that’s becoming more and more significant in both the mainstream media and within the general populous, with each now able to wag the tail of the other.

Even if that sentence doesn’t actually make a lot of sense, just go with it, as this is a unique time in our history. After all, nobody is checking the reaction on Facebook after a major news story breaks.

New To Twitter Lists: Descriptions (bye bye, #followfriday)

As well as improving the overall look of the pages, Twitter has added a way to include descriptions to each of your lists, something I felt was an oversight back in my original look at the feature.

Twitter Lists: Now With Descriptions

It’s absolutely worth taking a moment to accurately add a brief note to each of your lists. Give people a reason to sign up.

This naturally will lead to a better way to search lists, too – it’s much easier to interpret a sentence or two than it is (what is often) a fairly non-descriptive list name.

Moreover, this may well be the final nail in the coffin of #followfriday.

Obama Isn’t The Only 'Verified' Twitter Account Updated By Somebody Other Than The Person 'Verified'

There’s been some fuss over President Obama’s admission that despite having a verified account with over 2.5 million followers, he has never used Twitter at all.

“I have never used Twitter but I’m an advocate of technology and not restricting internet access,” says Obama, and good for him. Of course, and while this news does take away a little of the impact from some of the classic Obama tweets, you’d have to have been more than a little naive to think the leader of the Western world really had the time to write his own tweets.

Furthermore, and while we can perhaps excuse the President, Obama is hardly alone. There are many ‘verified’ Twitter accounts that are not, and likely never have been updated by the famous name linked therein. Here’s a brief list to whet your appetite:

The latter of course makes absolute sense – give Cruise just two weeks in social media and he’d completely unravel what is left of an already floundering career, torn to pieces as it has been by his own particular idiosyncrasies.

Obama Isn't The Only 'Verified' Twitter Account Updated By Somebody Other Than The Person 'Verified'

Quite. Still, all of this makes me wonder: for an account to be verified, do we need some guarantee that it’s actually the person authenticated who is making those updates? Is it good enough that it’s simply connected in some way to the real person? Shouldn’t they be getting involved, too?

If you want to make a news and announcements account, then at least give us the courtesy of, uh, announcing that bit of news.  One recent example of how this should be done is @Team_Barrowman, which provides news updates concerning the actor/entertainer John Barrowman. Another is the @McInTweet account, which provides updates about comedian Michael McIntyre. It is, however, a crying shame that McIntyre himself hasn’t embraced Twitter, unlike many of his British comic peers.

I’m busy, you’re busy, everybody is busy. If the lovely Milla Jovovich can update tons of times per day, while working on set, then so can you. And if you really don’t have the time, then be very clear that it’s not you doing the updates. Please – think of the fans.

Otherwise, all we’re really verifying is that account is official, inasmuch as somebody is being paid to update it by the verified person (or their reps) and their management has returned an email to say, “Yes, this is real.” And more importantly, certainly when it comes to Twitter’s legal position, that it’s not an impostor.

Who, let’s face it, does a more interesting job most of the time. Which leads me to suspect that something else is afoot. Maybe the celebrities hiding behind these managed accounts aren’t all that busy, after all. Quite possibly that’s just a convenient excuse. I wonder if a good number of them are suffering from a far more damaging predicament, and one that is significantly harder to shake off – that they’re very, very dull.

Let Me Get This Straight – Twitter Doesn't Think @ChrisBrogan Is A Social Media Maven? #openwebawards

I’m not a big believer in the old adage that suggests that popularity always equals mediocrity – The Beatles are, after all, very popular, as is Star Wars and Lost – but it’s certainly fair to say that when an opinion is shared en masse, it can quite often be a little bit dubious.

A case in point is the Mashable Open Web Awards, now in its third year, the latest of which the popular social media blog launched back in October. Mashable presented its readers with fifty different social media categories and asked them to nominate their favourites in each. Around 350,000 votes have now been cast, and earlier today they published the 500 leading nominees.

I have to say – it’s a bit of a shocker.

Now, before you read the rest of this I need to own up to something – I’m pretty sure I voted at least once or twice several weeks back in the Open Web Awards, but I can’t search back that far on Twitter, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to check how you voted on the OWA website. So you’re going to have to take my word for it. Or maybe I just imagined I did. What has put me off is there’s no way to opt out of the auto-tweet Mashable makes you do when you vote. I realise they’re trying to raise publicity, but I don’t like auto-anything. Either way, I’ve rectified that now, and done some voting. Sorry for messing up your Twitter stream. I might have to do a few more tomorrow, too – apologies for that as well.

True to the title, the nominations are entirely open – meaning you can propose anybody, and don’t have to select from a predetermined list. While this makes the system fairer, typically what you end up with are nominees determined by who shouts and self-promotes the loudest, and who has the most devoted/obsessed followers (i.e., fans).

That’s not to say there aren’t a handful of worthy names on Mashable’s list, but there’s a genuine reason the Academy Award nominees aren’t selected by the public – and that’s because we already have the MTV Movie Awards. And they suck.

I draw your attention in particular to the Twitter categories, specifically the section therein marked People. Here’s a few of the gems Mashable’s poll has served up:

This certainly isn’t Mashable’s fault – the system encourages people to vote for whomever they want, and that’s what they’ve done. (With gusto.) And with the celebrity (and fan) involvement on Twitter you’re always going to get a little bit of confusion about what things like ‘educational’ really mean.

But what really surprised me was the Best Social Media Maven To Follow category. Take a look at this list:

Now, I’m not attacking these folks per se, but if this is what the Twitter collective seriously thinks is the cream of the social media crop, then we really are in trouble. No wonder the term ‘social media guru’ is expressed with such disdain.

(Incidentally, and for the record: this isn’t sour grapes on my part – I had absolutely no aspirations to be nominated myself, although I do appreciate those folk who were kind enough to put down my name. I’m confident I can win ‘Best Online Music Label’ this time next year.)

Where is @chrisbrogan? From what I can tell, he’s received just twelve votes over the past week or so. Twelve! I mean, quite possibly a title like ‘Social Media Maven’ is just a little too twee, or that Brogan’s 100K+ followers are a little too savvy to nominate him in a poll, but come on. Brogan doesn’t get nominated but Mia Von Doom does? For reals?

It’s not just Brogan’s absence that is telling, either. Where is @louisgray? @chrisgarrett? @jesse? @parislemon? Where on the rest of the list is @jackschofield? @davewiner? @tweetmeme? Even @arrington? These are the folks who are pushing and shaping Twitter. Not Donnie Wahlberg and Jonathan Knight.

(Although I feel bad for the other New Kids; their omission must have been quite a gut-punch.)

Darren Rowse (aka @problogger) and @copyblogger, arguably the two most influential blogs in the world, don’t even warrant a mention in the ‘Best Blogger’ category.

Heck, Robert Scoble doesn’t make any category in the Open Web Awards. Nor, for that matter, does @mashable itself, which is another curious oversight. Let’s be grateful @techcrunch is absent too, otherwise there would be hell to pay.

Here’s the thing: when folk are asked to vote their favourites from a fixed list, there are often lots of complaints about the absence of X, Y and Z. “Why isn’t my favourite on there?” And that’s fine and to be expected. But assuming the award-giver has done its homework, most of the time the actual results will be more satisfying. The winners may not fall in the order you expected, but at least you know they’ll make the cut. You still want surprises, because an anticipated outcome is dull, but at least you’ll have a list of quality.

When you hand people a blank piece of paper and tell them to write down any name that they like irrespective of the category (or basic common sense), the best you can hope for is a sprawling mess. The worst, and that’s unfortunately what we’re seeing with this year’s Open Web Awards, is something closer to a farce.

Twitter Traffic Dips -2.11% For October, Facebook +3.50%, Friendfeed -6.57%

Unique visitors to Twitter.com fell for the second consecutive month, dropping -2.11% to 23,042,455 visits, following a marginal fall in September.

Twitter Traffic Dips -2.11% For October, Facebook +3.50%, Friendfeed -6.57%

(click to enlarge)

Following a small dip in August, Facebook edged upwards for the second month in a row, adding 3.50 per cent of new visitors, to 128,940,004. Total visits was over 2.5 billion, up 9.72 per cent.

Twitter Traffic Dips -2.11% For October, Facebook +3.50%, Friendfeed -6.57%

Friendfeed continued to drop, losing 6.57 per cent following September’s 28.41 per cent decline, and has now lost some 33 per cent of its uniques since August. Overall visits fell 21.82 per cent, suggesting even veterans of the service are moving on.

MySpace slowed the sharp deterioration we’ve seen in the network since June, losing just 0.65 per cent of visitors, and boasting 49,903,567 uniques.

Plurk lost 3.84% of its unique visitors, and almost 20 per cent overall.

The biggest success story in social networking remains LinkedIn, which added another 3.29 per cent to its monthly visitor count to 15,545,678 uniques, following a 5.68 per cent gain in September. LinkedIn has now added almost 32.50 per cent of new visitors since May of this year.

Overall, October was something of a mixed bag for social media. Twitter.com is clearly struggling to attract new users, but perhaps the new tools that have been added to the site in recent weeks (lists and retweets) will turn around this scenario in November. Twitter hype has definitely not eased – if anything it is becoming an even more important part of mainstream media coverage – and one continues to assume that a big part of Twitter.com’s plateau is experienced users spending less time on the web site and more time using their favourite software clients, such as TweetDeck, Tweetie and Seesmic Desktop.

Twitter CEO Evan Williams Expands On Project Retweet, Says Future Editing "Possible"

Over at his blog, Twitter CEO Evan Williams has written a detailed explanation of the thought process that went into Twitter’s re-imagining of the standardised, what he calls organic retweet function that Twitter veterans have come to know and love.

It’s worth reading the article in full, but I draw your specific attention to Williams’ remark about how this first build of the internal RT function does not allow the retweeter to (in any way) edit or comment within the tweet.

The other thing some people will not like is that, unlike organic RTs, there’s no way to annotate or leave your own comment when you retweet something with the new system. Some people annotate with every retweet, some don’t do it at all. But it’s definitely useful in certain scenarios. We left it out of this first version mostly for simplicity. It’s especially tricky when you consider transports like SMS where adding a lot of structure or additional content is hard. But we have some ideas there, and it’s possible we’ll build that in at a later date. (This point should not be missed.)

Because of this, and on the likelihood of those same Twitter veterans continuing to use the organic retweet method, Williams adds:

What about those cases where you really want to add a comment when RTing something? Keep in mind, there’s nothing stopping you from simply quoting another tweet if that’s what you want to do. Also, old-school retweets are still allowed, as well. We had to prioritize some use cases over others in this release. But just as Twitter didn’t have this functionality at all before, people can still work around and do whatever they want. This just gives another option.

Williams also makes the point that sometimes you can see too many instances of the same retweet in your timeline, and one of the positives of this new system is that it will cut down on lot of this noise.

Assuming that is, of course, the small but vocal Twitter minority don’t ignore it entirely. I think that second build can’t really come soon enough. The dilemma then, of course, is that an edited retweet is an different tweet entirely, and therefore has to be treated and presented as such, which brings us back to the noise. It’s a tricky one to compromise and I would suspect that whatever the outcome a certain percentage of users are going to be unhappy. After all, they nearly always are.

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