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Archives: January 2010

I’d Rather Go Naked Than FUR

Follow. Unfollow. Repeat.

Follow. Unfollow. Repeat.

You’ve seen them. They’re out there, on Twitter, in their thousands, adopting the FUR system: follow, unfollow, repeat.

Why do they do it? Two reasons.

  1. Twitter lists your followers in reverse-chronological order. The newest person to follow you goes on the very top of the first page. When others check out who is on your followers list, they’ll see these new people, and may well follow them, too. This works in a similar principle to the first page of results on Google. Proponents of the FUR system can guarantee a page-one spot on your follower list. And if you are a celebrity or a power-user, that placing has considerable value.
  2. They’re working on the (highly dubious) assumption that persistence leads to success. You, the celebrity or power-user, are more likely to follow them back, they think, if you actually notice them. And what better way to get noticed than to keep appearing in your emails?

I track all my followers using SocialToo. I see individuals, brands and even some celebrities using the FUR system day in, day out. Sometimes several times each day.

What do I do? I block them. And I encourage you to do the exact same thing.

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Local Trends Is Only Slightly Less Useless To Me Than Global Trends. Why Can’t I Search Just My Network?

Yesterday, Twitter rolled out its Local Trends feature to everybody on the network.

When you login to Twitter.com, you’ll be given the opportunity to set the trending topics to your choice of 22 different locations.

Local Trends Is Only Slightly Less Useless To Me Than Global Trends, Twitter. Why Can't I Search Just My Network?

Immediately, of course, you see the problem here – while Twitter has stated that they’re working on adding new locations, chances are that most people who use the service will find that Local Trends is anything but for them at this moment in time.

Indeed, the nearest ‘local’ to me would be London. And, being absolutely frank, being able to quickly see what’s trending on Twitter within London isn’t of much more benefit to me than being able to quickly see what’s trending on Twitter everywhere.

Moreover, the differences between what is trending around the world, in the United Kingdom and within London aren’t as staggeringly different (or interesting) as you might expect.

Local Trends Is Only Slightly Less Useless To Me Than Global Trends, Twitter. Why Can't I Search Just My Network?

As you can see, the UK are clearly more interested in the tennis at the Australian Open than the rest of the world, and you would expect a UK-specific event such as Holocaust Memorial Day to only be trending within these shores.

And it amuses me that Londoners seem to favour the iPad as the name of choice for Apple’s soon-to-be-announced touchpad device, while everybody else is all about the (God-awful) iSlate.

Otherwise, it’s all about the glory of #nowthatsghetto.

Here’s the thing: being able to see trending topics in any given location is always going to be less useful to me than the facility to be able to set whatever filters and parameters I like from scratch.

For example, the option to simply search within the tweets of those people in my immediate network on Twitter would be something of significantly higher value. Using this method one could quickly and easily poll trends and opinion from those whose judgement we already trust. (And if not, why exactly are you following them?)

And being able to remove trending topics that are of no interest with the touch of a button would also improve the output dramatically. I accept that hashtag memes are popular with many, but they’re of absolutely no interest to me whatsoever. I’d rather not see them, to be honest, if only because they’re taking up space that might be better used for something that’s actually of value.

As it is – and I dare say this would be the case if Twitter ever gets round to providing local trends for my home town – aside from the novelty value, seeing what is trending in any one location is never going to be of much benefit. If something big happens in London and is only trending in London, that’s really only of use to Londoners. And even that’s a stretch, as if it’s big enough to be trending, it’s likely already in the greater consciousness, as that’s why it’s trending.

(Although how or why Danny Dyer’s television show about UFOs has generated such a level of interest is anybody’s guess.)

And that’s the rub in a nutshell: the problem with trending topics is that they are too general. This is why they’re trending, of course, because lots of people are talking about them, but while you can occasionally get surprised by something on a trending topic, when it’s still trending a week later it’s little more than an irritant. Especially when the reason why it’s trending is wrong.

If we could shape this output the value would increase exponentially. And it would be nice to see outside just the top ten, too – after all, chances are that there are many worthy things of interest in the long tail between numbers eleven and infinity, but the bulk of these never get a look in simply because once a trending topic is inside the top ten it automatically gets a lot more attention. In this way, it works a bit like a music, movie or book chart. The real quality is often just outside the very top, going unnoticed by the general populace.

It’s good to see Twitter rolling out all these new features of late but I do wish they’d adopt a sense of priority. We still have major problems with Twitter search, a block function that doesn’t work, a very ropey direct message system and never-ending problems with spammers and bots.

Perhaps if and when these things begin trending we might start to see some solutions. Of course, if you’ve set your Local Trends to the wrong location, chances are you won’t even notice.

Twitter Introduces ‘Suggestions’ (i.e., The Same Old SUL With A Different Coat Of Paint)

Twitter’s Suggested Users List (SUL) was a controversial and in my opinion poorly-implemented feature that provided newcomers to the platform with a selection of recommendations for them to follow when they first signed up. The idea of introducing first-time users to the concept of following was a good one; where the SUL failed was in gifting a privileged few hundreds of thousands of free followers which were then easily translated into a significant increase in status, web traffic and (by default) advertising revenue.

Yesterday on their official blog, Twitter announced the launch of Suggestions, which they are touting as a superior replacement for the SUL.

In his pitch for Suggestions, Twitter product manager Josh Elman writes:

“We’ve found that the power of suggestion can be a great thing to help people get started, but it’s important that we suggest things relevant to them. We’ve created a number of algorithms to identify users across a variety of clusters who tweet actively and are engaged with their audiences. These new algorithms help us group these active users into lists of users by interests. Rather than suggesting a random set of 20 users for a new user to follow, now we let users browse into the areas they are interested in and choose who they want to follow from these lists. These lists will be refreshed frequently as the algorithms identify new users who should be suggested in these lists and some that are not as engaging to new users will be removed.”

Which is all well and good. Except, when you look at it closely, and with one exception, it’s really just the same SUL it always was. The only major difference is the same suggested users we had previously have now been categorised.

Twitter Introduces 'Suggestions' (i.e., The Same Old SUL With A Different Coat Of Paint)

Browse the Suggestions page here. The first tab (‘Browse Suggestions’) is where you’ll find the SUL, except they’ve now made things easier for you by tagging everybody in one of twenty different categories.

(New users see this.)

So, for example, when you click on Entertainment, you’ll see a list of the same celebrities and entertainment brands that have always been on the suggested user list.

Twitter Introduces 'Suggestions' (i.e., The Same Old SUL With A Different Coat Of Paint)

Likewise for all the other nineteen categories, too, which includes Staff Picks and Staff Picks For Haiti. Elman writes that these differ from the other categories in that those listed inside are manually selected, but as you would expect, it’s not quite clear how these entries are determined. Highlighting a good cause is a nice idea, but Twitter’s lack of transparency in everything it does is becoming a little tiresome.

What is curious is how some of these people are verified users, and some are not. There’s always been a clear USA-bias towards the verification of accounts on Twitter, but why Anthony Edwards gets the stamp of approval and Roger Ebert does not, yet both qualify as recommendations, is something only God/Biz Stone knows.

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Legitimacy

I’ve written previously on this blog about why I feel that the option to ‘get verified’ should be available to all users on Twitter. I’ve also made it clear that I believe that, with some exceptions, anonymity on the internet needs to end.

On Tuesday, Bill Gates finally joined Twitter, and was almost immediately verified by @caroline. That’s fine and to be expected – like him or loathe him, Bill Gates is a big deal, and with parodies and impostors still common on Twitter (including Gates himself, who has made several illegitimate appearances) it makes sense to verify the very famous very quickly.

Twitter AnonymityCertainly, common or garden Twitter proles such as you and I shouldn’t expect this kind of first-class treatment from Biz Stone at al. But picking up from what I said previously, those of us who wish to be taken seriously on Twitter – and, indeed, the internet – should expect to (eventually) be provided with a way to confirm that our account is genuine. That, yes, we are a real person, we are who we say we are, and we’re prepared to be fully accountable for the things that we say.

It’s all about legitimacy.

It’s easier to verify a celebrity than it is a regular person. Celebrities have agents and managers, and lots of people who can vouch for them, including other celebrities. Regular people don’t have those luxuries, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the same rights.

What I’d like to see on Twitter – and down the line, across the entire internet – is a way for each and every one of us to get verified. If you use Paypal, you’ll know that becoming verified on Paypal is an important part of the process. It helps to build trust within the Paypal community, and provides an element of safety to others when they are engaging in transactions with you. Paypal, as the middleman, provides that guarantee.

I want to see this on Twitter. It may have to be an entirely different system to the current verification process (which, let’s face it, was tailor-made for celebrities and brands), but there needs to be a way for me to ID myself with Twitter and get my account authorised.

One easy way to do this would be to implement verification as a step in Twitter’s widely-anticipated premium account business model. By paying for Twitter, you’re already making the decision that the network is important to you, and likely using it as a business tool yourself, so getting verified, and making yourself legitimate, is absolutely worth its weight.

Using Paypal’s example as a guide, Twitter could easily ID check your account by matching up your bank account or credit card with your profile. And once done, once you’ve been verified, you get the seal of approval, and the trust and safety it provides to others.

And it doesn’t matter if you share the same name with somebody else on Twitter, or a hundred different people. Twitter isn’t verifying your name – they’re verifying your identity. They’re saying to everybody who visits your profile and interacts with you that this is a real person, and more importantly, that they’re exactly who they say they are.

Anyone who wishes to remain anonymous or doesn’t feel that becoming verified is important to them would simply opt out of the process. None of this would be forced. It would simply be available as a facility for those that desired legitimacy. Of course, it would be impossible for bots and most spammers to get verified, and it’s unlikely that trolls, stalkers and good old-fashioned weirdos would take the risk, so while the option to remain unverified would always (and would have to) be available, you would do so knowing the consequences, inasmuch as who you are grouping yourself with.

Furthermore, if Twitter really wants to fashion itself as part of your online identity, accurate verification on Twitter could very easily lead to accurate verification everywhere else, too.

This is coming. If it isn’t started by Twitter, it’ll be started by Facebook. And once the push towards online legitimacy begins, it’ll be impossible to stop. And for this Twitterer, it cannot come fast enough.

Yes, Twitter Was Down

And has been now for about half an hour, judging from the last response sent to @Twitter (Twitter search is still up).

Of course, there’s nothing about any of this at the moment on the status blog.

Yes, Twitter Is Down

Updates if and when they happen.

UPDATE 12:39 GMT: I’ve had it back a couple of times on Twitter.com, but it’s a fleeting glimpse at best before going down again.

UPDATE 12:45 GMT: Seems to be fully operational once more.

UPDATE 13:45 GMT: From Twitter, “We are recovering from this incident. A sudden failure coupled with problems in switching to a backup system produced a high number of errors for around 90 minutes. This made the site largely inaccessible. No data was lost or compromised during this outage.”

What Do I Want From My Ideal Twitter Client? Plugins

My moan about the latest build of Seesmic Desktop yesterday got me thinking about what it is that I need from the perfect Twitter client.

The biggest problem is the things that I like and want – and, conversely, all that stuff I don’t need or want to see – might be at a complete polar opposite to the rest of that application’s userbase. It’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time, but if pleasing most of the people means pissing me off, any software development team would be insane to do what I want at the expense of everybody else.

But then it hit me: plugins.

Those of you who blog and have spent a little time fooling around with WordPress will be well-versed in the multitude of plugins that are available for the publishing application. There are plugins for almost everything, from comment and spam management to analytical tools and database backups. Add-ons have been huge on Firefox, too.

Wouldn’t it be great if somebody developed a pretty basic Twitter client that you could configure exactly how you liked by downloading and implementing any of a series of plugins?

For example, I’d like to see plugins for:

  • Backing up, and being able to restore my profile and all of my tweets (including the metadata)
  • Analytics: it would be nice to see things like which users retweet my posts the most, who I retweet the most, who I reply to the most (and the other way around), all within the app
  • A way to edit my tweets
  • Tweet scheduling
  • Spam filters
  • Keyword filters
  • An improved direct message system
  • A variation on Facebook’s suggestions system, that alerted you to when people who you used to communicate with regularly have dropped off the radar

And so on. Not everything here is important to everybody, but that’s kind of the point. If you wanted, you could just stay with the stripped-down, basic build of the client, maybe just adding the one or two plugins that you wanted. Other people could (and would) add dozens.

And yes, some apps and websites already do some of these things, but if you could download and action everything YOU wanted via plugins, you’d never have to go anywhere else.

Ever again.

Believe me: the first company that comes up with something like this – particularly if they get Twitter on board and build a community around open-source plugins – is on to a huge, huge slice of win. I mean, Twitter exactly how YOU want it – what’s not to like?

Seesmic Desktop: When Bad Updates Happen To Great Software

Seesmic Desktop: When Bad Updates Happen To Great SoftwareEarlier this morning, I loaded up Seesmic Desktop and was greeted with a pop-up window informing me that a new build of the software, version 0.7, was available. I like Seesmic Desktop a lot, and I like updates, so I happily clicked on the button to proceed.

Ten minutes later, I’d made the decision to roll back to my previous installation of Seesmic Desktop, and in this article I’m going to tell you why.

1. It Defaults To Twitter’s Rebuild Of the Retweet

Seesmic Desktop 0.7 replaces the old-style, organic retweet (RT @, via etc), which many of us have come to know and love, with Twitter’s ill-advised, controversial and poorly-implemented Project Retweet system.

I don’t like these new-style retweets for a number of reasons, and consequently rarely use them, and now I find that in the latest build of Desktop the software defaults to the new kind of retweet. Seesmic has added a feature to the software which lets you retweet organically using a new function called ‘quotes’, but that now takes two clicks to activate, instead of just one as before. That might seem trivial, but this extra step means everything takes twice as long. I’ve also built a habit of just clicking on the retweet button, which is something I would have to start to undo.

Yes, I could switch over completely to the new-style retweet, but given how tweets submitted in this way rarely even show up in people’s streams or mentions folders the majority of the time (certainly when using clients), I would consider that yet another step backwards.

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Ricky Gervais: When Celebrities Fail At Twitter

Yesterday Ricky Gervais made the decision to quit Twitter.

Ricky Gervais: When Celebrities Fail At Twitter

He’s only been ‘active’ on the service since mid-December, but clearly felt like he’d given it a good go. On his blog, he wrote, “As you may know I’ve stopped with Twitter. I just don’t get it I’m afraid. I’m sure it’s fun as a networking device for teenagers but there’s something a bit undignified about adults using it. Particularly celebrities who seem to be showing off by talking to each other in public. If I want to tell a friend, famous or otherwise what I had to eat this morning, I’ll text them. And since I don’t need to make new virtual friends, it seemed a bit pointless to be honest.

Ricky Gervais: When Celebrities Fail At TwitterI suppose it was meant to be a bit of a marketing tool for The Globes, but they are watched by 25 million people in America alone and maybe 300 million people world wide – tweeting about it would be a drop in the ocean. Also I’ve got the website and I don’t have to restrict things to 140 characters. My tweeting was becoming like a tabloid version of this blog, and I couldn’t even put important stuff like this up.”

(The parts in bold are my own, added for emphasis.)

To be honest, I didn’t even know that Gervais was even on Twitter. And I consider myself to be a fan of the man, particularly his stand-up work. So something there is already not right.

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When Bad Hashtags Happen To Good People (Or, Why Can’t We Opt Out Of Memes?)

Hashtags aren’t for everybody. Lots of people don’t like to participate in memes, and even those that do rarely want to take part in every single thing that’s currently trending on Twitter.

When Bad Hashtags Happen To Good People (Or, Why Can't We Opt Out Of Memes?)

The problem is that when a hashtag gets really popular it can overwhelm your stream, and quickly become irritating. Which makes Twitter irritating. This is especially infuriating when it’s something that’s popular just within your network – for example, a conference or television event in which you have no interest. And if you have to go away to solve a problem, then something is broken.

Luckily, there’s a simple and (admittedly) obvious solution: you should be able to click on a hashtag or meme and then in the second page be able to opt out of receiving any further tweets containing that hashtag (or keyword). You can do this using filters in Twitter apps like TweetDeck, but they’re temporary and the tweets are still delivered to your account (but not displayed).

I want to see this function built into the core. And if I so choose, I want any opt-outs I make to be permanent.

Much like the block and the inbuilt retweet function, this could of course be easily reversed, too. Because while there are some memes in which you’ll never have an interest, sometimes you just don’t have an interest right now.

And it really doesn’t seem fair that you have to suffer irregardless of how you feel.

Track Verified Users On Twitter With @Verified

Since August, Twitter has been logging all the accounts it verifies on the network with a follow on the official @verified account.

Track Verified Users On Twitter With @Verified

It also categorises and places them in one of its respective lists.

Track Verified Users On Twitter With @Verified

This is a nice idea, but essentially useless. If the account sent out a tweet each time it verified somebody – much like @valebrity – it would absolutely be worth a follow.

As it is, because there is no easy way to search which users a given account is following, or to search within the lists of a given account – assuming that is you know who or what you’re searching for in the first place – none of this really helps you at all.

Incidentally, at the time of writing, and assuming this gauge is accurate, Twitter has verified 1,231 users. Against a network size of (at least) 25 million, that’s amazingly small. Looks like yet another half-hearted attempt at what is actually a good idea.

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