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Archives: May 2010

Sorry Sports Fans, @ESPN Has Sent You Packing

Following @theonion’s still record 485,000 cull last month, ESPN (@espn) becomes the latest high-profile Twitter account to essentially start over and unfollow almost everybody in their network.

Sorry Sports Fans, @espn Has Sent You Packing

From 102,467 on May 12 to just 54 at the time of writing – a drop of 102,413 in about 48 hours. That’s a reduction of 99.94 per cent. It’s also a very smart move, as Twitter simply doesn’t work if you follow tens of thousands of people back.

And with the new Business Center toolkit on the horizon, there’s absolutely no need for brands to clutter up their screens with everybody and their uncle just because they might want to send over a direct message. My money’s on @wholefoods next.

Twitter Kills Off Justin Bieber

Twitter has made some long overdue changes to the algorithm for its trending topics feature, adjusting the focus to breaking news and immediacy, as opposed to things that are always trending.

The new algorithm identifies topics that are immediately popular, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis, to help people discover the ‘most breaking’ breaking news from across the world. (We had previously built in this ‘emergent’ algorithm for all local trends, described below.) We think that trending topics which capture the hottest emerging trends and topics of discussion on Twitter are the most interesting.

The good news? This should mean the end of Justin Bieber, although I’ll believe it when I see it. But looking at global trending topics right now, his name isn’t in the top ten, possibly for the first time in, oh, ten to fifteen millennia.

Bieber – and his fans – are a little upset, and he’s even taken to contacting Twitter directly, who have responded.

Twitter Kills Off Justin Bieber

Twitter Responds To Justin Bieber

Could it really be true? Could the Bieber be vanquished for good? Don’t count on it – “Jieber” is trending as we speak. Clearly, the rabid insanity of teeny boppers will not be quelled so lightly.

(Hat tip to Mashable.)

I'm Experimenting With A Custom URL Shortener On Twitter

I set up my own URL shortener earlier today –

(See what I did there?)

I’ve also made this my default on, via bitly.Pro (which is a free service), and this means all the links I share on Twitter will now be under the umbrella. Okay, this is a little egotistical, but it’s cute and when I saw it was still available, it was impossible to turn down. It’s all in the name of science, after all.

(Note that is just for links I share myself on Twitter. At the moment any retweets done on Twittercism via the Tweetmeme button will still use the standard URLs.)

This is possibly temporary. I’m a huge believer in the power of the pure link (see why here), but I’m curious as to what the impact might be, either adverse or positive, of using your own URL shortener on Twitter. Is it a service that really only works for the big boys, or can anybody play?

What do I mean? Even though my new shortener is still 100 per cent powered by, readers will be unaware of this and might view the link with suspicion. This might mean less clicks, at least until enough people get used to it and hear my side of the story (through articles like this one).

Hopefully the obvious connection between my username and shortener will ease people’s fears. Lots of popular accounts on Twitter use a custom URL shortener through bitly.Pro, including the NY Times (, TechCrunch ( and The Huffington Post ( Dave Winer also shortens a lot of his links through his service, which I think works through Adjix. I’m small potatoes compared to these guys, but I don’t see custom URLs doing them any harm.

Using, I’ve had a ton of retweets today so it doesn’t look like an issue at the moment. But the long term picture might be different, and I reserve the right to go crawling back to if it all goes pear-shaped.

Beware The Twitter Police – British Man Convicted Of Criminal Offence Because Of Airport "Bomb Threat"

Trainee accountant Paul Chambers becomes the first Briton to be convicted of a criminal offence because of something he wrote on Twitter.

Chambers writes about the experience in The Guardian.

The reason for the arrest was a tweet I had posted on the social network Twitter, which was deemed to constitute a bomb threat against Robin Hood airport in Doncaster: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” You may say, and I certainly realise now, it was ill-advised. But it was clearly frustration, caused by heavy snowfall grounding flights and potentially scuppering my own flight a week later. Like having a bad day at work and stating that you could murder your boss, I didn’t even think about whether it would be taken seriously.

Call me naive or ignorant, but the heightened state of panic over terror issues was not something I considered as relating to me in any way – until I was arrested, shoved into a police car in front of colleagues, hauled off to Doncaster police station, and interviewed for the rest of the day. My iPhone, laptop and desktop hard drive were confiscated during a search of my house. It was terrifying and humiliating.

I never expected to be charged, but a month later I was: not under the offence of making a bomb threat, for which I was originally arrested, but under the communications act for the offence of sending a menacing message. This first appeared to be an absolute offence, much the same as speeding: conviction does not depend on mens rea. For a stupid mistake, I was faced with the prospect of a career-ruining criminal conviction. After fresh legal advice it turned out I could argue I had no intention and awareness to commit the crime, and I could plead not guilty. Even after all the preceding absurdity and near-breakdown-inducing stress, I was confident common sense would prevail in my day in court.

Unfortunately, yesterday I was found guilty and ordered to pay £1,000 in fines and legal costs, which I have to find along with my own legal costs of another £1,000. I am considering an appeal, though I have no means, having left my job due to the circumstances.

This is, of course, quite, quite mad. Chambers writes of the overwhelming support he has received on Twitter, but obviously this should never have gone this far. But it has, and we now have precedent, and it’s something that all of us need to observe with caution and alarm. Tread carefully.

(Source: The Guardian.)

Twitter Launching "Twitter Business Center" Toolkit For Brands

Currently only available to a small, hand-picked group of users, Twitter’s new Business Center will provide a range of powerful tools to businesses and brands on the network, including:

  • Customisation of your business profile page
  • Adding a “verified account” badge to your profile
  • Extra preferences, including being able to receive direct messages from customers that you are not following
  • Account management tools that will allow multiple employees to easily tweet from one profile (and be credited accordingly)

The part in bold is pretty huge. This allows companies to appease customers by allowing two-way, private communication, whilst also maintaining a clean Twitter feed, something that hasn’t been possible before. Prior to this toolkit, brands were forced to either follow everybody back, and suffer the consequences, or they (rightly) put their focus on signal-over-noise, and risked crapping all over any future sales.

Once Business Center goes live, expect a ton of mass-unfollowing from corporate accounts.

It’s unclear how this verification process works, but one imagines (and hopes) that it won’t be as simple as ticking a box.

As said, this toolkit is slowly rolling out, and is highly unlikely to appear on everybody’s screen, with the focus very much on additional functionality for brands, not individuals.

Still, if you’re a business user on Twitter – and, perhaps more importantly, Twitter is aware of this – keep an eye on your inbox for updates.

(See more at Mashable.)

Ashton Kutcher About To Get Punk’d As Britney Spears Eyes Twitter’s Top Spot

Nobody really cares about follower counts anymore, but once upon a time it was kind of a big deal.

Just over a year ago, Ashton Kutcher became the first Twitter user to boast one million followers, beating the (then unofficial) CNN breaking news account in the process, and helping push Twitter towards the mainstream.

At the time of writing, Kutcher has 4,855,185 followers, which gives some idea of Twitter’s amazing growth over the past 12 months. But his reign atop the social network is about to come to an end, as Britney Spears, with 4,834,264 followers, and climbing much faster than Ashton, is about to seize his crown.

Ashton Kutcher About To Get Punk'd As Britney Spears Eyes Twitter's Top Spot

All things continuing as they are, Spears should be number one before the end of this month. And with the inevitable fanfare and media attention that will bring, she’ll likely hold that position for quite some time.

A couple of things to remember:

  1. The Spears’ account is managed. Sure, she does a few updates herself from time to time, but most of the tweets are from her team. Kutcher updates himself. Whatever you think of the man and the value of celebrity on Twitter, that’s an important difference.
  2. Otherwise, and as I said, nobody really cares.

Still, in many ways we’re nearing the end of an era. Looking ahead, Ellen Degeneres is climbing at least as fast as Ashton, and one shouldn’t be too surprised to see the likes of Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian and @Oprah Winfrey moving above him in the months to come. And after that, we’ll be looking at the wilderness period that will become known as ‘The Bieber Years’. Dark days indeed.

All credit where it’s due, but I think if Ashton is still in the top ten this time next year, he’ll have done very well indeed.

More On Blackbird Pie From Twitter's Robin Sloan

I feel bad for Blackbird Pie-creator Robin Sloan, who evidently got an earful after the feature tool was released yesterday.

So I just want to add a stronger caveat here. First of all: I think we’ll drop the royal “we” on Twitter Media from now on–it’s confusing. To be clear, this is just @robinsloan here, pitching a little hack of mine. Please regard it as such, even though it lives on this fancy domain. Seeing people call it a “feature” is making me cringe, because I know what kind of care goes into real Twitter features! This is not one of those.

Let me underscore the point: in the course of writing this blog, I coded up a simple script that I found helpful, so I decided to share it with you. It’s a prototype. It’s really rough. It doesn’t even work in a lot of places! But that’s what we mean by “experiment,” right? And, as part of the Twitter Media team, I couldn’t credibly ask producers and developers at media companies to experiment and prototype if I wasn’t doing the same thing myself.

And yes, I know it doesn’t work on Tumblr.

I wondered why it didn’t warrant a mention on the official Twitter blog. Now we know.

In my case, I feel that perhaps Humble Pie is more appropriate, certainly after the gaff I made last night. What can I say? It was very late, and I was very tired. In my weakened state, I failed to pay much attention to what was in the code, instead focusing on the size of the thing which, while still several orders of magnitude too large, does actually embed most of the important stuff, protecting you in case it gets deleted (on Twitter).

I mean, I still won’t use it – at this stage, I think image-grabbed tweets present better, and you just have to look at this awful page from The Guardian to see how local styling can make Twitter look really quite horrible – but all credit to Robin for putting this together, especially as it was all on his own back.

Twitter Launches The Blackbird Pie Tweet Embedder (And Man, Is It Ugly)

We were told it would be very simple. And it is. But nobody said it would be so ugly.

Earlier today, Twitter launched Blackbird Pie, a tool which allows you to convert tweets into embeddable code that can be placed onto any website. It’s a nice idea, certainly from Twitter’s perspective, as all those embedded tweets can easily be tracked and accounted for.

What we really wanted was just a couple of lines of code. You know, something elegant that you could quickly add to any website.

Instead, we get this monstrosity.


Man, that’s a lot of code. It’s nice that it styles itself to my site, but it might be easier if all that was controlled on the other end. As it is, embed more than a handful of tweets into your site and now that is your site.

Sure, they might provide more functionality, but a simple IMG tag is one line of code.

What Twitter has accomplished here is a way to protect embedded tweets, on the off-chance that the original poster (or Twitter themselves) deletes the source. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been established in a far more elegant manner.

Read more

Lessons In Twitter Etiquette – Is It Okay To Remove Typos And Spelling Errors From Retweets?

This is potentially tricky. Particularly so for brands.

Somebody – let’s call them a potential customer – mentions your brand or product favourably on Twitter, either openly or in a linked review. You want to retweet to thank them, but there’s a problem – their tweet contains a stinker of a typographical error, and the Grammar Nazi purist in you can’t bring yourself to retweet without a little creative editing.

But is this the right thing to do?

Of course, if you’re using Twitter’s internal retweet system, you have absolutely no way to edit the tweet, and everything goes out entirely as is.

However, if you’re a little old-school, and like to use the original retweet method, then this does present a dilemma. And it’s not just for brands, either. Tons of great links on Twitter are accompanied by really lousy prose.

So, what’s the solution? What’s fair? It largely depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Some people don’t pay much attention to the quality of their prose, spelling and grammar, and likely wouldn’t notice (or care) if you made a minor correction to their tweet.

Others will notice, and might take offense. This could potentially hurt your relationship. After all, they’ve said something nice, but it seems that all you care about is that they used ‘there’ instead of ‘their’.

Others still care WAY too much about the quality of tweets, taking it to vigilante levels, and crazy as this might seem, if you don’t show an acceptable level of care in what you allow into your timeline you risk impacting those relationships, too.

Here’s my tip – if in doubt, it’s better to change everything than just one thing.

What I mean by that is if you want to retweet something and give the original poster the proper credit (as you should), but there’s a grammatical or spelling mistake in there that physically brings you pain, then

  1. Seek medical help, but first
  2. Rather than just fixing the one or two words they screwed up (thus risking an emotional retort), rewrite the entire headline copy from scratch and simply credit them as normal at the end of the message (perhaps with the via hat-tip, which is my personal preference)

People do this all the time, so nobody is going to object if they see you doing this. You’re still giving credit, and that great link is now getting more attention. However, if your only visible change is to remove an unnecessary apostrophe from it’s, you should be aware that, silly as it may well seem, the original poster might take offense. And perhaps with good reason.

PS. Almost without fail, the absurdity of a typographical error in a tweet is always directly proportional to how many times it has been retweeted before it is noticed. Happens often enough to me that they might as well call it Bennett’s Law. Still, it can’t hurt to try and make everything perfect.