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Archives: October 2010

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"Baseball, Baseball, Baseball!" (AKA, Twitter, Please Give Me A Frickin' Filter)

I have a main list on Twitter called influencers. It’s a group of people whose tweets I don’t like to miss – tech pundits and blogs, VCs, news feeds, Twitter personnel, one or two comedians, and a couple of novelty accounts. Each has an impact on Twitter, both for me personally and (to a greater or lesser extent) the entire ecosystem.

It’s an eternal work in progress, and people come and go from the list all the time.

However, in the last couple of days the list has seen a major purge. Why? Baseball.

Baseball, baseball, baseball.

I don’t care about baseball. I don’t care about the World Series, and I don’t care about the San Francisco Giants.

However, it seems that a lot of tech folk do care about baseball, do care about the World Series, and do care (a lot) about the SF Giants, because suddenly that’s all they seem capable of talking about. Which is fine – everybody should feel free to tweet about what they like. That isn’t the point of this article.

All this baseball talk does, however, present me with something of a dilemma – either my ‘influencers’ list is clogged up with useless, personal opinion tweets about baseball, or I have to remove a lot of people.

I went with the latter. Now, I have no baseball updates, but it means I’ll have to monitor the folk I’ve removed to re-list them again once all this baseball talk is over. Well, some of them at least. You’d be amazed how many players in the tech world have the most mundane, ‘this is what I had for breakfast’ personal Twitter feeds on the planet. And lots of them work at Twitter. Some of them even run Twitter.

This would all be a lot easier if Twitter allowed me to use permanent filters.

Yes, I know TweetDeck and some other apps have filters, but they’re very superficial. The tweets you’ve filtered out are still being delivered to you by Twitter, and simply hidden by the app. I don’t want that. I want filters I can set that mean I’ll not only never see the content in question, but that it won’t even be sent to me by Twitter.

In a way, I want to be able to do a Gmail and mark tweets as spam. Or, for want of a better explanation, mark tweets as irrelevant. Anything filtered out would go into the folder of irrelevancy, just in case Twitter screwed something up. Which, of course, it would for the first few weeks, up until it had enough information to learn exactly what I didn’t want to see.

And taking another cue from Google’s excellent email service, I’d also like to be able to mark tweets as important. These tags would be carefully monitored by Twitter and it would do its very best to make sure I never missed anything that was vital to my wellbeing, perhaps by using a version of Friendfeed’s super-convenient Best of Day functionality. This could be coupled alongside a take on Facebook’s News Feed algorithm, so that it learns what I expect and, more importantly, want to see in my stream. These important tweets would float to the top, guaranteeing a moment of my time. Once read, I click a little tickbox and they drop back into the abyss.

Hashtags are not the answer, as they’re easily gamed and, to be honest, mostly full of irrelevant nonsense, and/or good, old-fashioned mentals.

I don’t want to mark users as important, because not everything any one person says is interesting 24/7. This is a fact of life. But certain types of content can be interesting 24/7, and that’s what I want Twitter to do for me.

In fact, I want it to bend over backwards to try and do this for me. Me, me, me. I’m the important one in this relationship. I don’t want some generic answer, like trending topics. I want a personalised experience. YOU want a personalised experience. We all do. Why compromise?

Important Note: As usual, I’m not looking for apps or external services that mirror this functionality. I realise some of these things already exist elsewhere, but as I’ve said before – if I have to leave Twitter to enjoy Twitter, then Twitter has failed. I want everything built into the roots of the service, so that and any client I would like to use has that functionality available from the core.

I realise that user-led filters can put a lot of strain on the system, but there has to be a better way to improve the noise/signal ratio in my stream without having to remove and/or unfollow somebody because they’re going massively off-topic for a few days, or even weeks.

Yes, I suppose we could all simply ‘get over it’, but that’s not the way most of us like to live our lives. Moreover, once you start getting over things and just accept mediocrity and poorly-conceived functionality as ‘the way it is’, it won’t be too long before you start looking somewhere else. Tweet relevancy is an absolutely vital part of the Twitter experience. But it has to be relevant to me.

"Twitter makes me like people I’ve never met and Facebook makes me hate people I know in real life."

Fantastic cartoon interpretation over at The Next Web of an original tweet by @shaylamaddox.

What do you think? While hate is perhaps too strong a word, I think in many cases it’s fair to say that Facebook can often expose you to too much of your ‘real’ friends – and that’s an increasingly meaningless term – and their many (sometimes mind-blowing) whims and fancies.

All those photos, videos, likes, tags and, in some cases, flat-out bizarre opinions must have, I suspect, have damaged many a relationship. Less is more, and all that. And of course Facebook also encourages you to hook up with people who you haven’t known – and really don’t have any business calling a ‘friend’ – since you left school all those years ago.

And while Twitter can be overwhelming if you let it, by carefully optimising your network you can ensure that your feed is exactly what you need, whenever you need it.

I remember reading a similar observation to Shayla’s a few months ago that went something like this:

“Facebook is for the friends I have but don’t want; Twitter is for the friends I want but don’t have.” ~ Anon

Again, perhaps a little harsh, and of course there are exceptions. But is it fair to say that a network like Twitter, which encourages new relationships, has to win out in the long run against Facebook, which puts a greater emphasis on the old, including those that are long-dead, or never really added up to a relationship at all?

The biggest irony? According to the boys in charge, Twitter isn’t even a social network. How fantastic if it turned out to be the greatest socialisation tool the world has ever seen.

(I’m not looking to steal any thunder from TNW, so please head over to their comments area to have your say. And before my Facebook friends come down on me en masse – I love you all. Doubly-so if you’re also on Twitter.)

POLL: 160 Million Users Now Have #newTwitter… But What Do YOU Think Of It?

New Twitter is now available to 100% of all users – or 160 million if you’re counting – says the official Twitter blog.

As of today, everyone who uses Twitter now has access to the new Twitter. Whether you’re just signing up today or you’ve been a user for years, this new experience is finally real for everyone – all 160 million of you – and in six languages to boot.

So while we still (and will always) have plenty of work to do, we’re pleased with the positive reaction so far. People are telling us that they love that we’ve kept the timeline simple while also providing a richer experience through the details pane. You can now dive deeper into a Tweet and see more details, like recent replies, the bios of other accounts mentioned in it, and photos and videos from media partners like Flickr, YouTube, USTREAM and yfrog.

I like it, and find myself going to at least twice as much as before. I’m not ready to abandon HootSuite, but it’s a definite improvement over the original design. It still needs some work, but I’m hopeful they’ll expedite improvements now they have a better interface to work with.

What about you?

[poll id="17"]

Is Twitter's Trending Topics Out Of Reach For Most Marketers?

Yesterday morning at 10am I published a blog post for a client that encouraged that account’s Twitter followers to take part in a competition.

Essentially, all the followers had to do was retweet the blog post, which came with a convenient hashtag and personalised link.

The competition ended at 1630 in the UK, and was a huge success. When the offer closed, the blog post had 830 retweets. And even though we announced a winner almost immediately, we’ve had another 100 since then.

I was hoping that this kind of activity – which was at a frenzied pitch for the first couple of hours – would see the hashtag reach Twitter’s trending topics. But while it made the top 10 in Manchester, and by all accounts flirted outside of this in London and the UK, we never actually made an official top ten.

I found this disappointing, but not unexpected. Twice in the last month or two I’ve had posts I’ve made on my personal account see over 500 retweets, and neither of these saw my moniker make any kind of appearance amongst Twitter’s most popular topics.

Various studies have been done on the sort of interest a topic needs to trend on Twitter, but from what I can see most of these are dated and hardly definitive.

Certainly, it seems obvious to me that even before the bulk of the citizens of the United States are awake and active on Twitter you need well above 1,000 retweets, likely in a very focused period of time, to have any chance of making Twitter’s top ten. And once the USA roars into life it takes a lot, lot more.

Which leads me to believe that barring a miracle Twitter’s trending topics is out of reach for most marketers.

Yes, anyone can theoretically fluke the top ten, which is full of fluff and nonsense half of the time. Major events like the deaths of the very famous are guaranteed to chart. And even beyond that, the merits of making this lofty peak are debatable once the spammers get their hands on a hashtag. I’m simply proposing that a planned campaign to trend on Twitter is very hard to guarantee, certainly unless you’re a very major brand or have the involvement (paid or otherwise) of some of the power-celebrities.

Which of course 99% of marketers do not. You can get creative with a tweet, but not that creative. Even the best legs benefit from a running start.

All of which of course explains why promoted trends and tweets are actually a very good idea. If only they weren’t so darned expensive – and thus exclusionary – to all but the people who probably don’t really need them in the first place.

(Image credit: Julia Roy.)

Media140 Dataconomy – Make Data Work For You (London, October 21, 2010)

The emergence of social technologies has brought with it the absolute necessity for transparency of data. There has been a shift from using data to be accountable to making data accessible and open for free re-use to benefit profit making organisations and the man on the street.

The data economy is growing and impacting how we live our lives, we can work in open data cities, read the data logs of Wikileaks or download a hack’s iPhone app.

But the challenge of turning data in to commercial gain raises legal, ethical and technological issues. With viewpoints from developers, designers and journalists we explore how you can make data work for you in this new age of dataconomy.

Event details:

  • Thursday, 21st October
  • Hosted at the HUB, Kings Cross, 34b York Way, London, N1 9AB (map)
  • Earlybird tickets £25 (including drinks)
  • Event commences at 7.00pm, doors open from 6.30pm
  • Drinks will be available during the evening
  • Food is supplied by Think Eat Drink (organic produce)

Speakers include David McCandless (Information Is Beautiful, @mccandelish), Rufus Pollock (Open Knowledge Foundation), Simon Rogers (The Guardian, @smfrogers) and Andrew Lyons (Ultra Knowledge).

I’ve attended multiple Media140 events in the past and they come highly recommended – click here now to register and buy tickets.

Twitter Has A New CEO (Somebody Tell @Ev To Update His Bio)

Read all about it at the official Twitter blog.

The challenges of growing an organization so quickly are numerous. Growing big is not success, in itself. Success to us means meeting our potential as a profitable company that can retain its culture and user focus while having a positive impact on the world. This is no small task. I frequently reflect on the type of focus that is required from everyone at Twitter to get us there.

This led to a realization as we launched the new Twitter. I am most satisfied while pushing product direction. Building things is my passion, and I’ve never been more excited or optimistic about what we have to build.

This is why I have decided to ask our COO, Dick Costolo, to become Twitter’s CEO. Starting today, I’ll be completely focused on product strategy.

The post is written by former CEO Evan Williams (@ev). Unfortunately, neither Evan nor Dick (@dickc) appear to be very good at using Twitter themselves, at least in a real-time sense, as both are still showing their previous titles in their Twitter bios.

In your own time boys.

Why Do Dinosaurs Persist On Giving Lifestyle Advice To Mammals?

That million-strong, highly engaged, hanging-on-your-every-word social community you’ve spent two years developing on Twitter and Facebook? It’s never going to amount to much, says best-selling author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell.

This from a man who hasn’t graced us with a single tweet in almost a year. But hey – he knows. Gladwell uses the American civil rights movement as an example of where social media and the internet wouldn’t have made a lick of difference to events in the ‘real world’.

“If Martin Luther King, Jr., had tried to do a wiki-boycott in Montgomery, he would have been steamrollered by the white power structure. And of what use would a digital communication tool be in a town where ninety-eight per cent of the black community could be reached every Sunday morning at church? The things that King needed in Birmingham–discipline and strategy–were things that online social media cannot provide.”

This latter sentence is quite clearly nonsense – one thing social communities excel at is grouped strategy, from very simple things like flashmobs to organised protests and marches – but even if social media alone couldn’t have been the catalyst for America’s social change in the 1960s, surely it would have helped move things along? If only to raise mass-awareness in a very immediate way.

The issue in the 1960s is less about what social media could or could not have done for the American civil rights movement, and more about whether those involved would even have had access to these tools. That is, after all, what the movement was all about. But the absence of access isn’t social media’s fault, and it’s extremely ignorant to assume that the ‘white power structure’ had the strength and universal agreement to steamroll any digital uprising. As history has shown us, they failed to do this in the offline world. I can’t see why the online should be any different.

I like Gladwell’s books, but this piece is his usual mix of carefully-selected examples and hyperbole. He points to a story in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody about the recovery of a lost mobile phone as an example of where organised social pressure can make a difference, albeit in trivial, everyday things that ultimately do not matter.

When Evan e-mailed the teenager, Sasha, asking for the phone back, she replied that his “white ass” didn’t deserve to have it back. Miffed, he set up a Web page with her picture and a description of what had happened. He forwarded the link to his friends, and they forwarded it to their friends. Someone found the MySpace page of Sasha’s boyfriend, and a link to it found its way onto the site. Someone found her address online and took a video of her home while driving by; Evan posted the video on the site. The story was picked up by the news filter Digg. Evan was now up to ten e-mails a minute. He created a bulletin board for his readers to share their stories, but it crashed under the weight of responses. Evan and Ivanna went to the police, but the police filed the report under “lost,” rather than “stolen,” which essentially closed the case. “By this point millions of readers were watching,” Shirky writes, “and dozens of mainstream news outlets had covered the story.” Bowing to the pressure, the N.Y.P.D. reclassified the item as “stolen.” Sasha was arrested, and Evan got his friend’s Sidekick back.

Gladwell argues that these ‘weak-tie’ connections that all of us have on Twitter and Facebook are fine for things like lost phones, but that they quickly fall apart – or, at least, almost always under-deliver – when the chips are really down.

(Tim Adams has a nice counter-piece in The Guardian. It’s worth reading for Shirky’s response to Gladwell’s typically snooty criticisms of him.)

When I read Gladwell talking about social media it reminds me very much of when Seth Godin talks about Twitter – it sounds a little like your grandpa talking about “modern music”, trying to fit in and doing his best to dazzle us with his intimate knowledge of the Stones and Motown, but ultimately sounding like (and admitting) that he doesn’t listen to modern music at all. He has simply decided he doesn’t like, or need it. There’s no time for it in his life. But hey – he saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965, and that’s all that really matters.

Malcolm himself has stated that he doesn’t spend a lot of time on the internet. Godin has admitted that he doesn’t have time for social media.

“I don’t use Twitter. It’s not really me. I also don’t actively use FaceBook, and I’m not adding any friends, though I still have an account for the day when I no doubt will.”

(Also, I hate the way he dismisses Robert Scoble in that piece. I’m not sure he meant it exactly that way, but it reads a little like how the boss of a company in the 60s might talk about one of the girls in the typing pool. I’m a huge fan of Godin’s, but this sort of stuff just makes me cringe.)

So if they don’t even use social media, why do both of them then persist on talking about it, and worse, feeling like they are in a position to provide us with insight and advice? That opting into social isolation in an increasingly digital world makes them think they can tell us what does and does not work inside that world? It’s like giving beat-the-game tips to Neo in The Matrix when your only reference point is a Bill & Ted double-header.

Those that can’t do, teach. Those that won’t do should just shut the hell up about it.

I agree with Malcom that it’s both naïve and a little risky to assume that all of your friends on Twitter and Facebook are ‘real’ friends – that is, genuine, bonafide relationships with people you like and trust. But that doesn’t mean that none of them are, and it doesn’t mean that just a handful of these people can’t kick-start and nurture huge social change, both for individuals (i.e., you) and communities.

Yes, it is far too easy to add your name to a meaningless protest list on Facebook and feel like you’re doing your part, but thankfully not everybody feels that way. At the very least, seeing 10 million names united against something at least gives one pause, and often triggers just enough momentum to provide those who are in a position to make a difference with the incentive to act.

Here’s the real irony of Gladwell’s piece – all change starts small. A single tweet can take us anywhere, both extraordinary and ridiculous. And as we all continue to refine and improve our online social communities, this shift in power away from a privileged few to an increasingly organised collective that can be called at a moment’s notice presents a real threat to the status quo.

Because the immediacy of social media doesn’t equate to immediate change isn’t an argument against it – that’s simply a reality of the human race. Change, real change, takes time. Yes, physical acts are probably always going to be the most powerful way to make a statement, but that statement carries a heck of a lot more weight when brought to the direct attention of hundreds of millions of people with one click of a button.

I suspect that the fear of change is perhaps the driving force behind Gladwell’s rant. Does the new world have a place for his old ways? You’re only 47, Malcolm, so there’s still plenty of time for a little evolution. Just don’t expect to see much of a change overnight.