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Archives: February 2010

"I Find This Offensive."

Hang around on the internet long enough, and you’re sure to offend somebody.

All it takes is sharing an opinion or making any kind of statement that a second party perceives to be blanket or in any way generalised, and they will take offense. It might be because you’ve made a joke or a silly remark. Maybe you behaved just a fraction out of character. The reason why doesn’t matter. You could write a thousand pure gold tweets in a row, but if tweet one-thousand-and-one is a tiny bit off, that guy is out there waiting to tell you that you screwed up.

You can basically guarantee that even if what you’ve said is completely innocent, insightful or funny to 99.99% of people, somebody will object.

In fact, the more normal your statement is, the more likely you’ll find yourself fending off some crazy who breaks Godwin’s Law before he’s halfway through his second response.

Most of the time, these people don’t know you. They’re making a judgement call on that item alone – they just happened to notice then. We all have people who follow us on Twitter who clearly never pay even the slightest bit of attention to the things we tweet about. Or believe in. Or how we really feel about the subject at hand.

It’s ironic that it’s often these same people who are the first to jump down our throats when we say something to which they take immediate offense. There’s no attempt to evaluate where this statement fits within our history. It’s simply: I am offended. What are you going to do about it?

Worst still are the people who silently unfollow you. Yeah, that told me. If I’ve offended you, I’d much rather you let me know. Otherwise, not only am I incapable of being able to do anything about it, but I’m likely to remain completely oblivious, too. I’d rather have the opportunity to explain my position, especially if there’s a chance it’s a misunderstanding or if I unknowingly (and genuinely) put my foot in it.

Here’s the thing: sometimes you will say and do stupid things. Very occasionally, you may well cause offense to a lot of people. And most of the time, you know when you’ve done this. You know when you’ve said something really awful, even if it’s by mistake. This recognition is important, and because of it you can initiate the steps to repair the damage.

Otherwise, a lot of the time when one person tells you that you have offended them – especially if that person is a total stranger – you probably haven’t done anything wrong. At worst, you’ve made a really, really minor error. Somewhere between a faux pas and a goof.

And again, just as you know when you’ve done something stupid, you know when you haven’t. Don’t be a jerk about it, but if you’re in the right, and you know you’re in the right, let the offendee have their rant and then move on. Let’s call it offensive defense.

After all, as they say: if you lend someone $20, and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

PS. The flip side of this is worth a note, too. If you have taken offense to the contents of a tweet, take a moment to read through the person’s recent timeline to make sure things are how they seem. Consider also your history and relationship with that person. Where does this tweet fit? Is there a chance it’s a joke? Or a misunderstanding? We can’t possibly all agree on everything, but a little social compromise and benefit of the doubt goes a long way.

Twitter Traffic +3.35% For January (+13.4% Overall), Facebook +1.13%, LinkedIn +4.01%, Friendfeed +3.42%

This is a monthly series that looks at visitor data for all the major social networks as calculated by Compete.com. Compete is USA-biased, and certainly in the case of Twitter the visitor numbers are distorted by the openness of Twitter’s API and the numerous Twitter software clients, but on a like-for-like basis the numerics have value and warrant investigation. Please refer to previous installments in this series for a more detailed overview.

The moderate rebound we saw across social media in December 2009 continued with additional bluster in January 2010, according to figures released by Compete.com.

Twitter posted visitor growth of +3.35% to 23,573,178 uniques, just marginally short of the August 2009 peaks. More impressively, overall visits were up a heady 13.40% to 151,538,594, again just slightly short of the August highs, but welcome nonetheless.

Twitter Traffic +3.35% For December (+ 13.4% Overall), Facebook +1.13%, LinkedIn +4.01%, Friendfeed +3.42%

It’s the biggest month-to-month jump for Twitter since April 2009, and while the amazing growth rates the company saw at the beginning of last year now seem long behind us, it’s encouraging for the platform that existing users appear to be very upbeat. (An attitude which is reflected in other data.) And this is just traffic to Twitter.com, remember, which accounts for perhaps as little as 20% of all traffic.

Facebook also rose, adding +1.13% of new visitors to 133,623,529 uniques, and +5.92% overall (2,872,823,682). This is a new all-time high for Facebook, improving on December’s peaks.

Twitter Traffic +3.35% For December (+ 13.4% Overall), Facebook +1.13%, LinkedIn +4.01%, Friendfeed +3.42%

LinkedIn gained +4.01% to 15,475,890 uniques, but an incredible +23.84% overall (64,426,829).

Friendfeed rebounded from a massive four-month decline to edge up +3.42% (499,842 uniques), and +17.25% in all traffic.

Even MySpace turned up at the party, adding +2.61% unique visitors to 50,615,444, and 571,351,604 overall (+3.09%), a number which should clearly not be dismissed.

Plurk, meanwhile, fell -19.21%, registering just 181,096 unique visitors in January.

HootSuite Announces New Features, Including Klout Integration. Is This (Almost) The Perfect Twitter Client?

HootSuiteI’ve used and enjoyed HootSuite for about six months. Initially, this was entirely at work, because the platform is (comfortably) the best and most feature-rich way to manage multiple social media accounts, notably on a multi-user basis. It’s web-based, works out of the box, is fast and efficient, and gives you tons of control over your columns, allowing the end user – and their business – to see exactly what they want to see.

Lately, I’ve found myself drifting over to HootSuite at home, largely because of issues I’ve been having with Seesmic Desktop, which had been my Twitter client of choice for as long as I can remember.

Earlier today HootSuite was down momentarily while they added some new features to the platform. This included a welcome People tab, which allows you to quickly manage your new followers, as well as those you have recently followed yourself.

Interestingly, it comes with integrated support from Klout, which while not a flawless system is probably the closest thing we have right now to a reliable measure of an individual’s online influence and social status.

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You’ve Got Twittermail

The direct message system on Twitter is a mess. The more people you follow, especially in any kind of automated fashion, the more spam, mass marketing messages, irrelevant junk and good, old-fashioned weirdness you attract to your inbox. And while it’s admirable to follow others on Twitter so they can contact you via this method, the work involved in managing all that noise to find any signal of worth verges on a full-time job.

For some, especially those who follow thousands of users, the alternative is to simply ignore everything that is sent to them via DM. That’s not a positive outcome for anybody.

Ideally, Twitter would scrap the direct message feature and start over, building something that worked a lot more like email. Facebook’s private messaging system isn’t world-class, but it’s significantly better than what we have on Twitter. Being able to group more than one person into private Twitter conversations would be worth the price of admission alone. It would also be nice if we weren’t limited to 160 characters.

Alternatively, this is a fantastic opportunity for a really creative app coder. I’d love to see somebody port all that direct message API over to a standalone Twittermail website that worked a bit like Gmail, and gave us labels, starring, threading and – vitally – a spam filter, then I think they’d be sitting on a product that was valuable enough to warrant a (modest) price tag.

An intelligent spam filter (that came with its own folder) would be huge. Like Gmail (or Akismet), the filter would have built-in knowledge, and learn from the Twitter collective about repeat offenders, bots and trolls. You’d also be able to tailor the filter to your own liking. You’d switch off your DM notifications from Twitter, and manage everything at your new favourite website.

Hey, maybe this could even be ported into Gmail, and we’d let that do all the work.

We need Twittermail. You need it. Competent and manageable private messaging is a must for any network. Legitimate connections have immense value, but if you have to work too hard to find them many people will simply give up trying altogether.

Making An Assumption Is Making A Mistake (And Why Influencers Can Sometimes Be Real Jerks)

I’ve had a theme running on Twittercism over many months now, and it’s based on a belief of mine that following everybody back on Twitter, especially blind auto-following, does not work. It simply encourages too much spam, too much junk connections, and too much noise, making your Twitter stream, and especially your direct message inbox very difficult (if not impossible) to manage.

Targeted following is one of the secrets to Twitter success. I wrote about this yesterday, commenting on how several of Twitter’s influencers and thought leaders had (for various reasons and using various methods) decided to either reboot their accounts and start over from scratch, or significantly cull their networks on a manual, person-by-person basis.

In my piece, I focused on Louis Gray, who has significantly cut back his network size in recent days after maintaining a 1:1 ratio for as long as I can remember (Louis shares his reasons here) as well as Dan Zarrella, who I thought had a similar policy.

Problem was, this was an assumption I made about Dan that was wrong. I had looked at his data back a week on Twittercounter, but didn’t go any further than that, relying instead on memory – or what I thought I had of it – which led me to make a false statement. While he had unfollowed several thousand users in the past week or so (at least, according to Twittercounter and, as I later verified, Twitterholic), Dan had never had a 1:1 follow:follower policy on Twitter, and he was quick to let me know about it.

I made an assumption, and because of this I made a mistake.

When Dan got in touch, I realised I’d screwed up, and so I edited my piece and removed the reference that suggested he’d ever embraced a 1:1 following ratio. Really, in retrospect, this was a pretty minor, almost throwaway comment, but it was wrong and so it needed to go. I replied to Dan’s comment and apologised, and figured that would be that.

This was the second mistake I made. On Twitter, Zarrella threw what could only be properly termed as a ‘hissy fit’. Even now, several hours later, I’m not really sure what led him to this behavioural pattern, because I can’t for the life of me see what I said that was deserving of such an attack. If I’d blatantly defamed the guy or said something unforgiveable about his friends or family, then I’d be a little more understanding of what went down.

Thanks to Bettween.com, you can track this conversation here. (Opens in a new tab for convenient reading.)

Making An Assumption Is Making A Mistake (And Why Influencers Can Sometimes Be Real Jerks)

Here’s what happened in a nutshell:

  1. Zarrella proposed that I couldn’t count (which, in light of my mistake, was probably acceptable).
  2. He then suggested I deliberately lied in my article, and this proved I was ‘wrong’. I’m not sure exactly what I would have had to gain from lying about his stats, but clearly there was money and glory to be made, somewhere.
  3. He then had the sheer arrogance to propose that I might want to “learn how to do this social media thing a little better,” and sent me a link to his book on Amazon. I don’t and have never claimed to be a social media expert or guru, but I find it slightly bemusing that Zarrella made this pitch while acting in such a blatantly antisocial manner.
  4. He then informed me that he didn’t actually care, as “7 retweets of nonsense isn’t concerning.” The article is up to 19 as I write, but I’m guessing it doesn’t impact Dan’s radar until it reaches Mashable-numbers.
  5. After I expressed my surprise at his attitude and behaviour, Dan responded that he only acted this way towards “unfounded social media experts”, something which (again) I’ve never claimed to be.
  6. Finally, Dan suggested that my article was like “rooting through people’s garbage”. This, of course, from a guy who has made a career out of studying and analysing the accounts of hundreds of thousands of users on Twitter and other social platforms.

This last item bothered me the most. How could an individual who makes a living analysing volumes and volumes of data about user behaviour be so quick to go on the attack against somebody he doesn’t even know?

The problem was that Dan made an assumption, too. He figured he already knew me, making a judgement call entirely on one piece of writing. And even if I still cannot work out exactly what it was about that entry that irked him quite so much, that doesn’t really matter. If Dan had taken a moment to read a few more articles, or even to take a few deep breaths, all of this unpleasantness might have been averted. As it was, he just came over like an arrogant, egotistical jerk. You just have to compare his reaction with that of Louis Gray or Jesse Stay to see the difference in class.

And while I do think that these kinds of negative encounters with thought leaders and influencers in social media are, thankfully, quite rare, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen behaviour like this.

(Hey, maybe it is me, after all.)

But you want to know what the real zinger is? I checked back through my SocialToo emails, and Dan unfollowed me on Twitter just a couple of days ago during his recent blitz. And while I don’t have any idea how long he had been connected to my account, he’d clearly never paid attention to any of my tweets. And I tweet a lot. You’d have thought, or at least hoped, that some of that would have got through.

I guess that’s where I made my third mistake. It seems that Zarrella wasn’t all that interested in targeted following, after all.

Targeted Following (Because Twitter Simply Doesn't Work If You Follow Everybody Back)

Back in August, I wrote an article that noted how Robert Scoble had unfollowed everybody on his Twitter network, and was basically starting over. This mass-unfollowing began to gain momentum around this time, and pretty soon several of the bigger names on Twitter, many of whom automatically followed back everybody who followed them, were seriously optimising their Twitter stream. Even Jesse Stay, whose SocialToo platform was the benchmark autofollower (but has other value), decided to start over.

Why? As I said at the time, Twitter simply doesn’t work when you follow thousands and thousands of people. And when you auto-follow, it’s even worse, as it won’t be long before the bulk of your stream is made up of spammers and bots, and even worse, internet marketers.

In the last week, both noted Silicon Valley blogger Louis Gray and Hubspot viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella have also had what could be politely referred to as a ‘bit of a trim’. Louis’ follow-to-follower ratio has been 1:1 (or thereabouts) as long as I can remember.

Here’s what they’ve done over the past few days:

The Secret To Twitter Success? Targeted Following

The Secret To Twitter Success? Targeted Following

Scoble subsequently hand-followed over seventeen thousand users manually, and while he’s often the exception that proves the rule, the rest of these guys – Jesse, Louis and Dan – have taken Scoble’s lead and manually followed several thousand themselves, too.

And here’s the good news: because they’ve done this, it means you don’t have to.

What’s happened here is this group – and many others like them – have stripped away all the clutter and noise that comes from following everybody, which has then massively improved their signal and focus. Their network is now targeted and optimised. Everybody needs a follow policy, but this is particularly true for the thought leaders and influencers.

The best part is because these guys have adopted a targeted following system, you don’t have to follow everybody they do to get the access to all that good stuff. You just have to follow them. Collectively, Scoble, Louis, Jesse and Dan follow around thirty-seven thousand people.

To have access to all that rich information, you just have to follow four.

Sure, you won’t see everything they do, and you’ll naturally be exposed to their own bias and prejudices about what they decide to share, and what they decide to ignore. And this is where your own targeted following comes to the surface. Each of these guys are pretty sound, and I think come with a boatload of trust and clout. So I’m happy to follow all of them, and for what it’s worth, I give them my endorsement to you, too.

(It’s pretty much all tech, of course, but you knew that anyway.)

But you can’t just follow a handful of people on Twitter, as that’s worse, in my opinion, than following everybody. Where these guys have taken another look at their networks and essentially started from scratch, so can you. You don’t have to unfollow everybody to do this, either. Just take a day or two to carefully analyse your followers, making the cuts where necessary and appropriate. Don’t be scared – trust me, Twitter, your Twitter, will improve dramatically as a result.

For me, Twitter works best when I’m following three to five hundred people. For you, the magic number might be less than a hundred. Or no more than a thousand. Whatever that number is, only you can find it, and it’s absolutely worth putting in the work.

On that, I think when Chris Brogan finally caves, and gives up a sizeable chunk of that 108,529 on his following list – which really must be an absolutely nightmare, especially for a guy who’s all about engagement – then we’ll probably have the final piece of this cycle in place.

Brogan has written about how he likes to follow back everybody because it gives them a chance to contact him via direct message, which is admirable, but I know from personal experience of testing automatic follow-backs – even if they’re done on manual basis – that what you end up with in your direct message inbox is 90% spam, ‘thanks for following me’ auto-DMs and that TrueTwit validation nonsense that only mass marketers and spammers seem to use. And as a result, the direct message system just falls apart, as most of your day ends up being about clearing it out.

Brogan is one of few, bonafide shining lights in the world of social media, but if you take a moment to peruse his following list you’ll see how it’s made up of so many of the kinds of people the rest of us try to avoid (and usually block). It can’t be long until even he cracks. And the smart money will be on Darren Rowse next.

Google Buzz Is A Twitter Killer? Don’t Make Me Laugh

I’ve finally been granted access to Google Buzz today, and after playing around with it for an hour or so, I have to say I really don’t like it. It’s not all bad, but it’s bad enough that unless Google makes some significant changes I’m fairly sure I’ll be removing it in the near future.

The Good

  1. It looks a lot like Friendfeed. I’m very familiar with Friendfeed. This is comforting.
  2. You can edit your updates. This is always welcome.
  3. The comment system, again like Friendfeed, is nice.
  4. Er…
  5. That’s it.

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When Does An Unfollow Need To Become A Block?

Spammers aside, I block relatively few people on Twitter.

In optimising my stream, I’ve found that the comfort network size for me is to follow somewhere between three to five hundred people. Above that number and I feel that there’s too much going on, and everything moves a little too fast, which means I end up filtering out people and following lists or groups, which means I probably shouldn’t be following the excluded people at all. That may seem harsh, but Twitter simply doesn’t work if you follow everybody.

Likewise, if you follow nobody, or very few people, it also doesn’t function properly. I’m looking for information, not solitude. (I can get that at Google Wave.)

Five Reasons Why I Might Unfollow You

My Twitter network fluctuates fairly regularly, although it takes a lot for me to unfollow somebody. I have a few main reasons:

  1. Inactivity – I don’t and never will see the point of following somebody who hasn’t updated in months. (I use Untweeps to monitor this. I should add that I don’t blindly unfollow everybody who is inactive.)
  2. Inconsistency – If I’ve followed somebody for reason X and all of a sudden all they’re tweeting about is subject Y, this often leads to an unfollow. I’m not looking for everybody to ‘stay on target’ all the time, but complete personality changes or the total abandonment of one theme over another means it’s probably time for us to part ways.
  3. Rudeness – I can’t stand it when people are unnecessarily rude. Please, feel free to disagree with me, stick to your guns and voice your opinion. In fact, I encourage it. Just don’t be an ass about it.
  4. Crazies – I’ll give you every chance, but if you’re quite clearly a good, old-fashioned weirdo, I’ll move on. (Important note: if you bombard me with tweets, I file this under ‘crazy’, too.)
  5. Arrogance – I don’t like it when somebody never replies to my tweets. If this happens, I’ll check out their timeline and see if it’s just me, or whether they’re ignoring most of their other messages, too. Either way, if there’s no relationship there, despite my best efforts, eventually I’ll likely think it’s time we started seeing other people. I’m selective here, because I know some very important people are very busy doing very important things, but there has to be a point where there is no point.

Naturally, I’d expect everybody to apply these same guidelines to me, too.

Two Reasons Why I Will Block You

It’s items three and four that are the most serious. Because an unfollow on Twitter doesn’t stop somebody contacting you via an @ reply, rudeness and craziness can still get through, even after an unfollow. Or, more damagingly, if you never even followed at all. If either of these things becomes persistent, that’s when I will block somebody.

It doesn’t help that the block function on the network doesn’t actually work properly. But while blockees can still read my timeline and rant and rave about me to their heart’s content, at least I don’t have to be privy to it.

Just to reiterate – I’m not a fly-by-night follow/unfollower and I always give others a chance to excel. I love it when people surprise me, and bump against my (often flawed) expectations and first impressions. It takes a lot for me to actually block somebody.

If you want to get my attention, please, go crazy – I would absolutely love to hear from you. I really want to know what you think.

Just don’t be crazy. Or rude. Otherwise, I’m sorry to say that we’re done.

Justin Bieber Has Been Trending On Twitter All Week. Please, Somebody, Make It Stop

Justin Bieber has been trending on Twitter all week.

I don’t know who Justin Bieber is. So I looked him up. Now, I know who Justin Bieber is, but I still don’t care. He might be a great guy, and he might be super-popular, but he’s of zero interest to me and seeing him featured permanently in trending topics is not only irrelevant, but increasingly irritating.

I want to roll my mouse over to trending topics, and see a little X appear next to Justin’s name. And when I click on it, I want Twitter to say, “Okay, Justin Bieber will no longer appear in trending topics for you.”

I want to, but I can’t. Really, Twitter, is that too much to ask?

Twitter Needs Trusted Links

Twitter’s insistence on a 140-character limit for tweets has always been slightly controversial and many think that it should be dropped altogether.

I don’t subscribe to this philosophy. I like having a limit and I firmly believe it’s one of the main reasons why Twitter has been such a success. It’s increasingly a mobile world and the thought of having to manage potentially thousands of words on a per update basis on your handset just sounds horrible. We’d all be forced to follow just a handful of people to cope.

That said, while no limits on statuses would likely be a disaster, Facebook allows us 420 characters in our updates and I don’t see the world falling apart because of that. So while I’m familiar with and fairly happy with 140 I wouldn’t object to a little more. But I do think there needs to be a ceiling. And I never want to see anything but text in my stream.

Because of the status limitation and how Twitter works you aren’t exposed to things in which you have no interest. You actually have to click on a link to make something happen, which means you always have a choice. But less space means a need for URL shorteners which, while convenient (and in some cases, great for stats), have plenty of issues of their own. They’re ugly. There are way too many providers (and new ones arriving all the time). And unless you take additional measures there’s always a risk that you might end up being sent somewhere awful.

On Twitter, we’re all used to typing in the @ symbol when we want to craft a message for another person’s attention. It’s become completely normal. What I’d like to see is a way for us to easily share links in this manner, perhaps modelled on the parentheses-based system used on Reddit.

So, for example, this:

Twitter Needs Trusted Links

When written like this:

Twitter Needs Trusted Links

Would become this:

Twitter Needs Trusted Links

Reddit’s system is fairly basic but I’m sure something simpler could be created by Twitter. It’s important to remember that Twitter has a varied userbase, many of whom won’t be familiar with HTML or other kinds of markup text. A link system would need to be super-easy and completely user-friendly. (Ideally, it should come with an edit window, too, because we all make mistakes.) It also needs to work cross-platform, much like the @ symbol does now, which is why I think it needs to be implemented via keystrokes, and not clicks. And they might like to follow Wikipedia’s lead and add a little icon next to each external link so everything is clear and above board.

After that, it’s all gravy. When a reader rolls their mouse over the link, they will see exactly where it is going. The poster gets more free space within their tweet. Internally, Twitter would provide analytics for all of these links which the submitter could access.

There are at least four major advantages here:

  1. All URLs could be trusted
  2. It eliminates the need for URL shortening, because
  3. You won’t waste tweet space on a URL
  4. Twitter would be able to provide a first-rate analytics package (the pro version of which could be charged to businesses and heavy users)

I’m not particularly interested in more characters, but I really want a better way to parse external links on Twitter. And if this system means we can now trust those links, that’s better for everybody.

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