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Archives: July 2010

Twitter Adds 'Suggestions For You' Tool To Help You Find Cool People To Follow (And Fails Miserably)

To Twitter’s credit, they keep trying stuff like this. Unfortunately, despite their best intentions, it never really works out how they intended.

Head over to the Find People section on Twitter.com, and click on Suggestions For You. Here’s the word from the official blog.

With more than a hundred million users on Twitter, there are sure to be at least dozens of accounts out there that will reflect your interests. The trouble is finding all of them. Today we’re beginning to roll out a simple, but powerful new feature to help address that — “Suggestions for You”. The algorithms in this feature, built by our user relevance team, suggest people you don’t currently follow that you may find interesting. The suggestions are based on several factors, including people you follow and the people they follow. You’ll see these suggestions on Twitter.com and the Find People section. If you like a suggestion, click “follow”; if you don’t, click “hide,” and we’ll try not to suggest that user again.

I tried this, of course, and was presented with the usual suspects – about half a dozen people I’d long since unfollowed, one who had blocked me, several more I have absolutely zero interest in and – ahem – Fearne Cotton. To be fair, they did identify a work colleague I wasn’t following, so well done there.

Perhaps you’ll fair better than I did. However, I’m going to hazard a guess that – much like the ‘people you might know’ suggestions on Facebook (I very, very, very rarely do) – no matter how smart your people are, their friend-finding algorithms are never quite smart enough.

Relationships can’t, and let’s be honest here, never should be identifiable by moving some numbers around a piece of paper. It just doesn’t work like that. And I suspect that’s something we should be really grateful about.

PS. You’ll also find a ‘who to follow’ addition in the top right-hand corner of your Twitter.com homepage. Click ‘view all’ to go straight to your Suggestions For You tab.

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5 Holes That Twitter Needs To Fill (And Soon)

Twitter’s had a torrid few months and continues to have problems with error rates and API calls, but that’s simply scratching the absolute tip of the bugs and issues iceberg.

Here are five big holes that Twitter needs to fill.

Staff

Twitter is clearly understaffed. The company is actively hiring – there are 39 vacancies at the time of writing – and that’s a good sign, but they really need to step it up.

The company has documented their void in engineering, but of equal concern is the size of their support team. @Delbius et al do the best they can, but more often than not support enquiries still get little more than an auto-responded list of frequently asked questions and a rapidly-closed ticket.

I’m not sure exactly how many of their 241 current employees work in support, but I do know that only three of the 39 vacancies are in this area. In both cases, it isn’t enough – only 11% of my readers rate Twitter’s support as good to excellent. A whopping 79% rate it as below average to terrible.

Better Privacy Solutions

As I’ve documented on various occasions on this blog, Twitter’s block is not actually a block at all. The only way to get true security on your updates is to make them private. There needs to be a middle ground.

Read more

VIDEO: U.S. Mood Throughout The Day As Measured Via Twitter

This is an interesting curio – a video that shows the mood of residents across the United States over an entire day, as indicated by their tweets, culminating in a collective barometer of emotion.

Twitter is a gigantic repository for our collective state of mind. Every second, thousands of tweets reveal what everybody and their mother had for lunch, what Justin Bieber is up to, or what magnificent link you should be checking out right now. Individually, each tweet is mostly interesting to friends/fans of the tweeter, but taken together they add up to something more.

In the video, green corresponds to a happy mood and red corresponds to a grumpier state of mind. The area of each state is scaled according to the number of tweets originating in that state. Note how the East Coast is consistently 3 hours ahead of the West Coast, so when we’re sleeping in Boston, the Californians are tweeting away. It’s also interesting that better weather seems to make you happier (or rather, that better weather is correlated with happier tweets): Florida and California seems to be consistently in a better mood than the remaining US. Also note how New Mexico and Delaware behave very differently from their neighbors.

It moves like a living thing, which of course is exactly what it is.

(Source: Complexity And Social Networks Blog.)

With 125 Million Users Kicking Its Ass, Twitter Announces Move To A Custom-Built Data Center

Some interesting updates from Twitter yesterday in direct response to some downtime we saw on Monday and, let’s face it, a good couple of months of very poor network performance on Twitter.com and their API.

On the main blog, Twitter “PR guy” Matt Graves (@mgrooves) writes about reliability. Specifically, how Twitter seems to be seriously lacking it of late, but they’re trying really hard to improve.

When you can’t update your profile photo, send a Tweet, or even sign on to Twitter, it’s frustrating. We know that, and we’ve had too many of these issues recently.

As we said last month, we are working on long-term solutions to make Twitter a more reliable and stable platform. It’s our number one priority. The bulk of our engineering efforts are currently focused on this issue, and we have moved resources from other projects to focus on it.

In two posts over on the Twitter engineering blog, Twitter engineer Jean-Paul Cozzatti (@jeanpaul) writes about Twitter’s plans to move their technical infrastructure to a new, custom-built data center in the Salt Lake City area.

Twitter’s user base has continued to grow steadily in 2010, with over 300,000 people a day signing up for new accounts on an average day. Keeping pace with these users and their Twitter activity presents some unique and complex engineering challenges (as John Adams, our lead engineer for application services, noted in a speech last month at the O’Reilly Velocity conference). Having dedicated data centers will give us more capacity to accommodate this growth in users and activity on Twitter.

Cozzatti also compares Twitter’s growth to ‘riding a rocket’, adding:

As we said last month, keeping pace with record growth in Twitter’s user base and activity presents some unique and complex engineering challenges. We frequently compare the tasks of scaling, maintaining, and tweaking Twitter to building a rocket in mid-flight.

During the World Cup, Twitter set records for usage. While the event was happening, our operations and infrastructure engineers worked to improve the performance and stability of the service. We have made more than 50 optimizations and improvements to the platform, including:

  • Doubling the capacity of our internal network;
  • Improving the monitoring of our internal network;
  • Rebalancing the traffic on our internal network to redistribute the load;
  • Doubling the throughput to the database that stores tweets;
  • Making a number of improvements to the way we use memcache, improving the speed of Twitter while reducing internal network traffic; and,
  • Improving page caching of the front and profile pages, reducing page load time by 80 percent for some of our most popular pages.

Cozzatti also updates us on Twitter’s current user count – 125 million. That’s up over 20 million since April of this year, which is a pretty amazing jump.

And it’s one that is clearly bringing a ton of issues. I’m hopeful that this move to a richer infrastructure this Autumn will almost certainly improve performance – you know, once we’re past the 1-2 months of new problems that this transition will inevitably bring – but as Cozzatti himself notes, Twitter is a “relatively small crew maintaining a comparatively large (rocket) ship.”

Making these improvements to Twitter’s technology is an essential step, but to properly scale the organisation clearly needs more of everything – money, of course, but especially people. And they need them now. And it’s not just engineering – it’s everywhere across the company.

All the equipment in the world won’t make a lick of difference if there aren’t enough people around to fix it all the next time something goes wrong. In fact, it’ll just compound the problem. And if you think performance is mediocre now we’ve moved above 100 million users, then just imagine what it will be like when we hit a billion.

Twitter Announces Launch Of The @earlybird Selling Machine With, Uh, Movie Tickets

Last week I wrote about Earlybird (@earlybird), a concept Twitter has developed to promote the merchandise and services of carefully selected partners. In return, Twitter gets a share of revenue, and we get access to some incredible deals. It all sounded rather splended. Even wondrous clichés like ‘golden eggs’ were thrown around.

Well, this all went live yesterday, and the first amazing offer is now up! What is it? Can you wait? I hope you’re sitting down.

It’s, uh… tickets for a Disney movie you’ve never heard of.

Today, we’re excited to launch the first @earlybird Exclusive Offer, in partnership with The Walt Disney Studios. For a limited time, @earlybird followers in the U.S. can get a special deal on tickets for “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a new feature film from Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films that opens in theaters today.

Form an orderly queue everybody… no pushing to the front… calm down… CALM DOWN…!

5 More Mistakes You’re (Still) Making On Twitter

Time for another rant. My usual disclaimer applies.

Your Twitter Background Is Free And Off The Shelf

Here’s the thing – customised Twitter backgrounds are largely a waste of time. Until Twitter decides to make them interactive and allows us to add links and apps and other customisable options – which could perhaps let them compete with Facebook pages – unless you’re very important there’s really not a lot of point in spending a lot of time and effort on your background.

By and large, and because there’s not much to do once they get there, people only tend to visit your profile page directly (and thus see your background) a couple of times – once, when they’re deciding whether to follow you when you’re an unknown quantity, and possibly a second time when they’re trying to remember who the heck you are a few months later.

If you simply must have a background, you’re better off customising it yourself (perhaps utilising the services of your favourite designer pal), using a simple (and original) tile, or even one of Twitter’s options, than you are using a freebie service that proudly displays TWITTERBACKGROUND.ORG on the top-left of the page. Not only does that look lame, it is lame.

And even if your background is absolutely first class, remember that different monitor sizes and screen resolutions mean that all those email address, URLs and telephone numbers you carefully placed on the left sidebar can be completely invisible to those millions of people using netbooks and mobile handsets.

Unless you’re very skilled and/or can put together something absolutely incredible – that works on any screen size – it really isn’t worth going to too much trouble. Read more

HootSuite Adds Influence And Keyword Filters, User Insights And Announces Premium Paid Packages

Some new updates from HootSuite today, which already was (in my opinion) the closest thing we have to a perfect Twitter client, and with each upgrade gets that little bit better. These new features – which the company has termed social relationship and support tools - aren’t going to change your world, but they’re welcome and for some users will have value.

Filters on Twitter are always useful, and HootSuite has added a choice of two – by influence (based on a user’s Klout score) and keyword. Here’s influence cranked up to a heady Klout rating of 75.

And a keyword search for links:

The former has some use but while I think filters will play an important part in the future of Twitter – if only to cut down the mounting noise (especially in trending topics and searches) – they need to built into Twitter to work properly. If I want to filter something out or in, then really I need to be given the option to make that permanent until I change my mind. Having to do it on the fly is nice, but nowhere near as useful. Especially every single time.

TweetDeck has offered this functionality since day one, of course, and I never really saw it as much more than a novelty on that platform, either. Handy for quick stream-searches, but not much else. As said, filters need to come from Twitter’s end to be a true game-changer.

HootSuite’s new Insights feature provides an overview of a given user’s social presence. An insight, if you will.

For example, here’s Copyblogger’s Brian Clark:

And here’s mine:

What’s that all about? Nice, HootSuite, nice. After all the good work I’ve done for you. You could have just hand-written in something for me like ‘very busy’ or ‘probably on Facebook, too’. Sheesh.

Finally, and really the most exciting bit of news of the lot, HootSuite confirmed that premium accounts are on the way. Don’t worry – they realise this won’t be for everybody.

Keep in mind, HootSuite will remain free for an estimated 95% of users based on current usage patterns. Meanwhile, premium users will enjoy access to extra features, high limits and prioritized support.

But for those who are happy to pay for more, what can they expect for their cash? Well:

  • Unlimited social networks
  • Unlimited RSS feeds
  • Team members on social networks
  • Advanced analytics & reports
  • Expedited support

That’s all very nice, but it isn’t that nice. I hope they throw in custom (bit.ly) URLs, better block management and some other bits and pieces, too.

No news yet on price, but… if that’s all that premium means, then it’d better be very cheap. I absolutely believe there’s a market for a professional, subscription-based Twitter client, but it needs to be absolutely feature-packed and offer services and functions that none of the free clients can possibly match.

And then keep doing it, too.

Want More Followers? Twitter Might Be Able To Help You… For A Price

This is all hearsay and rumour at the moment, but then most of these kinds of things involving Twitter usually are. How far back was it that we started hearing about premium accounts?

Anyway, according to Peter Kafka (@pkafka) at AllThingsD, there’s a chance that Twitter could be planning to offer a variation on its Promoted Tweets feature to common or garden users such as you and I.

According to Kafka:

People familiar with the company’s plans say it has been discussing yet another revenue generator: Think of it as a “Promoted Tweeter” product, which highlights specific user accounts, designed to bump up follower counts.

My sources weren’t sure about the business model behind the product, which may be because Twitter itself doesn’t know yet. Some obvious possibilities: Twitter could charge users based on the number of followers they acquired, or simply based on the exposure their Twitter accounts received.

Twitter’s spokesman Sean Garrett (@SG) stated via email, somewhat vaguely:

“We will eventually have full suites of both promoted and commercial products. All the components of these two buckets of product have yet to be determined. Some are currently being tested publicly now. Some will be tested soon. Some are just ideas that we are broaching externally for feedback.”

It’s very debatable how much value something like this would bring. Of course, make this cheap enough and the spammers, mass-marketers and churners would likely be all over a product like this.

But for everybody else the very concept of paying for followers, even indirectly, goes against everything that makes Twitter work – being remarkable, engaging with others and ensuring your network remains optimised as much as possible.

Of course, Twitter’s suggested user list essentially gave this opportunity to lots of high-profile celebrities and brands for free, and many benefited from this with millions of followers, almost overnight. And while there has definitely been a value there for some, the quality of those followers is considered to be fairly low.

And this was when they didn’t cost a penny. Put a price on that – assuming you can – and that quality is likely to dip even further. It could work like Google Adwords, where you only pay Twitter for each person who clicks on your promotional tweet and/or becomes a follower, but that in no way guarantees any kind of quality.

More importantly, for many Twitter is still seen as a numbers game – the person with the most followers wins. By adding a business model to that the company is basically telling the world that that’s exactly what it is.

Twitter Launches @earlybird (Which Sounds A Bit Like Woot… On Twitter)

What is @earlybird?

Twitter @earlybird Exclusive Offers are special time-bound deals, sneak-peeks, and events that are promoted by the official Twitter @earlybird account. We partner with select advertisers and retweet offers that they have crafted only for the Twitter community. Our advertising partners determine the terms of the offer, including availability, amount, and price. As with other forms of advertising from Twitter, we are focused on bringing value to our users and will keep your interests in mind as we develop this program.

(Read more here.)

Twitter makes money from this through a revenue share with the selected advertisers. It all sounds a bit like @Woot, to be honest, and if the partners and offers are good and relevant enough could do very well indeed. (Woot, of course, was recently acquired by Amazon.)

No offers at the time of writing, but expect this to change very soon. Follow @earlybird now to be first in line for those golden eggs.

Missing Replies, High Error Rate(s), API Constantly Busy… Twitter Goes From Bad To Worse

I used to wonder if Twitter would become too big to fail.

With all the problems they’ve had the past few weeks, I’m increasingly concerned that they might to getting too big to succeed.

It seems like half the time over the last few days it takes me 2-3 attempts to even post a tweet. And missing replies… what’s that all about?

Come on guys… now we’re in the latter stages and the matches are fairly thin on the ground, you can’t use the World Cup as an excuse anymore. Hire some more people. Hire better people. Just do something about it. It’s getting embarrassing.

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