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Category Archives: twitter

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While there has been much breathless speculation about the threat that Twitter poses to Google’s iron grip on the search market, I haven’t seen many specific ideas about how that would work. By now we all know that searching real-time content is an increasingly valuable resource for information, but its utility seems to be limited to certain kinds of information like breaking news events and consumer product reviews.  It certainly doesn’t appear to be as flexible a mechanism for locating the wide range of content that traditional search has been since the inception of the world wide web.

The most intriguing speculation that I’ve read about the future of search has been this post about the notion of ‘PageRank for People’. In essence, the idea states that the current algorithms that govern the ranking of search results are inadequate because they rely too heavily on the location of the content being listed. Since Google relies on the volume of inbound links to judge the value of content, it favors content posted in popular locations. The thing is, a piece of good content is just as valuable if it is posted to ‘Bob’s Blog’ or the ‘New York Times’. The solution that was proposed, was a system that factors the ‘reputation’ and ‘authority’ of the content’s author when ranking search results. Just how to calculate these numbers, though, is the tricky part. One answer might be Twitter.

There are two aspects of Twitter that need to be changed. Both the ‘Retweeting’ and ‘Hashtag’ behaviors need to be provided as official features of the service. That means the mechanism for these actions needs to be separated from the 140 character text string of each tweet. That is to say, we should lose the ‘RT’ syntax and make the identity of the original poster some form of metadata that exists outside the post itself. Likewise, tags like those currently labeled with hash-signs ‘#’ should be saved as metadata separate from the actual tweet. With those two changes, searching the web could become a lot more useful. Here’s how it would work:

When I publish a post to Twitter, I should have the ability to tag that post with semantically accessible identifying labels. Each post associated with a given subject (as described by the label) potentially contributes to my ‘authority’ about that subject. Now, when someone retweets my post, they are in essence endorsing what I have said and contributing to their own ‘authority’ about that subject. If there was a scoring mechanism that assigned, say, one point for each endorsement, then you’ve created a system that establishes quantitative values for ‘authority’. Imagine it this way:

tweets

For each retweet, additional points are cascaded up the tree. That way the original poster is always given the most credit for contributing the idea, but those that help propagate it are given credit as well.  Authority is defined by the community, not the individual. It should be pointed out that for each subsequent retweet, the poster will have the opportunity to revise the tagged metadata, either adding more detail, or removing labels they believe are not appropriate. That way, the system guards against abuse by so-called trend-squatting.

Now, once we start getting values assigned for Twitter users’ authority on specific topics, search engines can start factoring this in to their rankings. So, content authored by an individual with higher authority for the subject of that content are favored over others. Content authored by organizations might be scored, in part, by the collective authority of that organization’s members. It would create a tremendous upward pressure to contribute value to the community. For some industries, I imagine that one’s scores in this respect would become a factor in employment decisions or compensation levels.

Now,  what I’ve described would need to be only one part of the search ranking algorithm. As described by the original post, there are many other factors that should be considered. Additionally, the scoring mechanism described above is probably far too simplistic and vulnerable to abuse. For example, one complication that could make the system more reliable would be to consider the reputation of the endorsing party when assigning a value to the score that their retweet provides the original poster. That way, it is more valuable to get retweeted by individuals with more authority. Note that ‘authority’ as I’ve described it is an entirely separate metric from ‘popularity’, which is defined by the number of followers that a user has.

There would be many additional side-benefits of such a system. For example, much of what is posted on Twitter are links to content elsewhere on the web. A robust labeling function would turn Twitter into a tagging system for the entire semantic web.

Here is a related discussion.

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The flood of activity surrounding the turmoil in Iran on Twitter the past few days has got me thinking about ways to make the platform more useful when big news events occur. Much has been said about how this episode is demonstrating the failure of traditional media, as real-time media has now become the main source of breaking information in Iran. There is no doubt that Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and the like are now a very important resource, but I think it’s important to recognize what we might lose if we completely throw the CNN model overboard. Important services that traditional TV news outlets provide include: intelligent filtering of the raw data stream, and a format that makes commentary accessible. TV news coverage does these things well, in that there are news directors who prioritize information, and a presentation format that weaves background information and editorial content together in a digestible package. These piece have been notably absent from the ‘coverage’ provided by #IranElection.

anchr1

Here is an idea that occurred to me, for a specialized blogging platform that would allow anyone with sufficient passion or knowledge of an event to produce their own live news coverage of a story, broadcast it to the web, and take advantage of all these amazing real-time media tools. Imagine a website, let’s call it Anckr.com, that you could go to when a story breaks. If you wanted to provide real-time  news and analysis of the story, you could log in via Oauth with your Twitter credentials.  You would then be presented with an administrative interface where you could set variables like: The Headline of the story, a friendly looking URL and a hashtag for your news coverage.

You would then have the opportunity to tweet directly from this interface with commentary on the event. In addition to your regular Twitter feed, your tweets would show up on the public facing news page that you’ve generated (pictured below in section ‘A’). In this respect, you would be serving as a news anchor for the story. As anchor you would have the opportunity to populate your news page with real-time content from many different sources. For example, any relevant photos or videos could be embedded into section ‘E’. You could also display relevant news feeds from traditional news outlets there (if they are bothering to provide coverage at all). This section could also provide space to display a feed of viewer beedback, that could be populated by tweets from viewers who have tagged their posts with the hashtag for your coverage.

anchr2

If you wanted to provide more compelling updates, there could be a section of the page that allows you to display a live video or audio stream of yourself (section ‘D’) providing commentary. Relevant hashtags could be displayed easily (section ‘B’), providing links to more conversations about the event.

Most importantly, there would be a section where you could provided a moderated feed of miro-blogging content (section ‘C’). The Anckr interface would allow you to follow individual tweeple who you believe are valuable sources. For example, you could have a feed for ‘witnesses’ of the event, people tweeting from the scene. Or, you could have a feed comprised of knowledgeable commentators.

Now, I could imagine traditional news organizations using a branded version of this sort of interface. Alternatively, anyone who chose to start a page, could become their own ‘reporter’. Since no one can provide 24 hour analysis by themselves, it would be cool if there was a mechanism that allowed you as the anchor, to hand off control to someone else of your choosing, kind of like how BNO news does now on Twitter.

All of the tools for creating such a website exist. I’ve listed some of the resources above, including: Twitter, FriendFeed, UStream, YouTube, Flickr, TweetCloud and Paratweet. Thesea re just some examples, but I’m sure there are many others.

The closest thing that I’ve found is almost.at, which is very cool, but more of an automated filtering service. If you are aware of anything like what I’ve described above, please let me know. If I had any free time, I might build this myself. Since I don’t, I hope someone gives it a try.

Twitter was the first social-media service that captured my personal interest. Up until I dove into the twitterverse, I had maintained only an academic relationship with likes of Facebook, Delicious and others, spurred mainly by the necessity of understanding such services in relation to my job as a marketer. Since I bit the Twitter apple (or as some might say, drank the cool-aid), I’ve become a believer in and active user of many related and competing products. Twitter, however, remains my favorite for one basic reason, it’s simple. Everybody who participates is basically doing the exact same thing. As a consumer this appeals to me because  this makes it easy to process the incoming steam of content. As a developer this appeals to me because it makes it easier to dream about new ways to harness all the activity.

By contrast Facebook is encumbered by numerous layers of piled-on features. I enjoy the service, because it does a good job of keeping me in touch with people I care about, but I constantly feel like I’m fighting it. Strange notices show up in my inbox from applications that I don’t remember subscribing to, configuration interfaces are numerous and hidden in inconsistent places. I never really feel in control of the thing. It reminds me of MicroSoft Word, which is a great Word processor buried inside a morass of tacked-on features and inconsistent dialog boxes.

I’ve wanted to push the envelope and find ways to derive more and more value from micro-blogging in general, and despite my crush on Twitter, I’m more than willing to entertain alternative services if they can do a better job. While the rivalry between Twitter and Facebook is well established in pop culture (think of it as the web’s version of Mac vs. Windows), the simmering war between Twitter and FriendFeed is more interesting (think of it as the web’s version of Mac vs. Linux).  FriendFeed is a bit like a swiss-army knife for social media, a universal connector between  your various identities be they on Twitter, Facebook, Delicious or whatever. It is smartly acting like a parasite on Twitter’s back allowing users to pull content from and publish content to the more popular service. The value-adds that FriendFeed provides are: sophisticated search and filter options, up-front forums that can be spawned directly from any piece of content, a content endorsement mechanism that can be tapped to aid filtering, special interest groups, and many other features. Friendfeed also offers a nice actively flowing interface that automatically updates content on your page without requiring refreshing. There is no doubt that FriendFeed has a lot to offer and I get the sense that the service is developing the same sort of devout, passionate and evangelical user-base that drove much of Twitter’s early success before the likes of Oprah jumped on that bandwagon. Many quietly harbor the desire to see FriendFeed fulfill the promised social nirvana that they feel Twitter has failed to provide on its own. Most are polite about it though, as they rightly recognize that they need Twitter as a source of new recruits until they reach their own critical mass.

The problem with FriendFeed, though, is that it is not simple. There are so many options that in the short time I’ve spent with it, I can’t help but feel that I’m not getting it yet. It’s obvious to me that they recognize this problem, as they have done a pretty good job of simplifying the interface for people like me who are just getting started. Allowing you to add new components to your personal interface as you discover them, rather than throwing everything at you at once. That, along with the reverential rhetoric from the FriendFeed faithful that it is a fantastic tool for social media power users will keep me going for a while longer. 

Perhaps a more troubling problem for FriendFeed in it’s quest to topple Twitter, is the nagging feeling that I have, that I might be spreading my social capital too thin by supporting my identity on both services. That is to say, it’s more work to follow both services simultaneously. Now, I could just adopt FreindFeed as my sole proxy interface for Twitter. But there are a couple problems. At the moment there isn’t a nice iPhone app dedicated to FriendFeed (that I am aware of), and about 50% of my interaction with Twitter is via my phone. Secondly, I’m frustrated with following links inTwitter posts that lead not to the teased blog article or Youtube video, but instead to the poster’s FriendFeed landing page. FriendFeed uses this page as the staging ground for any discussion that might arise surrounding this post, which is a great idea in one sense. But, in another sense, it’s not terribly different from the linkjacking abuse that we often see in social bookmarking communities like Digg. As a twitter user, I hate these links, which are often masked by the URL shortener. It’s bait and switch and I don’t want to subject my Twitter followers to that. Furthermore, the FreindFeed community is not big enough yet to justify abandoning Tiwtter altogether. This was most recently demonstrated to me when civil unrest was breaking out in San Francisco over the Prop 8 ruling. Twitter was all atwitter with live reports from the scene and FriendFeed was full of, well, links to Twitter.

This week we saw the first glimpse of a new service that might trump all of the above. Google introduce a new communication platform called Wave that hopes to revolutionize the way we interact, perhaps even replacing dinosaurs like email and instant messaging. They even demonstrated a tie-in to Twitter called Twave, but the new platform could provide an opportunity for third parties to get a foothold and compete with Twitter.  The Wave application looks like a jumbled mess, the kind that would make Microsoft proud, but Google is smartly opening up the platform to allow developers to make their own apps for the system. I can’t wait to see what someone with Apple’s design discipline will do with it. We’ll have to wait.

In the mean time, Twitter is growing rapidly and this is a blessing and curse. Today I saw estimates that they may have acquired 32 million users so far, a three-fold increase in the space of about a month  and a half. Who knows if that’s true, but the environment is changing. One need only look at the trending topics to see it. This past week hashtag-centered discussions about frivolous titillating confessions like #3wordsaftersex and #liesgirlstell consistently dominated important discussions like Prop 8 as mentioned, and the trouble in North Korea. It’s no revelation that people are interested in sex, and no surprise that as Twitter grows, it is more accurately reflecting what the public at large values. But I think there are some simple changes to Tiwtter that will help satisfy all aspects of our collective personality. The tricky part about designing such changes it so avoid mucking up the beautiful simplicity that makes Twitter so good. Here is what I would do:

Twitter should add once piece of meta-data to each twitter post. This would describe the nature of the post as (perhaps) one of the following:

  • Personal
  • Editorial
  • News
  • Promotional

I think these descriptors make sense, but there may be other I’m missing at the moment. This could take the form of a drop-down box beside the Text input field. By allowing users to tag their own posts, readers could filter searches and trending topics for the types of content they desire. A reader should be able to set individual filter setting for each user they follow if they choose. That way I could read the smart opinions of a political pundit without bothering to read about the Sunday outing he took with his kids. Likewise, that pundit will feel free to post reports about his personal life without worrying about alienating his professional audience. There is of course no guarantee that posters will label their content appropriately, and no doubt malicious posters will attempt to abuse the system. But those abuses will only hurt the poster in terms of credibility and the number of people that pay attention to their material.

This does make Twitter a little more complex, but I think it is an acceptable trade-off considering the benefit. Twitter certainly has a tricky task ahead of itself.

Topics include: Twitter TV, Trending topics, and the Twitter Apocalypse

ThotCast ep 7: The Comeback Episode

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The web is replete with social media experts spouting off about how you can get more out of Twitter, and this post is no exception. I don’t claim that the following tactics will light a path to Twitter nirvana, but I can say that my own personal experiences have shown me some success in this area. If you are in fact interested in improving your experience with Twitter (and why would you be reading this if your aren’t) you need to try new things, assess how they are working, and repeat. No one set of instructions will work equally well for everyone so you need to be flexible enough to adapt to your own circumstances. If however you need some specific ideas, here are some of mine:

The first thing that you need to do is identify what it is you are hoping to get out of twitter. I think that the fundamental appeal of the service, that is, the product it is actually selling us is the sense that people are listening to us. That feeling that we are important and influential. Most people measure this success merely in terms of the number of followers they have, but that is a poor metric. It is illusory because it doesn’t measure the number of people that are reading what you post. There is no way that anyone with any kind of life is actually paying attention to what their tweeple are saying if they follow a thousand or more of them. I don’t know about you, but I’m not satisfied speaking to a large crowd if they aren’t paying attention.

If sheer the number of followers is all you are interested in, your task is easy. All you have to do is follow a large number of people and many of them will follow you back. That’s all.

If however you are interested in cultivating a group of folks that actually care about what you have to say, and will actually read your tweets, your task is a bit more complex. You need to embrace your role as an editor of information for the mob and improve the product you put out. As a twitterer your job is to produce value for the twittering masses. Whether that value is informational, entertainment, or something else, people want to listen to those that provide something useful for them. In many ways, you are parsing the information you consume and regurgitating the good stuff for your audience (citizen journalism indeed). With that in mind, a good way to improve your output is to improve your input. So, lets break it down into two tasks:

Task 1:  Improve your data intake

I’ve stated many times that one of the main tasks with making Twitter useful, is managing the signal to noise ratio. The biggest enemy to getting a clean signal is weeding out all the crap, and there is a lot of crap on Twitter. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Aggressively prune the list of people you follow on twitter:
    Twitter isn’t about friending people, your relationship as a follower is not an endorsement of any kind of social relationship. Likewise, unfriending someone is not an insult to the target. It is not rude to unfollow someone. Twitter is about information, not friends. The friend thing is what Facebook does really well. On twitter you need to relentlessly remove those folks from your list that are not providing value to you. You should be spending as much time considering who to remove as you do finding new people.
     
  • Follow searches, not just people
    Using Twitter’s search engine to find people tweeting about topics you’re interested in is the first step. But, did you know that the search engine provides an RSS feed for every search you perform? Just click on the orange RSS icon in the top right of the search results page. You can bookmark or subscribe to these feeds with your web browser or feed reader. Also, many Twitter clients like Tweetdeck and Nambu allow you to save searches and list them in the same manner you can group your followers.
     
  • Follow groups
    As stated above, Twitter clients like Tweetdeck and Nambu make it easy to assign the people you follow into groups. I’ve found that it is often useful to create groups based on my initial motivation for following a person. So, for example, if I encounter an especially insightful tweet in a search result, and I find that the person’s bio or timeline is compelling because they are an expert on topic X, I’ll add them to my ‘topic X’ group.  I also have a small list of people for whom I want to read everything they post, so I place them in my must read group.
     
  • Use ‘favorites’ as a bookmark for tweets you want to follow up on
    I find that most people aren’t even aware that Twitter allows you to label individual tweets as ‘favorites’. This action lists them in a separate list until you actively remove them. I find this to be useful especially when I encounter a tweet that links to something that I don’t have time to read at the moment. I essentially mark it for follow up attention, then remove it when I’ve completed that action. This works really well when accessing twitter from my phone, when I almost never have time to go off and read an article.

 

Tasks 2: Improve your data output

Keep in mind that your audience is not a static thing. People are hoppin on and off board the follow bandwagon all the time. At any given time, only a small percentage of your audience is actually paying attention to their own twitter stream. And, more and more people are getting your tweets via searches and other means. The result is, the group to whom you are speaking is different in the morning, during the workday, in the middle of the night, and so on. There are ways to take advantage of this. First…
 

  • Classify your tweets
    There are different kinds of posts that most people make to twitter. For example, there’s the classic lifecasting tweet (“This sandwich is good.”), event based editorial (“I think that guy on TV right now is full of it!”), news link (“XYZ, inc. is buying QRS, inc. read about it here…”), real-time reporting (“we just had an earthquake!”) and so on. Some tweets are time-dependent, meaning that there is some value in putting them out right now, but many aren’t. Think about it, does your opinion about last night’s episode of LOST have to be posted right now? By thnking of your posts in this fashion, you can tailor your stream to the audience that you have at any given moment.
     
  • Schedule your tweets in advance to accommodate your audience
    To make that tailoring easier you can queue up your tweets in advance. This has several advantages. You can write your witty posts when you have time, say in the evening after work, and have them sent out at appropriate times. So work related insights and links can go out during the day, when co-workers are likely to be paying attention, and more personal stuff goes out in the off hours. If you really wanted to get tricky, you could even time your geographically relevant tweets to accommodate the time zone when interested readers are more likely to be paying attention. To schedule your tweets you need to use a third party tool like FutureTweets.
     
  • Retweet, but try to add value
    Most are already aware of the advantages of retweeting interesting content as you encounter it. But it’s often more valuable to add in your two cents. That is, repost the essence of the original post (a link to a blog post for example), but give your own opinion about it, not the original poster’s. Of course, give credit to the originator, but instead of using the ‘RT’ or ‘retweeting’ protocol, use ‘via’. For example, “That full of crap guy is full of crap, read for your self here… (via @poster)”. That way you give credit, get attention, but don’t put words into the mouth of the original poster.
     

Hopefully we will see Twitter and third party developers create tools that make these tasks easier. For example, the scheduling service needs to be built directly into Twitter in my opinion. I’d also like to see services start using more sophisticated measurements of twitter value than simple ‘number of followers’. If you want to follow me, I’m @rworkman. I also produce a weekly Twitter news podcast called Thotcast (itunes link).

BTW, the title of this post is a reference to this guy, who cracks me up every time I see this…

 

Topics include: Ashton v. CNN, Twitter adopts new open 3rd party authentication mechanism called ‘Sign In with Twitter’, Tweetie for Mac launches

ThotCast ep 6: The Authentic Episode

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Topics include: Twitter helps a revolution in Moldova? Spam virus outbreak. Twitter browser war escalation between Twhirl and Tweetdeck, but I like Nambu.

ThotCast ep 5: The War Episode

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I’ve just posted the announcement to the site itself, but in case you’re still following production updates for Thotmarket.com on this blog, be aware that a major update is on its way. I’m calling this ‘Version 3’ rather than beta3 as the ‘beta’ designation for websites is mostly meaningless these days. I can’t get in to any real detail about what will change, but suffice it to say, the site will be fundamentally different in many ways. It will continue to be a stock market simulation where you can buy and sell virtual shares to links, but things will be very different. In some ways, this is an attempt to recapture the simplicity and excitement that surrounded the initial beta release of the site, but it also designed to take advantage of the progression of social media that has occurred during the last year and a half. I think the new model is really cool and can’t wait to se what people think of it. I am well aware that the general consensus about beta 2 was that it was too complex and difficult. That won’t be the case this time. Things are vastly simpler. 

If you want to receive news about this update, or want to participate in the testing process, please follow Thotmarket on Twitter. Invitations to participate will only be issued through direct messages on Twitter.

 

Topics include: Twitter and Google, sittin’ in a tree (t-a-l-k-i-n-g), search functionality on Twitter, technical problems on twitter and backing up your twitter data, Demi saves a life?, Italian earthquake debuts on twitter.

ThotCast ep 4: The Trouble Episode

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Topics include: New twitter growth and usage statistics, People like to Twitter at work, but they should be more careful, Mark Cuban fined for using Twitter, Celebrities have a new Twitter friend. Find links mentioned in the show on the Thotcast twitter feed @thotcast

ThotCast Episode 3: The Work Episode

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