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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.


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, 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.


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, 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.

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

or Subcribe the podcast feed directly. OR get it from itunes


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

or Subcribe the podcast feed directly. OR get it from itunes


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

or Subcribe the podcast feed directly. OR get it from itunes


One of the lines I like to use when discussing how media is changing these days is, “The internet is punishing inefficiency.” I’ve forgotten who I lifted that line from, but I now add the following chaser: “The economic downturn is accelerating that process.” There is no doubt that the ways in which people are consuming information are changing rapidly. Newspapers are reeling, the recording industry has succumbed to the inevitable, and TV providers are getting nervous. Likewise, the industries that rely on gaming consumer attention, namely Advertising and PR, are scrambling to understand what their jobs are anymore. Part of the problem they face is that they are chasing a moving target, and no one is sure where it is headed. 

I tweeted a few weeks ago, that I thought the challenge of deriving value form Twitter was largely a problem of managing the ‘Signal to Noise Ratio’. There’s a lot of useful content out there, but if it isn’t parsed from the firehose for you, it’s of little value. This of course is why we have a media in the first place. The role of writers and broadcasters has always been to parse the wide world of ideas and bring us the nuggets that we value for their news or entertainment value.

In the beginning, ideas were spread sideways. That is to say we communicated almost entirely by word-of-mouth, and memes reproduced via a cascade of parallel paths. The trouble with this method was that it was slow and prone to errror.

Next, technology made a top down model practical. As it became economically feasible for small groups to communicate with large groups using things like print and broadcasts. This was the birth of ‘media’ and it dealt with the speed and error problems and was tremendously useful. The problem with this model, however was that the masses were all largely subjected to the same set of information, regardless of individual need. This system also made public attention vulnerable to manipulation, a loophole that the marketing industries exploited for centuries. 

Then another technological advancement made it practical for anyone to communicate with everyone. This made it much easier customize sets of data and package them for small audiences. The problem became that firehose I mentioned a bit ago. Suddenly we were back to the beginning of this cycle again. At first there was a sideways model online whereby users relied on tools like email to move the stuff around. Then a top down model arose as publishers and broadcasters attempted to apply their skillset to the web.

Then, for the first time, the web started to try something new. Taking advantage of the technology, models for parsing information were attempted that allowed the masses to self-regulate the firehose. For the first time we tried allowing our peers to do the parsing, leaning on our collective wisdom, services like Digg and Reddit emerged to help tailor content to individual need. The shortcomings of these so-called ‘democratized content forums’ was that they created a disadvantage for individual’s whose content needs stray far from the average. 

About two years ago I speculated about what the next model would be. At the time I became enamored with the idea that so-called ‘prediction markets‘ might just be that next model (see also ‘Infotopia‘ for a good discussion of this). It turns out (current economic crises notwithstanding) that stock market mechanisms are extremely efficient tools for extracting wisdom from groups. This fascination of mine resulted in an experiment called which was my attempt to apply the model to news and information. I now beleive I miss-read the trends. The actual next model is that which is being popularized by Twitter.

The innovation that this micro-blogging model provides is that content is parsed by the collective wisdom of the group, much like the voting forums, but it is a group of my choosing. As a Twitter user, I manage my own mini-mob, and that mini-mob manages my content for me. 

Now, managing the mob is not an easy thing to do. At the moment the tools available to accomplish this on Twitter are crude and cumbersome. But, these will improve as Twitter improves itself, or someone comes along to build a better micro-blogging platorm. Much of the attention of Twitter appliction developers so far has been focussed on creating new tools to parse out content directly from Twitter. There are an ever-growing library of live-streaming, filtering, and searching interfaces for Twitter. These are welcome and valuable additions to the service, but I think they miss the mark a bit in terms of taking full advantage of this new form of media. By foccussing on the content of the tweets themselves, most do not directly factor in the parsing ability of individual people. I’m waiting for more sophisticated tools that will allow me to find new tweeple, based on expertise, interests and quality. I want these tools to also help me prune the herd of tweeps that aren’t holding their own. In essence, I want tools that will help me make my mob better than your mob. 

There are some tools like this now. Mr Tweet comes to mind, as does Kevin Rose’s new pet WeFollow. These are good starts but leave a lot to be desired. For example, WeFollow is very comprehensive, but relies solely on the number of followers a Twitter user has to rank the list in each category. I think that this metric is a terrible measure of the quality of users for two reasons. Firstly, it’s too easy to game the system and run up that number without regard for merit. Secondly, it confuses quality with popularity skewing attention toward the center. That’s the same problem that Digg has, as I’ve already described. What is needed, is a more useful metric to measure, compare and match users up with each other. What does that look like? Well, I have at least one idea and will be posting much more about that in the future. 

So where does this all leave marketers? In many respects they are having the rug pulled out from beneath their feet. The top-down loopholes are becoming less and less effective. In many ways, they are being treated like the uninvited intruder in the new media party, trying to butt into the conversation and unable to do anything but annoy the consumer partygoers. Is all hope lost? Hardly. I think that with creative thinking, a firm understanding about what is actually happening, and a healthy respect for what consumers actually want, that industry will improve right along with the media. Speaking as a consumer, I don’t mind if marketers participate in the conversation I’m crafting for myself online as long as their actions provide value to me. If they don’t my mob will take care of it.

Topics include: Twitter growth, trouble with TwitPic, and researchers have found a way to ‘de-anonymize’ your Twitter profile based on social media connections. Find links mentioned in the show on the Thotcast twitter feed @thotcast

ThotCast Episode 2: The Paranoid Episode

or Subcribe the the feed. We’re still awaiting iTunes approval.

I’ve decided to give podcasting a go. The show is ThotCast and is designed to do a quick roundup each week of news and events surrounding Twitter. I’m planning to keep each update less than 140 seconds long. Subscribe to the feed and check out the inaugural show here. I’m begining the process of getting this up on iTunes, but I’m told that the approval process may take a bit of time. I’ve established a Twitter feed for the show that will index links related to the stories discussed and field feedback form listeners. Let me know what you think.

I’ve seen a bit of talk lately about the proliferation of Micro-blogging and how it will fit into the emerging media landscape. It’s the same sort of breathless speculation that I used to read about what we must now reffer to as traditional long-form ‘blogging’. I think its fair to say that there is something of a consensus that blogging has peaked, and microblogging is the heir apparent. Why is this?

I think the answer is simple. Blogging, at least blogging well, is hard. It’s a lot of work to produce the volume of original content required to sustain a successful blog. Micro-blogging, on the other hand, is easy. Much less thought and planning is required to spit out 140 character pearls of wisdom then craft even a short blog entry. As important, micro-blogging satisfies the same innate desire to be heard and feel influential that I believe drives bloggers. 

If this is the case, what is the fate of long form blogging? Will it wither at the feet of its more spontaneous offspring? Will the army of amateur loud mouths be replaced entirely by a small core of professional loud mouths now that they’ve lost their newspaper gigs? No. I suspect that the sheer number of bloggers will retreat to some smaller, but more stable level as many of the amateurs tire of toiling away in obscurity and flee to Twitter (as podcasters are also doing). I suspect that blogging and micro-blogging settle into a symbiotic realtionship where the two organisms support each other. Blogging will feed micro interesting content to link to, and micro will drive traffic to blogs. 

Most interestingly, however, I think that micro might help create a new class of blogger. These loud mouths will have been seduced into the ego-stroking attention market by the ease of micro-blogging, but will find themselves periodically unable to express themselves in that short format. They will be driven to give the long-form a try. 

This post is a demonstration of this principle in action. I’ve been enamored by Twitter for some months now, and as versed as I have become at parsing out my memes into 140 character bites, there are a few that I just can’t convey properly in that format. I’m going to try to repurpose this blog as the release valve for those ideas. Until now, ThotBlog was largely a discussion area for the production of Thotmarket, my own personal take on the idea of democratized content forums (like Digg). Until traffic and activity on that site pick up and warrant continued production, I will continue to post here on a wide range of subjects that interest me.