Twitter promises better curation tools for journalists

Emily Bell interviewing Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was one of the highlights of ONA12 – and the session also revealed some good news in store.

Twitter is working to create better event curation tools for journalists; Costolo promised we will be able to download all our tweets within the end of the year and a Twitter-version of Google Analytics is underway.

Those, to my mind, was some of the good news from this keynote session at Online News Association’s annual conference, ONA12, which I attended in San Fransisco last weekend.   

But that is playing down the entertainment (or should that be infotainment?) value of the interview.

Here are a few tidbits:

- I’d like to thank Costolo for ruining my attention span… In my journalistic lifetime Twitter has probably been the tool that has had the biggest impact on our professional lives in terms of how we do the job, said Bell at the start of the session.

- You are dictating the biorhythm of free speech for an increasing number of people all over the world.. How does it feel to be in charge of free press in 21st Century?

- It’s important for us to help our users protect their freedom of speech… We were put between the rock and a hard place when we were told to hand over information before the court of appeal was held, said Costolo, referring to the Malcolm Harris-case. The Guardian’s Matt Wells has written more in detail on that here.

Costolo agreed that this kind of judicial challenge is just going be a more entrenched problem for Twitter in the times ahead.

As for the recent crackdown on third party apps, Costolo said, among other things that this was "to make sure all our users got all our new features and fixes immediately". Techcrunch has more on this story, but Costolo also answered a question by Jeff Jarvis related to this by saying: - If you mean that are there anything more we will restrict or restrain in the near future? Then no.

- Is the area of openness over?, asked Bell. - No. We’ll continue to spend a ridiculous amount of money to keep our API open, said Costolo

Bell: -When is instant translation coming? Costolo: - Not soon. Bell: - When can we download all our tweets? Costolo: - Before the end of the year. But you got to take into account it’s the CEO saying this, not the engineer building it. It is a priority we actually want to have out by the end of the year.

Bell: - Twitter analytics like Google analytics, when can we have that? Costolo: - We have the function, but have to improve it before rolling it out. Bell: - Can we have it by the end of the year? Costolo: - No, I’m only going to over-commit from stage once. Bell: - So end of next year (no protest from Costolo there).

Two other interesting points:

Costelo said Twitter would like to migrate to a world where the 140 limit can serve as a caption for further content. In general, he said Twitter is not about being a destination. - I’m a huge believer in syndication and in that true platform companies always outflanks products, he concluded.

(Oh, and I just realised I’ve used the standard Norwegian way to write up quotes – and not " ...", but it goes better with my very quick write-up of my notes)

The state of social media and personal recollection

Wow, this one hit me. Paul Carr's The Rise of Microblogging, The Death of Posterity is really thoughtprovoking, worth reading and reflecting on.

I found this post via a tweet from Loic LeMeur who said he totally disagrees, but even though I often find myself disagreeing with Carr I think what he says about microblogging vs blogs is mostly true. I use microblogging more for conversation and sharing and reading links than for broadcasting, but it is true that a lot of the things I'd formely blog about I've ended up just tweeting since I joined Twitter.

That means I have some of the same problems refinding stuff I've linked to as Carr, and it's very annoying as a major function of this blog is as a backup of my own brain. In Carr's words: "...the realisation is slightly terrifying: by constantly micro-broadcasting everything, we’ve ended up macro-remembering almost nothing."

Now, I don't have any plans to delete my social media profiles, but it's useful to be reminded of, and reflect a bit on, this paradox, and least I took a few minutes out to blog this...

Do we need rules for journalists’ use of social media?

Are you a journalist 24/7? Does the company you work for own you? Does it harm your credibility as a journalist if you share personal opinions online? Are some opinions more appropriate to share than others?

These are just some of many questions raised by the recent debates on journalists and social media. Some companies, such as Bloomberg, have very strict policies on how journalists may or may not use social media, but in Norway such rules have been absent until now.

However, it was recently brought to my attention that several of the country’s biggest media organisations are working on social media rules for their journalists, which caused The Norwegian Online News Association (NONA), an organisation I’m heading, to host a debate on this last week.

The reason? We thought it was much better to get such a debate out in the open than have it confined by the walls of each individual media company. If Norwegian is not Greek to you, you’ll find video and notes from the debate over at NONA’s blog, but as these are questions many media organisations are discussing these days, I’ve also translated some key quotes and questions here:

"The home alone party is over"
'The home alone party is over, now the adults are back and they want rules,' said Jan Omdahl, internet and technology commentator for Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet. He said Dagbladet’s journalists had been playing around with social media from an early stage, but now the media executives had entered the arena, demanding rules.

'It’s very typical that those who don’t use social media, or have started using it very recently, want rules, whereas those who have used social media a lot take the contrary view,' said Nina Nordbö, a social media advisor at Norway’s public broadcaster (NRK) and NONA board member.

'It is perhaps our smallest problem that we lack rules for social media. At the same time one of our biggest problems is that we are part of a tradition for one-way communication that makes us ill-equipped for exploiting the social web,' said Espen Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief of and NONA board member.

Grey areas
He felt it as important that we learned how to utilise this arena, and make our mistakes now rather than later. He also emphasised that had strict rules on ethics and he couldn’t see that they needed any more rules than these.

However, Omdahl also pointed out that journalists encounter a whole new set of challenges online. ’Even if I as a social media user think we can just continue as we always have done, I do see that we can benefit from raising awareness about these challenges. For instance: should I reply when I get questions on Twitter about why Dagbladet has used five different angles on that sex podcast on Should I confer with my bosses before I reply? Is it appropriate that I share my opinions on one of our most heavily criticised front pages?'

Guidelines or rules
Hanne Kirkenes from pointed out that in their organisation it was not the editors but the journalists who had asked for rules.

'In my experience, our journalists are divided: those who take to social media very naturally and those who think journalists should not be using social media at all,' she said, explaining that as a result of this they had a few simple guidelines on social media. They also had held internal discussions on this and would continue to do so.

John Einar Sandvand, a digital strategist with Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record, explained that his company was in the process of implementing rules for how their journalists use social media, but suggested three very simple ones:

'For social media I would start with three very basic principles, and then one can elaborate on each of these according to specific issues:

1) The media company should be genuinely positive to its staff being active in social media

2) Social media activities must be done in a way which maintains the professional integrity of journalists

3) Stay loyal to your employer

You can read more about his thoughts on this on his excellent blog Beta Tales (in English).

Impartiality, sources and PR
We touched on several other issues which tend to come up in one form or another whenever journalists' use of social media is up for discussion, hence I'll just mention three of these briefly here: 

Impartiality: Can a blogger with a strong political agenda or view on a particular issue work as a journalist? Or would it be more useful to ask if a journalist or commentator can do more credible journalism when we know his our her agenda? Espen Egil Hansen suggested that bloggers were blurring the lines between reporting and commenting, that commentators like Omdahl could still do credible journalism and that we in the future would see more journalists becoming individual brands .

Consensus: Is it a problem that journalists and commentators mostly just talk to their peers online, and does this not exacerbate media's herdlike behaviour? A Norwegian editor recently argued this was the case, that discussing their ideas on Twitter created a consensus among the country's commentators, and therefore we need rules to regulate media's use of social media. To this it was pointed out that hacks and columnists have always associated mostly with other media folks, but that at least on Twitter they do so openly and not behind closed doors in the press club - and on Twitter they also have (an opportunity) to engage with their readers and can make an effort to expand the network of people they talk and listen to.        

PR: Oh, and somebody asked if it wasn't problematic that marketeers and academics could get to know a journalist's interests so well on Twitter that they would know exactly which journalist to pitch a certain issue to. My answer? No, no, no: I would LOVE more targeted pitches, if all PRs and marketeers would make the effort to figure out what my beat is and what issues I'm likely to write about I would be absolutely delighted....

Update 23/11-09, 21:59 CET: see also Think Before You Re-Tweet: L.A. Times' Updates Social Media Rules for Journos.

Twitter mishaps and netiquette for journalists

Evidence suggests navigating the social web can be a bit of challenge for journalists, but does that mean we need a new set of ethical guidelines to safeguard their conduct?

Last week, while organising a debate on whether we need rules for journalists’ use of social media, I asked friends, colleagues and Twitter-followers for examples of journalists’ missteps and transgressions on the popular micro blogging site. My question threw up some interesting examples, and I’ll highlight some of those here.

Digital Doorstepping
But first I feel I should point out that, even though Twittiquette is the hot topic these days, it would be wrong to single out Twitter: these examples are very similar to journalists’ "missteps and transgressions" on other social media sites such as blogs and social networks.

For instance, only two years ago we had a similar discussion after bloggers and others reacted sharply to how some journalists solicited comments from bloggers who themselves experienced, or had friends who were caught up in, the Virginia Tech Massacre – leaving blog comments like "I would love to chat with you about this horrific event."

"Journalism has a long and dishonourable tradition of doorstepping the victims of tragedies. But in the digital age, the communities around the victims have voices to express their outrage at the media's behaviour - and that's what we're seeing here," said Adam Tinworth in a blog post.

Bullying your sources
Now, I’m not so sure it would not be entirely far-fetched to say that journalist have a long dishonourable tradition for bullying their sources either. However, it does look rather embarrassing when the bullying is conducted in a public place like Twitter, such as in this exchange between former National Post technology reporter David George-Cosh and marketing consultant April Dunsford earlier this year.

After Dunsford tweeted an observation from being interviewed by George-Cosh, leaving his name out of it, he identified himself when he answered back with some very aggressive tweets. You can read the whole exchange here. Ouch. There are of course situations where journalists feel bullying, e.g. politicians, is entirely legitimate, even create TV-shows devoted to it, but here?

Twitter reveals journalists have opinions
An entirely different kind of example is that of Odd Myklebust, society editor for Norwegian regional newspaper Drammens Tidenede, who, two weeks before this year’s Norwegian parliamentary election, tweeted that this year’s regional political candidates were the worst ever. This created an outcry and spurred a debate on journalists and social media, and Myklebust later apologised saying the statement was too tabloid.

This incident reminds me of the Washington Post’s new, much ridiculed social media policy which came about after one of its managing editors, Raju Narisetti posted a few tweets that revealed he had opinions on issues such as health care, deficits and term limits. Impartiality is crucial to the WaPo policy, and Techchrunch has a ball with it in Twitter Unearths A Secret: Journalists Have Opinions:

"When word leaked out that he had his own opinions and was sharing them on Twitter, apparently the WaPo top brass scrambled quickly to get this under control. That included Narisetti deleting his Twitter account. Pathetic."

On the Norwegian incident, Per Valebrokk, editor-in-chief of business news site E24, wrote: "If Myklebust really means what he said on Twitter, why doesn’t he write it in his newspaper? What is really the biggest problem? That those working in the media have opinions, or that they’re not clear enough in their newspapers?"

Now, I can’t get myself worked up over these incidents revealing journalists to have opinions, but I should also, for the record, mention, that I know Myklebust from my time as a columnist at Drammens Tidende (where I effectively started my media career).

Making offensive remarks, then deleting them
I think a worse case is that of The Daily Telegraph’s former technology blogger Milo Yiannopoulos. I remember reacting to the tone of several of his tweets when I followed him on Twitter, but one incident in particular was later brought to my attention by someone who followed the situation more closely.

"Back when he was @yiannopoulos rather than @nero, Milo Yiannopoulos tweeted that he hoped the police 'beat the shit out of those wankers', referring to the G20 protestors. Then he deleted the tweets when one was killed," this person said, and described how @yiannopoulos also made aggressive remarks to some tweeters and deleted the tweets once they had been seen - adding that unpleasantness seemed not to upset people so much as deleting your remarks once they had caused a stir.

What a lot of this comes down to, especially Yiannopoulos’ and George-Cosh’s cases, is bad editorial judgements. If editors see one of their reporters or commentators make such ill-informed judgements repeatedly online, I imagine they would question how well this person is suited to represent the media company and at the very least have serious talk with the person in question. Also, we can all make gaffes, say things that are not well thought through, but most people recognise this - and apologising for it makes all the difference.

Personally, I don’t think a whole new set of rules is called for, but I organised a debate on this issue last week for The Norwegian Online News Association (NONA) as it had been brought to my attention that rules are under way in Norway’s biggest media organisations. It proved a very constructive and useful debate, and I’ll get back to some of the key points raised in a separate post.

Essential Advice
Still, this debate reminds me of something I copied from my friend Adriana’s blog several years ago, in 2006 I believe, and have often used when explaining netiquette to various audiences:

"On the internet you are not an institution. If you want to be and behave like one, you get isolated and bypassed... It's back to communication between human beings, communities and sometimes mobs. The rules of social interactions apply - if people challenge you on something you have done or said and you don't respond, expect a commensurate impact on your reputation or credibility.

"If people make fun of you or try to embarrass you, the choice is to remain silent in hope of appearing dignified or to shoot back, with indignation or with humour. It depends. Different responses will be appropriate at different times and different circumstances. That is why etiquette is so complicated. Media and communications strategies don't even come close. The main difference is that you don't need to be 'trained' for online communication; it's the one that you already know. And whether you are good at it or not has nothing to do with communication skills but with respect for others and some good manners."

This post has been edited following Milo Yiannopoulos' objections in the comments.

Twitter vs Facebook: which is more effective for mobilising people to act?

Recent events has had me pondering if Twitter is not far superior to Facebook when it comes to mobilising people to actually take action and do something in the real world.

It was fascinating to hear Suw Charman-Anderson attribute much of the success of the Ada Lovelace campaign she ran earlier this year (I wrote about it here) to Twitter during this Media140 panel back in May. In contrast, many people joined the Facebook group she set up, but few seemed to do something actively after they joined. This sentiment was echoed by her husband Kevin, who found Twitter ever so much more useful than Facebook during his US roadtrip on behalf of The Guardian (I interviewed him about it here, in Norwegian).

Now, in both these cases we are talking about a fairly tech-savy audience, but clearly Facebook's where the major mainstream audience is - surely, that's a lot more useful from a marketing point-of-view, right? The experiences using social media to promote Wandsworth Common Beer Festival, presented in this interesting slide show found via Knut Albert, had me think perhaps not:

I must admit that I personally much prefer Twitter to Facebook, and I have a much more passive relationship to the groups I join or fan pages I sign up to on Facebook than information shared on Twitter. Often, the groups I join are just for fun or a symbolic show of support more than anything I think I'll ever do much with. My Twitter network is so much more relevant to my work and professional interests than Facebook, which is more of a mixed bag. Also, Facebook is more personal - a way to keep up with people not on Twitter, or people or projects I've "known" for quite some time" (mostly in real life). But I feel myself going over well known territory saying that, we all now Facebook and Twitter are different, that's not really my point, but I'm curious to learn/ see more of how effective the two sites are for moblising people to act - surely, that is a marketeers ultimate object, right?

Am I all wrong in thinking Twittter might be superior to Facebook here, and if so: in which cases are Facebook the better site to entice people to take action?

Tienanmen + Twitter = Teheran. Journalistic balance + Social Media = Toast?

What's happening in Iran now tells us something important about Twitter as a news source and as a tool to help people self-organise, but why are mainstream commentators still struggling to get their heads around it?

My Twitter-feed is abuzz with people tweeting about and linking to stories on what's happening in Iran and what impact Twitter's key role in the uprising is having on mainstream media short-term, and will have for the long-term.

Many are those who are now predicting this will be the big shift in how we view the potential of social media. But just as I had pulled together a few of my favourite links on what was happening for a post at The Norwegian Online News Association's blog Monday morning, some of those less informed arguments against Twitter surfaced in an Op-ed in Norway's newspaper of record -leading to some interesting events and thoughts.

Twitter revolution?
Let me just recap and expand on some of those links I started with Monday morning for my international readers: First, I was taken by Antoine Clarke's thoughts on Tienanmen + Twitter = Teheran, an argument repeated often in the last few days - with Clay Shirky in his evangelic way even saying "This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media".

However, Richard Sambrook, whom I said on Monday has provided some of the most useful links from and about the upheavel in Iran on Twitter, urges us to call it an uprising, not a revolution, as what's happening is led by part of the political establishment in the country. He also provides an extremely useful analysis of using Twitter as a news source from Iran, concluding that it would probably serve only to mislead the average news consumer but would be more useful than mainstream media if you had a reasonable understanding of social media, the political situation in Iran etc.

Journalistic "balance" + Social Media = Toast?
Then, also via Twitter, I was alterted to an Op-Ed that repeated some of the usual logical fallacies about Twitter (in Norwegian). It wasn't a bad Op-Ed, in fact it was in part both fun and interesting, except it brought to court how journalists and politicians only used it to share trivia, and VIPs like the prime minister for oneway-communication, for the billionth time - not as arguments for how the VIPs don't get Twitter but as arguments against signing up to the microblogging service in the first place.

Three things occurred to me, and I'll start with the least scientific:

1) I wondered if the fact that these arguments are brought to court again and again is just a side-effect of (false) journalistic balance - as in: "Hey, we need some counterarguments, what should we say? Oh, yes: lots of people use it to share trivia and the prime minister never talks back." I'm reminded of the second rule journalism:

Be balanced. No matter what anybody says, find somebody to say the opposite. If a scientist claims to have a cure for cancer, find somebody who says cancer does not exist. If a man says "My name is Fred," make sure you find somebody who says "No, your name is Diane." Etc.

2) The Godfather of the Norwegian blogosphere, Hjorthen, put together a parody of the Aftenposten Op-Ed where he just exchanged 'Twitter' for 'Aftenposten' (also in Norwegian)- which threw up some brilliant formulations like how reading Aftenposten can easily become a continuation of garden parties in the posher parts of Oslo.

Demographically, Aftenposten is the Norwegian equivalent of The Times, and if you try exchanging Twitter for The Times next time you read one of those anti-Twitter articles it may lead to surprising insights. For one, Twitter is often accused of being elitist, attracting certain types of users, and for narrowing the users' horizon because they only follow people with similar values to their own - but all of those arguments could just as easily be used against The Times. For my part, I get a much broader pool of sources with much more diverse political agendas on Twitter than I'd ever get from reading newspapers, which leads me to the third argument:

3) I came to really appreciate the second part of this post by my friend Brian: "I’ve said it many times before, but it will bear constant repetition. When some new technique of communication is invented or stumbled upon, you should not judge its impact by picking ten uses of it at random, averaging them all out, and saying: Well that’s a load of trivial crap, isn’t it?!? How will “I am just about to make another slice of toast” change the world? The question to ask is: Of all the thousands of uses already being made of this thing, which one is the most significant? And then: Well, is that very significant? If yes, at all, then forget about the toast nonsense.

Jackie Danicki chips in with a telling anecdote in the comment section of that post:

I witnessed a discussion today in New York between a reporter for CNN, a reporter for Fox News, a reporter/anchor for NBC, and a producer for NBC - moderated by a veteran blogger whose wife happens to be Iranian. The blogger, Robert Scoble, had been taking CNN to task all weekend over their lack of coverage of the Iranian situation, and he and his wife were getting accurate reports (later confirmed by her family) via Twitter.

At the end of the panel - in which the mainstream media people all held their hands up and said that informed Twitter users were beating them at their own game - the CNN guy said, “Well, but if we weren’t doing our jobs, you guys would have nothing to link to. If we disappeared, so would a lot of Twitter content.” The moderator, not missing a beat, replied: “But you DID disappear last weekend, and Twitter filled the gap.” The CNN guy had to concede, and the comment was met with much applause.

Never underestimate the value of any tool which can help people to find solace in one another - like the samizdat during communist rule - let alone pass information which is important. I’m not sure why anyone would object to interest being taken in such a matter, apart from perhaps a general fatigue with all that is good in life. Too bad, so sad for them. :)

Update 19.06.2009, 14:30 CET: Just discovered this post on why journalists write so much rubbish about Twitter via Strange Corante, which explores a different line of reasoning.

Six quick social media lessons from the Obama campaign

Jodi Williams from the Obama Campaign Team was in Oslo last week to talk about lessons learnt from the 2008 presidential campaign. Here's a few quick highlights I took away from her talk (I'd have posted this sooner if it wasn't for ongoing computer trouble):

Picture of Williams by Tord Nedrelid published under a CC-license
  • Social media turns out to be very crucial these days for reaching out, not only to younger demographics, but quite widely - especially for reaching the demographic that’s really busy and not home to sit down and watch ABC News at six
  • The Twitter effect will play a much bigger part in future elections along with texting. We could have used texting and twitter much more effectively
  • Really excited by how mobile networks will change campaigning and reporting
  • No longer one way comunication but a two way coversation that can turn into a movement
  • It’s about giving people the opportunity to organise themselves. Social media offers good tools to organise people and to help them find each other
  • The Clinton-campaign was stuck in the past. We had younger people who were not stuck in ideas on how to do and organise things and were free to look ahead
These notes are taken from a talk Williams gave at a seminar on politics and social media organised by The Institute of Journalism 05.06.2009. My write-up of key headlines from the Norwegian talks are here (in Norwegian)

Top social media strategists put their time up for auction on eBay

Here's a golden chance to get two hours of consulting services from social media veterans Adriana Lukas and Chris Heuer for a bargain.

Adriana emails to say they are currently auctioning two hours of their time on eBay. I'm a bit late to this story as I've been on the road for a few days: the slot is for tomorrow, in London, but at the time of writing the only bid submitted is on $50 - so still possible to get an amazing deal.

"This is a low cost way for a smart company to take our minds for a test drive, to see if what we know, and to improve what you are doing with social media, marketing and web strategies to make your organization more succesfull in these effort," writes Adriana. Read more on why the two have decided to put their time up for auction, in what is a one time opportunity so far, on eBay here.

Now, at this point I should tell you that Adriana is the woman who kicked me into the blogosphere in the first place. After listening to her musings on social media, and reading the books she recommended, with fascination for years, but always blaming my deadlines for why it was never the right time to have a go at blogging myself, in the end she just set up this blog for me in 2005 and told me to get going.

It was a big white canvas for me, and I was quite surprised by how, after a few months, I revealed myself to be a media junkie... ;-) Of course, blogging changed my world, my focus and opened up new previously unthought of opportunities for me. Still, even after immersing myself in social media for years, had I been in London tomorrow and had I the time, this would have been an opportunity too good to miss....  

Update 14:25 CET: Message from Chris Heuer on Twitter just now, saying "unfortunately I glitched & UK folks werent able to bid, so am taking it down :( #lessonlearned". Still, seems some lucky person might have secured those two hours with Adriana and Chris after notifying Chris about the glitch - see more in his comment on my post here.

Using social media to change the world

Here's something which, despite all the current doom and gloom, makes me both hopeful for the future of the world at large and despondent about my own industry (and if you'd rather focus on the former, feel free to jump past my chronology of frustration:-) )

A chronology of frustration:
Mainstream media discovers Twitter and moves en masse there. Incidentally, politicians discover Twitter about the same time and follow suite. "All of a sudden" everyone that is someone is talking about Twitter, hence media commentators are ordered to write about it and conclude - surprise, surprise - it's the social network of the elites.

Now, this secenario is taken from Norway, where journalists and politicians have really only discovered Twitter's potential over the last few months. Since I do my share of talking about why journalists should be on Twitter, and how they can use it in their work, I'm hardly going to complain that a much larger contingent of Norway's hacks have finally started using the microblogging site, but the scenario in the above paragraph is a potent reminder that our understanding of social media is defined by how we use it.

It's not the technology... As a result, our arguments about what social media is often become circular, and categorisations such as "it's the network of the elites" or "it's just people sharing trivia" will often reveal more about how people making those statements use or don't use Twitter than about the site itself. I am, of course, fully aware that sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have different demographics, but, at the end of the day, it's neither the technology, nor the individual social media brand as such I find interesting: it's what it enables us to do.

And since commentators, in Norway and elsewhere, have been so busy analysing what they and/or their colleagues talk about on Twitter lately, let's instead look at a compelling way to use the site to raise awareness of a social issue. I've been followingMark Horvath for a few weeks now, after a shout out from Tim O'Reilly alerted me to his Twitter profile:

Giving a voice to the voiceless
"Mark Horvath was a top TV executive in Hollywood and then lost it all. Out of work and with a home going into foreclosure, Horvath quickly became homeless. With no income or a roof over his head, Horvath still had to do something. So he started, a personal first account video blog designed to give homelessness a face and voice," Mashable wrote in March.

Or to use his own words from 1 April this year: "Fifteen years ago I was a TV executive. Fourteen years ago I ended up homeless on Hollywood Blvd. I now am 14 years sober and am rebuilding my life but homelessness is once again a very real possibility. I lost my job in St Louis over a year ago. I took a job here in Los Angeles, moved here, and was laid off. I lost my house to foreclosure last week. With $45, a small camera and a laptop I started, a homeless awareness vlog. I had to do something.

"Every week I take a few minutes to get to know a different person without a home. I learn how they survive, how they came to find themselves homeless, and who they call friends. I ask them about their biggest wishes, their greatest hardships and their plans for the future.

"Then, I introduce them to the world via social media. My video blog is a testament of the character and strength of people living on America’s streets. It gives them a voice and a chance to tell their story and become more than a coat sleeping on a park bench. To get the word out about my vblog, I began using twitter ..." (full post here, follow Horvath at @hardlynormal ).

Now, you may fault me, of course, for citing a former TV exec as an example, but his forceful example of being 'the change he wants to see in the world' somehow gives me more faith that we will find our way through the current crisis - and doing what he does while facing homelessness and personal ruin is truly something...

Here's video clip from The Berkman Centre, about The New Change Makers which is also well-worth checking out (via Paul Bradshaw on Twitter)

My Secret Twitter Network

With Twitter's recent surge in popularity, I've been half expecting to see a corresponding surge in Twitter journalism akin to what happened when Facebook first grew popular.

However, I've yet to spot any juicy Twitter conspiracy theories spread all over the fronpages of mainstream papers like with Facebook (the kind that goes "Read all about journalists'/celebrities'/....'  Secret Network", such as this spread). So I was delighted to read this post by Twittermaven (via Frode Stenström on Twitter) describing a tool which creates a brilliant network visualisation, very similar to in this story, for the people I talk to on Twitter... tadaa!:


If you follow this link to the result page you will find the surprising revelation that two of my employers are among my 20 best twitter friends (BFF) (or was when I first tried it, it keeps changing). Well, it's hard to find much news here, though I personally was suprised by some of the omissions on that list - I thought I was talking much more with Louise Bolotin for instance. Of course, the reason this whole conspiracy stuff falls flat when it comes to Twitter is that, in contrast to Facebook, Twitter's not a walled garden, which is why I find the latter a so much more useful tool than the former....

But back to this visualisation tool, which determines your top relationships based on reciprocal tweets. It has some really neat features, to quote Twittermaven:

In addition to providing your top 20 friends, Mailana will display the number of reciprocal conversations and it also provides a tag cloud of what you’ve spoken about with that person. Pretty cool and insightful. But the application goes even further, offering:

  • Suggested new follower recommendations
  • Your town’s social network
  •  People who talk about a specific subject

A tool like Mailana, as Twittermaven also points out, really brings home to what extent all our Twitter conversations are public and accessible to anyone. At times it does make me feel like retreating to somewhere like Facebook to say things I'd rather not share with the entire world, usually when I want to bitch about stupid ideas and more personal stuff. Except, since I have my ex, family, former colleagues etc as Facebook friends, that's often not such a good idea...

Update 21:23 CET: And of course, had I instantly clicked through to where Twittermaven found this tool, I would have discovered a story on ReadWriteWeb which has a rather simliar ring to the Facebok story I mentioned earlier in this post, "The Inner Circles of 10 Geek Heroes on Twitter" - what can I say?

I think, at least judging from my own Mailana results and experiences using Twitter, this kind of story can easily be rather misleading. Some of the people I do talk to quite a bit on Twitter did not show up in my Mailana results, and a few of the people who did show up in the visualised network are people I've had somewhat random conversations with because they happened to ask about something I knew a lot about or vice versa and not necessarily related to my beat...

Twitter Friend Optimization (TFO)

This is just so sad, sad as in pathetic if you were in doubt about in which way (via Paul Bradshaw on Twitter).

It's "just the latest in a series of games played by people who see you and me as numbers, notches in the social media belt, and not as people worth engaging with, or who have something of value to say and who are looking to be informed by others. I call this Twitter Friend Optimization (TFO)."

Actually, it's just the last in a row of examples of Twitter behaviour aimed at gaming the system which baffles and annoys me. I get this kind of follow/unfollow bullshit as well, and it basically makes anyone who's playing that game look like a twat in my eyes.

Similarly, a lot of the tips here are plain stupid if you want to use Twitter for other things than a numbers game aimed at boosting your superficial coolness factor. For instance, I'd never use something like Huitter: there are many good reasons for following people who don't follow back, such as being very interested in their thinking, work etc.

For my own part, I use Twitter for work and keeping up with friends and contacts. I usually follow back if you look like you're an actual person and tell me who you are (preferably by linking to your blog to give me an impression of who you are, or at least have a photo and description of who you are/what you do), and we have key interests in common (like media, journalism, blogs, social media, communications etc.) If I don't know you, I'm not going to follow back if your updates are protected. Also, I'm amazed at how many people don't tell me who they are, even PRs, but I think I'll rant about that some other time....

And, just as a quick disclaimer right now: I'm not perfect. I can be late following back if I'm very busy, get too many emails or am too busy then forget my intentions - but I usually catch up at some point. I'm genuinely interested in following, and reading, the people I do follow, but make a point of cleaning up my follow list for all those playing the follow-unfollow game regularly... 

Update 20-03/09, 11:30 CET: Just found this nice app via Magne Uppman on Twitter, which gives you an idea of what my Twitter followers are about (the wordcloud changes a bit every time I retry it though)


Twipocalypse Now: Warnings of a Twitter Bubble

Here's a Twanalysis that was bound to appear sooner or later, but one that I nonethesame found both timely and amusing:

"What does it mean when hundreds of third party services (with questionable, if any, business models) are dependent upon a single service which itself has no business model?

"...Neal Wiser suggests that Twitter’s amazing growth and popularity are indicators that the company is at the center of an emerging Bubble and examines the risks and rewards that a bubble could present to the service." Full post here (via @Medieskugga). Come to think of it, I should rephrase my first line a bit:

worries over Twitter's businessmodel, or lack of one, are everywhere, but this the best spin on it I've seen so far 1[1]

Update 10/3-09, 13:51CET: a few days after I wrote this, Techchrunch's Michael Arrington suggested Twitter is going to build its business model on search (via Jackie Danicki), which was followed up by suggestions Twitter will start serving local news to users (via David Black) - all posts well worth reading.

Hudson River crash reveals Twitter in league of its own for breaking news

For my part, the story of the plane that crashed into Hudson River started with this message on Twitter:

@BreakingNewsOn is checking on reports that a plane has crashed in the Bronx, New York. More to come.

More messages from @BreakingNewsOn, several others chip in, incl @davewiner and @HAX. I go upstairs, turn on the TV (about 15min after the story broke now): NOTHING. Web: nothing on the frontpage of, NRK or BBC; - NRK headline story is former prime minister Kåre Willoch: "Eg angrar ikkje" (Je ne regrette rien), a storm in a teacup if you ask me - but CNN has the goods. Good, very moving web-TV.

I go downstairs again and find a cacaphony of people informing each other on Twitter; sharing tidbits of what's happening and who's twittering, who's goot footage and snapshots, including these amazing pictures. At this point has the plane crash story, but still not as top story - Willoch still rules the evening (FAIL).

And no, I'm not trying to break any news with this post, for that it is much too late: both for this particular news story and when it comes to Twitter's record for being the first place to look for breaking news stories - this is just a snapshot of how I got the news, recorded as much for myself as anyone else. 

A few comments from the Twittersphere :

@kevglobal Still "don't get" Twitter? Enter "Hudson" or "Airways" into right now. Brace for bad news; plane crash

@webbmedia Twitteverse, Twitpic, excellent job! I'm amazed at how much information I learned so quickly...While waiting AT AN AIRPORT!

Update 16/1, 11:24 CET: just remembered that I removed the Twitter widget from this blog recently due to a security bug, but you'll find me twittering here: @KristineLowe