28 January 2011

Egypt Engaged

Bridging the divide.
We’re seeing Twitter’s force in political unrest again this week. Following the events in Tunisia, people around the Middle East are coming together, in online forums and in city plazas, to bring change to the regimes they have been enduring for decades.

This afternoon, The Poynter Institute will be hosting a live chat with NPR Senior Strategist Andy Carvin about the role social media has been playing in Egypt, and presumably Tunisia. The chat starts in a few minutes, so head over there now, and I’ll see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

26 January 2011

Following Distinctions

Connecting to Twitter Communications.
Did you notice a change on your favorite Twitterer’s home page today? Initially, I didn’t (because I use Brizzly, most of the time), but I did get a heads-up from The Next Web.

The new feature helps put any user into greater context for you. By adding a little insight into common connections, you get a better perspective of any interests you may share. But Connections doesn’t yet go far enough. Maybe this is the first step to a followers recommendation engine?

Before we go on, let’s clarify one important thing: Connections does not show you users who are following you both. That notification only comes when you get the e-mail from Twitter alerting you to a new follower. Let’s look at an example:

Because I want to work on his team, I am following Sean Garret. When I visit his Twitter profile page, I know he has 6,747 followers (and counting), and is following 818. But the only way for me to know which accounts he follows who are following me is in the notification I get when Mr. Garrett follows me. Which he doesn’t. So I don’t know.

As I understand the new system, “Also followed by” is a list of the people who show up on both of your “Following” lists. Continuing with the Sean Garrett profile, of the 818 accounts he follows, I’m only following 15. Those 15 show up in the “Also followed by” list. I follow Twitter Comms. He follows Twitter Comms. Twitter Comms is not following me. But they are on the “Also followed by” list because I follow Twitter Comms and he follows Twitter Comms.

Also followed by.

“You both follow” is a list of people in their “Followers” list who you are following. As I mentioned, Sean Garrett has 6,747 followers. But of those 6,747 followers, I’m only following 15. Again, Twitter Comms is following him. I am following him. Twitter Comms is not following me. But they are on the “You both follow” list because I follow Twitter Comms and Twitter Comms follows him.

You both follow.

It’s a delicate distinction, I know, but an important one. Twitter’s site does not yet have a way of showing me that Mr. Garret is following someone who is following me but who I am not following back.

I’m missing something.
(Image thanks to @teleject.)

At this point, the information provided is only a little enlightening. Sure, you can see which accounts you are both following, and which accounts you follow that are also following them. But I want to know more. I want to learn about another user who is already vetted by someone I trust. What we need is a way to discover a user who is following us, but we’re not following back yet, even though someone we trust is following us both. If Twitter wants to help us find interesting, informative new accounts to follow, we need an easier way to find out from our curated sources who trusts us, and rely on those connections to expand our own trusted authorities.

This update comes at a great time for me, however. I think I’m building an application that will use this new addition to put Twitter’s information engine to greater use for finding out what’s important to you. I’m making steady progress in learning the Twitter API, and have a few ideas on how to build my first application. With this new addition, I might not have to create as much of this code on my own—which is good, because I still have a lot to learn when it comes to coding. But I can tell you more about that when I see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

22 January 2011

Twinner, Twinner, Chicken Dinner

The fine art of winning.
Last night, Twitter won “Best Overall Startup or Product of 2010” at the fourth annual Crunchies Awards here in San Francisco.

Accepting the award was Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, who was also a nominee in the “CEO of the Year” category. In a brief conversation with TechCrunch Founder Michael Arrington, Mr. Costolo shared some insight into Twitter’s future, and what he believes is their greatest challenge: international growth.

TechCrunch has compiled all the nominees and winners, and collected some video highlights for you—it’s almost like being there, without the Uber ride home. I hope you get more of the inside jokes than I did. If you do, please explain them to me when I see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

21 January 2011

Governor’s Gaffe?

How do you spell #oops?
Yesterday, I mentioned that the new governor of Florida, Rick Scott, was holding a Twitter Town Hall. Since I had some free time, and was interested in what he would use his 140 characters to say, I tuned in. A lot of people did.

As the more than 30-minute session drew to a close, reports estimated that questions were coming in at a rate of two per second. Now, nobody could answer that many queries in one half-hour sitting, but the deluge gave the governor a great excuse to avoid some of the more pointed interrogations.

I’ll leave the political punditry about which he addressed, which he avoided, and which he ignored to others; I just want to highlight a couple of updates that Florida’s new governor decided were poignant enough to share with all of his followers.

The moment getting most of the press was towards the end of the Twitter Town Hall where Mr. Scott—apparently accidentally—Retweeted a question calling him, “jackass.” Now, I assume it was an accident, because moments later, the update had been deleted from the governor’s stream.

One of these things is not like the other.

You can also see it in this shot from the site that Ron Sachs Communications put together to view all submitted questions next to Governor Scott’s feed.

Executive error.

But the Retweet I think everyone missed was the one which originated from a parody Rick Scott account. I don’t think Florida’s new head of the executive branch really wants Floridians to move to Canada for better health care, do you?

Reverse snowbirds?

Mistake? Probably. Entertaining? Definitely. The ease for errors during something like this is pretty high. Especially when you don’t bother updating more than 24 hours later. But we can talk about correcting Twitter mistakes on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

20 January 2011

Tweeting a More Perfect Union

Elected to Twitter.
By now you know that I have an affinity for using Twitter as a platform for a more open democracy. There are two events today that I want to point you to which use Twitter to bridge the gap between the people and our government.

First, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs again took questions from followers for about an hour today. An interesting answer Mr. Gibbs gave concerned the Twitter account he‘s currently using: François Larouche asked about the status of the account after Mr. Gibbs leaves his post in early February. In his reply, Mr. Gibbs said that he’s leaving the account to his successor, and hoped that the next Press Secretary would continue using it in a similar manner.

Next, Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott, is hosting what he’s calling a “Twitter Town Hall.” Now, I’m no fan of Governor Scott, but I applaud his attempts at open government. We’ll see how many probing questions actually get answered. But for now, all we can do is put hope in the power of Twitter, and Florida’s Sunshine Law.

If you want to follow the conversation later, take a look at the site Ron Sachs Communications has set up (especially since the Twitter link on the governor’s home page connects you to the wrong account). You’ll be able to see all the questions posted, in addition to the answers Governor Scott chooses to answer.

I’ll be watching, and I hope you will be, too. We can talk about the results when I see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

19 January 2011

Making Facebook Make News

Facebook Media and the message.
Facebook is playing catchup. At least that’s what it feels like.

After visiting them last night for the “ONA SF - Facebook Strategies for Online Journalists Meetup,” I get the impression that Facebook wants desperately to be a part of journalists’ lives. But, unlike Twitter, Facebook has yet to be integrated into most news organizations’ daily operation for anything more than promotion. One exception to that rule is NPR.

During his portion of the evening, NPR Senior Strategist Andy Carvin shared some of the many ways they are using Facebook, as well as other social tools, to create, evaluate, and circulate stories to their audience. Additionally, he shared some recent survey results and metrics about audience usage, engagement, and page views.

What I found most important about NPR’s social tools use is that every effort is made to support their broader mission: to create a more informed public. But what I find lacking in their Facebook efforts is not NPR’s fault; it’s Facebook’s.

In the evening’s introduction, Facebook Director of Media Partnerships Justin Osofsky highlighted the resources available on the Facebook + Media page. Sure, there are success stories and best practices, but most point to story distribution and audience engagement. While these are very important for creating and keeping consumers of content, they don’t provide any tools for creating content itself. The next shift for media organizations has to be building social tools for making great content quickly.

Another interesting observation from my trip to Palo Alto was that not one person in the room, during any presentation or subsequent Q&A, said the the word “monetize.” Although I was thankful that the discussion didn’t get hijacked by a debate on how media organizations can make money using Facebook, I was surprised that there was no pragmatic advice on how to effectively and efficiently use limited resources on efforts which yielded no increased income for a struggling industry.

I understand that Facebook is good at letting media brands interact with their users, if they choose to invest the time to do so. What’s more important to me right now, however, is how Facebook, and any other social or online tool, can help news people more easily create good journalism. Twitter is great for breaking news. Facebook is great at sharing news. Who will make it easy to create news? A question that will go unanswered until I see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

18 January 2011

An Evening at Facebook

Today’s post is just a quick note to tell you where I’m headed tonight: Facebook.

No, I haven’t changed allegiances. No, I don’t think they are Twitter-killers. And no, I’m not headed south to get a piece of the Goldman Sachs stock sale.

I will be joining a Meetup with Justin Osofsky, director of media partnerships at Facebook (and not on Twitter); Andy Carvin, senior strategist for social media desk at NPR; and Levi Sumagaysay, Good Morning Silicon Valley blogger/producer, to discuss digital journalism. In light of how Mr. Carvin dominated how I followed the events in Tunisia, I felt like I couldn’t pass this up. Plus, We’re both part of an extended NPR family.

So, I’m headed to Palo Alto to find out what I can find out, and learn as much as I can learn. I hope to tell you all about it on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

17 January 2011

Was Tunisia a Twitter Revolution?

Twitter will be televised.
Have you seen any of the news coverage of the events in Tunisia? Where is the press getting all this, only from Twitter? Have they been fact-checking any of these updates? Do they need to fact-check the updates they see on Twitter? Do journalists look into other eyewitness reports? Or are they just reporting them verbatim because they’re on Twitter?

And, doesn’t it seem like their only source for breaking news these days is Twitter? How many stories did you see on television in the past week that used Twitter as at least one of the information sources? Are you even watching televised news any more?

Is this such a bad thing? Can you think of the last time you heard about breaking news first on any other source? Sully on the Hudson? Michael Jackson’s death? The latest earthquake?

Doesn’t it seem like newspeople are investigating fewer leads? Are they just turning to Twitter because they’re lazy? Do they explore their curiosities about anything else? Have they missed any important local stories because they’re too busy watching their Twitter stream?

Who is gathering your news? Should we be gathering it for ourselves? From Twitter? All these interrogatives leave me wondering, “will I see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web?”

14 January 2011

Tweeting Toward Revolution

Parti Pirate Tunisien.
Yesterday, I focused on the prospects of bringing real change to people’s lives through Twitter. Although the post was inspired by what I was seeing happen in Tunisia, it was not directly about the reports of the uprising, just some observations about how the reports were being curated.

Today, we have witnessed the results of those collective voices: change. While some U.S.-based news organizations were reporting on man versus machine or (wo)man versus dog, other news organizations were reporting on man versus movement.

Now the debate about Twitter’s role in the outcome has begun. The opinions are many, and, at the time of this writing, I have only been able to digest a few. Life’s Little Boxes has some thoughts about Twitter as a means of information distribution. The New York Times credits the acceleration of the protests to the heavy use of social media. And GigaOm uses the moment to rehash the “Twitter as force for change” discussion that came to a head last October.

No matter your opinion of Twitter’s role in the ousting of an authoritarian regime, it’s comforting to know that the tools for change are becoming more available to people around the globe. The fact that more than 40 percent of all Twitter usage occurs on mobile devices is a large reason for this. People on the ground, in the middle of growing protest and unrest, can share captured moments, thoughts, and events to a vastly wider audience. While we run the risk of making more of a moment than we should, the amplification of an uprising can now be more quickly validated as more eyewitnesses get to tell their tales.

Twitter will continue to be used in movements across the globe, whether for organizing or broadcasting. My hope is that we continue creating tools to help drive information into action. Including seeing you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

13 January 2011

The Real Value of Twitter

No to murder.
Can Twitter save lives? According to Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in the 04 October 2010 issue of The New Yorker, the connection between updates and action is too far removed to have a real impact on lives. Some disagree. And if the social gadgets Andy Carvin is putting together really work, we could be seeing the start of Twitter tools that change all that.

“Lowering the barrier to activism doesn't weaken humanity, it brings us together and it makes us stronger.”
Twitter Co-founder Biz Stone- The Atlantic, 19 October 2010

In an ongoing effort to harness to power of social media in areas of conflict, Mr. Carvin is culling resources so that those closest to the action can get their message out to the rest of the world. His latest effort is focused on the turmoil in Tunisia. These first-hand witnesses to history are providing the most immediate—and the most poignant—perspectives of developments from inside uprisings, natural disasters, and authoritarian regimes.

Through efforts like Crisis Camp and the collection of information from within troubled territories, Twitter, and social media in general, can get the right information to the right people at the right time for them to act. The tools to get this information out exist now. Building something to make it easier to act should be the new focus.

More and more, eyewitnesses are writing the first draft of our collective history on Twitter. It’s what we do with that initial information that will decide how our history will be judged. Innovation on the Twitter platform is vital to greater information distribution. Its usefulness is still growing, and as we continue to build on top of it, the real value of Twitter will soon be realized. I’ll keep building, and see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

12 January 2011

Haiti Still Needs Hope

Haitian Red Cross.
Today, on the one year anniversary of the quake in Haiti, I want to take a brief moment to remind you not just of the devastation, but of the continued need for help.

Not soon after initial reports of the tremor, Twitter exploded with information. One vital part of the information being shared was how to help. Many people did. Many still are. But as this week’s “Frontline” pointed out, the people of Haiti are still in desperate need. Twitter’s Hope for Haiti efforts are still ongoing, and they posted a similar reminder of today’s anniversary on the Hope 140 Blog.

So, if you can, please continue whatever efforts you started when you heard Haiti was in need. Or, make your first effort now, and use your social network to encourage others to to the same. Give today, and I’ll see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

10 January 2011

Transparency on Twitter

We regret the error.
This blog focuses primarily on Twitter. But one of my bailiwicks from a past life is journalism. And while I’ve created blogs primarily devoted to the vagaries of reporting news to audiences who may—or may—not care, those have long since been put to bed. Every now and then, however, I’ll notice some news coverage which gets my dander up. This weekend’s reporting of the shooting in Tucson is the latest example.

On Sunday, I was watching “This Week” from ABC News. The episode included a piece from Pierre Thomas about the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. In an ten minute profile, one of the still images of Mr. Loughner included a caption with his name spelled incorrectly.

Not “Jarod Lee Loffner.”

Now, I understand reporting errors occur every day; this very post might even have one. But multi-million dollar news organizations should make very few of them, especially when they are devoting so many of their resources to following such a potential ratings bonanza. What’s more important to me, however, is what they do when they discover an error.

That’s why I found a discussion on a recent “On the Media” so interesting. The segment featured a conversation between co-host Bob Garfield and Craig Silverman of Regret the Error about how news organizations handle corrections, if at all. It was surprising to me how many media outlets devote so few resources to updates of erroneous stories.

“... at places like CNN and FOX News and other large broadcasters there was either very little or nothing at all when it came to error reporting mechanisms.”
Craig Silverman- “On the Media,” 24 December 2010

Coincidently, I noticed a conversation on Twitter about a very similar topic. Prompted after the Poynter Institute posted a story calling Twitter an “imperfect news channel,” the discussion (which is embedded below) included recommendations about how newsrooms could signify corrected and amended information in updates.

Correcting conversation. 
Later, ABC World News promoted a story from Monday‘s broadcast, but misspelled the name of Mr. Loughner. I sent a reply, they corrected the mistake in a new update, but made no mention that it was correcting an error. They also deleted the incorrect update. It was minor, but was it transparent?

If we are going to continue to trust news agencies online as much as we do in broadcasts, they are obliged to find a more open way to correct and notify audiences of previous mistakes. Until they do, they are missing an important part of the transparency good reporting, and journalism in general, requires.

With that off my chest, I’ll get back to building with the Twitter API, and tell you about it on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

08 January 2011

Sifting Circumstances and Shifting Sources

Congress on your corner. 
As the U.S. turned its collective attention to Arizona today, I was struck by how some news services were gathering and distributing information on the circumstances, victims, and shooter. On television, most of the coverage was comprised of speculation, assumption, and—at times—inaccurate information. Citing “sources close to the investigation” and “some of my contacts in law enforcement,” reporters on the scene, and on telephones thousands of miles away, kept misinforming their audiences during the early hours of news breaking about the attack on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

As I caught up on the story, I turned to Twitter to find out the truth. Because I have carefully curated who I follow, I was able to trust the information I was getting from them, and their sources. The most active, and by far most reliable, stream of information came from NPR’s Social Media Desk Senior Strategist Andy Carvin. He was tracking the story on Twitter as well as other services, continually adding updates to his Storify account of the event. Through careful curation, he could gather first-hand information from Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and other online outlets to add numerous perspectives and valuable context to unfolding events.

These days, I find Twitter, specifically the people I follow, a much more reliable place for news than any other source. I have a relationship with them. I know their biases and tendencies. I know their expertise. I trust them. I am confident that I gain a better perspective on any breaking news story on Twitter than I do flipping from channel to channel on cable TV. While I will never turn to a single source of information, I will favor Twitter’s vast variety of available experts when I need to quickly sift through a sea of speculation.

The circumstances that prompted today’s post are stunning, infuriating, and tragic. I ache for all those involved. Speculation about motives, blame, and justice are for other places on the Web. But compassion should be everywhere, no matter your political views. Please spend a moment close to the ones you love, and I hope to see more compassion on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

06 January 2011

Complete Epiphany

Choose to act.
Now this is what I’m talking about! Leave it to the man who got me into this; Dusty Reagan has created a Twitter account that closes the gap between information and action: AlmostCompleted.

As I’ve said many, many times before, gathering information is merely the start of the process when making change. The most vital part is action. What Mr. Reagan has done here further reduces the barrier between information and action. It’s fine for the Donors Choose account to let you know about their news and notable mentions, but the AlmostCompleted account now gets you closer to helping fulfill the Donors Choose mission: funding projects.

This is a great combination of context, programming, information distribution. I applaud Mr. Reagan’s efforts, but wish he went even further. How ’bout a one-click donation process? Or an accompanying site that aggregates and auto-updates all the projects close to completion? Don’t get me wrong, I love this. But I still think that there is a way to use Twitter as something more than an information network. I want to transform it to an action network. And I’ll keep trying today, and see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

03 January 2011

Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

Name dropping?
Today, I give you just a quick word about the name of this blog: “Twittard.” The simple story is that it’s the name one particular friend of mine calls me every time I tell him a story about Twitter. Or based on something that I read on Twitter. Or one that I tie back to improving Twitter. Which—I have to admit—covers most of my stories.

Now, this name-calling could have ended there, but it kept happening. One afternoon as I was creating this new blog, he started a chat with me. I told him what I was working on, and his reply was simply, “Twittard.” Thus, a name was born.

I’d love to debate whether using “-tard” as a suffix is offensive or not, as well as the ramifications of the evolution of language, or the censoring of works of art so they mollify malleable, modified norms of acceptance. But this blog is about Twitter. And if that makes me a Twittard, then so be it. I’ll still be one on the ‘morrow, on the Web.

01 January 2011

Closing Down an Open Year

Happy new year. If you’re like me, you are going to use this flip of the calendar to make big plans to turn big ideas into big projects and bigger successes.

Rather than distract you from getting right to work on your next big thing, I want to let you know that when you’re ready for a little break, there’s a great review of open government gains from 2010 compiled by Alex Howard on the O’Reilly Media “Radar” site. Pay particular attention to the section about Twitter; you may have seen some of those topics before.

“This was also the year that mainstream media couldn't stop reporting on social media in politics.”
Alex Howard- O’Reilly Media “Radar,” 29 December 2010

We can discuss what you thought was the most important development surrounding governments sharing data at another time. But take a look at it soon; there are some nuggets in there you may have missed this year—I know I did. In the meantime, get back to building, and let me know about your progress when I see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.