It's hard to say these days

Twitter News: Short, Inaccurate, and Ridiculous Overall

clock May 7, 2008 00:33 by author Tom

I've talked about "Twitter News" before and had no real desire to revisit the topic.  But after reading Adam Pasick's Reuters article entitled "Breaking News, Twitter Style" I couldn't help myself.  He starts by saying...

News of a possible explosion rippled through the popular online service Twitter on Tuesday, in a preview of what’s to come in the realm of breaking news and citizen journalism. Twitter is a so-called microblogging site that allows users to send and receive short messages.

At about 1:37 pm, software developer Dave Winer asked the Twitterverse: “Explosion in Falls Church, VA?” (Perhaps not coincidentally, Winer is a well-known blogger and podcasting evangelist). A flurry of posts, or “tweets,” followed, as users reported rumbles as far away as Alexandria.

What was the story behind this "Explosion" in Virginia?

By 2:56 pm — nearly 90 minutes after Winer’s initial alert — WTOP had the official word from the U.S. Geological Survey: A not-exactly-massive 1.8 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter near Annandale, VA.

So basically the article praises Twitter for delivering completely inaccurate news because it did it 90 minutes early.  I mean, the news was COMPLETELY WRONG. 

Not only that, it was misleading.  The conclusions you draw from an explosion are completely different from those drawn from an earthquake.  If I have relatives working/living around Falls Church, VA I'd be terrified to hear there was an explosion.  A reaction that is completely different from the one I'd have after hearing there was a 1.8 magnitude earthquake in which NO ONE WAS HURT. 

What is the point of news if not to deliver important information to people so they can act on it in the appropriate way?  If the news is completely inaccurate and prompts an inappropriate reaction isn't it useless?

Twitter is an adult version of the old Telephone Game.  A game that was designed to teach little kids how inaccurate this type of communication is.

Honestly folks, are we now to the point where we're so enamored with ourselves that we've forgotten lessons learnerd in Kindergarten?  We now celebrate our ability to report inaccuracies?  The wisdom of the crowd is sacrosanct even if the crowd is completely wrong? 


Looking before you Leap

clock March 11, 2008 07:34 by author Tom

This blog is relatively new but the idea for it goes way back.  I'd always wanted to start a blog but my concern was that I'd get angry over something and post something I'd regret later (and be stuck with it). 

The reason I bring this up is because I just read an interesting item over at TechCrunch which reminded me of the dangers of flying off the handle.  Here's the quote...

Anil Dash, Six Apart’s Chief Evangelist, took aim at Wordpress users in a blog post today. Instead of upgrading to the new version of Wordpress, he says, consider moving over to their platform.

Now, it’s generally fair game to target your competitors, and Dash’s blog post was so tame that I can’t even find a good quote to pull into this post. But that didn’t stop Wordpress founder Matt Mullenweg from going for blood. In a Twitter message, Matt says “six apart is getting desperate, and dirty.” Anil fires back almost immediately with “@photomatt desperation is resorting to name-calling and slander instead of substance — if there’s a factual error, i’m glad to fix it.”

We all fly off the handle on occasion and one of the great benefits of the offline world is that most of the time there's no one around to see it.  The digital world on the other hand gives us the ability to publicly blow our stack in the time it takes to type 160 characters and press a button.

This is something that's existed in the corporate world for decades.  Almost everyone's been part of at least one "e-mail war" that got started because people shot off a series of e-mails before they took the time to cool down.  Things escalate quickly when you don't have to hunt down a person and look them in the eye to attacking them.

But Twitter takes that problem and multiplies it a thousand times over.  Now you don't even need a computer to blow your top and as an added bonus its all in public!  Next thing you know your private moment of annoyance is showing up on TechCrunch...

The bottom line here is a simple rule that follows through every form of digital communication.   Don't E-mail/IM/Post/Tweet angry.  This should be the first rule that anyone with an online presence follows. 

If you can't wait to cool down before saying something than, on some level, you already know you're going to regret it later.

(All that said, this is probably the best thing that could have happened to Six Apart from a promotion perspective)

Twitter News: As Journalism Hits a New Low

clock January 21, 2008 23:01 by author Tom

The Twitter Blog directed me to a NY Times article today entitled "Campaign Reporting in  Under 140 Taps".  The article details how one reporter is using Twitter to report from the campaign trail.  Here's the quote...

“NASHUA: Just saw Bill O’reily misbehaving at Obama rallly. Shoving Obama staffer.”

With these sloppily spelled words, sent Jan. 5 by text message by John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate, did microjournalism come of age.

The encounter between Mr. O’Reilly, the Fox News host, and the campaign aide did become actual news, kind of, for a day (a brief item ran in The New York Times, for example). But it first emerged from a high school gym in New Hampshire via Mr. Dickerson’s BlackBerry.

He uses Twitter — one of a number of so-called microblogging services — to distribute his text-message reporting to his Facebook friends, as well as his readers at Slate, which reprints recent Twitter items alongside his longer-form writing.

I want to throw one last quote out before going on.  This is from later in the article...

Way back in early December, Mr. Dickerson was a solitary figure microblogging from the campaign trail, and there was less breaking news to report, so his posts ran the gamut from trenchant (before the Republican debate in Johnston, Iowa: “Alan Keyes is here. There will be yelling.”), the self-referential (“Happy the Marriott Des Moines upgraded their gym.”) to the maudlin (“Bing Crosby is singing Noel and Barack Obama is on the TV not pitting red america against Blue America all while I try to eat my 5 O’clo. ...”). The strict 140-character limit apparently took some getting used to.

The above twitter quotes make my point better than I ever will.  But allow me to elaborate a little. 

One of the most societally damaging and ultimately self-destructive things modern day journalists have done is to forget they're supposed to be impartial and that they have a duty to present the story from every angle.  Modern Journalists instead seem to believe their opinions are more valuable than the truth or their duty to try to present it.

The above quotes are just another example of that.  Reporters so enamored with themselves that rather than attempt impartiality they choose to use Twitter to throw out 140 character quips.  This "Journalistic Narcissism" (if you will) has led to a world where people don't even bother with traditional news outlets anymore but instead get their information from more polarized sources such as the Internet or Talk Radio.

The attitude among the public now seems to be "if I'm going to have to listen to someone's personal opinion it might as well be someone I agree with."  So people stop seeking the truth.  Moreover with no difference remaining between the journalist and the hack, people abandon the journalist and Journalism itself slowly dies. 

When the profession that is supposed to be dedicated to seeking the truth is no longer sought after we should all be a little worried.

That is why this story is so scary to me.  Truth requires depth and depth doesn't come in 140 characters.  The great men (and women) of the world have, at best, a handful of quotes attributed to them meaning that even they could only manage to say a few things that were both short and profound in their life.  If reporters believe its acceptable to use Twitter to cover the news its a very disturbing sign of things to come.

I'm not against using twitter for certain purposes (such as keeping track of friends) but it is a shallow means of communication and it shouldn't be used to transfer any information that is not shallow.

The cost of Twittering one's life away

clock January 5, 2008 23:19 by author Tom

In a recent post Pat Phelan asked the question "what's the cost of Twitter?" and then tallied up all the time he felt was being spent on twitter to give an answer to that question.  His answer, in my opinion, is completely over the top in the monetary value he came to but that isn't the point of this post.

The point I want to make is related to these productivity valuations that supposedly tell us of all the money we're losing from employees who waste time at work.  When I hear a calculation like that it makes me think back to a story of when I first started my current job.  I was still relatively young (22) and the story involves one of my first acts in regards to the question of user productivity.

Understand that the agency I work at was growing and I was their first full time computer person so when I came on they suddenly wanted to fix all kinds of computer related grievances that had been bothering them.  First on that list was the use of on-line banking and travel agencies. 

I don't know why the CEO at the time had such an issue with these sites but he was absolutely convinced they were sucking up productivity at an alarming rate and wanted them banned.   A little over half a decade later I like to think I'm a good enough diplomat to stop this type of thing but at the time I just wanted to impress so I went along with it.

I think one of the biggest problems people have in this world is that they don't keep their eye on what they are actually trying to accomplish and follow their actions to their logical conclusion to see if those actions achieve that goal.  So in this case we banned all online banking and travel sites without asking ourselves "how will the users respond?"  The one might guess...just used the phone instead.

Not only did they use the phone but they took longer doing it.  Banks and Travel Agencies went on line in the first place to save time on their end so it stood to reason that people now forced to use the phone would spend even more time doing the same personal tasks if cut off from the online method.

Eventually the ban was lifted and the users went back to using the web sites but the year or so that it was in place probably cost us 10s of thousands of dollars in further wasted labor, if these supposed "time wasters" were really costing that much.  But here's the thing, as far as anyone can tell, there was no dip in productivity during this whole ordeal. 

People are going to waste time at work but if they are good employees they're also going to spend time on work at home.  Companies who try to eek out every minute of productivity from employees miss that point.  From everything I've seen it really is much more effective to incentivize performance than it is to try to prevent lack of performance.  There are simply too many ways to do work and too many ways to waste to truly determine how effective an employee is.  Knowing what you want from an employee and letting them find a way to produce it is really the best way to get productivity.

That way you don't waste your time parsing every second of their day in a futile attempt to force them into producing something they probably would have produced had you just left them to their own devices.

Finally, on a side note, don't blame the PC.  The PC provides a lot of ways for employees to waste time but so does the rest of the world.  It isn't unheard of for people to simply stop working and stare at the ceiling for an hour.  Trying to cut off a few time wasters (such as those on the PC) isn't going to make any difference and, in cases such as the above example, may even make things worse. 

When Pet Peeves Collide (Twitter vs Bandwagon Posts)

clock December 20, 2007 10:08 by author Tom

Another pet peeve of mine is when people make a post with seemingly no other purpose than to jump on the bandwagon of an existing "hot topic".  I feel that is what ZDNet's Michael Kringsman is doing in his post entitled "Twitter is Dangerous" (oooooh)  

In it his basic thesis is...

Imagine this scenario: 20 people are in a confidential meeting, one of them using Twitter. This attendee broadcasts an off-hand “tweet” (Twitter comment) to his or her “followers” (Twitter friends). With traditional instant messaging, that message would be received by perhaps one or two others. With Twitter, that comment may be seen by 10, 100, 1000, or more followers.

No offense to Mr. Kringsman but this theory could not be more flawed.  The assumption is that either (a) users have no understanding of their tool's functionality or (b) they simply don't understand the difference between public and private conversation. 

So to give a real world example, saying someone might use Twitter instead of IM to discuss something that they know is supposed to be confidential is like saying someone might use a bullhorn rather than a phone to inform a colleague down the hall about something confidential.  It just wouldn't happen because the primary thing people consider when using a method of communication is "who specifically does this tool allow me to communicate with?"  That makes the difference between personal tools and macro tools crystal clear to every user I've ever spoken to. 

Anyway, Mr Kringsman goes on to give this advice...

  • Pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Not being one to advocate head-in-sand methods, I can’t recommend this approach.
  • Block, or monitor, Twitter, as you might do with traditional instant messaging programs, such as Yahoo or AIM. It’s a tried and true method - not the best, but it works.
  • Acknowledge the inevitable, and establish clear information sharing policies and guidelines. In the long run users, like water, will seek their own level. In other words, users will eventually adopt the tools they want, whether you want them to or not. The wise among us will recognize this certainty.

Now 1 isn't really worth discussing because the very act of bringing the topic up (or reading this post) means you are doing something.  2 is equally not worthy of discussion because people don't need their network connection to Twitter, a cell phone will do just fine.

As for 3 I have to point out that it doesn't really solve the initial scenario given above.  In that scenario the user who shared the info via Twitter knew it was confidential so they were already violating a corporate privacy policy.  So saying that another policy would solve the problem doesn't really hold water.

In the end, the best advice about Twitter or anything online is that you need to have a corporate communication policy that decides what is shared publicly and what is not.  Things like Twitter or blogging only change how easy it is for the user to make their thoughts public they don't change anything about the act of making those thoughts public in the first place so even a pre-Web 2.0 communication policy should suffice as long as it is well written.  The issue is communication not technology.

If anything, I would advise against a specific twitter policy only because it sets a precedent saying "each service will have its own privacy policy through the company" leading some employees to believe that any service that doesn't have its own policy is ok to use with impunity.  That is the worst thing you could have happen.

Twitter Explodes...or does it?

clock December 14, 2007 13:21 by author Tom

A personal pet peeve that I've developed over the last few months is to be dismissive of Twitter.  I have to be careful in that I think I've gotten to the point where I automatically disagree with all Twitter hype at this point and automatically disagreeing with anything is not a good sign (at least it isn't if you are trying to be open minded)

The problem I have is that the hype so rarely reflects the reality at this point and that makes it difficult for me to take Twitter proponents seriously. 

So when I saw David Armano's post entitled "Why is Twitter Exploding? ..." I couldn't help but roll my eyes.  Before I get into his article I'd like to present a little graph...


(and yes, I know Alexa isn't the most accurate but on big sites its a decent indicator)

Now, the first thing to notice is that Twitter is still relatively low in the grand scheme of things.  Wordpress is probably the most viewed Blog network in the world but it still doesn't get anywhere close to your mainstream social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook in traffic.  So the fact that twitter pales in comparison to Wordpress should tell you that it isn't exactly exploding.

Second thing to notice is that their traffic hasn't really moved in the last 3 months.  That twitter line is about as straight as a real life graph line is going to get. 

Back to Mr Amano's post he points to Jeremiah Owyang, a Sr. Analyst at Forrester, for validation of his "Exploding" claim.  Mr Owyang says...

Web Strategy Theory to know before you go forward
If you’ve not already figured it out, the corporate website is becoming less relevant, and web marketing (and support) has spread off your domain and google results. You also know that prospects trust the opinions of existing customers (who are ‘like them’) far more than marketers, and Facebook let’s these communities of practice assemble, your brand is decentralized –embrace! If you don’t understand these concepts, it’s hard to move forward, please re-read those posts above.

Given that quote I have a challenge to anyone who might run across this. 

Explain to me how Twitter provides an advantage over a Blog (with comments and RSS/Atom feed) when communicating to customers.

I don't think you're going to come up with a compelling answer. 

Let me be clear, I'm not against Twitter nor am I saying that people shouldn't keep an eye on it but the reality is that the Blogosphere tends to distort the things it likes into looking bigger than they are.  That's why you get talk of Facebook all the time when Myspace still dwarfs it in size.

I do think Twitter has its place I just don't think its where some people think it is and I don't think the service is big enough to have that place be set in stone.  Early adopters don't always determine how a service will turn out especially when they are using something for a purpose that it wasn't originally designed for. 

I have a lot more to say here but it will have to wait for another time.  For now I'll just say that I think Twitter was far better off and far more useful in its original goal which was to help friends keep track of each other.  I think there's a lot more to that than there is to turning it into a cut rate blogging platform.

About Me

Not really relevant right now. This blog is on hiatus. I really haven't decided if it is an indefinite hiatus yet

For the record if you've tried to e-mail me over the last 4 to 6 months I didn't mean to ignore you. The e-mail forwarding isn't working and I didn't realize that until months worth of e-mails had been deleted on forward. The address still won't forward to the postmaster account and I don't know why because it's provided by the webhost. But if you're one of my old blog pen pals I would always welcome an e-mail from you at the address


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