The Rowing Basin

Tweets for You and Me, Take One

by Andrew Fielden

Thursday, May 29 2009

Twitter is the current big thing and there are some really good things about it and there are some really bad things about it.

What is great is that it allows anyone to share ideas and information with the world very simply. There is no long and complicated setup and when you have created your account you are ready to find a few friends and off you go. It does take a while to get used to what is happening but not long. The 140 character limitation is actually a benefit as it forces brevity and allows the follower to skip through things pretty fast.

What is not so great is that it is a closed system. Twitter own it and all its content. This is bad for various reasons. First of all we have given ourselves away to Twitter. Secondly we are at the mercy of what they want to do with the system in the future and finally should the system fail temporarily or even permanently then we will be without it.

This is known and there are a lot of pundits such as Dave Winner out there saying that this is not a good state of affairs.

So what can be done. Yahoo have launched a Twitter type system that they are trialing in Brazil but I fail to see how this helps. It too is a closed system and quite frankly does nothing to help. Any system that is closed will create islands with difficult communications. There are already companies that will search across the various Social Networking sites and presumably they will just add these as they come along but that is hardly perfect and not necessarily cheap either.


Tweets for You and Me, Take Two

Tuesday, June 3 2009

If Twitter is not the answer and Yahoo's new service is a bit more of the same then what is?

To answer that question we have to consider what it is we want from it. There is a lot of debate about what a service like Twitter is. Taking into account that a Harvard survey this week concluded that the amount of accounts that post is a small minority and that the retention rate is not enormously high then we could conclude that it is a brief excitement about nothing at all. Alternatively it could be that this is something big but we are just not sure what it is yet.

Personally I think that it is not just big, it's HUGE and represents a fundamental paradigm shift in the way that the Internet will be used.

Up until now the Internet has been used primarily in two ways. First as a shop-front or repository for information. Essentially this is what the standard web site is, even if it has interactive capabilities. Information is posted and browsers can stop by and have a look, maybe ask questions etc.. and buy things. I think of it as a large town centre with a myriad of shops and a stonking great library. The so-called social networking sites that have blossomed under "Web 2.0" I believe are no more than extensions to this concept. They are information repositories with template driven interfaces. Sure, you can add friends etc.. and then share information and experiences but it is still a relatively static experience and can be quite complex to get the best out of it. Facebook for example which is really nothing more than a collection of micro-sites takes effort to get the best out of it and many people have neither the time nor the inclination to make that effort.

The second use is in messaging. The two main such systems are email and instant messaging. Relatively speaking they are the Internet versions of the post and the telephone and in the abstract work in almost identical ways. Both email and post are sent (and this is very important) by the sender to the recipient. Even if you join a newslist it is still sent to you in a similar way as a newsletter would come through your letter box. Instant messaging and the telephone are both invite-only instant systems. They are as transient as the conversation and although can generally be saved, this is not an intrinsic element of the system.

There is of course online gaming as a fairly big element but that is its own world and I think I can safely move on from that for these purposes.

So how and why is tweeting different. It is public in the way that instant messaging is not. It is opt-in and collect in a way that email is not and it is timely and easy to get into in a way that a web page is not. These are widely recognised but saying what it is not does not say what it is.

If the web is a large Mall and library and Messaging is well... messaging then I consider Tweeting as a public conference. I would say that you can consider it as a place to go to hear the messages of the high and mighty at the main stages (Ashton Kutcher or CNN). Go to break out groups for a specific subject which is what you do when you follow a trending topic, often done on the fly as a reaction to something in the news. Then there are all the social cocktail parties with like minded souls where you can discuss the mundane, profane and even stray to the downright serious if you want. There will also be those trying to sell you something lurking in the lobby handing out fliers to any passers-by. This in turn leads to what is going as being the collective consciousness of that conference. The 140 character limit forces brevity to the size of a thought. By allowing these thoughts to be transmitted, rebroadcast and reacted to in the conference we have created a fundamentally new powerful social tool.

There are some areas where my analogy to a conference falls down however it seems to fit the bill quite nicely. So how can we make this work for us to its best effect. Here is my hit list:-

  • Break the silo. Twitter should not be sole arbiter of the tweetosphere, we need multiple tweet conferences all connected and able to talk to each other in a standard manner
  • Enable the break out groups more so that it is easy to follow a topic rather than a person however at the same time create a way to personalise the relevance of others thoughts for a particular user
  • Create a public and a private space for the same account so that internal messages for a group can be sent. You can be in many groups but you are still the same person
  • Enable a simple method for persistence of data either by searching back though tweets or for a user to decide that he is going to keep a tweet
  • Urgent message notifications, these can be tagged onto a tweet and a user can decide to give a priority to such tweets for those that he follows
  • Searching of tweets. As we already know tweets are often very temporal in nature and ones man's tweet may be another man's twash. Search engines like Google do not handle this well. We need a new method - I have some ideas on this which I will save for another post
  • The ability to add additional content, tagging and links to a tweet. This could be on a server by server basis and consist of the speciality for a tweet conference. Certainly the needs for a media company may be very different to those of a school
  • An open and available API. We want people to come up with innovative and exciting ways to interact with the tweetosphere.

In my next post I will look at how and why these elements can help different organisations or groups, after that I may even be able to show you some live working examples as I don't just write about this stuff, I build it too.


Get Out Of #TwitterJail free - #TweetFreedom


Thursday, June 11 2009

I am a member of Twitterholics anonymous but I am now ready to stand up and say to the world "my username is andrewtf and I tweet." I don't care if this makes me a real life social outcast (mind you, despite plenty of non twitaholics proclaiming that this is an inevitable effect of tweeting I remain unconvinced, in fact I think the reverse is true) but that is a burden I am prepared to carry.

I have already written on why Tweeting is great for you me and everyone. I have also said that we are seeing the start of something huge and such a different way of using the internet that it can have its own proper category of Internet usage along with Web Sites, Messaging (eMail and Instant Message/chat service) and I suppose online gaming - heck my son spends enough time on it and he is not alone.

Unlike all of the other categories which are not 'owned' by any one company Twitter effectively owns this medium and that is a problem. Up until recently the perception has been of a large friendly community which can prattle on about anything and everything. Sure, there have been Twitterfails caused by too many people using the system but heck we get it for free and we expect to get it for free. Therein lies the rub, Twitter is a business not a charity and it needs to be able to charge for its services in one way or another however in this respect, Twitter is not behaving in a particularly clever way.

Twitter has always said that it intends to charge business for its services and I think we are now seeing the start of its intentions. In fact it seems fair to say that it is only now that Twitter itself has any idea of its intentions. Certainly in the fast moving online business world it is nothing new to make something great and then stop to think how you can make money from it. Sometimes this works out OK but in the case of Twitter it is a disaster.

At present there seem to be 4 obvious ways for them to make money:-

Personal user services
Business user services
Access for ancillary services via their database (otherwise known as the API)

They have already said that they don't want advertising revenue, presumably so that they can claim some sort of moral social highground and appear to be your best mate rather than a business whose services you use.

As for the other sources, to the best of my knowledge they have not declared any specific intentions however there are some clues out there.

The API had until recently allowed developers access to a feed of all the tweets that were being processed. This has now been throttled and for the complete feed this is now only by invitation from Twitter if they deem your application to be worthy enough, with no pricing information being given. As for the other API services - these remain available but there is no guarantee that this will continue. In one sense this is fair enough as they are a business and this is valuable to them and the developers of apps, in fact TweetDeck has announced that it will now charge for inclusion in the application at a level of $50,000 per service so they obviously feel that piggy backing off Twitters' success has value.

In other words guys, please go out and spend a lot of time and effort building applications to make our system better although we may turn off the the bit you need to make your 'killer app' work. On the other hand, we might let you use it if we think you are worthy but you will have to pay, although we won't tell you how much.

Twitter - this is not an attractive proposition for a developer.

Even so we have Twitter in the raw for the average person to use. Well, actually we don't. Over the last few days there have been a spate of instances of Twitter putting people in TwitterJail for overtweeting. Apart from the really irritating use of contrived words this is arrogance in the extreme and from a straw poll this seems to be arbitrarily imposed. I personally know of a few people who have hardly used the service but have been put in Jail for varying lengths of time. There are no indications of which particular limits they have broken, nor any prior indication of the penalties that will be imposed.

What are Twitter up to? They are alienating the people who seem to be using the system most even if those people are not spamming or being otherwise antisocial. I bet it wouldn't happen to Oprah, although with only 50 updates she is hardly likely to be put in jail anyway.

Is this leading perhaps to premiere accounts where you can tweet more often? Are they trying to get us used to the idea that we are beholden to them for this wonderful service?

I for one am deeply suspicious of such a secretive company and what is plain and clear is that they are not there as my friend. They want to be able to make money out of the information that you and me are putting into their precious database.

I say we should do something about it. We all need to take ownership of what is rightfully ours. Our thoughts and tweets. Without that, Twitter is nothing, it needs us far more than we need it.

We should all set up our own tweet servers, that can communicate with each other. Some can be simple and plain and work just like Twitter currently does. Others can have ancillary services for private groups and attach additional information to the messages such as documents, notes and video etc.. and all we need is a way to allow people to view the public messages (lets stop calling them tweets) that they have registered to do.

So make join us in making a bid for #TwitterFreedom and take control for yourselves.


Talk About A Revolution

Tuesday, June 16 2009


June 15th 2009 was a strange day. Hundreds of thousands, possibly over a million, people on the streets in Iran protesting over the election results that the protesters thought had been rigged. Is this the start of a revolution? I am writing this a day later and I do not know.

What I do know is that the way it was perceived here in the west was very different to how it would have been just a year ago and that was at least in part down to twitter. During the day there were accounts that had decent claims to being genuine voices from Tehran keeping the world updated on events and managing to get photo and video files out to support their claims. So persuasive were these voices that they were getting the traditional news media to follow what they were saying almost in priority to their own on the spot journalists and traditional sources.

This was the true revolution of June 15th. As information was coming out of Iran it was being viewed by thousands and then resent (retweeted) so that it would be viewed by even more. All of this in pretty much real time and it had nothing to do with the large news agencies. In fairness to the news agencies they are beginning to catch on however there is resistance to what they see as their position as the true arbiters of quality reporting.

This is a tweet from Jeff Jarvis from the afternoon of 15th June "I emphasized to a reporter today that Twitter is not the news source. It's a source of tips & temperature & sources. Reporting follows." Also from his site (posted June 15th) comes the following on the way that the NY Times operates "Because The Times’ brand hinges on it as a product that has been curated and edited and checked and polished - note editor Bill Keller’s language <> on The Daily Show about his package - it finds itself in dangerous territory trying to compete in real time with those whose brand expectations are entirely different."

According to the Bio on his site Jeff is associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York’s new Graduate School of Journalism <> . Well I have news for you Jeff, if you think that any news organisation can get it perfectly right and polished you are deluded and yesterday provided the perfect example.

This is what the editor of the curated and edited and checked and polished New York Times <> had to say in the early hours of June 15th. 

"Leader Emerges With Stronger Hand


Published: June 15, 2009

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory demonstrated that he is the shrewd front man for an elite more unified than at any time since 1979."

Whilst you would now have to subscribe to read the article I can tell you that it was proclaiming that it was a done deal and the middle classes were in Iran were resigned to their fate. Just how wrong can you get it.

So here is the news for you Jeff and for all of those journalists who wish to believe that they are a special breed gifted with superhuman insight and the ability to distill a story for general public consumption. The twitter community and its successors will beat you to the story every time. Furthermore, they will be the people who are the experts in the field and, shock horror, they may even be able to string a sentence or two together. Then the story will be out there and if it gains a following it will spread like wild fire.

This does not mean that journalists are an endangered species, just that they are going to be changing the way they operate in the future. As with any source of information there will be the good, the bad and the disingenuous - these will need to be checked and validated.

Following on from that, there will be the need to draw in comment from other domain experts who are not necessarily directly involved in the main proceedings, for example David Miliband, the UK Foreign Minister, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 in the morning of 16th June for the UK government's view on the events in Iran. This could not have been done via social networking systems on the Internet.

A news organisation and the journalists working for them can act as a ringmaster in an ever changing circus of events. Constantly watching the crowd to see the news as it unfolds and vetting the shouts from the audience to allow those who have something valuable to say to step into the ring whilst at the same time getting involvement from those who can be invited directly to the ring from outside. They can then step in and lead that conversation rather in the manner of an enormous audience participation show. That, I believe is the future of journalism.









Tweets for You and Me, Take One

Thursday, May 29 2009

Tweets for You and Me, Take Two
Tuesday, June 3 2009

Get Out Of #TwitterJail free - #TweetFreedom

Thursday, June 11 2009


Talk About A Revolution

Tuesday, June 16 2009