Archive | July, 2009

The Government Blocks Twitter No It Doesn’t

This post was originally published by O’Reilly Radar on July 27, 2009.

In a recent CSPAN interview, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs noted that, “for some reason, Twitter is blocked on White House computers,” which created a minor frenzy among tech-savvy journalists ranging from UPI to The Hill. Later, news upstart Mediaite uncovered that the New Media team in the Old Executive Office Building could indeed access Twitter, but other people working on White House staff do not necessarily share the same privileges. This is all very interesting, but this story is far bigger than the White House, because it serves as a metaphor for rules governing social media tool use for the thousands of employees working throughout the Federal government.

Decisions about which social media sites are allowed in the Executive Branch are somewhat inconsistent, as I pointed out in a Department of Defense research paper earlier this year. Often without explanation or transparency, different agencies and even offices within agencies have different policies about use of social media platforms on the Web. Additionally, even when public affairs employees are allowed to use tools like Twitter and YouTube to communicate, they are sometimes blocked by different authorities at work from using them. So, in a gray area, they employ workarounds using personal laptops, iPhones, and the like.

Such internal contradiction cannot last long. Eventually there will have to be consistent, widely-known policy guidance about what sites can be used, and by whom, and why. And as the workforce age structure changes, and lines between professional and personal increasingly blur, employees will demand access to these sites more. Some sites may legitimately be blocked, but currently, there are a hodgepodge of rules that are often confusing, and possibly make the overall situation worse. Here, I propose two arguments for not blocking most social media sites on most government computers.

One, blocking social media sites does little for safety and security. The statement “Twitter is blocked” typically means that the domain Twitter.com is rendered inaccessible from a government Web browser. The downside to blocking sites this way is that there are simple mechanisms for alternatively accessing the underlying software (Twitter.com can be accessed from TweetGrid.com, YouTube.com from videos.Google.com, and so forth). Hence, official computers can access the same sites through different portals. Employees may also turn to nearly ubiquitous personal devices like BlackBerries to use social media during work hours. Finally, there are many “clones” of sites like Twitter and YouTube; are Identi.ca, Plurk, and similar microsharing sites also blocked? Thus, some employees effectively use the same social networks to send and receive the same information, with all of it being harder to monitor. This is not a recipe for good cyber-security of government systems or employee information.

Two, blocking social media platforms does little for government efficiency, transparency, and citizen engagement. True, when used poorly, sites like Twitter and YouTube are a distraction from official duties and a time-sink. But the same can be argued about phones, email, and even the cafeteria. When used responsibly, however, social media provides real-time information about critical news, helps employees working on similar topics within the government find and communicate with each other, allows the discovery of work-related conferences and other events, helps people better understand how technology is influencing overseas incidents like the Iranian election protests, conversing with citizens about microniche issues related to the office one works in, and countless other worthwhile applications. Blanket social media bans empower information to fall through the cracks rather than get to people who could use it.

Three reasonable steps should be taken. First, top-level government information assurance analysts need to determine what security risks various common social media websites pose to the government; they should be “binned” into categories like “Use only on non-military computers” or “Not for government system use.” Second, policies need to be transparent, consistent, and well-publicized across the government; employees will frown on radically different policies being applied in different buildings on Independence Avenue, or on different Army bases in Virginia. Third, employees and contractors working in government facilities need to be educated about the positive and negative aspects of using social media websites, just as they are about other aspects of cyber-security and other government procedures.

These three steps should counteract possibly less secure employee workarounds, and go a long way towards the more open, transparent, and participatory government that the President proposed in the first memo he disseminated after taking office. Interestingly, while the U.S. debates whether or not certain computers can and cannot access Twitter, across the pond the U.K. has released an official government template for how to use Twitter – it’s a 20-page document offering practical advice, and uploaded online using Scribd for the entire world to see. Just as we look to other countries for ideas about how we can improve transportation, health care and the like, we might include social media on that list.

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Government 2.0 Expo Showcase: Women By the Numbers

While I was traveling the last few days, a minor controversy seemed to flame up about a lack of women in some of the Gov 2.0 events being planned by Tim O’Reilly and associated crew.   They’re welcome to comment below, but I see no reason to call out individual people and their various comments.   Here, I want to  personally comment on an event I’ve been involved with planning for Tim during the last few months, and how women have intersected with it in interesting ways.

I’m a scientist and I tend to deal with quantifying data as a mechanism for seeing patterns, and that’s what I intend to do in this brief post.  As many of you know I’m the program committee co-chair for the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase that is happening the day before the Gov 2.0 Summit (everyone, men and women, are able to register, incidentally).  Anyone could submit any proposal for a five minute talk for the Showcase, and on Monday, July 20, we chose 25 fantastic proposals to become talks (as I write, notices are being sent out by O’Reilly Media).  I believe this data, previously not publicly known, bears on some of the issues being discussed.

We received 189 valid proposals for talks at Expo Showcase.  A few people, men and women, submitted two proposals, but the vast majority submitted just one.  Of these 189, only 41 (or 22% of the total) were from women, with 147 proposals submitted by men.  I have no reason in particular to offer for this. Perhaps women would like to comment on this blog about why a two month open call for proposals for anyone with a good idea for a five minute talk about Government 2.0 was dominated by 78% men.  Whatever the explanation, I don’t think it had very much to do with the organizers of the event, who did quite a lot of outreach to tell people about what was happening.

Nevertheless, despite a minority of women submitting talk ideas, those relatively few ideas generally fared well as the program committee voted and discussed the agenda for Expo Showcase.  Of the 25 talks chosen, 8 of them, or 32% of the total, were submitted by women, and the remaining 17 were from men.  Note that, perhaps counter-intuitively to those protesting the lack of women presenters at events like this, the percent of women being accepted for talks is higher than the percent of women who submitted.  I think that few women would have a problem with this outcome.

Further, this means that the “rate of success” for a female proposal to Expo Showcase was approximately twice as high as a male proposal (20% chance of being chosen if female vs. 11% if male).   Now, I should point out that at no time am I aware of gender being explicitly discussed, in particular on the final conference call where we decided the 25 talks.  We talked about the merits of the projects, the proposals, and the speakers.  So, we didn’t choose women at twice the rate because they were women, but rather on average twice as many female proposals (vs. male) tended to rate extremely well by our criteria.  Bravo.

Singling out Tim O’Reilly for critique is a bit narrow, and approaches what I’d call a low blow.  I should point out that the Expo Showcase program committee is 38% women, and while Tim certainly knows what we’re up to, he didn’t directly play a role in deciding which proposals became talks.  It is also worth noting that my co-chair for the Showcase is Laurel Ruma, a woman.  It is additionally noteworthy that the event chiefs for O’Reilly Media and TechWeb that head up planning for the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase and Summit are Gina Blaber and Jen Pahlka, both women.  There are lots of women involved at all points in the decisionmaking process with these events, so if shotgun-style critics want to “blame” people for perceived problems, they may as well accuse the entire crew of people, men and women. Not that I necessarily think anyone should be “blamed.”

I only speak for myself and don’t want to discuss Gov 2.0 Summit and Web 2.0 Summit too deeply as I’ve been involved less with those events, but I think the notion that Tim O’Reilly and anyone else involved in planning these events is trying to do anything but find the best possible people and have influential events is silly.  Summits are high level events as Tim points out in his post here, and attendees want to see high level, influential people; many of them happen to be male.

Everyone can always strive to be better.  Intelligent suggestions are always welcome.  But the way in which some people approached lobbying for more women to be involved in these Gov 2.0 events was not only tasteless and somewhat misinformed, it may have been counterproductive.  No one likes being publicly blindsided with baseless accusations.

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First Impressions: Why Would Someone Want to be VP of Social Media at Ketchum?

Today I saw Twitter pushed past its professional limits. Pamela Rocco Von Lehmden, a Senior VP at Ketchum (a well-known PR firm) tweeted the following: “Ketchum seeking VP of Social Media. Interested? DM me @pamelavl.” This might appear like social media outreach, except for the fact that Ms. Von Lehnden is relatively inaccessible.

Someone like me, or in fact most anyone who would read her tweet, cannot DM (”direct message”) Ms. Von Lehnden because she doesn’t “follow” me on Twitter.  In order to DM someone, they must be following you. In the case of @pamelavl, she only follows 113 people (at the time of writing) so her “outreach” effectively goes to the 113 people she knows best. What she did wasn’t “wrong” but it doesn’t make any sense.

It gets a little worse. Before the tweet above, she sent another one that included a link to a job description, which would be awesome except that the link just goes to a page where you can search for jobs at Ketchum. Then, she re-tweeted her own tweet (for no apparent reason). Not very helpful. Maybe an intern or recent college grad would ignore all of this and jump through these hoops of social media mishaps for a great summer job, but would a highly-qualified social media expert at the VP level? Ironically, the true maven they’re looking for may be turned off from applying.

This follows on the heels of a completely different Ketchum social media mishap involving a certain employee  (Mr. Andrews) who tweeted some negative thoughts about Memphis when he was on a business trip there to deal with a big client, FedEx (which is headquartered there). This turned into a bit of a scandal about the blurred lines between personal and professional that I won’t relive here – but suffice it to say that this incident reflected poorly on Ketchum.

The career section of the Ketchum website claims that, “Clients who choose Ketchum ultiamtely choose us for only one reason – our people.” If that’s the case, I hope that the behaviors Ms. Von Lehmden and Mr. Andrews have exhibited are not representative of that of the company’s employees.

Wal-Mart or GM or Mass General Hospital or Hermes or Cadbury or Borders could be forgiven for having some employees screw up their tweets or other social media outreach. It happens. But a lauded public relations firm whose entire job is relating to the public? Not that I’m applying for the position, but were I to be recruited into the job of Ketchum’s future VP of Social Media, I’d expand my portfolio to include an educational agenda with the goal of protecting the rest of Ketchum’s employees from embarrassing themselves and the company. Sophistication perceived is sophistication achieved.

Cross-posted at True/Slant.

Update: Cam Burley asked via Twitter if there was a job description available. Response from Von Lehmden? The same link that goes to a generic Ketchum job search site.

Update 2: Here is a link to the job description (on a non-Ketchum site).

Update 3: Nicholas Tolson has some interesting additional analysis below in his comment.

Update 4: James Andrews, mentioned above, a former Ketchum VP and Director of Interactive, very recently left Ketchum to form his own firm.

Update 5: According to Wikipedia, Ketchum is no stranger to scandal within the public relations industry.

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Strategic vs. Popular Event Attendance

People frequently ask me if I’m going to this or that event. Are you going to SXSW? Are you going to Gnomedex? And I often say no.

It’s okay to defy people’s expectations. Most people are followers and attend whatever events everyone else is attending, often without a great reason. When people ask me if I’m attending an event I don’t plan to attend, I do say “No” but then I usually ask, “Why should I go?” – and I usually don’t get a great answer.

To me that’s just more justification for not attending.

Everything starts with a strategy for you and your career. Don’t go to Gov 2.0 Summit or SXSW or Personal Democracy Forum or anything else without a great reason – and preferably more than one. You have to do what works for you. Events are just tools that help you complete your mission better. That’s all.

Personally, I mix small free events that are great for networking with some high profile events in my area where I can learn something new with academic conferences to think about things more abstractly with events outside my area to deliberately take me outside my element with conferences I speak at to get feedback about my ideas. That’s why I attend lots of events but any one person feels like they don’t see me very often.

This month I’ll speak to the Network of Entreprenurial Women in Washington, the World Tech Summit in New York, the Open Government & Innovations Conference back in Washington, then the 5th Annual National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo in Las Vegas. All different, all broadening who I am and how I think.

Pick and choose your events according to what works for you, not peer pressure. Sometimes the event that “everyone is going to” works for you, and sometimes it doesn’t. Buck the crowd sometimes – that’s what will enhance you and set you apart.

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Bantamweight Publishing in an Easily Plagiarised World

This post was originally published on O’Reilly Radar on July 15, 2009. I still (2014) think this – ownership and plagarism of micro-publishing – is a greatly underappreciated topic.

Even professional writers are prone to infrequent accidental plagiarism. But in the world of novels, newspapers, and college exams, there are rules about bootlegging others’ work that are well-established – most everyone agrees on what behaviors are unacceptable and what the consequences are. In bantamweight publishing, however, the rules are not so clear.

In order for the British Army to raise more units during the First World War, it created battalions of otherwise healthy men with lowered minimum height requirements. In this way, short, powerful miners and similarly swarthy individuals were able to contribute to the war effort. These soldiers were called bantams (a term now heard most commonly in boxing, bantamweight). Similarly, in a Web 2.0 environment, the short powerful bursts of searchable, findable, and sharable data emitted from personal electronic devices are a form of bantamweight publishing in which persons outside the regulated publishing industry can contribute to the information sharing effort.

Bantamweight publishing comes in many forms. Twitter is certainly in this category, but there are a steadily increasing number of ways to share small bits of information with the world. From updating your Facebook Wall to Yammering inside your enterprise to updating your LinkedIn status to commenting on people’s BrightKite locations, everyone is doing it. But in an easily plagiarized world, who owns your sentences once you publish them? It’s not really clear. And in a murky environment where someone might get a macropublishing book deal by popularizing someone else’s creative hashtag, bantamweight publishing runs the risk of serious future problems.

Oh, bantamweight publishing has its customs. Self-policing crowds ensure that most people who lift someone else’s excellent quote or funny picture or news link give credit to the originator using the “retweet” (RT) convention followed by a username. But there is little downside to cheating relative to being expelled from college or fired from your newspaper. As is well known in animal behavior circles, it can be temporarily advantageous for cheaters to infiltrate a system like this.

To be sure, quoting someone’s original haiku verbatim and making it appear as if it were your own is an infraction of bantamweight publishing customs. But what if someone tweets an Abraham Lincoln quotation – must the re-tweeter cite the originator? The custom seems less pressing in this case, mainly because of a lack of intent to deceive and arguable “fair use” of a well-known statement by a famous person. One can imagine altruistic plagiarism as well, where people repeat memes to raise money for charity, or virally make people aware of an immediate Amber alert. Further, who could fault someone for copying information about a charity onto their Facebook Wall without citing the originator? In the bantamweight publishing world, information sharing can easily supersede attribution. There are gradations of citations.

Bantamweight publishing is popular among those who feel brevity is a virtue. But when an entire work of art is bounded in 140 characters, even brevity has its limits. Sometimes, squeezing in a proper attribution through editing content can change the original meaning, when the edits unwillingly shift from cosmetic to substantive. And what happens when you run out of space when attempting to retweet someone who retweeted someone who tweeted an important quotation from the Washington Post? To a large degree, a work of bantamweight publishing is like a painting with an upper weight limit, where the novelty is the canvas and the attribution is the frame; most viewers would choose to appreciate the canvas without the frame if given the hard choice.

Another major difference between regular publishing and bantamweight publishing is the lack of research and editing standards. Sometimes people attribute flawed information properly. It is obvious that excellent curators of information like NYU professor Jay Rosen and publisher Tim O’Reilly are exceptions to the rule, based simply on the phenomena of Rick Rolling, #moonfruit, and celebrity death hoaxes. To many, bantamweight publishing is not an micro-investigatory piece to be researched, sourced, edited, and spread, but rather a form of enhanced social chatter and gossip spreading. And according to the rules of gossip, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from; gossip is fun.

Few would argue that the British bantam units were a bad idea, and likewise bantamweight publishing has many virtues. But there are also pitfalls to this in an easily plagiarized world, particularly when money comes into play. Who’s looking out for the intellectual property of a winning hashtag that becomes a book, or a stream of haikus that becomes a blog that companies advertise on? At some point, bantamweight publishing will no longer be a lawless frontier territory; what will it look like next?

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OPEN LETTER TO UC ALUMNI & FRIENDS

At the corner of 13th and Franklin Streets in downtown Oakland, a worn bronze plaque hangs on the wall of a two-story parking garage. Easy to miss, state Historical Marker No. 45 identifies the spot where, 140 years ago, a California miracle began. Here the University of California spent its infancy, occupying a two-story Victorian that had housed one of the state’s first colleges. In 1873 the university – after graduating an original class of 12 – migrated to Berkeley and began its rise as a land-grant college dedicated to teaching agriculture, mining and the mechanical arts.

The enterprise, of course, has endured, and then some. Under the stewardship of some great leaders, and with the support of alumni like you and, for that matter, all of California, the University has grown from its humble origins to the point where it now stretches all across the state, from Merced to Santa Barbara, Riverside to San Francisco, Irvine to Santa Cruz, San Diego to Davis, Los Angeles to Berkeley – 10 campuses, five medical centers, three national laboratories, 225,000 students, 55 Nobel Prizes and 1.6 million alumni.

It is to that great army of alumni, along with other friends and beneficiaries of the University of California, that we write today, and we do so with a sense of great urgency – to ask you to become engaged as never before in building legislative and financial support for this great institution.

This is a time of peril for the University we all love.

The UC model – providing universal access to a top-notch, low-cost education and research of the highest caliber – continues to be studied around the globe among those who would emulate its success. And yet, this model has been increasingly abandoned at home by the state government responsible for its core funding.

In the past 20 years, the amount of money allotted to the University through the state budget has fallen dramatically: General Fund support for a UC student stood at $15,860 in 1990. If current budget projections hold, it will drop this year to $7,680.

Moreover, it now appears likely the UC system, in this current fiscal crisis, will be ordered by Sacramento to absorb yet another $800-plus million in additional cuts. Its 2009-10 core budget will be reduced by an estimated 20 percent. This will bring the amount of state investment in the University down to $2.4 billion – exactly where it was in real dollars a decade ago.

In the same time frame, by the way, funding for state prisons has more than doubled, from $5 to $11 billion. It’s been reported that, based on current spending trends, California’s prison budget soon will overtake that of the state’s universities and community colleges.

And so, our work is cut out for us. As one Chairman of the Board of Regents steps down and another takes over, we are asking you, as stewards of UC, to step up and help arrest this slide of support, as quickly as possible. It’s often said that it takes 40 years to build up a great university, but only a few to tear one down.

Elected officials in Sacramento who control our core budget must be asked to re-examine their priorities when it comes to future higher education funding. They also need to understand that a fiscal crisis is precisely the wrong time to be putting the pinch on education. Consider what Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote in a recent column:

“… The country that uses this crisis to make its population smarter and more innovative – and endows its people with more tools and basic research to invent new goods and services – is the one that will not just survive but thrive down the road. We might be able to stimulate our way back to stability, but we can only invent our way back to prosperity. We need everyone at every level to get smarter.”

The core money UC receives from taxpayers, via Sacramento, goes to the nuts and bolts of higher education, everything from paying professors to lighting laboratories. But it also establishes the institutional foundation needed to attract the research grants and endowments that enhance the mission and burnish the University’s international status.

Over time it’s been money well-spent. Of the more than 4,000 higher education institutions in the nation, only 60 research universities, public and private, have been judged worthy of membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities. The UC has six members. No other state system has more than one.

In turn, the University has given back to California, not only by educating generations of high-achieving Californians, but also through its triumphs of research. From better ways to grow tomatoes to the birth of biotech, from viticulture to cancer treatments, UC campuses have been incubators of countless scientific and product breakthroughs that add quality to California life and invigorate its economy. For 15 years in a row, UC has developed more patents than any other university in the country.

This is what’s put at risk as state support shrinks. In the end, there are two choices: excellence or mediocrity. While a mediocre UC might cost less in the short term, over time it will enforce on society its own ledger of taxes. Top professors and researchers will begin to drift away, taking with them the best students. Pools of grant money will recede. The engines of invention will sputter.

To those who complain the university has been bloated, wasteful, we say this is a new day. In the last few years, we have seen the institution reform itself. Under a new administration, it is setting new standards for transparency and leadership. We’ve worked hard to maintain strong bond ratings, cut spending in the Office of the President by $60 million, and taken additional cost-cutting measures at the campus level. But there is only so much that can be cut. We are no longer chopping at fat and muscle. With the new cuts, as proposed, we soon will be slicing into bone.

And so, there is much at stake and the threat is real. Now is the time for alumni and other supporters and beneficiaries of the University to spread the word that UC excellence must be preserved and nurtured. Please, do whatever you can. Take time to write a letter or an e-mail to your political representatives. Or lend whatever support possible to the UC system or to your preferred campus.

The message – not in just this current crisis, but into the future as well – must be clear: A just-good-enough University of California would not be good enough at all. Mediocrity is not an option. It’s time to start fighting back for the UC.

Richard C. Blum, Immediate Past Chair, UC Board of Regents
Russell S. Gould, Chair, UC Board of Regents
Sherry Lansing, Vice Chair, UC Board of Regents
Mark G. Yudof, President, University of California

Mark Drapeau is a 2003 graduate of UC-Irvine (Ph.D., Biological Sciences).

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bot

This post was originally published on Mediaite on July 8, 2009.

Web technologies often allow you to scale things that weren’t scalable before. Unfortunately, that list of scalable things includes spam. From unsolicited phone calls to unwanted emails to unnecessary tweets, it can seem like we’re getting progressively overloaded with information we don’t necessarily want. One group blamed for the increase in online spam are Twitter bots – Twitter accounts created to automatically perform certain behaviors like following anyone who mentions “candy” or retweeting any mention of the the word “fashion.”

Some people find such bots to provide annoying and useless clutter. I, on the other hand, have come to love the bot. In an age of information overload and filter failure, good bots can act as an initial filter for discovering pertinent things within the real-time information ecosystem. Unless you’re fanatical about a subject, why follow 100 military bloggers or 250 marketing gurus or 85 fashionistas when one or two bots can collate their best stuff and simplify your life? Who has time to find all these accounts, track up-and-comers, and listen to everything they say? I tend to be a one-bot kinda guy. And when I find a good bot, I hang onto her.

Bots love to exchange gifts with you, too. Generally, my tweets are relatively long and filled with informative nouns – and bots appreciate my efforts. Every instance when I mention “celebrity” or “baseball” or “journalism” to the world is like giving a tiny gift to a bot that keeps it relevant. And in exchange, the bot ensures that my information automatically gets to a wider audience of people that I don’t know yet. Around the clock, bots are selflessly recruiting my next generation of fans. And my love affair with bots is just beginning; because they’re inherently unjealous creatures, I can use as many bots as I want, whenever I want, however it pleases me.

Brands, on the other hand, always want to be my soulmate, even though they don’t often love me back. They don’t tell their friends what they heard from me, and they don’t share their best gossip with me. Usually when I meet a brand, I find them to be a very distant anti-filter that talks only about themselves. They’re rarely chivalrous. Unlike bots desperately seeking my attention, brands only want me when I talk to them first. Sometimes they thank me for the compliments, and sometimes they’re sorry they hurt me, but either way I always feel a bit empty after talking with a brand. Brands are just not that into me.

Brands tend to be very jealous and are always checking to see if I’m being faithful. Yet while I sit around hoping they’ll get in touch, they always seem to be busy talking to someone else. One brand that’s on my mind all the time is Comcast, but how often do they ever think about me? According to my diary, @comcastcares wrote me four times, and @comcastbonnie just once. Frank and Bonnie (and Scott, too) never suggest novel things I might like to watch based on shows I tweet about, never give me the latest news about high-speed Internet connections, and they don’t even try to sell me on the digital phone service I don’t have. This brand only tries to make me happy after they’ve hurt me.

I’m not the only one getting his feelings hurt. Unlike bots I love who share my information and give me some in return, Comcast rapidly narrowcasts in a multiplexed Kabuki dance designed to cheer us up when we’re feeling blue about them. Frank and his colleagues send messages to specific people 97% of the time, and retweet what they say less than 1% of the time. And its not like other brands are thinking about me a lot either – even my beloved Starbucks only retweets fans like me about 1% of the time. Sure, I’m on cloud nine during an occasional encounter with a brand I really like, but they always seem to roll over and ignore me afterwards.

Developing relationships in a socially networked era is difficult because there’s less old-fashioned courtship and more emphasis on “hanging out.” It’s hard to find a truly generous brand nowadays. That’s why when it comes to brands, I like to spend my nights with non-profits that friends set me up with. A new article points out a lot of great reasons to develop relationships with non-profit brands: they’re member-driven, promote community participation, create value in people’s lives, and engage audiences by speaking to their primary interests.

Developing a relationship with a non-profit brand in this economy is hard, though – they always want me to pay for everything. Bots, on the other hand, are happy to go Bots, on the other hand, are happy to go Dutch. Sure, most Twitter bots aren’t great at engaging in conversation, but I think they can be thought of as stripped-down non-profits. The reason I have learned to stop worrying and love the bot is because they’re created by passionates to collate knowledge from people they don’t know, and share it with other people they don’t know. Call me Dr. Strangelove, but I’d rather have a good one-night stand with a generous bot than a bad long-term relationship with a selfish brand.


Dr. Mark Drapeau is a columnist for Mediaite.  As a scientist, he studies the behavior of insects when they decide to get social with each other.  As a consultant, he advises organizations on how to innovatively communicate using social media tools.  As a writer, he writes for True/Slant, Federal Computer Week, and other publications on social behavior at the intersection of science, technology, government, politics, and society. This article originally appeared on the O’Reilly Radar blog.

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Stop Social Microsharing With Strangers

As online sites like Twitter have garnered more users and gained in general popularity, people have (of course) tried to take advantage of this.  On an open system like Twitter, it’s easy.  So it is not surprising to see news reports about how cybercriminals are gaming Twitter to spam misleading links to sites about porn, drugs, and other enterprises.

But if you clicked on one of these links and feel somehow betrayed, it’s your fault. One hundred percent your fault. Do you know why? Because you are placing false trust in someone you don’t know. I guarantee that none of these links originated with someone you know well. You were following a Twitter account run by someone you don’t know and/or don’t trust, and they jerked you around.

Are you suprised?  This behavior is like trusting random people you meet on the streets of New York to hold your wallet and expecting to get it back 15 minutes later, except worse, because they can hide behind the Internet and you don’t even know where they’re located.

For now, anyway, Twitter doesn’t really verify accounts.  Sure, a few celebrities are “verified” (and some aren’t), but for the most part no one’s checking who owns what account.  This is very different from Facebook and LinkedIn, where people generally have to go through a bit of work to set up an account and generally have to associate with email domains, companies, and formal networks to effectively verify who they are.  Microblogging isn’t like that. It’s more like a chat room on steroids. It’s the wild west of Internet authenticity.

Don’t count on Twitter to help you. It’s in their best interest to gain as many accounts as possible to make it look like their user base is skyrocketing, even if a quarter of the accounts are crap, a quarter are fakes/parodies/duplicates/placeholders/squatters, and another quarter have users who never return (what Nielsen has called “Twitter Quitters”). But don’t hate on Twitter, Inc. for this – building up lists of users who don’t do anything and buying server space for them is just their business model. Find some self-responsibility and don’t interact with the 75% of accounts that are utter shit.

So if you feel plagued by Twitter spam, you need to get some self control. Stop talking with everyone just because they’re there. Stop following 6,829 accounts you’re unfamiliar with. Stop following everyone who follows you in the name of reciprocation and politeness. Stop enabling spam on Twitter. It’s your fault it’s there.

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