Archive | April, 2010

Governments and Citizens: You Don’t Own Your Tweets

Just finished video blogging about this for GovFresh.com but I felt this warrented a written blog too. Almost a year ago I wrote a blog post about plagarism and microblogging that no one really seemed to take seriously.  The point of it was that it wasn't really clear what "plagarism" means when content is one sentence, or 12 seconds, long. If I retweet you but change one word, am I lying? If I copy and paste a tweet of yours and pass it off as my own, is that stealing? No one really knows. And frankly, no one really cared much. Until now.
 
There's a bit of outrage about Tweet Nothings, a book where, essentially, the author scraped tweets and published them in a for-profit book. People aren't happy about it, and are giving it reviews of "1" and writing nasty rebuttals. But this is sort of like complaining to the king after he's chopped your head off – it doesn't do much good. And it's not even clear who's right or wrong, on some level. And this is what I wrote about in my O'Reilly Radar post above.
 
Well, it gets bigger. It was recently announced that Twitter was going to give it's entire archive of tweets – everything going back to 2006 – to the Library of Congress. For research. Now, there is a tremendous amount of research that can be done with this information. But I don't remember Twitter polling its users about this. I don't remember a discussion. I don't remember getting asked how this might affect me. And now it's all out there, from the first tweet on. Just so we're clear, for a long time people had been asking for archives of their own tweets and couldn't get them from a deaf-eared company, and now it turns out they have everything and the first thing they are going to do with it is give it to a third party so that yet other parties can data-mine it for their sociology Ph.D. dissertations. But if I write to the company and request a text file of all my tweets, I wonder what the answer would be?
 
You don't own your tweets. They do. But this goes still further.
 
Let's think about FourSquare, which is the "Twitter of 2010" that cannot be escaped, whether you use it or not. What if someone wanted to make a "mini-book" of the FourSquare habits of moderately famous people? I have a lot of moderately famous friends and acquaintances, what if I do four pages on each one, with photos of me with them, maps of where they go, what restaurants an hotels they like in New York and Las Vegas, and so forth. Maybe even predictions about places you might find them. Would that be okay? If it's not, and those people didn't like it, what are the ramifications?
 
Governments. They're adopting all these tools. We went from a phase where everyone's arm had to be twisted to take Twitter seriously to a phase where everyone is experimenting with it all over the place, sometimes with a reason and sometimes without one. One thing is for certain – they are providing gobs of free content to anyone who wants to suck it up, analyze it, graph it, mash it, publish it, and share it. When does the ethos of Web 2.0 come around to bite your agency in the ass? We will see an example of this – and probably multiple ones – before Obama's first term ends.
 
You don't own your tweets. What else don't you really own? Probably stuff on your Facebook fan page. What if I went to Vin Diesel's fan page (which is awesome, engaging, and incredibly popular) and took all the information, collated and edited it, and made an e-book called VIN: A Life Online, and took everyone's pictures with him, their notes of admiration and so forth and compiled a book? Who would stop me? Would anyone even know? I mean, you had a private photo with Vin, but then you publicized it on Facebook, tagged it up, and uploaded and shared. What are the ramifications?
 
My colleague danah boyd of Microsoft Research recently wrote an article about "privacy" vs. "publicity" and I think everyone who cares about the above should read it. One big point from it is that just because someone makes something public does not necessarily mean that they want it publicized. But who's really in control here? Is putting all my 35,000+ tweets in the Library of Congress forever publicizing my content. Kind of. What about publishing a book with (say) Merlin Mann's funny tweets in it? Certainly it is. What about my Vin e-book? Yes.
 
So, let's review. You don't own your tweets. It's not even clear who does. And it's not clear that Twitter cares if you know or not. And this is not just about Twitter – it extends to the ENTIRE Web 2.0 ecosystem. Do you own your Diggs? Who does? What can they do with them? Don't think for a second that you are in control. You are not. I could write a book today about what geeks dig. (Get it?) Who will stop me?
 
Use all these "free" social tools with caution, try to solve your business or non-profit or government or societal problems, but don't mistake the usefulness of an emerging platform with the notion that they care what you're doing with it. They have a different agenda, and it's not necessarily helping their "customers."

Posted via email from Mark’s Cheeky Posterous

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My Thoughts on Geoff Livingston’s “Retirement” From Blogging

In a post today on his blog The Buzz Bin, blogger and PR/non-profit communications guru [and buddy] Geoff Livingston announced in a post called Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow that he would retire his contributions, and only guest post on occasion at Mashable.com and some other places, in line with his new passions.

I completely understand this. When I used to write journal articles for scientific audiences, you take ungodly amounts of time to write them to last for all eternity. The thought is that someone might go searching for your dusty journal article in a library 100 years later – better think about what you say VERY carefully. I liked that. Half of what we wrote was wrong anyway, but that's because we were pushing the limits of knowledge, not because we didn't have any knowledge to begin with.
 
Blogging has become, for most, exactly the opposite - writing in real-time for an audience that spans a week at most (more like a day or two). Three days later, who remembers a blog post? Hardly anyone for the average post. Even the quite above average post. There are simply too many above average posts and above average people writing in real time, and a tremendous amount of overlap. Let's face it, compared to the human genome project, pretty much anyone is qualified to write about the White House social media policy or how they feel about music or apps or potholes or anything else.
 
If the former is the "Cult of the Expert" and the latter is the "Cult of the Amateur," then where does that leave us? Neither is great. I don't think that everyone should try to think like an academic nor taking on their writing style thus, but I'm with Andrew Keen on this one – all this blogging is a total mindsuck beyond any reasonable proportion or logic. (I'm not even sure what that means, but who cares? This is just a blog.)
 
The primary research and cultivation problem with the blogging ecosystem that has evolved around this cult of the amateur is that rarely does someone go back and research the archives of a blog. And unlike academia, there are not good databases like ISI's Web of Science for uncovering historical blog posts, nor truly unbiased ratings systems that interface with such a database for how influential a blog or a post is.
 
So what happens to a blogger trying to achieve greatness is that they write something good once and then never talk about it again, and if a blogger is really ahead of the curve no one really sees them write about it (Geoff mentions his personal example of writing about FourSquare once, eight months ago) and so then when your audience catches up or new audience joins, they want you to write about "it" again. Guess what? Maybe I don't want to explain my thoughts on SXSW four times in one year – do some research in my archives.
 
What's the solution? Well, one can call it a day on the blog, or one can pull a "Gawker" and continuously crank out material on the topic of the day, linking everything together in a faux-journalism search for the almighty eyeball. That's fine but it's not for everyone and it's surely not for intellectuals. And very few people can be like (say) Clay Shirky or Clive Thompson and just have one great post every month or two that everyone pays attention to.
 
So, I don't blame Geoff Livingston for "retiring" from his Buzz Bin blog in the slightest. It's not great to have a blog and not be passionate about it. And when you're not running the blog to make money, who cares about numbers of eyeballs? It about the passion of the audience, however large. I imagine that Geoff will pour his passion into slightly different topics, and write for slightly different audiences, and ultimately this is what's best for everyone.
 
Some people in my audience might take a lesson from Geoff. Not every blog has to be like Gawker or Mashable or whatever, and just like your blog doesn't need to be updated eight times a day, neither does it have to last forever. Follow your heart.
 

Posted via email from Mark’s Cheeky Posterous

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Pre-boarding: A Novel Use of FourSquare

Last week, Robert Scoble wrote a great post about "malleable social graphs" and more broadly about the many different possible uses of location-based services like FourSquare and Gowalla (and more broadly, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and other Web 2.0 sites taking advantage of geo-tagging).
 
This got me thinking about notions of "checking in" to a crime in progress – a brief update on what you've seen and when, possibly with a photo attached, and geo-tagged. Imagine how useful that would be if law enforcement officials were monitoring such things. (This is kind of what Microsoft Vine could be when it gets out of beta, but tha'ts another story altogether.)
 
You can use Web 2.0 tools any way you want – not just the way the majority of bloggers say you should. The old notion about how you shouldn't tweet about what you eat for lunch is ridiculous – I've taken up cooking lately and I talk about what I made and what I'm eating, and people LOVE it.
 
So, in that vein, I've been using FourSquare in some interesting ways. One thing I've been doing is what I call "pre-boarding," that is, checking into real places that definitely exist but are not open yet. I became the mayor of a new cafe opening in May today in my work neighborhood. It's legit – I walked by it. And it benefits the community – Now when it opens, it's already in the FourSquare system, and a social network has been jump-started. And it benefits the business – it's free advertising on social networks.
 
I've started doing this around Washington, DC when I'm walking around. If there's a new place clearly opening, I check into it and often will post on social networks. Why not?
 
What do you think – is pre-boarding cheating? Is it innovative? Is it useful?
 

Posted via email from Mark’s Cheeky Posterous

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