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Twitter’s Nonsensical Onboarding Process Suggests Tech Companies Should Hire Some Professional Behaviorists


Owen Williams wrote an insightful post called “Signing up for a new Twitter account shows why the company is struggling to grow” that’s a must-read whether you’re a social media enthusiast, a digital marketer, or a tech startup investor. He breaks down the process of signing up for a new Twitter account on desktop and mobile in explicit detail, and in effect shows how ineffective or even somewhat bizarre some of the on-boarding choices are.

I won’t recap the process because Owen did such an awesome job — just read his article and check out the screenshots. But it’s clear that whatever all the employees of Twitter are doing, very few are thinking about the first experience a new user has with their brand.

Like Owen, I’ve been using Twitter since 2008. I have tweeted more than 50,000 times (!), gained over 30,000 followers, and overall I have gotten tremendous personal value from it in the form of new connections, readers, feedback, offers, new friends, and more. Twitter is unquestionably valuable if you go through the journey of reading about it, experimenting with it, optimizing it, and using it constantly. The people who gain the most from it are continuous learners with a lifehacking mentality.

Unfortunately for Twitter, it’s not just a cool “community service” for super-enthusiasts like Owen and I who want to find out where Gary Vaynerchuk is hanging out at SXSW anymore. It could have been. It could have become an open source resource. It could have become a non-profit to help the world communicate. It could have been any number of things.

But. Twitter’s leaders and investors made the decision to be a “real” company, to sell ads to major corporations and do major collaborations with entities like the World Cup and the White House, and to become a publicly-traded corporation that needs to grow and add value for shareholders. With those choices come new responsibilities, among them getting more people to join and use their platform and like it. But user growth isn’t nearly what it could be. And its greatest “innovations” like @ replies and #hashtags were invented by users, not Twitter employees.

The irony is that new accounts can actually have huge value to users very quickly if done right. For all my tweets and followers and consistency over six years, I am getting way, way less engagement on my @cheeky_geeky account than I used to in 2008 or 2009. (Around the end of 2008, I was one of the top 100 most-followed people on Twitter, and one of the top 50 most retweeted users.) Right now, I’m probably at an all time low. The community and its users have changed. The rules have changed. Now, I’m not running a business through my personal account and I’m happy with what it is. But people are finding things less, clicking through less, retweeting less.

But. But. I have another account. A semi-secret account. It’s only about one topic, a very niche topic, something I want to do more about with in the future. And what’s amazing about that account is that I follow and am followed by only people who are super-enthusiasts about this little topic and there’s a ton of engagement. I can leave and come back two weeks later with one tweet and I’ll see, say, 6 high-quality re-tweets and comments (I only have about 200 followers). These are the kind of people who would click through and read something at high rates, or participate in a Kickstarter on my niche topic, or buy something about the topic from me.

Because I’ve been using Twitter so long and work in tech and media and know a bunch about the space, I have some natural advantages when it comes up to launching a social media play on a niche topic. What Twitter needs to figure out is how to on-board a tech-naive high school kid, or a retiree, or a newly unemployed person to do the same thing.

As a person whose background is in the behavioral sciences, one thing that’s always surprised me is the lack of behaviorists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and the like at tech companies and consulting firms who claim to care about influence, user engagement, social interaction and so on. What do you think influence and social interaction and stuff is? It’s just people interacting with each other. It turns out there are lots of scientists who know a lot about that.

Sure, code is important. Designers are important. MBA’s are important. But it seems like if companies like Twitter that depend on positive user experiences, habitual use of product, and user interactions which add value want to grow and thrive, they might consider devoting more resources to actually studying the “human terrain” of people and how and why they behave the way they do.

Tangentially related: ‘A Dark Room’, the incredibly engaging, best-selling iPhone game that no one can entirely explain.

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Seed-Funded Psychometric Web Identity Startup Looking for Chief Scientist


So my buddy Tim Koelkebeck of Apps for Democracy fame has a new startup called MyType that’s looking for a chief scientist. And the company sounds like they might be on to something important (I have a Ph.D. in animal behavior, so I know this stuff, okay?? :)   How can I deny Tim access to my social network of govies, techies, and influencers? Hope that some of you or your colleagues find this job posting useful!

About MyType

MyType intends to develop a psychological identity platform that will allow web users to incorporate a psychometric model of their personality into their online identities. This will enable websites to perform “likemind collaborative filtering”, e.g. Amazon could recommend books, the New York Times could personalize headlines, ad networks could target ads, and Google could alter search results based on personality.

Our alpha Facebook application’s ~50,000 monthly active users have answered tens of millions of psychometric questions, linked their Twitter accounts, and generally been willing to volunteer any information that we can analyze and provide minimal feedback on.  We’re releasing a more viral beta application around Thanksgiving.

Role of the Chief Scientist

We’re looking for a top-notch data mining/machine learning scientist to predict user preferences via psychometric models and develop a general identity model that combines the best of various psychometric measures.  You must be proficient in the LAMP stack as you will be doing some app development in addition to analysis.

Practical Considerations

We’re offering a startup salary and equity.  Location not important for now, but must be willing to move to SF if we raise another round.

Contact

If interested contact tim@mytype.com please!

Posted via email from Mark’s Cheeky Posterous

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Government 2.0: An Insider’s Perspective


This post was originally published on Mashable, August 5, 2008. It was my first ever blog post (pre-dates this site). At the time, I was working for the Defense Department in the Bush Administration, and there was very little contact/communication between the social media and tech startup community and the government in Washington.

This is the first of two posts written by Dr. Mark Drapeau about government 2.0.

Until a few months ago, I didn’t know what “social software” or “new media” really was. Sure, I was on Facebook and LinkedIn. I certainly used Wikipedia and Craigslist – in fact, I even wrote a newspaper opinion piece about how their business model related to terrorist networks. But, honestly, I really had no idea what was going on in the Web 2.0 space.

That all changed on March 3rd, when I attended the auspiciously named event, “Blogs Meet Booze” in Washington DC, on a lark. Interested in learning more about new media and related topics, I started attending events around the country like MashMeet DC REMIX at Ogilvy in DC, MashMeetNYC REMIX in SoHo, Community Next in Los Angeles, and Tech Cocktail Conference in Chicago. I quickly realized two things. One, social networking technologies have many military applications. Two, these geeks throw great parties.

The first sentence of Geoff Livingston’s book now is gone reads, “In life there are very few moments of clarity when you realize that things have completely changed.” And so began my adventures in Twitterland.

mark-twitter

Some explanation of who I am is necessary here. Based inside a government think tank called the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, or CTNSP, led by Dr. Hans Binnendijk formerly of the National Security Council staff, I’m supposed to be thinking “big thoughts” all day as part of a fellowship program that recruits PhD-level scientists into public service with the federal government.

But wait a second, who am I to be analyzing social networking technology? Aren’t I a biologist who collects wild parasitic wasps from birds’ nests, videotapes tiny fruit flies copulating and was part of the international honey bee genome project? All true. But at a fundamental level, studying complex behavioral and genetic networks in animals is not so different from understanding human social networks. So to some extent, when it comes to explaining social software to military policymakers – I’m the perfect guy for the job.
And thus, recently I have been consumed with the question of: How can the government acknowledge, assess, and embrace social software? Slowly and with some collaborators including Dr. Linton Wells II who previously acted as the CIO of the Department of Defense, I have established a new research project called Social Software for Security, or S3 (everything in the military MUST have an acronym) at CTNSP. The general goals of S3 are to inventory available technologies, demonstrate effective uses of such technology throughout the government, identify impediments to use in the military, engage with experts to outline possible solutions, and ultimately make recommendations to the Department of Defense leadership on an overall military strategy for using social software for national security.

One of my overarching priorities has been to directly engage people in the community, rather than just read about them. In my travels to Web 2.0 events most people I meet are surprised that someone from the government or the Defense Department is interested in what they are doing. So while the social networking space has good ideas and technologies, and we are to some extent using the technologies, I realized that the Department of Defense is definitely underutilizing the human resources in the community. Hence, while there certainly are people thinking about Web 2.0 in the nation’s capital (and how to make a buck off it), few of them have actually met the thought leaders in the field, particularly among bloggers and new startups – despite their eminent accessibility.

My travels and conversations on Twitter and elsewhere have introduced me to many thought leaders, trends and technologies in the field of social networking. I have transformed from an outside observer to a participant and somewhat of an enthusiast. And while in each case for companies like kluster, ooVoo, Searchles, Qik, and others there are limitations for immediate use by the military or other parts of the federal government, particularly for computer systems security and classified information sharing reasons, the important point is the idea behind the company’s reason for success, not necessarily the precise technology or website.

Forrester Research recently published data showing that companies are increasingly adopting social software for various uses, and furthermore that larger companies, on average, were more likely to be adopting “enterprise 2.0” systems. This, no doubt, is because once an organization achieves a certain size, feedback loops allow the formation of complex adaptive systems that are inherently unpredictable.

alice

Our current national security situation presents an additional reason to adopt social tools. Like the Red Queen tells Alice in the famous story, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” The reality of our current co-evolution with threatening terrorist networks is that they are using Internet technologies quicker and better than we are in many cases. At a recent speech in Arlington, VA, the current Navy CIO Robert Carey said, “The Internet is Al Qaeda’s command and control center.” Like Alice, we need to catch up in the race, just to stay even; and run twice as fast to pull ahead.

After learning a lot about social software in the last few months, I can safely conclude that these technologies have many potential benefits for our military forces and associated civilians. The most commonly-stated objection to the incorporation of social software into national security operations is that malware could be implanted or the social tools could otherwise provide access into government systems, thereby reducing network integrity. To be sure, cybersecurity in the “wild West” of the Web 2.0 world, particularly for the federal government, is an expensive and very serious issue, and this is one area where governments differ from corporations. When Coke’s recipe or Google’s search algorithm get out, there are certainly serious consequences, but ultimately, people don’t die. The government has a higher standard.

The defense, intelligence, and diplomatic components of the government also have missions that are unique to them, not generally seen in corporations. For example, besides overt public affairs – the person behind the podium or the press release – there are also information operations designed “to shape the emotions, motives, reasoning, and behaviors of selected foreign entities.” So, in some cases, the military will use new media overtly, in other cases messages will be attributed to other entities (e.g., a foreign government partner), and in still others the messaging will not be traced back to the U.S. at all.

With regard to Web 2.0 in a secure government environment, the country’s intelligence community is doing it right. Their INTELINK system is a walled-off group of sites that allow sophisticated online collaboration and increased communication at different levels of security. Users can obtain enterprise email, write and edit articles on Intellipedia, look up employee’s profiles and contact information, author blogs, tag news articles, and more. Yesterday, I registered for an upcoming conference within the system on a secure wiki, looked up the backgrounds of other registrants, and contacted one of the organizers.

The INTELINK system is a sophisticated, powerful product from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). While initially it was only for the intelligence community, more and more they are opening the system so that it can be used by people in other parts of the government – and this is being encouraged. This is excellent progress in the midst of a culture shift from “need to know” into “need to share.” As John Hale, the man at ODNI who manages Intellipedia said at a recent event at the Ritz Carlton in Arlington, VA: “It’s not about technology. It’s about people and information sharing.”

Nevertheless, I believe that Social Software for Security is a much larger issue than that. While the government certainly has unique security requirements that should and will be assuaged, I see many applications for Web 2.0 technology that go far beyond military, intelligence, diplomatic, homeland security, and law enforcement communication on private channels.

In my next Mashable post, I will develop a preliminary “theory of social government,” outline the three key missions where social software can be incorporated in different ways, and discuss two projects where my Social Software for Security project has made inroads toward incorporating off-the-shelf Web 2.0 into ongoing Defense Department-related activities.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is the 2006-2008 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security policy of the National Defense University in Washington. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government. He can be reached at mark.d.drapeau@ugov.gov via email.

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