Tag Archive | "Twitter"

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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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4 Tech, Social Innovations at the RNC — And One Clever Tweet

This post was originally published by PBS MediaShift on September 4, 2012. I served as their correspondent on the ground at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL.

TAMPA, Fla. — For those who haven’t experienced it, a national political convention in America is something like a post-apocalyptic police state crossed with the Super Bowl and an Academy Awards red carpet.

Here at the site of this year’s Republican National Convention, bomb-sniffing dogs, Secret Service agents, and a tropical storm all made it hard for people to connect with each other. But social media probably made people feel more connected than ever. Twitter confirmed that more than 4 million tweets were sent during the GOP event — a one-day record for political conventions.

But we’re somewhat past the era during which merely using a social media platform is considered interesting. Whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare or any number of other platforms or apps, people are using them. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents can agree that they like social media.

Guests in Tampa were immediately greeted by a gigantic sign that boldly stated the official hashtag: #GOP2012. Times have changed since the John McCain/Sarah Palin campaign of 2008.

The convention officials themselves were using social media: conducting interviews with media via Skype, monitoring the hashtag. But this is what we have come to expect. It’s not particularly interesting.

(Note: Skype is now owned by Microsoft, my employer.)

Innovation in the shadows

Here’s what I did notice was standing out a bit at the GOP’s big event: collaborations between some unlikely bedfellows, overtly or presumably serving to show both partners in different lights. This took place in what one might call the “shadow convention,” the space outside the official proceedings with delegates and votes and state delegation breakfast meetings, where a melange of media and tech companies hold policy briefings, interact with convention VIPs, and underwrite after-hours parties. The shadow convention with its corporate stalwarts got fairly innovative in comparison to the convention proper.


Here’s a rundown of some innovations I saw:

1. CNN had a “CNN Grill” at the convention, as they typically do at large events like the conventions or SXSW. It serves as a combination working space for staff and full-service restaurant. Because you need a special pass to even get into the CNN Grill for one day, it’s a popular place to hang out. But CNN was also using social technology in the midst of all the hamburgers and beer. Deploying Skype, they created what they call Delegate Cam, and enabled people following from home to be able to talk to their delegate representative casting their vote inside the security perimeter.

2. Time partnered up with social location service and fellow New York-based company Foursquare on an interactive map that helped conventioneers find each other. I asked Time about why they thought this was an interesting experiment to deploy in Tampa. Time.com managing editor Catherine Sharick told me, “Time partnered with FourSquare for the political conventions in order to help solve a common problem: Where are people and what is happening?” Writing elsewhere, I gave it a “B” for usefulness (if I know where Time writer Mark Halpirin is, what exactly should I do with that information?), but an “A” for creativity.

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3. Mobile short video service Tout collaborated with the Wall Street Journal to launch WSJ Worldstream, an effort by more than 2,000 global reporters who post vetted real-time videos from a special Tout iPhone app. The new video channel was launched in conjunction with the RNC. Reporters posted video interviews with delegates, protesters, and so on. Some of the videos will also be incorporated within longer online written pieces.

4. Microsoft (my employer), for its part, allowed me to use Pinterest to post real-time photos of the behind-the-scenes efforts of my colleagues. That included powering the IT infrastructure of the convention, conducting cyber-security monitoring, running Skype Studios for media and VIPs to conduct HD video interviews, and live-streaming the event on Xbox Live. Interestingly, Pinterest as far as I can tell, was not a popular medium during the GOP convention. I’m not sure if that’s significant, but I couldn’t easily find many pins from the convention.

Toward the end of the convention, social media watchers knew that the Republicans had a success by the numbers — millions of tweets and countless uses of the hashtags, photos uploaded, YouTube views of individual speeches, etc. But that’s expected now. One thing that was missing? A truly creative use of social media that involved more wittiness than brute force.

One Clever Tweet

There were a couple of clever uses of social media by a prominent politician during the Republican convention. That politician just happens to be a Democrat by the name of Barack Obama.

The most popular tweet during the Republican National Convention wasn’t tweeted by a Republican. In a reference to the now-infamous Clint Eastwood “talking to an empty chair” speech, Obama’s account tweeted three simple words: “This chair’s taken.” It was retweeted more than 50,000 times and favorited more than 20,000 times. More importantly, it’s smart, it’s art, and it’s memorable.

Obama also hopped on the somewhat-edgy, somewhat-underground “front page of the Internet” Reddit to do something Redditors (as they’re dubbed) call “Ask Me Anything.” In a half-hour chat, the president took on all comers in a broad Q&A.

Heading into the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., I’m curious to see how it compares. I’ll be Pinteresting, CNN will be Skyping while they’re grilling, and the WSJ will be posting short videos. What’ll be the surprise there, if anything?

Mark Drapeau is the the director of innovative engagement for Microsoft’s public and civic sector business headquartered in D.C. He tweets @cheeky_geeky.

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The Five Features I Wish Twitter Would Give Me

This post was originally published on Huffington Post Tech on July 19, 2012. Two years later, Twitter has gone public, but I’m still waiting for most of these features.

After six years or so, Twitter hasn’t changed much.

The core user experience of Twitter was, and is, the following: Put cursor in box, type 140 characters or less, push send. It’s a brief way of expressing yourself.

Sure, there have been some innovations. But the really great stuff everyone commonly knows about was invented by users, not by the company:

  1. The origin of replies using the format @[username] came about through experimentation by users working for Yahoo in the UK during late 2006.
  2. Hashtags on Twitter were invented by Chris Messina in late 2007.
  3. URL shortening (which was necessary to stay within 140 character limits) actually predates Twitter by a few years, and got a huge boost because of it (think: TinyURL and Bit.ly).

It’s true that one can do more sophisticated things with Twitter, but for most users, this is what they use and see, whether they fill in the Twitter box on a desktop, a tablet, or a phone. You can even tweet via text messages.

This simplicity is a blessing and a curse. Typing @[username] might make sense to some people, but it’s kinda nerdy. The concept of hashtagging your comment about a TV show with metadata may or may not go completely mainstream. It works, but it’s kind of like using DOS. It was great when it came out, but the desktop platform evolved. Where’s the “Windows” evolution of my real-time information platform?

Twitter is in the process of defining themselves as a company. It seems to the outside world that they want to monetize themselves mainly through advertising, a choice that may run counter to providing the best features for users and incentives for a robust developer ecosystem. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Unlike Facebook, which seemingly launches a new feature or tweak every week or so, and Tumblr and Pinterest, which are extremely simple, visual, and user-friendly, Twitter’s changes over the years have not made me feel more powerful, reach more people, understand more information, and get more done. And I say this as a huge fan of Twitter who’s tweeted about 10 times a day consistently for the last four years or so.

I’d like some new features. They’re not even that complicated. But they are user-centric and along the lines of what a more “open” Twitter information ecosystem would look like.

As a long-time, frequent “customer” of Twitter, here are the five features I wish Twitter would give me:

1. Make 100% of my tweets, dating back to my first one regardless of when I started, easily available, searchable, and exportable in multiple formats. (This is too geeky.)

2. Give me a simple but powerful analytics tool so I can better understand things like day of week I tweet most, who retweets me the most, who my influential followers are, click through rates on my links, and so on. I would be happy to pay a monthly fee for this. (Seems like this is coming someday, but I have no idea when.)

3. Allow me to do anything I want with accounts I’m following or who follow me: mass unfollowing, sorting, exporting, and other things to understand my personal Twitter community. (It shouldn’t be this hard.)

4. Provide me with a consistent, fully functional user experience across all form factors and operating systems. It’s not uncommon for someone to use, say, a Windows 7 PC, an iPad, and a Blackberry in the same day. (The experience is currently inconsistent.)

5. I would like to see more speed and more visual options to help me look at real-time streams, follow multiple hashtags or people at once, set tweets in different layouts, and other things. (TweetGrid has been doing a lot of this for years, for free; I use it all the time.)

I have one final request.

It isn’t a feature, but in some ways it’s more important than anything I wrote above. As a regular, consistent Twitter user for years, I’d like a clear mission statement from the company, and technology that reflects it. According to their website, Twitter is:

a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting. Simply find the accounts you find most compelling and follow the conversations.

I think that’s great. Help me do it better, Twitter.

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Microblogging Needs to Be Decentralized and Reliable

This post was originally published on Huffington Post Tech on January 20, 2010.

This morning I woke up to find that Twitter was down. The website tells you in a really cute way, with a little “fail whale” – it’s so sweet. But why is this lack of reliability tolerated by governments, large corporations, emergency workers, and other serious people?

Mashable.com reports that the best theory for the downtime was a deluge of tweets caused by a second Haiti earthquake. A second earthquake in Haiti? No offense to Haiti, that is a horrible situation, but imagine if we had a really, really serious situation (say, the Pentagon the Golden Gate Bridge get hit by drones controlled by terrorists) – could you rely on Twitter?

I’m still surprised that no serious competitor to Twitter has emerged. Sure, companies like Google or Microsoft, or others, could just buy it, but they’d be purchasing an unreliable product with questionable customer service and a cute children’s language and a steep learning curve.

Where’s the competitive product for 50 year old insurance salesmen? For UN relief workers?

Sure, Twitter could improve. I use it. I don’t really want to see them fail. But if, as they claim, they want to make it “communications infrastructure” (a lofty goal to think they will be the next AT&T), then it needs to be decentralized and partially redundant. Email doesn’t just “go down” and neither does RSS. People like Dave Winer can write much better about this than I can, but here’s one brief post by entrepreneur Andrew Baron about decentralizing Twitter for you.

Two years ago, when I first started using Twitter to study its use for the government, I thought that it was a great new tool which was potentially useful for unified communications in a crisis. Two years later, little has changed. It’s useful when it works.

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Watching the Retweeted Get Retweeted-er

This post was originally published on O’Reilly Radar and Mediaite on November 23, 2009.

When Twitter decided to slowly roll out a new, official retweeting feature, people waited in anticipation. When they let their users know what it might look like, people debated whether that was the right way to deploy it. When it actually became available, people almost universally disliked it.

But my post is about why I love the new Twitter retweet feature, without ever having to think about it. The reason is that official retweeting represents the new-new arms race for authority among power users. The new-new arms race, you say? Yes, because the new arms race was to get on as many lists as possible, with the most-followed lists having a special significance.

The new-new arms race is the race to get officially retweeted the most. The idea is that in a sea of boring or useless or narrow-topic tweets, people who have “authority” will get retweeted the most. And finally, Twitter has built its own system for keeping track of that – officially. Think of that silly “RT” thing that users generated as a wristwatch at a track meet; Twitter operates the official Rolex timeclock.

Getting officially retweeted has two huge benefits for users that disproportionately benefit the already popular. One, the already popular gain even more authority that will enable their profiles or tweets to be featured, for example, higher in Google and Bing search results. Two, their profile link, photo, and original tweet appear in other people’s tweet streams, even if those people don’t follow the already very popular person.

Both of these have the potential to drive a tremendous amount of traffic to a person’s Twitter account, and the people with the most official retweets will become recommended-users-list version 2.0, I believe (see the ninth paragraph of this story). With all the hub-bub about advertising within one’s Twitter stream, driving traffiic is becoming more important to more users than ever before. Who isn’t tempted to sign up to push one ad a day and make $30,000 per month in bonus cash?

But not everyone will make $30,000 or $3,000 or even $300 a month. The official retweet system tends to disproportionately favor the already-massively popular. Their authority, already very high, will only become higher relative to that of the average user. To modify the common saying, the common person will watch the retweeted will get retweeted-er.

Not sure if you are part of the retweeted-er class? It’s easy to find out. Go to your account on Twitter.com, click the “Retweets” tab, then click on the “Your tweets, retweeted” tab. Is almost every single one of your original tweets in there? Didn’t even realize that was happening? Welcome to the club.

Of course, it’s not really the fault of the massively popular Twitter users (I don’t think Twitter consulted many of them before creating this feature), so don’t blame them for trading in on their fame. The petit-bourgeois wealth of authority no doubt creates opportunities for the working-class Twitter users, under the theory of trickle-down tweetonomics. The real question is, will Twitter’s proletariat class stand by and watch this happen, or form an uprising?

Addendum: Shortly after I wrote this I came across a Valleywag post with a similar theme.

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. Reprinted from O’Reilly Radar.

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What You Should Read About Monetizing Your Tweetstream

There’s been a lot of discussion about the authority of Twitter users, and how users with many followers, or authority, or subject-matter expertise, might monetize their tweetstream via inserting paid advertisements. Here are the most important articles I’ve seen about this debate. I recommend reading them in the order below.

The New York Times has a piece that makes it sound cool and neat-o.

Paul Carr has a piece at TechCrunch that makes it sound like the end of civilization.

A venture capitalist investor in one of the services wrote a piece defending the idea.

Robert Scoble crunches some numbers and writes a good piece that digs deeper.

Finally, read this piece about the hypothetical SuperTweet with a “metadata payload.”

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Tweetup: The Term Is Played Out

Do you know what a “tweetup” is? If you don’t, trust me, that’s okay. Don’t bother learning it. The term is already played out.

A tweetup is a meet up that is planned on Twitter, or at least it’s supposed to be. At first it was a cool, insider thing. Now it’s an uncool, wannabe thing.

In 2009, I was invited to “tweetups” in person, on EventBrite, on Facebook, by email, and by e-newsletter. Guess what – that’s a meet up, not a tweetup, folks.

Just because you use Twitter and are having a gathering of people who may happen to use it to does not mean you’ve having a tweetup. Just call it a happy hour, or a fundraiser, or a gathering, or a salon, or just a bunch of techies having drinks. Stop calling it a tweetup. The word has become meaningless.

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Don’t Understand New Media? Maybe You’re Not Old-Fashioned Enough

Yesterday I wrote a post contrasting Twitter with the ancient honeybee “waggle dance” that is used by a single forager bee to signal where food resources are located to the hive. It was my little metaphor to explain the larger point that the instinct to tell a group of people that a cafe you got to first doesn’t have wi-fi, or that the line at the nightclub is too long so we should rendezvous somewhere else is an ancient as, well, humans. Sure, cavemen applied it differently (probably more like bees – “Big. Animals. There.”) but it’s the same instinct.

Well, a newcomer to the Government 2.0 space, Strategic Social (who I am an advisor to as they are “leveraging the social web for national security”), is actually studying this notion more formally. In a recent post on their website, they outline a new project in which they will study online “tribes” of people in combination with anthropology studies in South America and Africa. I wholeheartedly believe in their approach:

“The key to understanding the power of Web 2.0 communication tools is the application of an anthropological approach. Strategic Social firmly believes that social media represents just one more arena in which we can conduct field research.”

New media is not about “new” and not really about “media” either (see Gary Vaynerchuk’s vlog on the latter point here). It’s about behavioral communications, instincts that pre-date man. As a behavioral neurogeneticist I studied some genes that are very similar in insects and man, and indeed virtually all animals, that similarly affect behavior instincts. This stuff is old-fashioned.

What is new is the shiny objects in the so-called “TGIF Revolution” (Twitter, Google, Internet, Facebook). Yes, the tools are new. They are exciting. But what we do with them is not.

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Don’t Thank Your Famous Fans

Frequently, when I start following a new blog or Twitter account, I get a note that says something like, “Thanks so much for following me! I’ve read your stuff for a while and I love it – look forward to chatting!!”

That’s flattering, but truly unnecessary. The fact is, I (and I suspect that this is true among many others) don’t follow you because we want to chat, or because we want to boost your ego. I follow something you’re doing because you have information and I want it.

It’s as simple as that. I think that your blog might help me learn, I think that your Facebook page may have interesting events I should know about, I think that your Twitter feed may have local news before someone else’s, I think that your YouTube channel will make me laugh. You see, it’s all about me. I think, I want, I need.

People are selfish. They do things that benefit them. Now sure, I become friends with people I interact with on the Web, and sure, I chat with people, and sure, I can be generous to them. But there’s no need to thank me. I’ve already rewarded me by following you.

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The Latest Twitter Charity-For-Followers Scam

Ben Parr, a co-editor of Mashable, tonight became the latest in a series of indistinguished charity-for-followers scam artists on Twitter. Here’s a recent tweet of his:

“I’ve decided that I’m going to donate 10,000 pennies ($100) to charity, one chosen by whoever is my 10,000th follower.”

This charity scam is disingenuous for three reasons. First, why develop a person marketing campaign in order to get $100 into a charity’s hands? Give privately and thoughtfully like so many others. There’s no useful need to advertise. Second, why benefit personally? The notion of not giving $100 to charity without getting something (followers) in return is selfish. Why not just give money to the best crowdsourced charity idea from current followers?

Third, why not get others involved? Rather than follow Ben Parr, why not have them follow the benefiting charity? Then, money is given and new followers are involved in the charity’s story – not Ben Parr’s. Selfish social scams suck. And there are enough bad actors giving social media tools a bad name without getting charities all wrapped up in a nice story that amounts to just another way to inflate influence scores. People may argue that this is just hunky-dory – at least a charity is getting money! – but style points count too. Ben Parr and your social media charity scam brethren: Get off the charity runway.

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