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Useful stuff on Twitter

Whoever said Twitter was boring?  Yes, the “I’m bored” or “I’m having porridge for dinner” is boring.  And three mentions of the word Boring (or variations of the word Boring) in the first two lines of this post is boring.

Before you lose interest, Twitter is really useful source of interesting resources. Here’s what I’ve found in just three minutes of flicking through the musings of my followings:

Now I’ve a huge list of tabs open on the screen – and I promised myself I wouldn’t do that anymore.

Twitter is just too good.

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What Twitterers are tweeting about

Some people flatly refuse to tweet because it’s boring.  Yes, it is boring to read “I’m going home now” or “having chicken for dinner”.  But a flick through the tweets of those I’m following reveals some interesting stuff indeed.  People really post about interesting things. Here’s a selection:

  • Interview with Mark Zuckerberg:  he’s big into integration, single sign-ons with Facebook at the centre of things.
  • 40 people who changed the internet: the list is predominantly male and American.  There is a grand total of 1 woman in the entire list.
  • Review of Kevin Kelly’s new book: the reviewer isn’t hugely positive but yet manages to create a curiosity about the book. It sounds like an in-depth philosophical view of the technology-driven world. Example: “technology is an emerging state of cosmic reality” – that calls for some pondering.
  • Social consumers and social marketing:  I started off my professional life in marketing (in the pre-internet world). It  didn’t last long. The whole thing felt like a combination of paper-pushing and how-to-get-suckers-to-part-with-their-money. Now, it’s all changed and internet-marketing is one of my more enjoyable subjects to engage in with students.  Social Currency is more than just a concept. Brands mean something to customers, and customers are in charge of the transaction
  • If third level education costs more, should third level education then be shorter in duration? – I don’t agree. But this is exactly what is being speculated on in the UK. College is as much about personal development as it is about learning the content of a particular domain.  I’ve always been fascinated by how students change and mature between their first year and their third year. I don’t  see the same gains being made in 2 years. In terms of the academic learning, I wonder if a 2-year degree is more about the dreaded, and ultimately wasted, “cramming” as it is about immersion in a subject to the extent that a deeper understanding is achieved, even if some domain facts become blurry with time.
  • If I were a rich woman would I live here? – in fairness, it’s a plush location close to all amenities, but think of the traffic and the pollution. I do like the floorplan and the reclining statue at the bottom of the bed. The bed in the bathroom (or the bath in the bedroom) I’m not so sure about.
  • John Seely Brown’s “The Power of Pull” – I’m ashamed to say I purchased this some time back and still not have got around to reading it.  There are simply too many good books screaming read-me-read-me.  The line “If I aint learning, it aint fun” caught my attention.
  • The top 10 social networking sites and forums: Surprise surprise, Facebook is way above and beyond the most popular. Why don’t I know more about Mocospace and Mylife?  Am I missing something?
  • The Times Higher Ed claim to have a preview of the Hunt report: and its unsurprisingly not pretty in places and rather intriguing in others: the general feeling seems to be that it lacks a sound academic base and anything build on sand tends to be blown apart quite easily. So far so uh-oh.

Tweeting for the movies

The year before last I had the privilege of supervising a master’s dissertation on how web-based social media “buzz” can predict how well movie releases fare at the cinema. It was an interesting project and in the limited search, analysis and time allowable for a master’s dissertation, the study proved that a significant correlation exists.

In narrowing down the list of social media tools to analyse, Twitter was placed on rejected pile.  Little did either of us predict the success that micro-blogging would progress to.

Now, some researchers at Hewlett Packard really have taken Twitter to the movies. Read all about it here. They have taken it on themselves to study 3 million tweets, much more than any master’s study could lend to.  The key finding is that Twitter banter can very closely predict the box office success of a movie even before it opens at the cinemas.

The researchers used “sentiment” analysis and a series of algorithms trained on Amazon’s “mechanical turk” to decide if a tweet was positive, negative or neutral.  The proportion of positive, negative or neutrals over time in the lead-up to a movie release reveals a lot.

The study reveals how powerful the collectivism facilitated by online social media can be. Online word-of-mouth can have profound ripple effects that have a very wide reach. Getting people talking online is increasingly a way of generating buzz about a product of service.  Be warned, however, the buzz could be negative.  On the other hand, the expression ‘all publicity is good publicity’ comes to mind.

Online social media and their associated UGC (that’s User-Generated-Content, not the cinema chain) have provided an extensive collective intelligence. Tapping into and analysing it is the challenging and fun part. Twitter-for-the-movies is a really good example of this challenging fun.

What it says in the Comments…. about twitter

My curiosity is piqued when I see a list of comments that takes up 8 times the length of the blog post they relate to. For one blog post, there were 80 comments. This mean that for one opinion, there were 80 other corresponding opinions. The power of the blog is alive and well in all its glory as a 2-way stream of opinions.

To be more specific, the power of Twitter is alive and well, at least with some.

The blog posting referred to Twitter’s low audience retention rate. Statistics given demonstrate that, even with a boost from the highly influential Oprah Winfrey, 6 out of 10 twits “do not return the following month”. This puts Twitter well below Face book and MySpace in this regard.

But the real power, and the most interesting reactions came from the comments and their authors. I’m honestly not sure what I’m more impressed with –  the ability of a blog post to generate 8 times its own volume in comments thereby saying something very interesting about the blog as a medium of communication, or the contents of those comments.

Starting with the contents, here’s what I learned (with apologies if I have mis-interpeted anything) –

  • Twitter is all about narcissism
  • Once certain celebs emphasise it, its coolness quotient drops dramatically among other people
  • Twitter users get out what twitter users put in
  • Those who use it seems happy with it and will likely remain so until something better comes along
  • Becoming a twit requires times and investment
  • Random babble, or questionable facts and opinions or discovery of new people and facts and views, or/and keeping up to date
  • Trivialises the meaning of ‘friends’.
  • Emphasises society’s pressure for more – more friends, more followers, more brownie points, etc
  • Twitter is useful for following those you don’t know, as opposed to Facebook’s “friends” concept
  • Facebook is a richer app than Twitter for talking to customers
  • Twitter might just do one thing, but it does it very very well
  • Twitter is about only one thing “Status Updates”, a feature that is merely one of many in MySpace and Facebook. Has twitter taken a step back in this regard?
  • Updates on Facebook may or may not be read by friends, Twitter is much better at reaching out
  • Twitter is the opposite of Facebook in that it is high frequency but short bursts of engagement
  • Comparing Twitter and Myspace is like comparing apples and oranges
  • Re-tweets on Twitter get the ball rolling in a way limited by Facebook – the viral effect
  • Twit searches are real-time, not indexed like in Google
  • A form of social currency
  • Being “followed” is oddly amusing but meaningless
  • There is no manual for Twitter because it is different for everyone
  • Blogging  is a way of sharing short and well formed thoughts, Twitter is a way of sharing tiny ill-formed thoughts
  • Interface that’s easy to use, but the value behind it is more challenging to figure out
  • Posting for posting sake
  • and finally, and arguably the one that brings it all together…. Twitter is merely a shift in how we gather and share what we know, think and wonder about

Nielsen were so impressed with the reaction they were quick to satisfy many commenter’s curiosity, and pointed out that they included both traffic directly on twitters website and 30 sites that feed to twitter.

Look how much I’ve learned about twits and their opinions (good, bad, and indifferent) about twitter from one short blog post. If that doesn’t demonstrate the power of the blog I don’t know what would.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m off to a rugby match that I will be watching and enjoying i.e. not distracting myself from it by tweeting about it

More on twits and tweets and their uses

I’m feeling a tad guilty for not being a more active twit. I’m not entirely sure why I’m feeling this way. I’m equally not sure who or what is making me feel this way. To figure out the answers to those questions I’ve been looking at some uses twitter is being put to, and what might be good / bad / indifferent about them.

Here’s one that caught my eye about live tweeting by doctors performing a live surgery.  How is this any different than the more common practice of videoing the procedure and then placing it somewhere (online?) accessible to the med students, potential med students, etc, etc, who might be interested?  Answer – the fact that it is live.  What does that add – a buzz factor, a sense of immediacy.  Are either of those needed?

In my humble opinion, medical procedures are too personal and too serious for something as casual and trivial as a buzz factor. Even the most common and apparently straight-forward of operations can go wrong.  This is a human being that is being operated on. Does the world need to know all the details that should be the preserve of that patient and their immediate nearest-and-dearest. The same thinking applies to the immediacy factor. A live commentary might cut down on the worry for the loved ones of the person being operated on, but why might anyone else be in a rush to know about the fate of the patient.

It seems to me that the twitterbug is the latest in an evolution of social networking tools. There are now a lot of these tools available and those that take off typicallyvhave something unique to offer.  For twitter it is the sense of short bursts of real-time here-and-now. It’s being used in a variety of scenarios. The hospital one quoted above I don’t agree with (but thats just me, perhaps otherw would disagree). Immediate on-the-ground reactions to a plane crash before the ‘official’ press can literally get to the scene is a much better use.

But who am I to say what should be used for what. For me, the most interesting thing about such web 2.0 tools is that many of them are out there in the public domain and so its up to the public what use they use them for. Sitting back and seeing what people make of them is a social experiment in its own right.

Terms of endearment

Time was to call someone a twit was a grave insult indeed. Some examples –

But life changes. Now, to be referred to as a twit is most flattering indeed. It indicates that you are a member of Twitter – a social networking / micro blogging service that enables members to ‘tweet’ i.e. send and read short message updates from each other.

So, are you a twit?

John Collins in yesterdays Irish Times suggests that tweeting has moved into mainstream.  I’m not so sure. I’ve got a twitter account but very few of my friends / acquaintances tweet. The alternative is to start ‘following’ new people. The problem with that is simple lack of time.My loss!

Yet, I can see the advantage of live tweeting providing live commentary about a particular event as it’s unfolding.  Apparently, the Israeli government have done a live q & a using twitter. Much of the recent Mumbai bombings were gathered through tweets from people on the ground. Politicians and celebrities seem to be effective twits. But do I care if @jane is heading off to the hairdressers for an hour?  It’s just too micro. Ok, if I was supposed to be meeting Jane and she was held up at the hairdressers…….. On the other hand, she could just send me a quick text.  Yes, I’m aware that this type of thinking could have branded with the original definition of ‘twit’ by modern twitters everywhere.

Apparently, the commercial organisation behind twitter has yet to make a profit, despite having an approximate 6 million members. The twitter management team seem content to let its community of users dictate where the service and the technology should go. From a business perspective that is particularly interesting and I for one am curious as to how it unfolds. The technology is not much more than 2 years old and already has numerous spinoffs. An interesting one (that’s free!) for those interested in internet marketing, allows organisations to monitor what their customers are saying about them.  Can twitter feasibly continue to evolve like this?  Will the big guns (i.e. Google!) not be interested in a buy-out at some point in the near future?

Whatever happens, one thing is sure. To be labelled a twit has changed all meaning. Next time, someone talks about tweeting, just remember that they might not be referring to our feathered friends and the coming of spring.

Celebrity endorsements….

… are usually cringe-inducing. Think Andie McDowell telling you about cream to make your skin look younger, a whole range of sports personalities telling you that Nike are the biz, James Bond sporting a designer wristwatch, perfect-skinned actresses and models telling you on behalf of L’oreal that you’re worth it, etc, etc.

A possible reason is the lack of authenticity. I’m not a hairdresser and I struggle to do the vanity thing. Result, all the L’oreal in the world isn’t going to turn my hair into that of a Desperate Housewife (or equivalent).

But every now and again, a celebrity endorsement comes along that the celebrity isn’t paid a penny for. They are barely aware of their endorsement. They are doing what comes naturally, using products because they want to  and because those products are useful to them in aome way.

A perfect example is Stephen Fry’s use of the more social of web 2.0 social technology. Read all about it here. The interview is informative and worth a read. Here are a few insights that struck me –

  • He tweets because he wants to. He has 103,000 followers. On the one hand this makes him one of the worlds more popular twits (have I got the lingo correct?). But on the other hand, the personal touch is lost. How can he keep in touch with everyone.  What depth of communication is taking place. Or have I got it all wrong? I should be taking it for what it is – a micro low level of conversation but yet allows much to be said between participants.
  • Journalists don’t have as powerful a role any more. Celebrities can get in more direct contact with their fans and cut out the intermediary as it were.
  • To be truly real, the internet needs its red light district or equivalent. It has to have the good and bad and everything in between. Without them it is a poorer experience.
  • The absurdity of snobbishness gets a look in. E.g. if your email address is hotmail as opposed to a customised domain then you might not be taken so seriously. Yet, the “on the internet, no-one knows you’re a dog” idea comes into being. On line no-one knows if you are black or white, young or old, tall or short, male or female, etc.
  • Very interesting take on the disemvowelment of texting. Its nothing new. Back in the olden times when paper and ink were precious, abbreviations were common. Every part of that expensive page had to be used, and so ‘yours’ became ‘yrs’.
  • No-one is chucking their books in the bin just because they’ve invested in a computer. The 2 can exist side-by-side. Ok, I’m not so sure of this one. What about that electronic book reader that I keep talking about? Of course, the fact that I don’t have one (as yet) speaks volumes.
  • I love his idea of half-expecting to see wavy red and green lines under words mis-spelt in printed text. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to take the head out of the computer for a little while.
  • Time is truly moving on. The average web surfer now has more information and power at their fingertips than legions of kings and queens in previous centuries. Of course, what we do with and how we use this easily obtained wealth of information is another questions altogether.
  • The web and its treasure-trove of information can be archived for the enjoyment of future generations.

Stephen Fry – what a guy. Much more than an actor and a quiz-show host.