Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

The Problem with Instant News, starring Osama bin Laden

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Do you know how many tweets have gone out about Osama bin Laden since his death, roughly 30 hours ago?

I’m going to go ahead and peg that number close to 100 million. Why? Because Twitter counted an average of 3440 tweets mentioning Osama per second for nearly 2 hours straight (source). That’s over 24 million on its own.

Everyone is a News Agency

Networks like Twitter (and Facebook, and YouTube, and Tumblr) are a great way for content to spread. Add to that their ubiquity, along with the growing popularity of smartphones and near-constant internet access. In short: it’s never been easier to share a message with twenty-thousand of your closest friends.

A few corollaries here:

  • News spreads quickly online. Instantly, even.
  • Rumours spread just as easily.
  • Bigger news will get more people talking.

When you have all three of these, like Osama, the volume of messages increases exponentially. Partly because so many people care so much about the topic, but also largely due to the economics of scale: the more messages, the more likely some information is false, which causes more messages due to debate, vilification, etc.

Add all this together, and we have tens of millions of people all anxious to share the latest news with their network. And that’s great!

But it’s also really annoying, because we’re all doing it at the same time.

“Latest” and “News” are Ambiguous

The morning after Osama’s death, it probably seemed like breaking news to a lot of people. That was at least twelve hours after the fact, though, so much of the internet had already been talking about it for (digital) ages. Then there’s everyone that found out around lunchtime, or later that evening, along with everyone that won’t find out until later this week.

The problem is that everyone wants to tell someone the second they find out. So they post it! This creates a mess of duplicate information. Social networks, blogs, IM, email; all of them are suddenly and perpetually inundated with a constant stream of updates. All saying the same thing.

Not only is it boring seeing the same few links everywhere you look, but this overdose of useless information also drowns out whatever you were hoping to find from your network in the first place.

Traditional News Outlets are Getting it Right

The key difference between the big players and everyone else is that organizations like CNN can control their updates. This is a refreshing change from the masses. Compare a single voice — providing timely information and only repeating itself when warranted — to the voices of everyone else around you, all yelling the same thing at the same time.

Which would you rather listen to?

This is a rare circumstance where I feel the old-fashioned news networks are nailing it, and us hipsters with our Twitters have a lot to learn.

What can we take away from this for next time?

All I Want for Christmas is a Mute Button

Monday, December 20th, 2010

…for Twitter.

Look, it’s not you. I like reading your updates, I always open your links, and I care about your coffee habits and your drive in this morning (I really do). But sometimes I just wish I could turn down the volume of messages that are flooding my stream, you know? Not all of them — I’m not saying I need a button to keep me away from Twitter — I just need some way to selectively parse out the noise.

How Things are Now

Suppose there’s a high-profile basketball game on, and I don’t really care for basketball. What do I do when a quarter of the tweets coming down the pipe are from passionate basketball fans? Well, I have three lame options:

  1. I can do nothing, and put up with the fact that one in four tweets I read will be nothing but a nuisance.
  2. I can unfollow everyone that talks about basketball, then follow them back later, and hope I don’t forget anyone.
  3. I can turn off Twitter.

Which of those solutions is best? Well, they all kind of suck. Doing nothing is the most annoying of the bunch. How useful is Twitter when the noise-to-signal is that high? Not very. I don’t want to have to work to see those tweets.

Number two would solve my problem somewhat elegantly, if I could script it and if those that tweeted about basketball were consistent. But of course they rarely are: sometimes their tweets will be about basketball, and sometimes they’ll be about incredible statistics. Ideally, I want to keep the awesome videos and lose the stuff about point-guards.

Our third option requires the least effort. Which do you think I choose most often?

How Things Could Be

I want mute options. Lots of them. I want to be able to mute people I follow, I want to be able to mute by hashtag, and even by keyword. I want to be able to toggle mutes as I please, mute for specific amounts of time, and save my common mutes in a mute-friendly screen. For muture mutings.

Let’s get back to our basketball example. If I know some blogger I adore is a Cavs fan, I want to be able to mute him for a couple of hours when the Heat roll into town. Furthermore, I want to mute a few keywords, so that I don’t get hassled by anything containing the words “Lebron James”. And maybe also a few tags; #miamiheat, #basketball, that sort of thing. Basically, I want to define a few basic conditions to filter my stream so that it has more meaning to me.

How We can Get There

While it would be great to see Twitter implement this functionality, who knows what their priorities are like. The good news is that third-party clients can handle this themselves. And how hard can it really be? Before displaying a tweet, check it against a few simple conditions. I could probably hack that together myself. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s already a client out there that allows me this privilege (is there?).

(And if not, maybe there will be soon? Please?)

The Content-Sharing Problem

Monday, May 24th, 2010

The rise of ubiquitous social networks has lead to a choice I often have to make: When I find something cool online, where do I share that content?

In the pre-MySpace days, when social networks weren’t really a “thing”, the decision was easy because there were only a small handful of choices: you instant messaged or emailed it to a few close friends, or if you were “that guy”, you forwarded it to everyone you knew. Fast-forward to today. If I find a cool link, I have all kinds of options:

  • Tweet it.
  • Share it in Google Reader.
  • Share it on Facebook.
  • Link to it on Yammer.
  • Post it on LinkedIn.
  • Send someone a private message through any of the above services.
  • Blog about it.
  • etc.

Which do I choose? If I only post the link in one place, I’m only reaching a subset of my total audience. But if I post the link in several places, I’m guaranteed to spam a few users multiple times. This dilemma is what I call the content-sharing problem.

My solution so far kind of sucks.

What I do right now is painstakingly case-by-case. If it’s particularly techie, it goes to one of the more techie networks: generally for something short and easy to digest, that’s Twitter, and for something longer, Google Reader. The idea here is that I want to match the content I’m sharing with other pieces in my friends’ feeds that are about the same length.

If it’s not techie at all, I’ll usually involve Facebook. Facebook is the venue that has the least overlap with any other network, and since I can post it on a specific friend’s wall, I can target that audience even more deftly. Since there’s unlikely to be much overlap, I’ll often share this again on Twitter or Google Reader, especially since they’re public and more persistent.

If it’s something work-oriented, that’s where LinkedIn and Yammer become more attractive. Unfortunately, these areas tend to have a huge divide in that many of my Twitter/Google Reader followers are also connections on LinkedIn/Yammer, and many are not. This is the most problematic situation, because I either don’t reach several people I care about or show a similar subset of people the same link twice.

I could go on, but you get the idea — it’s a mess. It’s case-by-case, and it’s probably NP-complete. It’s killing me.

Is there a better way?

So far, I can’t think of one. Even convincing everyone I know to follow me on one monolithic feed isn’t ideal, because with so many diverse people in one venue, my signal-to-noise would be different and probably pretty weak for each individual contact.

I’m grasping at straws here. Is there a technological solution to this that I could be using? Are there content-sharing etiquette rules that I should be aware of? Am I simply trying to be in too many places at once?

What do you do? I’m dying to know.

How to Promote a Mall in the Year 2010

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

There’s a mall near my apartment called Billings Bridge. It’s a pretty nice place with a nice variety of stores, and up until about six months ago that’s all I would have had to say about it. But six months ago I started following their marketing director on Twitter, and since then I’ve come to the conclusion that Billings Bridge is a great case study for how to promote a mall in the year 2010. Here’s a look at some of the awesome things they’ve done since I started noticing them in December 2009:

Give-aways just in time for Christmas.

I found Billings Bridge on Twitter after reading the tenth or eleventh tweet about how they were giving away extra products they had lying around to their Facebook fans and Twitter followers. I know first-hand how awesome it was for them to do this, because I won an iPod Touch. On December 23rd. (That’s two days before Christmas.) So for the next three weeks, whenever anyone asked my girlfriend (now fiancée) what I got her for Christmas, she’d have this great story about how because Billings Bridge is super-generous and using modern communication channels that are easy to follow, they gave this to me so that I could give it to her.

There are probably about fifty other stories like this, plus all those tweets, and now at least one blog post. Word of mouth sells.

$50 for every 50 fans.

I don’t know when they started doing this or when they’re planning to stop, but every time Billings Bridge gets fifty new fans “likes” on Facebook, they give a $50 gift-certificate to one of their.. likers? (What do you call people that like things now? I miss fans.) This is brilliant because the sooner they get another fifty “likes”, the sooner they’ll give away another gift-certificate. This means that they have a steady stream of excited new mall-enthusiasts, in a very powerful social networking environment, constantly trying to get their friends and acquaintances to pay attention to that mall that gives stuff away. Motivate people to say something nice in a conduit for viral messages, and you’re going to get a lot of attention for your brand. Textbook smart marketing.

Sex and the City month.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets about various fun things Billings Bridge is doing related to that new Sex and the City movie that’s coming out soon — things like that trip-for-four to NYC that they’re raffling off at the end of May. This is a fantastic topic to promote around, because it’s a movie that glorifies shopping. It allows them to catch interest through the popularity of a trendy, upcoming film, and convert on that interest because the film is about shopping. People that like to shop probably like the movie, so bringing them into the mall is obviously a good idea. Simple. Genius.

This is how every mall should run promotions. I’m sick of billboards and radio advertisements — I ignore them. If you want my interest, meet me halfway and spend time where I spend time. Give me incentives to pay attention to you, and better yet, incentives for me to get other people to pay attention as well. Try new things with new tools, and create a feedback loop so that I can tell you what works and what doesn’t. It’s working for Billings Bridge.

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Oh, and did I mention that they’re giving away an iPad when they hit 2010 “likes” on Facebook? Because they’re about halfway there, and if you could “like” them too, and then tell a few friends, that would get us both a bit closer…

We Live in a Communication Age

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Suppose the year is 1990, and you have some big news to share with those close to you and the world in general. How can you do it? There are a few ways:

  • In person
  • Over the phone
  • In a mailed letter
  • Through a printed announcement (say, in a newspaper)

Fast forward to today, a mere 20 years later. How much has changed? In addition to the ways mentioned above, look at all the new tools we have:

  • Voice chat (Skype, Google Voice)
  • Video conference (Skype, iChat)
  • Instant message (from any number of clients)
  • Text message (or MMS)
  • Email
  • Facebook (status update, wall post, private message)
  • Twitter (tweet, @someone, DM)
  • Blog post

And this is just what I used on Monday; there are many others. We’re more connected than ever before. We can reach more people, faster, through whatever means is convenient for them, and the list of applicable technologies just keeps growing. It’s incredible!

A brief take-away

Monday reminded me how many tools there are for spreading messages that I don’t normally use, and made me realize that sometimes I have to look outside of my usual channels to reach people in a way that is most effective to them. I’m sure there are other things I will think of over the next little while that I can communicate more efficiently using tools other than my defaults; perhaps the same is true for you?