Tag Archives: Twitter

url-shortener

URL shorteners: less is… less

Twitter - adding hurdles to IT I’ve been intrigued by the whole URL shortener explosion. Every man and his network has a shortener these days :-).

Although they’ve been around for years (tinyurl for example), the reason for the rise in popularity is undoubtedly Twitter with its need for brevity. So much so that some are getting funding in the millions (see my post on bit.ly a few weeks back for example).

What if Twitter changed?

But I wonder what would happen if Twitter decided to change its 140 character rule. What if they decided to add a new field for a full URL as part of their interface. One that you could enter any length URL into. You’d still be limited to 140 characters for your message, but the full URL could be ‘attached’ at no cost.

Its unlikely to happen of course, since it’d be a departure from their ‘keep it simple’ approach, and there’d also be outcry from all the Twitter clients (but, hey Twitter happily changed their email format without much care for the 3rd parties, so that probably wouldn’t stop them making other changes).

But just consider for a moment if Twitter did make a change like this.

Besides all the visible benefits to users (ie no need to have shorteners, ability to see the URL and make a judgement call about whether you wanted to visit the site, ability for 3rd parties to easily identify popular domains being tweeted about, and the list goes on), there’d also be one less step in most people’s process (although only small, there is bandwidth and latency overhead in having to visit the shortener site and then be redirected).

But then there’s the most interesting part:

What would happen to all the URL shorteners? They’d be rendered obsolete overnight.

Barriers for the sake of barriers

And here’s why I find this whole thing interesting:

One company – Twitter – has effectively put in place a barrier (the 140 character limit).

And now other companies are securing millions in order to overcome the barrier.

The net result to users is unchanged – they can include URLs in their tweets.

But the cost is high (3rd party services, obfuscated URLs, additional bandwidth overheads).

Taking a step back and looking at this, it seems inefficient and counterintuitive.

Far from encouraging efficiency, sometimes I think the Tech industry adds more inefficiency than it cares to acknowledge.

protected

The next Twitter trend – Protected Updates

Twitter protected updatesI’m predicting that Protected Updates are going to be the next big Twitter trend.

Why? Because the mad rush for maximum followers has run its course. And people are now realising that having thousands (or even millions) of followers is next to useless (except of course for the psychological reasons). There’s so much noise these days.

Instead of quantity of followers, people will want to build a quality following…

Pruning season

I’ve spent the last two weeks pruning back most of my social networking connections. Twitter and FriendFeed are easy (since it actually looks better to have more people following you than you follow right? :-) ) but now I’ve started culling friends on Facebook too. Yes, I’m actively trying to have less friends. Why? I’m trying to reduce the noise. I’m after quality and credibility. In relationship terms its about deeper, not wider.

Protected Updates

So, back to Protected Update Twitter streams… why would this be any better? Here’s my thoughts:

  • Firstly, if your stream is protected, then its likely you aren’t just out to garner a huge following. Instead you want a quality following.
  • Second, if you aren’t out to just get as many followers as possible, then chances are you’ll probably avoid all those ‘noisy’ Twitter tactics (linking to stuff for the sake of linking, asking questions you already know the answer to, criticising companies in the hope of getting a re-tweet, etc).
  • Third, and following from the second, you’ll like be interested in building credibility. It’s much better to have a few passionate people reading most of your tweets, than thousands of people very rarely reading anything you have to say.
  • Fourth, it creates exclusivity. Imagine if SMEs (subject matter experts) had special protected feeds in which they dispensed high value content, perhaps breaking news, or special tips, before they released it publicly. And you could follow their protected stream. Wouldn’t you feel privileged?
  • Fifth, it creates value. If you are amongst the exclusive few who are allowed access to a quality twitter stream, then I suspect you’re going to value the content on those streams more.
  • Sixth, it is a monetization strategy. This is actually the main reason I think. If you currently provide membership programs or pay-per-view content (including everything from small business programs through to Wall Street Journal subscriptions) then having a protected Twitter account is another way to offer value to your members. It is a feature they get for being a paid member. Imagine if you are a respected stock analyst with people on your exclusive members only email list. Providing an exclusive Twitter account for them to get immediate insights is the next logical step.

Problems

There’s a few problems to be overcome (eg there’s nothing to stop people simply re-tweeting a protected stream), but they’d get worked out in time (eg the person who re-tweeted the protected stream would likely get blocked).

It’s not about Privacy

You’ll note I haven’t mentioned anything to do with Privacy, since that’s a whole topic in itself.

Summary

Twitter (and social networks in general) have reached a point where their mass broadcast value is diminishing. The signal-to-noise ratio drops further everyday. Quantity of followers is becoming less important. Quality of followers is the aim, and credibility of content is the key.

In terms of Twitter, protecting updates is one strategy whereby acknowledged experts in their field can make their presence more valuable. And once the experts (and then the celebrities start doing it) watch as everyone else follows suit.

follow-friday

The #followfriday Twitter scam

Twitter Retweet sillinessIn the race to drum up a following on Twitter, people are using all kinds of silly tactics. The latest one I’m seeing is the fake #followfriday thank you tweets.

Basically you send an @reply to a bunch of people (that probably don’t even follow you) thanking them for recommending you as part of the #followfriday meme. But the thing is they don’t have a clue who you are, and they certainly didn’t recommend you. Perhaps they don’t even do the whole #followfriday thing.

I’m trying to work out what benefit people are getting from using this method – about the only thing I can think of is that by @replying to people with a thank you, the people being thanked might get engaged into some kind of conversation. Perhaps they’ll even follow in order to see what the scammer is talking about.

So, if I were to employ this silly technique I might tweet something like this:

Thanks for the #followfriday love @oprah @aplusk @barackobama @mrskutcher @britneyspears – much appreciated. You guys rock!

Actually, I probably wouldn’t use people this popular – everyone would know it wasn’t real. Instead I’d choose slightly less popular people, perhaps @guykawasaki or @stephenfry. My best case scenario would be if they responded (perhaps reprimanding me for mis-representing them). All the people following them might come and take a look at me and see what the fuss is about.

And the added bonus: any people who were already following me would see this fake thank you, and possibly re-tweet it to their steam.

When will all this silliness end?

Frustrations with the 60% Twitter Quitter reports

imageI’m getting sick of all the stories that people are writing about this so-called 60% quit rate with Twitter. It’s hit all the news sites by now, and is gaining widespread acceptance. The problem though is that it is unclear what it is based on.

Here’s the grab from the Nielsen blog that reported the ‘findings’:

Currently, more than 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month, or in other words, Twitter’s audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month’s users who come back the following month, is currently about 40 percent. For most of the past 12 months, pre-Oprah, Twitter has languished below 30 percent retention.

That’s it. Absolutely nothing about how they arrived at the 60% number, what dataset it is based on, what timeframe etc. And perhaps most importantly, no indication of whether it applies to all Twitter interactions (including Twitter desktop and mobile clients) or just the twitter.com site traffic. It is estimated that the twitter.com site accounts for only 64% of Twitter interaction.

If you read the comments in the post (71 so far), you’ll see people have been repeatedly asking for this clarification, but Nielsen has failed to provide even a reply.

And If you read Mashable you’ll see this was quickly raised as an issue with the data and they’ve asked for clarification also.

So whilst many news articles have jumped to speculating on the seriousness of this 60% abandonment rate, the real story should be focussing on how Nielsen can publish numbers without even explaining what they mean or how they were arrived at. To me they have zero credibility until they do.

Twitter Revolutions and other nonsense

Twitter caused all this right?Stories like this (Activist Charged for Inciting ‘Twitter Revolution’) and this (Inside Moldova’s Twitter Revolution) from Wired are always hard to gauge. Are they deliberately trying to be silly, or are they just reporting the silliness of the world? In this case it is hopefully the latter. Here’s the grab from Wired:

A Moldovan activist faces criminal charges for organizing demonstrations that were enabled by social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook, the Russian press reports.

The story revolves around the recent anti-communist demonstrations/protests that turned a little ugly and ended with riots and a bonfire in Chisinau, Moldova. Not pretty by any means, and not what I’m interested in commenting on. My interest is in how social networking tools (Twitter, Facebook and others) are the only thing that makes this a news story. Consider whether you’d be reading about any of this if it were ‘just another protest’ going on. Unlikely.

The difference of course is that communication methods are changing, and they’re getting harder to block no matter what Government censorship might be put in its way. Twitter is just another mechanism, similar to the mobile phone in years gone by. The ability to follow as an audience member is of course a fundamental difference, but it certainly isn’t the cause. Although it may account for some of the spectators who turned up (video was on the Wired post). It’s a little silly really.

This is no Twitter Revolution. At the end of the day if a person or group damages property, or breaks the law, then they will likely be prosecuted. The fact that they’ve used a certain communication mechanism to organise their activities is irrelevant. Although in this case it is probably fundamental to them being caught so easily.

So, really this just comes down to a slow news day. What next? Twitter causing relationship breakups or being used to replace the police.

Welcome to the end of free

YouTube needs to make some moneyTo be profitable, OR not to be – that is the question.

The latest YouTube expenses news shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The price of enormous popularity is often high, and if the business model isn’t clear, then profits might not be in tandem.

YouTube expense estimations have emerged from Credit Suisse, and they aren’t pretty. YouTube is looking like making $120M – $500M in revenue this year. But the expenses are likely to be north of that in the $700M+ realm. That’s a significant loss.

Note however, that I wouldn’t be placing too much stock in the Credit Suisse numbers, I suspect they are calculated on face-value user numbers, and don’t take into account the different technologies YouTube uses for distribution…

In any case the principle remains: Popularity != Profitability (necessarily)

Facebook has had similar growth problems, with huge infrastructure costs ensuring that it is unlikely to turn a profit any time soon.

But for how long?

Although a distant memory for many, the 2000 dot com crash may repeat itself in some respects. Once that crash was over, the main thing I remember was that all the free stuff disappeared. Only those businesses with a solid monetization model survived. You can expect the same thing for Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in the coming 12-18 months. There’s only so long investor capital can extend (granted Google probably has deeper pockets than most), and soon enough the free stuff will go.

Part of the problem is in trying to ensure you’re the ‘last man standing’. Thus, YouTube will maintain free (probably via yet another ad-on-video overlay strategy) for as long as possible until competitors such as Vimeo, Hulu, Viddler and others are all but gone, and then put the screws on. Facebook will also be trying weird and wacky things in an effort to stem the losses.

In other networks, you can expect photo-sharing sites (Flickr, etc), music sites, career networking sites, etc to be similarly inclined  with the free accounts becoming progressively reduced in functionality, and the premium services featured more prevalently.

But this is a good thing

There’s a number of good things that will come of this.

  • For starters, the number of social networks will be reduced as consolidation takes effect. Currently there are simply far to many social networks. We need some order amongst the chaos.
  • Next, we’ll see the rise of non-ad related functionality, and perhaps more importantly, a change in user behaviour to actually value paid memberships.
  • Finally though, it will mark the end of the fly-by-night marketing types who have started polluting the social media stage due to its low cost of entry.

Bring it on.

The Google Twitter Rumour

Google in talks with TwitterIt will be fascinating to see how this latest Twitter-being-acquired rumour plays out. As TechCrunch reports, there’s rumours of Google in late stage (or perhaps early stage depending on which update you read) acquisition talks with Twitter.

The value of Twitter is in using the service as a real time search engine (Michael explains this well in his post from early March), and with Google’s current search dominance, a Twitter acquisition would be an incredible boost. In fact, almost game over for any other player.

That’s why, those other rumours about Government intervention are likely to start heating up again too. With Google controlling so much data there are legitimate fears that it is getting too powerful. It’s no longer about anti-competitive influence either, its about real fear. Governments (especially Asia-Pacific located) wondering what they can possibly do to stop the flow of information. Just what can, if anything, is it possible to keep private any more?

You can probably expect requests for Google to be broken into separate companies before year’s end. A Twitter acquisition would likely hasten it. Am I talking this up? We’ll see.

Todd Bishop over at TechFlash wonders where Microsoft is in all this discussion. I’ll bet they’re wondering too! I’ll also bet that the valuations being thrown around aren’t scaring anyone. Google paying billions for YouTube a few years back was considered rediculous. I wonder if anyone considers that a mistake now. Similar figures for Twitter wouldn’t surprise me.

But keep in mind, this is just a rumour for now.

TechHit OutTwit Review

I really like Twitter. But how to manage it effectively?

Over the last 18 months or so (I joined Twitter in September 2007) I’ve tried a number of different client apps. TweetDeck, Twhirl, etc.

But the one I keep coming back to is OutTwit (from the fine folks at TechHit) . Its a simple little Outlook Add-in that sits up in your toolbar.

As per most apps it downloads your stream at a regular interval (eg 5 mins, but you can change this), and allows you to send Tweets. Nothing amazing so far. However, there’s a number of advantages to managing your Twitter addiction from within Outlook.

Here’s how I use it

First, I’ve set up a separate .pst file just for Twitter. In the .pst I’ve created folders for each month. For example, I have a folder called Twitter (April 2009). I’ve set OutTwit to put all my tweets in this folder.

OutTwit options

I change it each month so that the folder doesn’t get too big, as it can slow down viewing. You can see this in the red square on the left in the screenshot below.

Up in the top right is the OutTwit toolbar. You simply type in there and press enter to tweet. Pretty normal behaviour I guess. If you are currently viewing a tweet, it pre-fills with the address of the person so that you can easily reply. If not simply clear it out and type your tweet.

Techhit OutTwit in action

Top 3 Reasons for using OutTwit

Here’s the three main reasons I use OutTwit.

1. Reducing distractions

I leave OutTwit running all the time and check in occasionally (eg every hour or two). Its easy to scan through the list of tweets and stay up to date. Admittedly this tends to encourage more of a ‘lurking’ behaviour, but hey, when you are working and don’t want to be distracted all the time, it is a good way to stay in the loop.

One thing I really like is that OutTwit doesn’t lose your history when you close down Outlook. They are saved away. Other clients seem to only keep your tweet stream in memory and lose it after closing down.

2. You can easily search

Following on from the first point: you can setup a simple Search folder in Outlook. I have one that pulls out anything it sees on certain keywords (eg my name, wife,  business or user group) so that I can be sure to reply if needed. This is especially good first thing in the morning. I can quick see what, if anything, was mentioned in my stream overnight that needs attention. This is easier and more flexible than just using the @mentions on the Twitter website. Of course, this only applies to people I’m following – for a general search you’d need to be use the Twitter Search. I note however that OutTwit has recently added support for searching and downloading tweets that match a keyword (even if you aren’t following the person).

The other benefit is that you can easily search back over past tweets. For example, I often remember someone mentioning a topic from a few weeks back. I’ll simply do an Outlook search of all my Twitter folders and it appears almost instantly.

3. You can analyze statistics.

Here’s an excerpt from a report I ran this morning. It tells me that over the past month I’ve collected 143,740 tweets. Of those 11,075 were from 3 people.  Thus, of the 670 odd people I follow, 3 of them are contributing approx 8% of the tweet stream. So I got to thinking about whether I really liked these 3 tweeters. Turned out I had a closer look and didn’t. They were more noise than signal. So I un-followed them. It’s about making the conversation more relevant for my tastes. There’s other reports including details of who I reply to the most, etc.

Twitter statistics

What’s missing?

There’s a few things I’d like to see in OutTwit, and perhaps they’ll add these in future versions:

1. Drill into people’s details

One of the things I like in TweetDeck is the ability to check the details of a person. This includes when they joined, follower details and a quick summary of recent tweets.

2. Other URL shorteners

OutTwit uses TinyURL for automatically shortening URLs. This is fine. However I’d like to see support for others added. In particular I’d like to see bit.ly integration. Over the coming months, being able to analyse click through rates on shortened URLs is going to become more and more important. bit.ly is going to be well placed in this regard – something that TinyURL doesn’t seem to be interested in currently.

3. Clicking out of the toolbar loses your tweet

You may start typing into the toolbar and then want to copy a link from your browser. Clicking out of the toolbar will lose your typing so far. This is particularly annoying. I’ve been on to the TechHit support team about this in the past but they assure me it is a limitation in the Outlook control they are using. I’m not so sure, but will take their word for it. In any case I hope they find a workaround for it. After a while you get used to this, and I now copy any links to the clipboard before I start my tweet.

4. Support for other networks

Other clients (eg Twhirl) integrate Facebook, Jaiku, LinkedIn, Twitpic and other social networks. So far OutTwit is only supporting Twitter. Actually this is fine by me, but I know it will probably work against the app in the longer term. [UPDATE: TechHit have FBLook for managing your Facebook status from within Outlook.]

Summary

Overall, I am big fan of OutTwit. I recommend it if you find yourself in Outlook most of the day.

My rating: 8/10

Download it for free from the OutTwit site. It’s only 520K in size and won’t impact your Outlook performance.

Twitter hires Douglas Bowman from Google

Douglas BowmanDouglas Bowman, who Google gave the title of Visual Design Lead, is going to work for Twitter. This was rumoured a few weeks back on Valleywag and FastCompany, but appears to have been confirmed yesterday by Spencer Ante. We’re looking forward to Part 2 from Douglas, following up his Part 1 from just over a week ago.

Why is this news? After all people move all the time. The reason this is interesting is because it indicates a shift in the Twitter approach. What has so far been a small, tightly wound company is starting to expand. Yes, they’ve had the funding for a while, but changes like this are not to be underestimated. Consider this passing comment from Biz Stone (Twitter co-founder):

“The Twitter Web page looks pretty simple,” says Stone. “But from our perspective the design needs a lot of work.”

This is a company that has just shifted from niche developer community to mainstream social networking company in the space of 2-3 months. It is on massive trajectory and needs to ensure it presents a good experience to the masses.

Reporter Joe Tartakoff puts it well I think when describing Bowman’s role:

At Twitter, Bowman will be in charge of finding a balance between the site’s stated desire to keep things simple while also ensuring that the site’s user interface remains relevant—and useful— as the service grows in popularity.

It’s popularity been has due to its simplicity, so any changes need to ensure the site’s inherent differentiator (simplicity) isn’t sacrificed.

Twitter Statistics

Apparently Twitter is getting popular You’ll be shocked (NOT!) to learn that Twitter is growing at a massive rate. Stats last month put the growth at over 1300% for February (compared to a year earlier). You can read all the latest numbers over on the Nielsen site (which I came across via the TwistImage blog). For me the two most interesting details were these:

  • 42% of the Twitter audience is in the 35-49 age bracket
  • Over 10% of visitors were via mobile

Having such a large mobile audience is not surprising, but will have the interesting effect of pushing mobile social networking engagement into the mainstream.

BTW, you can follow me on Twitter here.

[Facebook by comparison had a 220% growth over the same period (but obviously is a much bigger audience).]

The Twitter Popularity Contest

Twitter has changedI’ve been wondering what’s next after Twitter. Where are all the cool kids heading these days?

After all, it has become so mainstream now that the inevitable transformation from intimate community to marketing broadcast is all but complete. The vibe on Twitter has changed.

Yes I know, that’s what the Un-follow option is for, but that doesn’t stop the fact that Twitter has changed. And for me, I guess I’ve become a little disillusioned of late. Here’s a few thoughts.

Warning: tongue-in-cheek *analysis* follows:

People follow you to be followed back

Can you spot our next contestant?Has this been going on for a while, or has it just started in the last few weeks?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I have to say it is a shame to see that some of the ‘interaction’ on Twitter has changed to promotion and micro popularity contests. I realised this recently when I started getting followed by a lot more people than normal. Strange, I thought. Perhaps I’ve got something useful to say :) Think again.

The giveaway is when you get a whole bunch of new followers each day, and yet you finish the day with less followers than you started. Why is that?

Here’s another giveaway: you get followed by someone, and then they follow you again a few days later. Yep, you were quickly un-followed, and then they’ve had another go, not realising that you were a previous attempt.

I suspect that a fair proportion of my new followers are simply following me in order to get a follow back. Why? Because… if you have a lot of followers you must have something important to say, right? And if you have a whole bunch more followers that you follow, then you must be particularly important. And (so the logic goes) if you’re important then people are more likely to buy your stuff.

Now, a few months ago this was probably true. In my usual circle (technology), if you had a lot of followers you probably did have something worth hearing. But since moving into additional circles recently (SEO, social networking, small business, media, etc) I’ve seen much different behaviour. It seems as though ‘conversation’ has been replaced with ‘competition’.

Gee, I’m starting to feel a little left out in this competition…

How to feel more popular

Take my profile as an example. I’m always following new people, as well as following back probably 70% of people who follow me (the interesting ones). As such, here’s my profile as of Thursday 12 March.

Craig Bailey Twitter profile 

You’ll notice I follow more people than follow me. Ooops. This represents a major no-no in the popularity stakes. Fun little tools like Twittergrader will help me see the light. For example, here’s how Twittergrader grades me:

Craig Bailey Twitter Grader

Time to make amends. I need to improve my followers-to-following ratio.

No problem, I’ll just go through and un-follow a bunch of people. Here’s the results after some purging.

Craig Bailey Twitter profile 

Let’s see how Twittergrader rewards me:

Craig Bailey Twitter Grader

Awesome. I’m now ranked 2,000 positions higher and my grade has improved slightly. See, ranking higher is as simple as cutting back on the conversations you engage in! My online engagement experience is poorer, but I have the warm fuzzy feeling of being just a little bit more popular.

With a bit more purging I reckon I can improve my grade into the 99 percentile and fool myself into thinking I’m actually interesting!

(btw: wouldn’t it be good if Twittergrader added some categorisations too: <80 = you’re boring, >90 = scintillating, >99 = The sun shines from your…, etc)

How to be popular

A quick start guide for the newbies – here’s how to fool yourself into feeling really popular:

  1. Find someone that actually is popular (example)
  2. Go through their followers list and start following
  3. Wait 24-48 hours – you can probably expect at least a 20% follow back response
  4. Un-follow just about everyone
  5. Inspect updated Twitter grade
  6. Enjoy warm fuzzy feeling
  7. Find someone else that is really popular and repeat

Advanced strategies

Here’s a few advanced tips for newbies, particularly those working in marketing departments or small businesses, who have just heard about this new ‘Twitter phenomenon’:

  • Do: buy in to the whole ‘Twitter is an un-tapped market’ philosophy
  • Do: treat every follower as a potential sale (as opposed to a conversation)
  • Do: send out marketing messages almost straight away (hey, people can’t wait to buy your stuff)
  • Do: assume that you are one of the first to discover this Twitter thing, and that you have a wonderful window of opportunity to do nothing else but promote your products
  • Do: promote yourself as a social media strategist/expert even though you’ve only just joined Twitter this week

 

Don’t underestimate the change

Hey, look, obviously I’m just having a bit of a light-hearted look at things here, so don’t take it too seriously. Sure, promotion and marketing are important – don’t get me wrong – of all people I’m especially aware of this as I build a new business with my wife.

And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having lots of followers, or a good ratio.

The problem is when the pursuit of followers changes behaviour, conversations and engagement on what has been a wonderful, intimate, ego-less ecosystem so far. It’s a subtle change, but one that’s growing.

Am I over-reacting? Perhaps. And yes, quite possibly this is just a case of sour grapes because I’m not very popular :-)

But here’s my prediction: give it a few months and the release of soon-to-be revealed Twitter monetization strategies and I think many of the foundational Twitter members will be moving on.

And thus my opening question: Given that Twitter has changed, where are all the cool kids heading to now? Any thoughts?

[This post was originally published on my personal blog]