A Tweet before bedtime

Like a lot of people I’ve grown to know online, and even count as friends, I have more than a passing interest in the tools available for blogging, tweeting and generally carrying on like a good netizen.

I’ve discussed Klout before. It’s interesting. A little addictive perhaps. But pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Peerindex is much of a muchness (I love that expression, in case you were wondering).

Attempting to measure a person’s online significance, influence, or (heaven forbid) capital by virtue of something as monodimensional as how many followers they have is clearly nonsense. The algorithms behind the likes of Klout, Peerindex et al are more sophisticated I grant you, but not massively.

I’ve become quite interested in Crowdbooster recently. I like the reports you get showing how your tweets were interacted with. It is quite simply, interesting. Nothing more, nothing less.  I’m unlikely to change my behaviour in lieu of it.

I noticed just the other day that Crowdbooster also offers recommendations for the best time for me to tweet. It turns out I ought to tweet at 10am, 3pm and 5pm. To what end is not entirely clear. What to say in those perfectly-timed mini-missives… anyone’s guess.

I sincerely hope no one is taking this advice too literally.

Content remains crucial. Have something to say. Know who you want to say it to. Then figure out when to say it.

10am, 3pm, bleak o’clock…. whatever. It doesn’t matter what you tweet if you’re saying the wrong thing.

Twas ever thus.

And it it doesn’t just apply online.

I don’t want you but I need you

Smokey Robinson said it best when he sang I don’t want you but I need you.
As one of the most gifted song-writers in the popular music genre, this observation of what it’s like to be in love with someone you know is bad for you is beautifully crafted.
It also kinda sums up most people’s relationship status with Facebook.
I can’t think of an example of another organisation with such a vast following of people who are so quick to voice their dislike of the service.
And therein lies Facebook’s problem. Timelines and profile tweaks aside, it needs to do something about the toxic relationship it has with its users, many of whom are only sticking around because their friends are too.
It’s like a massive Mexican stand-offIf the day ever comes when enough people finally walk away from Facebook it could start a craze.
So far there hasn’t been a viable alternative to lure people away. For all the fuss, hype and expectation, GooglePlus won’t do it.  And there simply isn’t anyone else with the size and reach to be a realistic threat to Facebook.
That’s not much of a business model though, is it? Our customers are stuck with us and we are stuck with the fact they don’t like us.
If I was gambling man, I’d be looking at Renren as a possible longer-term Facebook rival. But that’s probably a topic for another day.
In the meantime, Facebook has to do something to stem the tide of discontent and griping.
Will Timeline be enough to do this?
No, of course not. But if it forms part of a coherent strategy to start putting people at the heart of the Facebook experience, giving them something to like – in the real sense of the word, not a silly fake Facebook like – then maybe it could be on to something.
Now, why not treat yourself to Smokey Robinson & The Miracles singing You Really Got a Hold on Me – the video and audio quality isn’t the best, but it’s worth it. Your soul will thank you.

Why four years for the Facebook rioters is not a good thing

Two young men in north west England have been sentenced to four years in prison, each, for content posted on Facebook that was deemed to be inciting people to riot.

Some of you may be thinking this is a good thing.

But it’s not good.  It’s far from good.

That’s the average. You don’t need to be a statistician to appreciate that means some get sentences that are far more lenient.

It has to be possible that at the same time one of those men was using Facebook to attempt to encourage people to engage in acts of criminal destruction (in one case the proposed target was a McDonald’s restaurant) somewhere in the UK a woman was being raped.

Should her attacker be arrested, convicted and sent to prison in accordance with the existing typical sentencing loads, that rapist will be released back into society before someone who invited people to a riot that never took place.

This cannot, to any reasonable person, be a good thing.

I do not advocate leniency in the sentencing of people who have sought to perpetrate civil disorder, theft and destruction. Far from it.

The events that took place around 8/9 August 2011, when the rioting and looting reached its apex, were shocking and appalling. Those that broke the law must be brought to book and suffer the consequences.

However, the government has been on the back-foot from the outset and even now is seeking to position itself as in control of things by virtue of a succession of reactionary statements driven by fear. Now, it would appear, the judiciary is caught up in that fear too.

So much for the separation of powers.

Crack down on rioters and looters by all means. That can only be a good thing. Furthermore, investigating options for coping with the way in which people will choose to use social media, mobile phones and other messaging technologies is a good thing too.

Sending someone down for a failed attempt at inciting a riot – whether they do it on Facebook, Twitter, SMS, a phone call, a fax, or even a carrier pigeon – is also a good thing.

But a situation where rapists face lighter prison sentences than a couple of idiots in Cheshire whose clumsy attempts to look big on Facebook would be more at home on a site called egg-on-your-face-book is not a good thing.

It is a bad thing.

Crackdowns, kneejerks, and forest fires

Last week’s wave of social unrest and wide-scale criminality in the UK has opened up the issue of how social media is used to a more mainstream audience than it has previously. Was it part of the problem? Was it part of the solution?
I expressed my opinion on this on twitter:
My point being that a forest fire spreads quickly via the trees. The trees aren’t wooden arsonists, merely fuel being somewhat opportunistically used by the fire.

I read on Friday that the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail company had “temporarily interrupted” the service from the following mobile phone companies – Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. This was done to disrupt a protest which had been planned in the wake of a fatal shooting on 3 July of a man called Charles Hill by the BART police.
“On Thursday, BART police Lieutenant Andy Alkire told the local Bay City News agency that while it was unusual to block mobile services, it was ‘a great tool to utilise for this specific purpose.’

“Linton Johnson, BART’s spokesman, told the local KTVU television channel that BART ‘didn’t try to shut down the protest. They simply turned off the cell service so it couldn’t become viral. It really is just a cost-benefit analysis of where your freedom of speech begins to threaten the public safety.’”
Fair enough. Up to a point. But I can’t be the only person who thinks that a train company shouldn’t be deciding on where the line is drawn. Can I?
In the early 1990s, when I was a freelance writer and editor, I interviewed a lawyer for a piece I was writing. We talked about how the legal profession was adapting to meet the needs of its clients. The lawyer told me that the fax machine had changed people’s perceptions of how quickly decisions were made – a client sends you a fax that requires a detailed and careful response. But because they know it only took seconds for you to receive it, they expect that response in a similar timeframe.
Jeez. Just think what havoc email and IM must have wrought.
The law (in it’s broadest sense) has always lagged behind innovation.
Cliché alert…. technology is moving so quickly that legislation cannot possibly keep pace.
But surely that’s ok. To an extent.
Wherever you are reading this (I have readers on every continent bar Antarctica you know! ) don’t we all want to live in a society where the laws are carefully considered and brought into being following the proper consultation and evaluation of their efficacy and how they might be enforced?
Kneejerk reactions can be the downfall of many a well-intentioned action – whether in the personal or professional sphere. Some have greater consequences than others. It could be a damaged personal relationship, a badly-managed crisis, or even a calamitous piece of legislation.
While it would be foolish to completely dismiss the role of social media in bringing people together around a cause, a one-size-fits-all reaction will do more harm than good.

Egypt, Twitter and social media tools

I have been an active user of twitter for about two years. I’m no veteran or social media maven, but I’m no newbie either.

Twitter’s helped me find work and business opportunities. I’ve used it to find people to hire, I’ve even forged friendships with people I would never have met had it not been for twitter.

Depending on how you use it, it’s an interesting and useful tool, or a way of revealing your ignorance. But a hammer can be used to help you hang a picture of your grandmother on the wall, or as an offensive weapon. It’s a tool.

Not for the first time in the last two years, I’ve recently found myself watching with a sense of mild bemusement as news of events thousands of miles away is broadcast via twitter along with a heady mix of opinion and speculation.

I am, of course, referring to Egypt. Political and societal turmoil – protests, demonstrations, and a death toll which rises daily.

As a former journalist, when something big like this happens I want to know about it: I want context and background, I want to question the sources of the information, I want to know how reliable they are.

The polarisation of the twitterati in such events as those unfolding in Egypt, is also interesting.

It doesn’t take long for people to decide there are Good Guys and Bad Guys and that somehow everyone involved, no matter how loosely, is affiliated with one side or another.

The other thing that really strikes me is the desire of many on twitter to broadcast every new, or not so new, detail in a manner that attributes equal weighting to everything, while simultaneously rushing to be the first to move the story on, so to speak.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of it has been well worth reading – such as the piece I read regarding the manner in which the lights went off across Egypt’s ISPs. But the majority of what’s appeared in my stream has tended toward being tub-thumping sloganeering.

I can only offer conjecture of my own when I wonder how many (by which I really mean “how few”) of the people I follow on twitter who are avidly tweeting and RT-ing Egypt-related information really have an understanding of what is going on there.

Yes, we all know the Mubarak government has been criticised for being oppressive and not committed to a meaningful democracy.

But what do we know of the forces within Egypt that have realised current events offer them a golden opportunity to exert influence, possibly even seize power and have the country march to the beat of their drum?

The answer is as obvious as it is depressing – very little.

The history books are full of accounts of popular uprisings and revolutions that before long were exploited by those with their own, sometimes deeply oppressive, agenda.

But reading history text books affords few opportunities to show off about how ‘aware’ one is.

Why my kids don’t need a Twitter account

I dislike personal attacks on people and I really hope the following doesn’t read like one. But I’ve had an “enough is enough” moment.

I recently read an interesting article on the Marketing Donut (a site/blog I have contributed a couple of articles to – just to declare my interests properly). Written by Kate Horstead and entitled “Can Twitter help your business?” it might not break any new ground but it’s a decent little exploration of the topic and appears to be based mainly on an interview with Nikki Pilkington.

I’m following both Kate & Nikki on Twitter – if you’re not already maybe you should too.

So what put the stick up my backside? Well… there was a comment from Penny Power, the founder of Ecademy, which I found so misguided and misleading that I had to blog about it just to get it out of my system.

As I already said, I dislike personal attacks, but Penny is the head of a business networking association which has been around since 1998, so I figure she can cope with someone disagreeing with her.

The thing I took issue with is the following statement from the comment Penny left: “I certainly tell everyone I meet to create their Twitter name before thier real name goes. I have registered my children for the future too.”

And in case you’re wondering the spelling mistake (thier) is copied from the original – not created by yours truly for effect or done out of sloppiness. There are other typos there too if you want to go looking for them, and maybe you should – she’s writing a book after all, so presumably wants readers.

Cutting to the chase, this advice misses the point of Twitter and everything else in the social media oeuvre. So much so, that at first I thought it had to be a joke.

Who will benefit if we all do as Penny recommends and register our children’s names as Twitter accounts? And why stop with your existing children, why not register a few spares covering all the names you might pick for the kids you haven’t had yet.

Now, here’s a thing. Any account not updated for six months is classed by Twitter as inactive (I have learned from a quick squint at the Ts&Cs).

So if I register @corneliusfleming today (in case I have a son in the future I hate so much I name him after my father) the account could be gone before Badly Named Boy can even say Twitter. Thereby making the whole exercise a complete waste of time.

Maybe I’ll have to ghost Tweet for him, to ensure that doesn’t happen. Great! Just what we all need on Twitter, an army of parents ghost Tweeting on behalf of their kids. Can’t wait!

As far as I can see, no one benefits from such behaviour. Maybe as a parent one gets a warm satisfied feeling that no one else can use the name they happen to share with your three-year old. But that’s about it.

Who loses? We all do. Twitter is a community; its value is in the networks that develop within the community – individuals and organisations interacting, sharing knowledge and insight. Twitter may one day be nothing more than a footnote in the pages of online history. But there will be connections made today on Twitter that become sustainable and mutually beneficial.

The more it is jumped on as an opportunistic bandwagon by people with little to contribute the sooner Twitter’s demise will be brought about; the cool kids will leave once the dorks arrive en masse – we’ve seen it all before, I’m sure.

I’ve got kids (two sons I’m tremendously proud of) but I don’t see much business benefit to me or anyone else in them having Twitter accounts that they may or may not use in the future. I also fail to see how my sandbagging accounts like this assists me or anyone else in terms of networking. It’s not social (if it’s anything it’s anti-social) and it’s as far from community-minded as it gets.

I’m sorry Penny, but as someone who until recently ran a small business, I expect more awareness and better advice from the head of a business networking association. I can forgive Business Link for being full of windbags, civil service dead wood and the general walking wounded that comprise the sub-genre of retired banking execs, but Ecademy has to aim higher.

There’s more I could say, and in fact did say in a response I wrote to her comment on the Marketing Donut but at the time of writing this, that response hadn’t appeared.