When unfriending is the friendly thing to do

I’m not a great social media junkie; I think I have a Tumblr account, somewhere.  I don’t have an Instagram account or use Reddit, and whilst Blackberry Messenger is (apparently) installed and available on my Blackberry I don’t have anyone to talk to on it except charming young ladies who seem to be short of friends and clothes.

I DO, however, use Facebook extensively, and to a lesser degree Twitter.

The rules of the game for me is that Twitter is for following companies, folks I do business with, magazines, websites, etc. Anyone or anything that I’m interested in but wouldn’t necessarily want to discuss my favorite films, the weird dream I had last night, politics or religion. I.e. – contacts, colleagues and comrades.

Now Facebook is rather different – that’s family and friends and some friends of friends – on the whole people that I care about in terms of their day to day lives – their ups, downs, successes and failures.  Folks who at some level or another I like or love, and who I’d happily spend time with in the pub or around the dinner table. Facebook is also where I am who I am – the unadulterated me. You’ll get me on bad days, good days, I’ll talk about cats, blog posts, state of the garden, food, my faith, and occasionally my politics. I’ll bitch about work, go ga-ga over a new TV show, share cat videos and generally project an online presence that, for better or worse, is similar to what folks get from me on a daily basis.

Facebook is, for me, the world of and according to, Joe.

Every now and again I do Facebook Purges.  These may sound quite Stalinist, and I guess at one level they are. I’m getting rid of folks who no longer belong in the filtered society of my Facebook friends list.  I’ve read all the articles about creating closed worlds of people that you agree with, and the problems that that can cause when interacting with wider society.

And I’m not bothered. The different view points I get from Twitter or trips to discussion boards.

Facebook is where I don’t mind my views being challenged, but I expect the challenging to be in a respectful way.  Facebook is my online living room; I don’t mind intense discussions around the dinner table at home; I would object if someone came in and started ranting at me for my politics or religious views.  In fact, I’d not expect such people to come and visit me at all if that was all they were going to do….they’d come over rather like the bods on the High Street with the placards proclaiming that the Second Coming is nigh and that Socialist Worker is the answer to everything.

Being a God-bothering man means that I will and I expect to get my faith questioned; I don’t proselytise too much on Facebook, and I think that most folks I know respect my views (though they may disagree with my belief in sky-pixies).  My political views are quite a hotch-potch, though, and this has caused increasing amounts of friction, especially with regard to Brexit.

The automatic response of some folks that everyone who voted to leave the EU was a racist bigot was quite hurtful – I’m a leaver and can walk and breathe at the same time, don’t drag my knuckles, and don’t believe that ‘they should all go home’.  I believe in giving home to genuine refugees. I also believe that we should have some degree of control of borders, and that international trade deals are not always good. And that building in a transnational super state in Europe may not be the best way to world peace.

Some folks I know have debated these issues with me and we’ve agreed to disagree. I may have moved closer to them, they may have moved closer to me. Others just called me names and I’m afraid I unfriended them.

And that was probably the kindest thing to do; unfriend on Facebook, keep on Twitter, keep contact to some degree in the ‘real world’ if necessary but avoid that risk of either person saying something that they will regret online in the heat of the moment.

At the moment another purge is in the offing; there are some folks who I rarely seem to engage with on Facebook and all I see from them are shared statements – often politics of one sort or another – or anti-faith posts of varying types.  Nothing ‘original’, lots of viral stuff.  It feels like having the folks with the ‘Jesus is nigh’ and ‘Socialist Worker’ placards simply turning up at your house and standing in the living room, waving the placards and shouting slogans.

No thanks.

Come and be my friend when you have something more to offer me than slogans.


Good Lord…it’s Easter!

Or, as a Christian, I should really say “Good, Lord…it’s Easter!”

I have to say that I didn’t expect to find myself writing a blog post today – it happened by accident after I’d approved a few comments on this blog and thrown out some spam.  For the last 2 months I’ve been on something of an Internet diet.  I’ve used the Net for work, kept an eye on Facebook and Twitter for personal messages and for photographs of my lovely Godchildren, but that’s been it.  I’ve made the odd post, but have tried to stay away.  Along with avoiding the demon drink, my Social Media retreat was part of my Lent Observance.

So, did I miss anything?

Well, actually….er…..no.  Without going too much in to details, I’m debating whether to keep the diet going for a while longer, and put the time that I would have spent on facebook and Twitter in to my Blog and the ignoble art of making money. I’ve actually been less stressed and worried and irritable than usual, and I do believe that at least part of it is because I’m ignoring all those folks on Facebook and Twitter that don’t just wash their dirty laundry in public but also dry it, iron it and then point out how they’re carefully putting it all in the drawers for future use, complete with lavender scented sachets.

It brought me up sharp when I realised how much this bugs me; to be honest, if some folks I knew carried on in real life in the way they do on Social Media I would have dropped them from my Christmas Card list years ago!  Which is the real them?  Which leads me on to the next question – which is the real me? Social Media Joe, Blogger Joe or day to day real world Joe?

I hope that they’re all the same – or at least similar enough to not cause too much dismay to people around me.

I want to be…WYSIWYG!

The Death of Google Wave

Not for Google Wave the sudden death; more a slow, drawn out lingering farewell on the life support machine of ‘development has been stopped’. I guess it gives the boys at Mountain View the opportunity to change their minds if the pressure gets too much. The demise of Wave doesn’t actually surprise me; I’m surprised that it’s lived as long as it has done.

Here’s the story of my experiences with Google Wave.

When it was first announced, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it – a sort of mash-up of email, instant messaging, social networking, blogging and online discussion forum. I received my invitation and got signed up. I have to say that I wasn’t an early adopter – to be honest I wasn’t sure what I was going to use it for and I’m past the stage in my life where I have to try out all new technology the day it comes out – life is way too short to be someone else’s Beta-Tester….

And there we hit problem number 1. I knew that Wave would not work with IE, so I signed in with Firefox, and had a few problems there as well. OK, Google, you want me to use Chrome so I will do – and I was sorely disappointed when I still couldn’t get the equivalent of a profile set up on my Wave account – the special form of Wave that stores such information just wasn’t playing with me. I contacted Google technical support, scoured discussion groups and found that others experienced the same problem. I was told by Google that it was something to do with my account, but not how to deal with it. Various other folks suggested that it was ‘just one of those things’ that might get fixed at some point, but for now it was a problem that bothered some users.

OK…I could live with it.

The second thing is that getting a Wave account is rather like buying the first telephone in your circle of friends – because of the social nature of Wave you need a few friends to make it worthwhile. You can use it without other folks in your network using it – but it rather misses the point. So, next, find your friends. And that was the next sticking point for most IE using, Firefox using, non-techies that I knew – why should they bother trying to get on to a new social networking / communications / chat / mail / what have you system where most of their friends AREN’T?

However, I have a number of techy pals and people who’re interested in emerging technologies, so I got a few folks on-boad.

OK…I could live with it.

We then hit the issue of exactly what to do with Wave. For one project we did try using it to discuss design ideas and such, but we found that it was more convenient to use an existing issue / bug handling system already in place for the organisation. Another couple of people I knew attempted to kick off various waves but it just felt like we were using Wave for the sake of using Wave. I was reminded to some degree of a great piece of software (IMO) from the 1980s called Lotus Agenda – it did all sorts of clever stuff but conceptually was a mare to get your head around – but at least Lotus provided a few samples of what could be done.

And I think that this was, in the end, the thing that did Wave for me – I couldn’t honestly think of an application within my circle of friends and professional contacts that couldn’t be done better with a different tool. There’s an approach to software utility development that I often adopt that I was taught very early on in my career; build tools to do specific jobs very well – and if possible, make those tools so that they’ll talk to each other. Now Wave attempted to combine e-mail, social networking, instant messaging, file sharing and online discussion forums in a way that doesn’t really give the advantages of the individual technologies but requires a change in working practice, in many cases change of browsing software and a cultural / behavioural change amongst participants to get them ‘on board’.

And that’s why I’m not terribly surprised that Wave hasn’t taken off; I am hopeful that if Google release the code in to the wild as an Open Source project we might see some new projects spring from it. But I’m still to be convinced that the ‘Wave’ concept of multi-mode online communication all in one place is going to be popular – especially if it requires you to sign up to yet another site and maybe even change browsers.

Social Search…waste of time?

I’m a big user of search engines.  Despite my grumblings and pontifications on here about Google, I still use them the most because they’re still the best out there.  I hope that Bing – despite the daft name – will one day come to challenge Google, but until then, I just Google.  It’s been interesting recently to see Tweets start appearing in search results, and I’ve commented in this blog on the topic.  The most recent work being done by Google that they feel will improve the search experience for us all is explored in this piece from the BBC, and I’m particularly interested in the comments made about ‘Social Search’.

First of all, what is Social Search? 

My definition of a true Social Search tool is one that would give weight to a number of different aspects when searching.  These would include:

  • The normal search criteria as entered in to any search engine that you care to use.
  • Your location, intelligently applied to any searches that might be expected to have a geographical aspect to them.
  • A weighting applied to favour the results based upon material that meets the criteria you’re searching on that may have been placed on the Internet by people or organisations within your personal or professional network.

To give an example – you do a search for restaurants.  The search engine makes a guess about your location based on previous searches, geocoding based on your IP address or, coming real soon, tagging provided with the search request specifying your location based on a GPS in the device that you’re using for the search.  The search engine then determines whether your ‘friends’ have done similar searches, whether they’ve done any reviews or blog posts about restaurants in the area, posted photos to Flickr, or are actually Tweeting FROM a restaurant as you search, whatever.  The results are then returned for you – and ideally would be tailored to your particular situation as understood by the search engine.

And this is roughly what the Google Social Search folks are looking at.

“….returns information posted by friends such as photos, blog posts and status updates on social networking sites.

It is currently only available in the US and will be coming to the rest of the world soon.

Maureen Heymans, technical lead at Google, said this kind of search means the information offered is personal to the user.

“When I’m looking for a restaurant, I’ll probably find a bunch of reviews from experts and it’s really useful information.

“But getting a review from a friend can be even better because I trust them and I know their tastes. Also I can contact them and ask for more information,” she said.

In future users’ social circles could provide them with the answers they seek, as long as individuals are prepared to make those connections public.”

Of course, the million (or multi-billion) dollar question is how far are people to go in terms of making their networks available to search engine companies in such a way that results can be cross referenced in this way.  Once upon a time I’d have said that folks wouldn’t, as they value their privacy, but today I’m not so sure.  Given that we have seen sites where people share details about credit card purchases, I’m not convinced that people value their privacy enough to not allow this sort of application to take off, at least amongst the ‘digital elites’.

Of course, hopefully it will be up to us whether we participate in using Social Search – I guess all of us who blog or Tweet will find our musings being used as ‘search fodder’ unless we opt out of making our contributions searchable.  Will I use Social Search?  If it’s at all possible to opt out, No.  And here’s why.

Because I doubt the results will be as relevant to me as Google and all the other potential providers of SOcial Search think they will be.  Let’s face it – these companies will not be doing it for nothing – some where along the way the ‘database of intentions’ will be being supplemented and modified based upon the searches carried out, and such information is a goldmine to marketers and advertisers.

But the relevance to me?  I’m yet to be convinced – and here’s why.

If I really want the opinions of my friends, family and occasional business contacts on what I eat, wear, watch or listen to then I’ll ask them directly.  Just because I know someone doesn’t mean that I share any similarity in viewpoint or preferences at all.  I have friends with very different interests – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics  and Atheists, people from the political left and right, party animals and stay at homes…the differentiation goes on.  This is because I pick my friends based on what they’re like as people – not necessarily because they share interests or beliefs.  As it happens, I’m occasionally quietly offended by what some of my online friends say – but that’s life.  We don’t always have to agree or share the same beliefs.  

Therefore, the idea of biasing my search results based on what people I know search for, prefer or comment on is potentially useless.  If I wish to know what my friends think or say – I’ll talk to them, email them or read their tweets / blogs / whatever directly. 

I feel there’s also a serious risk of ‘crystalisation’ of beliefs – a sort of friendship groupthink emerging.  Think of what it was like when you were 13 years old and spotty.  For many teenagers it matters to be ‘in with the in-crowd’; Social Search could contribute to the return of that sort of belief structure amongst peer groups.  By it’s nature, the people who will be ‘opinion leaders’ in your Social Search universe will be those friends who are most online and who share the most.  Their activities will hence bias the results returned in Social Search.  It might not be such a problem for them, though – people who have a high Social Search presence will undoubtedly come to the attention of advertisers and opinion formers who might wish to make use of that ‘reputation’.

One of the great advantages of good, old-fashioned, non-social search is taht you will occasionally be bowled a googly (pitched a curve ball for my transatlantic friends!) that might lead you off in to whole new areas of knowledge.  You may be prompted to try something new that NONE of your friends or colleagues have heard of.  Whilst these results will still be in the results, if they’re on the second page, how many of us will bother going there?  We’ll become fat and lazy and contented searchers.

So….I think I want to stay as an individual.  For now, I’ll happily turn my back on Social Search!

Social Media and the mob

One of my favourite films is ‘The Fisher King’ – one of the most haunting scenes in it is where Radio ‘Shock Jock’ Jack Lucas repeats the words ‘Forgive me’ from a TV script he is hoping to star in, whilst, unbeknown to him, thoughtless comments made by himon his radio show have driven a mentally ill caller to take a gun to an upmarket bar and open fire on people there.  The next scene in the film is of him three years later in a drunken rage after his life has fallen apart in the aftermath of the shooting, with his anger being directed at the actor who DID get teh role.

A few words uttered thoughtlessly in a public arena; in the film it was talk radio, but today it’s just as likely to be Facebook or other Social Media.  Of course, Social Media is a valuable tool with which to organise groups that are angry at social and political issues, for example.  But there are also a number of groups that go beyond what is acceptable:

There have been similar items featured on YouTube and Twitter – and as long as there has been any sort of media – starting with the pub on a Saturday night – there have always been public threats made against people.  The reach of Social Media though makes these sorts of groups and viral campaigns different in some major ways:

  • Sheer numbers – let’s face it, with Facebook you have a potential audience of 400 million people for your campaign.
  • Persistence and visibility – until such a group is removed it’s there all the time and can be found via search engines inside the Social Media site and indirectly form outside the sites.
  • Speed of activity – something can grow rapidly – much more rapidly than any campaign arranged through traditional media.

The obvious immediate result of this sort of mobilisation is the generation of ‘flash mobs’ – often for very good causes – where groups of people assemble, do something. then disappear.  This can frequently be done in the space of a few hours, rather than the days or week traditionally required to get a traditional demo together.

However, a less obvious but more sinister aspect of the use of Social Media is what’s best called ‘validation’.  This is something I’ve touched on in a previous blog post here on Joe’s Jottings – ‘Gazing in to the abyss’ – and it’s possibly more dangerously relevant when we look at the role of Social Media in generating a good, old fashioned, pitch-fork and torch carrying mob.

If you’re one slightly disturbed individual who thinks that a public figure deserves death, then the chances are that until recently you’d find very few people who agreed with you – or even if they agreed with you, would be very unlikely to publicly state it.  Today, the world’s a different place.  Your views can find validation in a number of ways – someone may set up a ‘jokey’ ‘Let’s kill X’ group or web site; other nutters may be more serious about it; or you might see groups on the Internet who just don’t like the person.  And you might see all of these people as somehow validating your point of view – a little like Jack Lucas’s deranged listener.

Let’s just hope that we don’t have too many people saying ‘Forgive me’ as a consequence.

The Birth of a Brand

As some of you may know, I’m on the Board of the Hillsborough Forum, a group that works for the economic regeneration of the Hillsborough area of Sheffield, and also coordinates other activities in that area, such as ‘Yorkshire in Bloom’ and other community activities, such as Community Gardening.  I’m very proud of my involvement with HF – and certainly enjoy working with some wonderful people such as Wendy Wells.

Tonight we had an event to launch our ‘Made in Hillsborough’ brand – an attempt to provide a unique and easily identifiable brand for companies and businesses based in the area.  the brand was designed by local, highly skilled, Graphic Designer Emma Metcalfe and manages to encapsulate all the major aspects of Hillsborough – green spaces, soccer, the Barracks, the range of produce available in the area.  It’s so ‘hot off the press’ that the first time I saw the ‘full version’ of the logo was at this presentation, and it’s a smasher. 

It’s partially visible in the background of the above photograph and on the right you can see a larger version of the logo in all it’s glory!  The launch took place in the Hillsborough Hotel, who provided us with excellent surroundings, a nice buffet and a very nice special brew for the occasion from their in-house Crown Brewery – Hillsborough Pale Ale.  Of which a fair amount was quaffed by all, including me.

There was an excellent set of introductory talks from the Rt. Hon. David Blunkett MP, local author and historian Ron Clayton (Ron – if you’re reading this send me your web site address!!)  and Hillsborough Forum’s very own ‘member of the Queen’s Gang’, Wendy Wells MBE.  And then it was down to networking, brewery visiting, eating and drinking!  And a fine evening was had by all, with your correspondent finally strolling home through the drizzle at 11pm!

We had excellent support from many Hillsborough businesses for raffle prizes and give-aways on the night including Picky Miss Sock Monsters, Imogen’s Imagintion (milinery / hats), Simpkin’s Sweets, Teddy Bear Maker and Funks Butchers.  On a personal level it was great to see old friends again, and make contact with Russell Cavanagh who runs NW Sheffield News Online.  My major social gaffe of the evening was not immediately recognising the very friendly folks from the Java Lounge coffee shop in Hillsborough – given the amount of coffee and cheesey crumpets they’ve served me in recent months that was a wee bit embarrassing! 

But – thanks to all!!  Follow @Hills_Forum on Twitter, and if you want to help plug the brand, use the #MadeInHillsborough hashtag!

Google Buzz and Google’s incursion in to Social Networking

GoogleMany years ago there was a joke in techy circles that likened Microsoft to the Star Trek aliens ‘The Borg’.  It appeared at the time (mid 1990s) that Microosft were indeed determined to assimilate everything they encountered and absorb the technology of other companies in to their own.  Well, like the Borg in Trek, Microsoft finally found that they couldn’t assimilate everything.  But today there’s a new Borg Queen on the block, in teh form of Google.

Google Buzz was launched as an adjunct to Gmail, and Google got themselves in to hot water at the launch by having the system automatically follow everyone in your Gmail contacts list.  This was regarded as pretty heavy handed on Google’s part – and Google obviously concurred to some degree as they introduced changes to this part of the system.  The problem for Google is that they have a lousy history of handling privacy issues in both their Search tools and Gmail, and I guess starting a new product off with a similar disregard for the perceptions of their users was not a sound move.

So, how relevant is this move by Google?  I have to say that I’m not convinced that Google will actually represent major competition to Facebook or Twitter with Buzz (or, for that matter, with Wave).  The lock in to Google’s infrastructure of Buzz is something that Facebook doesn’t have, for instance.  I don’t have to have a Facebook email account, and I don’t do my searching through Facebook.  And therein lies the problem for me – and it all comes back to Google’s database of intentions that I’ve mentioned before in this blog.  The more Google can derive about the way in which people use Search, who they interact with, what ‘clusters’ of interests people have – even anonymously – the more value Google’s database of intention is.  You might want to take a look at some of my previous articles about Google – Google and The Dead Past, The importance of Real Time Search and Google seeks browser dominance – to get a feel for my views on Google.   Google’s strategic moves have been consistently to get Google’s search into everything we do.  Gmail was their first crack at this with personal communications, and now with Wave and Buzz they have the tools to map social networks, and the search behaviours of people on those social networks, especially if people remain logged in to Google accounts whilst the do their searching.

Let’s pretend…..you are logged in to your Buzz account and you search for something.  Google can link your search interests to those of the people in your social network, and vice versa.  They can thus add the collective behaviour of your searches to their database of intentions – remember what I said about the Borg? 🙂  And we’re not even thinking about the additional data provided by Google Apps…

 Google are also purchasing a ‘Social Search’ tool that allows people to ask questions of their social groups; I think we can safely assume that the responses will be squirreled away somewhere for future use.

Even when anonymised, this sort of information builds in to a very valuable commodity that Google can sell to future ‘partners’.  Google’s behaviour at the moment seems to be to develop or acquire a series of discrete elements of Social Networking technology that they’re bringing together under the existing account system of Gmail / Google Accounts, which makes perfect sense.  At one time Microsoft filled in some of the gaps in their various offerings in a similar way to allow them access to market segments that they were still trying to penetrate.  Perhaps Google have learnt from the software behemoth.

But they have a way to go – here are what I consider Google’s biggest challenges.

  1. The attitude of the public towards Google is not entirely positive, and whilst Facebook have had numerous privacy problems their defined market presence in Social Networking and not in Social Networking, Search, Email, Productivity tools, kitchen sink manufacture, etc.  
  2. Facebook may easily lose market share to a good competing service; their constant re-vamping of User Interface and buggy code upsets users but at the moment there is no viable competation for most people as Facebook is where their social network is.  Google would have to get people to migrate en-masse and over a short period of time to get the sort of success FB show.
  3. Wave is certainly buggy; Gmail and Buzz are designed to not run on IE6 and it’s debatable how long Google will support other Microsoft Browsers – I wonder how many people would want themselves tied in to Google at the level of software as well as applications?  Like I said earlier – Facebook doesn’t require me to have a Facebook email address.
  4. What’s Google’s target market; Wave seemed to be a solution looking for a problem; Buzz seems to be a similar ‘half way house’ affair that in some ways would have been best placed in Wave. Twitter and Facebook tend to provide specific groups of users with a defined user experience and functionality.  Quite what Buzz and Wave and Gmail together provide that isn’t available elsewhere is not clear to me.

So….my thoughts?  If this is Google’s attempt to park their tanks on Facebook’s lawn, then they’ve invoked the ‘Fail Whale’.

Facebook friends limited to 150 by the brain?

facebookAs anyone who’s ever heard me rant about the ‘numbers game’ side of networking – especially on sites such as Ecademy, Linked in or Facebook – will testify, I’m a great believer in quality rather than quantity, and until the software on such sites can do more for me than it currently does in terms of augmenting my memory and the cognitive abilities I apply when trying to remember ‘Is Fred interested in Mousterian Variability or is that Jill?’ then I use these sites to more conveniently keep in touch with roughly the same number of people I would via non computer based means.

So I was pleased today to read this item, suggesting that the brain has a top limit on how many people we can keep track of.   It’s called Dunbar’s Number and is suggested by anthropologist Robin Dunbar to be about 150.  It shouldn’t be surprising; it’s been realised for years that there are optimum sizes for small teams of between 6 and 10 people, which fits with the old military idea of the ‘Brotherhood of the table’ – the ideal size of a small, self contained, fighting unit being a section of about a dozen men.  In such small teams personal loyalties develop and the team bonds quickly.  Larger groupings are employed in companies, but few large companies now look to any ‘business unit’ as having more than a couple of hundred people in them, as management becomes impersonal and the whole unit becomes less effective.

I’ve held for many years, even before the advent of Internet social networking sites, that the quantity over quality brand of personal networking is more to do with train spotting, stamp-collecting or the MI5 Registry than it is to do with maintaining close and friendly business or social relationships.  The numbers approach reduces everything to the level of transactions -‘What can ‘x’ do for me today?’, or ‘I need to know ‘z’, who can help me?’  Whilst this is indeed part of social relationships, the more is beautiful version of social networking makes it all there is to having a network, which is painfully sad.

The natural extension to this approach is what we’re seeing now; many ‘numbers based’ networking sites end up as platforms for the exchange of low-value ‘opportunities’ between people, which are rarely of value to the recipient.  Spam may be too harsh a word, but what else can you call it?  If you have a network of 2,000 people, then you’re much more likely to feel OK about ‘cold calling’ them all than you would if you had a more tightly defined network of respected confidantes, friends and valuable professional associates.  Same on Twitter – it’s easy to spam 20,000 people with marketing messages in 140 characters because you simply cannot know them all.  You’re working as a publisher.  there’s nothing wrong with that but don’t fool yourself in to believing that your relationships with those 2,000 or 20,000 people are anything other than, in most cases, opportunities for you to push your message to them.

Of course, true relationships do develop from these large numbers of what I call ‘transactional friends’, but they enter in to the 150.  The vast majority of these thousands of friends and followers seem, therefore, to be just stamps in a collector’s album.

I for one don’t want to be a collector!

The dumbing down of Twitter starts here?

dead-twitterI’ll admit it.  Deep within me is a snob.  As far as I’m concerned, the online world started heading down hill when you no longer had to know how to install a full TCP/IP stack to use the Internet.  Most online discussion forums should, in my opinion, have an intelligence test before you’re allowed to post on them – basically the ability, for an English language website, to string together English sentences without text speech or foul language is a good starting point.  OK…where was I….oh yes. 

Seesmic, the company who produce  the popular Twhirl Twitter application, are producing an application that they basically believe will bring Twitter to the masses of online users who are yet to Tweet.  The software has been endorsed by Twitter and developed in collaboration with Microsoft, who may be planning on installing it as part of Windows.  The program, called ‘Look’, is designed to be used by people who’re not currently tweeting and who may not feel that they have much to say – looking at it I’d say that it appears that twitter are starting to commoditise their platform – increase the numbers of users and volumes of traffic prior to some efforts towards monetisation of their network.  In yestreday’s piece about BlippyI mentioned the ‘database of intentions’; perhaps Twitter are looking towards a massive increase in numbers of users to swell the flow of data that can be used to generate another part of this database.   Twitter’s traffic / user levels have also been flat for a while – perhaps twitter see this move as a means of breaking through the current plateau and getting things moving again before the next new thing comes along.

Now, as you can gather from the title I have a few issues with what’s happening.  To some people, the idea of ‘dumbing down’ Twitter may sound daft – after all, many folks think it’s pretty dumb already – so let me explain what I mean.  Twitter is a platform that carries messages which users can filter and hence determine what they see.  In principle, therefore, a large influx of new people shouldn’t necessarily change the culture too much; after all, people filter which Tweets they see.  If Twitter does become a hotbed of text speech and obscenity (OK, even more than now! 🙂 ) then it shouldn’t affect most of us because we can filter out the noise.  This is a different proposition to spam email or discussion Forums where the signal to noise ration – i.e. the amount of good stuff compared to the dross – does decline radically when larger numbers of users come on board.

However…all this new traffic will be using Twitter’s infrastructure, and unless the twitter infrastructure is improved I can see many more occurrences of the ‘Fail Whale’ in the months after the introduction of this new package.

As for the dumbing down; I am concerned; if Twitter are going in this direction to play the ‘numbers game’ then I can see good content becoming harder and harder to find.  Twitter’s search facilities are pretty poor; using them to search through large amounts of juvenilia for the valuable nuggets of content is not going to be easy.


The Social Media Numbers Game

twitter-logoI’m old enough to have used an address book and still have a Rolodex on the phone table.  When I actually sit down and think about the people with whom I have reasonably regular ‘quality’ contact in a 3 month period, either electronically or face to face, it probably amounts to no more than a hundred or so.  I guess it’s safe to say that in the world of networking I’m a ‘quality over quantity’ sort of fellow.  I’ve never been a great collector of large numbers of business cards or people details – collections are fine for stamps, coins and locomotive numbers but are kind of creepy for people. 🙂

Back in the late 1990s / early 2000s I used a networking site called Ecademy – I stopped after a while because it seemed that people were making contact with you purely from a sales oriented viewpoint.  Allow me to explain – if I’m interested in AI, and someone brings something to my attention that’s even vaguely related to the field – that’s cracking!  That’s exactly what I’m there for – and hopefully I’ll be able to reciprocate.  On the other hand, if someone steams in with a ‘Hi, I’m Fred, I’m in marketing, blah, blah, blah’ I get the feeling I’m receiving a boilerplate message which is likely to end up as a boiler room selling attempt.  The site seemed to encourage numbers of contacts over quality – and that’s one of the reasons why I eventually jacked it in.

I’ve noticed in recent days that I’m being followed by people who are following thousands of others.  And the odd thing is most of them appear to be selling something that is as relevant to me as a comb to Sir Patrick Stewart.  The ‘Bio’ of one such follower (soon to be ex-follower in my daily purge) – “A Business Dedicated to providing free online MLM training videos, articles, books and webinars”.  If I received an email like this I’d call it spam – pure and simple.  I know that Twitter has policies around spam, but my point is that most folks following 20,000 people seem to be in the MLM, ‘sales and marketing’, ‘social media consultancy’ sort of areas.  They’re cold calling – they sure ain’t networking.

Bottom line – there is NO WAY, realistically, that the content generated by the 20,000 people these bods follow is ever registering in any meaningful manner with these people – I assume it’s simply being harvested electronically and searched for keywords that might suggest a sales lead. 

Joe’s categorisation of Twitter users…

  1. Vast number of followers, smallish number of followed – publisher / celeb.
  2. Vast number of followers, vast number of followed – probably sales / mass marketing
  3. Smallish followers, large number of followed – probably spammer
  4. Smallish followers / smallish followed – personal / business networking

OK – it’s not a brilliant classification but it works for me.  Just watch out if you’re in category 2 or 3 ‘cos I’m binning you!

 Whilst I was drafting this yesterday, I came across this piece on the same topic:  http://juliorvarela.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/when-twitter-numbers-are-meaningless/

Don’t get too hung up on your numbers on Twitter.  If you’re following lots of people, just check WHY.  Do they add value to your day?  Amuse / entertain you?  Educate you?  Guide or enlighten you?  If not, ditch ’em.  And those following you – just take a look at their numbers and think about what I’ve said.

And I hope you don’t chuck me off your lists. 🙂