Put Down the #Hashtag Campaign

McDonald’s recently had to endure the ignominy of a Twitter hashtag campaign that was hijacked for the purpose of highlighting what people don’t like about the Golden Arches. The #McDStories campaign blew up and even after McDonald’s tried to shut it down the hashtag lived on for days.

Today we have RIM, the company that can do no right… #BeBold is proving to be yet another lesson in why your company should not try to co-opt Twitter in an organized fashion unless you are absolutely certain that people love your brand.

RIM has denied that this is an ad campaign in a blog post that features a string of less than encouraging comments… which will be my next blog post, titled “turn off commenting if people don’t love your brand and you don’t care”.

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G+, Twitter and Tumblr are Biggest Losers

Like a lot of my peers I have been immersed in Google Plus for the last week and I have to give credit to Google for really getting this one right. The sharing mechanism is very accessible, Circles offer welcome segmentation of your social graph, and most importantly, it’s fun to use.

Much of the commentary has centered on what a successful Google + means for Facebook but I disagree that this is represents a severe near or medium term threat to Facebook. What it does harken is a form of arms race between the two companies that is ultimately good for users.

There are two major losers worth highlighting, Twitter and Tumblr. We won’t see the effects of G+ on either service for some time but I forecast that as G+ mainstreams that Twitter and Tumblr activity will plummet.

Twitter’s defining feature is both it’s strength and it’s limiting factor, 140 characters. Tumblr use over time has grown as Twitter itself grew, and I think a major factor in their growth is the mainstream acceptance of short form sharing. Like a lot of people I started to use my Tumblr blog to share links with short text snippets that provided context, and I enjoyed the photo and video sharing which embeds the media blob rather than link to it.

I wrote about my shift to Tumblr here, saying last year that:

Twitter and Facebook will continue to be important channels to push content through but rather than creating content in those networks I will, whenever possible, post through Tumblr. I will continue to “talk” with people through social networks and Facebook has some unique capabilities that I will take advantage of.

G+ is essentially a better Twitter+Tumblr for me than combining the two services could ever be. I get the realtime effects of an activity stream on top of easy content sharing tools, and I get the ability to provide a high degree of context in both what is shared and in the interaction because there is a threading model for replies.

Lastly a word about Circles. Google is providing a good starting point with Circles but it’s not the end game because being successful with Circles is entirely a function of your discipline in maintaining Circles, it’s like email folders in this respect.

We really need to get to a point where dynamic Circles can respond to a person’s interest graph as well as their social graph. In this model content would be shared not on the sole basis of who I targeted with it but as a response to what people are actually interested in.

I am making an effort to maintain my Circles but I don’t enjoy it nor do I believe that it is a model that the mass market will adopt, even though the notion of segmenting a person’s social graph is entirely reasonable and highly practical.

Twitter, er Google, Hacked

Twitter makes sure that they throw in the obligatory “this ain’t about Google Apps” disclaimer when actually it pretty much is.

This attack had nothing to do with any vulnerability in Google Apps which we continue to use.

[From Twitter Blog: Twitter, Even More Open Than We Wanted]

If Twitter were using something other than a public cloud for their documents and messaging, well it would have been a hell of a lot more difficult for someone to login with a password retrieved via the recovery feature in Gmail.

I’ll still use Gmail and hope I never have to use Exchange again but let’s not pretend that the ease by which the Twitter document heist was accomplished had nothing to do with the vulnerability of a publicly accessible hosted services. Better passwords, routinely changing them, and not making forgotten password questions easy to defeat would all help… but then again Exchange administrators can force those things on users rather than relying on users to be self-regulating.

Why Did I Unfollow You

I’ve been cleaning up my Twitter-roll and unfollowing a bunch of people, here’s why:

1) You don’t tweet. I don’t think anyone really needs to pump out 50 tweets a day to be interesting… but the corollary is true as well, if the only tweet you have posted in the last 2 months is “going for lunch, indian food” don’t be surprised if you get unfollowed. Twitter is a stream, not a feed.

2) You pimp your company, and then do it some more. A lot of people seem to think that Twitter exists solely for them to tweet out press releases about their company, or every tweet is cheerleading on behalf of their company. Balance people, balance. It’s all well and good to tweet out news about the great things your company is doing, but balance it out with interesting links to news from around your industry. The odds are pretty damn good that you know more about what your competitors, partners, and other interesting companies are doing than I do, and that’s why I followed you in the first place. I would expect a company twitter profile to be exclusively focused on company news, but not a person working for that company.

3) You are rude. It’s okay to disagree but to do so in a condescending or offensive manner is not appropriate, and just because it’s online doesn’t mean you can say things to me that you would not say to my face. Interestingly, this is the least frequent cause for unfollowing… most people I encounter online are actually more polite and civil, even if in violent disagreement, than the average person walking down the street in SF.

4) Serial retweeters. I’ve noticed that some people are following thousands of people with the intent of getting followed themselves, and then retweet nonstop to gain prominence. I’m not sure what the end game is here beyond building an authority ranking on third party services but it is not interesting. Some of this behavior is bot driven.

5) You tweet about inane bullshit. I really don’t care that you are “going for lunch, indian food” but if that is mixed in with interesting links, substantive tweets, good retweets, and other meaningful stuff, well I can skip over the meaningless stuff… but if the only thing you are tweeting about is inane bullshit, I’m unfollowing you. Signal to noise ratios, too low is a problem.

Twitter Clicks

I’ve been tracking my link traffic with bit.ly (liking very much btw) and have noticed a couple of interesting patterns. These observations may form a basis for how twitter compliments bloggers and media in ways beyond simple promotion of posts.

When I post a link as a tweet, the link gets more traffic than when I blog it (as measured proportionally according to my twitter follower number and daily pageview traffic to my blog). The traffic is immediate and often quite profound, not uncommon that within 2-3 minutes of posting a link it is not uncommon to have between 40-60 clicks on it and within an hour can have several hundred if not more due to retweets (I have 1,600 followers, a lot but certainly not what someone like Pete Cashmore has, so I can only imagine the link deluge he can create).

Not surprisingly, the link traffic for a tweeted link is immediate and very distorted in that it falls off to zero within hours. Twitter is a medium that lives in the moment so anything that falls below the fold is gone forever for all practical purposes. On my blog, thanks to search tools predominately, a link can live on literally forever as search traffic finds discrete posts and continues to send traffic to linked items. Items posted to my blog can benefit substantially from services like StumbleUpon, and Twitter itself has risen in ranking in terms of traffic sources to where it is not uncommon to see Twitter drive incoming traffic to blog posts well beyond the useful life of the link itself.

What would I conclude from this? My primary learning is that Twitter is indeed useful as a microblogging service that people are using to discover information. This is not a zero sum game between Twitter and blogs, the two compliment each other nicely provided the author uses each according to their unique capabilities. Bloggers that are using Twitter primarily as a mechanism for promoting new blog content are missing a bigger opportunity to build out a separate and distinct publishing channel that enhances and expands their blogging footprint.

This integrated approach to new media is no different than what has happened in other formats over the years.

My Twitter Business Plan

Much talk about Twitter and business plans, considering I had an email exchange with a good friend on this very topic I thought I’d throw it out for public discussion.

Advertising:

I am skeptical of this because it puts a bullseye on them for user pushback. Plus, as social networks teach us, advertising on these mediums moves quickly to commodity pricing that is complicated to scale, even with Twitter volumes. Personally I think Twitter should say away from advertising… users don’t benefit from it and brands will find little value in it.

Premium Services:

This is where freemium comes into play… free Twitter for everyone, premium twitter for companies, additional services, and a subset of third party app developers. Another fairly obvious premium service is multi-user accounts, which is targeted squarely at companies using Twitter for brand activities.

Additional services that would be worth paying for include analytics, such as trending and tweet volume, reach analysis, link analysis, and profile based services.

The notion of real time services (high performance feeds) strikes me as an opportunity as well. Plenty of information services rely on inbound data that is high performance in nature and backed up by an SLA, while it’s probably a stretch for Twitter to do this today considering the well earned fail whale reputation, it’s a goal worth setting.

There are opportunities for applications built on top of Twitter, like market research, but I would stay away from this in order for the developer ecosystem to mature. I doubt that Twitter could juggle multiple strategies at the same time, most companies can’t, so it’s imperative to focus on building out the platform business rather than the application business.

Media Services:

I like the idea of offer a portfolio of rich services for media entities. Instead of CNN buying CNNbrk they pay Twitter an annual subscription to CNN branded services that they effectively resell through their CNN.com sites. Given the state of the broader advertising marketplace, it may seem like a stretch to build a business unit around this but media entities will pay and even today still have the ability to pay for services that drive audience.

Directory Services:

Twitter controls a namespace and one of the persistent problems for users and Twitter alike has been discovery of other users. It’s a problem for users because the best stuff to follow is often in the realm of not knowing what you don’t know; in other words it is a classic discovery problem. For Twitter this discovery problem reveals itself in the user retention problem that has been well documented.

If there is one place where advertising makes sense it would be in a directory of profiles organized by metadata (keywords) or categories that are defined by users themselves.

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#fixreplies: What Twitter Did to @replies is Stupid

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Top trending topic on Twitter is #fixreplies in response to the “small settings update” that they instituted yesterday afternoon.

We’ve updated the Notices section of Settings to better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies. Based on usage patterns and feedback, we’ve learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow—it’s a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don’t follow in your timeline is undesirable. Today’s update removes this undesirable and confusing option.

The community is speaking and they don’t like it. Marshall summed up nicely why this is a stupid change.

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Social Network Interopability

I think that pretty much from the beginning there existed a tension between users and software developers around the notion of interoperability. Users want it while developers more often than not view it as a threat to their strategy to lock users into their apps and services.

With social networks the tension has increased because users simply don’t have the bandwidth or desire to manage multiple networks, which only fuels the developer fears that interoperability is a threat so the way to win is to run faster on the hamster wheel to develop more features and services which will drive users to their service and quench the desire for competing services.

Users still want interoperability whether in the form of directed services like identity and interoperability or more strategic features like messaging.

I noticed something with the latest version of TweetDeck that demonstrates how interoperability is good for users and for developers. The integration of Facebook alongside Twitter has, for me, resulted in my re-engagement with Facebook on several levels. Not only am I actively monitoring messages in Facebook as a result of the added feature pane in TweetDeck, but I’m an “retweeting” Facebook status messages to Twitter. Here’s a screenshot from my rig (in the interest of privacy, I removed my direct messages pane).

200904151021.jpg

Lastly, I find it really interesting that desktop client apps are taking a leadership position in driving service engagement and now interoperability. I wrote last year about how desktop and mobile “satellite” apps were changing the way I use popular services, I’m more convinced than ever that developers have to court this trend as a central strategy for consumer AND enterprise users.

Acrylic Times RSS Client

I think I wrote something about this application last year. Acrylic Times is a very slick RSS client application that faces huge challenges in spite of being a beautifully designed application.

1) It’s a license in an era when people have an expectation of free.

2) The RSS client market is not growing and it’s not that big to begin with. RSS client apps (hosted or installed) tend to appeal to a very niche market (tech centric, high income/education, male) despite being available as mature product offerings for many years. RSS as a product/technology name is a significant barrier in itself, hell you might as well call these apps “cancer” because for the mass market it’s just as appealing.

3) The fundamental weakness in the user experience is that you have to proactively manage content sources. This is a huge turnoff for me because my OPML file is a mess and I just don’t want to take the extra steps to subscribe to content sources I find on my own…

Nobody is doing content discovery at the source level really well, but balancing content relevancy to user behavior within defined sources is coming along nicely. One of the most exciting apps in this regard is Feedly, I absolutely love what Edwin and team are doing but I don’t think of that as an RSS app… it’s an application that takes advantage of RSS for content but RSS is just one content source.

Another example of this is the PostRank Twitter Newsroom, which builds on extensive experience measuring RSS feeds and applies the same ranking mechanism to twitter streams. This is just one more example of how broadcast content is converging with social recommendation. The next frontier is bringing email into the mix with web intelligence derived from social networks and content.

At any rate, check out Times and give it a test drive.

200904142138.jpg

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Is Twitter Killing RSS?

For media, there are two primary use cases for RSS, promotion of new content and content syndication. The latter is true plumbing that offers low cost, reliability and convenience while the former is a means for promoting new content through RSS client applications, widgets, iPhone apps, purpose specific apps, and so on… you see the headline and click on the content that interests you. Twitter is killing this use case for RSS.

Few media sites enable full text RSS feeds and for a good reason, it robs them of site traffic that is monetized whereas RSS feeds are not. This has always hamstrung the utility of RSS outside of blogs, yet still provided “good enough” utility that you could still use it.

Truth be told, publishers see RSS as something they should do while at the same time not really embrace it because while providing a convenient syndication mechanism the fact remains that it strips branding elements out, is notoriously difficult to monetize, and has stagnated as a technology because in the absence of branding and monetization there really isn’t much of a movement behind RSS to evolve the standard(s). Even microformats, something that should be obvious good stuff for publishers, have not been widely adopted for the same reasons, it provides utility for end users but not much benefit for publishers and content owners.

Something interesting happened along the way, Twitter achieved critical mass and bloggers and mainstream media alike adopted it to promote content. Every post I write is automatically tweeted out with the post title and link to source, not unlike what other sites do, and over the last year I have noticed a steady increase in referral traffic from Twitter as my followers grew and links to my posts were clicked on… in essence people are following me much like they subscribe to my RSS feed. I like it because the traffic returns to my site rather than be consumed in a RSS client that I can’t apply integrated analytics to, which has the effect of presenting a complete picture of site traffic without having to guess what my traffic actually is when I add in what I believe is bled off through my full text RSS feed.

In my own usage behaviors I noticed something starting when I followed ZDNetBlogs quite a while back, I stopped reading their RSS feed and started getting my story links through their twitter updates. Today I use the much improved Twitter search function to find profiles for the publications I like to read, following them and getting their content via links in tweets. For bloggers, the ability to follow provides not only the content updates in most cases but also the opportunity to interact with the authors and catch all their other updates that wouldn’t even show up in RSS.

Twitter provides publishers with several key advantages over RSS, namely the ability to control brand and force traffic back to their monetized site. Of course none of this precludes them from also using RSS to distribute content and there are equally compelling reasons for doing so but if I were to make a prediction it would be that publishers increasingly find primary utility for RSS in the backoffice while de-empathizing RSS for audience acquisition, in the process embracing Twitter as a mechanism for engaging an audience and promoting content at the same time.