Monthly Archives: April 2009

Twitter, Google, Meetup, AT&T and Howcast go to Iraq for IraqTech

Early this morning, tweets became coming in from Baghdad from @Jack Dorsey. Here’s the picture of Jack that he tweeted on a C-130, well-equipped in body armor.

@Jack in flak

@Jack in flak

The snap was taken by Scott @Heif, Chief Organizer at Meetup.com. Jack and Scott are part of a small delegation of tech executives that were invited to visit Iraq by State.gov. Representatives from Google, Meetup, AT&T, Howcast and other tech companies will be spending the week in Baghdad. The delegation also includes JasonLiebman, (Co-founder and CEO of Howcast Media), Richard Robbins (rar624) (Director, Social Innovation at AT&T).

You can follow their trip and discussion by searching for the hashtag #IraqTech on Twitter and view their photostream on Flickr. It’s worth searching for #IraqTech at Twazzup.com at too, a new real-time search engine for Twitter. A search there show results aggregated from both of those streams.

Dorsey, is the founder and chairman of Twitter, the red hot tech company whose wildly popular microblogging social network has become the virtual water cooler of the moment. @Oprah joined Twitter on Friday. 1.5 million more people have joined since, urged on by Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk), who raced CNN (@CNNBrk) and Larry King to be the first Twitter accounts to gain one million followers.

@Jack tweeted that a press release will be coming later today that will explain more about the goals of the delegation…

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When shouldn’t an organization use social media?

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...
Image by luc legay via Flickr

Facebook broke 200 million users this month. Wikipedia is one of the most well-known websites in the world. Blogs affect stock prices. NPR is all over podcasting. Celebrities talk about Twitter on late night TV. The POTUS even used Twitter to announce he’d be taking questions for his livestreamed townhall at the White House with Google Moderator and blogged about it. Heck, President Barack Obama’s Open Government Directive will encourage Federal agencies to tweet and use other social media tools to achieve greater transparency.

Paul Gillin made some excellent points in a recent BtoB Magazine article, “When to avoid social media,” that I think Sarah Peres undersells in her recent post on ReadWriteWeb, When NOT to use Social Media, without perhaps giving full weight to his experiences talking to large enterprises about how they use technology.

I find Gillin’s last point most compelling, given that privacy and regulatory concerns that pertain to social media are an area I’m paying close attention to right now — and not just because I work at a public company myself:

Privacy and regulatory concerns. While a few health care companies have started blogs and social networks, most are proceeding with justifiable caution. If you’re in an industry where people can go to jail for what they say in public, you should be careful. Much as I hate to say it, you should probably get the lawyers closely involved.

Most large enterprises and governmental agencies have protected, proprietary or personally identifiable information that they can face considerable liability for disclosing or failing to protect against a data breach.

In those environments — and let’s be clear here, we’re not talking about a “handful of examples,” given the proportion of the economy constituted by big business, government, law and healthcare — jumping in to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other public-facing social media tools may hold much more risk than reward if it’s not done carefully. For attorneys, for instance, individual features like “Recommendations” on LinkedIn may pose ethical issues. Paul’s right; if such an organization doesn’t have a strategic vision or buy-in from upper management, they’re likely better off staying out of actively — and be clear with staff that that is the expectation for them as well. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be doing active brand management; just that posting publicly may not be optimal.

All of this pertains to social media as it exists on the public Internet. Once the various tools, including blogs, wikis and microblogging platforms, move behind the firewall, however, many of the issues posed by corporate communications and data leaks are addressed. That is, if the software is secured like rest of the enterprise’s systems. Adoption of social media tools in the form of collaborative social software at enterprises, or “Enterprise 2.0,” provides an entirely different value proposition and list of considerations that I’ll leave to folks like Professor McAfee to pose. I would note that if the CIA could create, extend and maintain an Intellipedia, there’s hope for even the most hidebound, hierarchical organizations to follow suit.

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Luck of the Draw: Opening Day at Fenway

Some days are just meant to be. I dropped by my bank in Roslindale after work and then made a beeline for Fenway for Opening Day. I got there just as Beckett finished the sixth, managed to find a standing room only seat and slipped into the ballpark.

fenway-opening-day-2009-home-plate

I enjoyed my Guinness and the last three innings of a 5-3 Red Sox win over the Rays. The reaction Papelbon received as he jogged out to close the 9th, Dropkick Murphy’s blaring in the background is one I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Perfect way to close the evening.

Papelbon delivers

Papelbon delivers

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10 Delicious links to remember on Twitter, Google and Newspapers

Google in 1998
Image via Wikipedia

When I scrolled down this blog this afternoon, I noticed that my list of Delicious social bookmarks was a succinct, useful snapshot of the resources or ideas I’d found worth saving over the past week. As the platform and tools that I can use to tag, share or store information online has expanded, Delicious has remained an important tool for leaving useful digital breadcrumbs I can use to retrace my travels later on. This list struck me as particularly meaningful, both because of how useful the links are and what they reflect in the moment of my life when I saved them.

For instance, I saved the Google AdWords: Keyword Tool link after I enjoyed quick workshop with my SEO guru. I use it whenever I blog or write. The link needed to be in my bookmarks.

I’ve been exploring new ways to syndicate and share digital content for years. The Top 20 Ways to Share a Great Blog Post at Mashable put most of them in the same place. Score.

I found Classroom 2.0 looking for information about how collaborative software is being use in education. Classroom 2.0 is a social network for “those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education.” Perfect.

I came across an anonymous blogging guide provided by Global Voices, “Global Voices Advocacy » Anonymous Blogging with WordPress & Tor,” through an email from the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School. It’s an important resource for any journalist or citizen in repressive regimes that need to get information out but can’t risk being identified. Given the enormous risks to life, liberty and family dissidents face for  in many parts of the globe, I wanted to make sure I saved it to review again later. Flash drive + Tor + WordPress = Anonyblogging. Smart.

I’d come across Tweet Congress before. It’s a visible element of an online movement to get Congress on Twitter. As the site notes, “Twitter enables real conversation between lawmakers and voters, in real time.” We’re all seeing it already, as Congressional staffs, Senators and Representatives adjust to the new dynamic. There’s no need for a TweetWhitehouse, as @BarackObama is already back in use again.

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the future of online news, newspapers and digital journalism. One of the thinkers I read the most and certainly use as a hub for information is Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU. His list of 12 essays to read, a “Flying Seminar In The Future of News,” is a must-read on the topic.

I tagged Utimaco’s compliance and regulation portal after I attended on a seminar they hosted on the new MA data protection law. I wrote about what I learned there on SearchCompliance.com: Panels reveal risks of noncompliance with Mass. laws.

I saved Bostonist’s post @ Boston’s First Official Google Meetup because Tom Lewis recorded a short interview with me at the event. I embedded it below.

One of the starkest, clearest headlines I’ve read recently was on Washington Post.com: Daily Red Meat Raises Chances Of Dying Early. The link text really says it all.

Google Moderator rounds out this “top 10″ because of its use by the WhiteHouse in soliciting questions before  the recent online town hall. I’d tweeted about the TipJar before,  where users can rate “money saving tips submitted and ranked by the Web community.” I learned at the Google Meetup in Boston that Google itself uses the moderation tool every Friday internally.

I don’t usually reblog Delicous links — this was just a helluva good week for ‘em. If you use delicious, share similar interests and would like to extend your network, you can find me at delicious at http://delicious.com/alexanderbhoward.

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#hashtags on Twitter are like channels on cable TV

Readers of ReadWriteWeb no doubt appreciated the hashtag refresher contained in Sarah Perez’ post, “What Does that Hashtag Mean? Tagalus Tells You.” As growth in Twitter has exploded, conversations, interest and confusion over #hashtags have spiked as well. How could they not?

The problem is that for all of those new users, the # signs inserted into Tweets make no sense. David Pogue helped a lot of them when he tweeted a link to hashtag.org, where hashtags are defined as “a community-driven convention for adding additional context and metadata to your tweets.”

They’re like tags on Flickr, only added inline to your post. Tagalus, the service Perez blogged about in her hashtag post, is a Web service that defines hashtags. Think of it as a hashtag dictionary.

Tagalus aside, here’s a perspective that may bring you another step towards Twittervana:

#hashtags are the channels that you can tune to whatever signal will make Twitter useful at a given time.

hashtag_screenshotTurn on, tune in, log out, to paraphrase a certain ’60s radical. Kevin Rose’s successful launch of WeFollow.com demonstrated that people will add classify their own accounts to particular channels in folksonomies. Each wants their product, service, brand or simply themselves to show up in search for that Twitter channel.

Smart brands have long since figured that out and monitor those channels like Webby hawks, adding hashtagged keywords to seed each discussion. Every user can tune Twitter into precisely the channel he or she likes. It’s easy.

You see, on twitter.com/search, we’re all equal*. Just tune in to the channel with the right hashtag.

Skeptics have rightly pointed out that many tweets are the ultimate in routine banality, expressing nothing but the author’s narcissism. Just watch the Twouble with Twitters for effective satire on that count. And for many users, they may be correct. Public access cable has had some real doozies on there, too, but that doesn’t make the medium – and most of what happens on it – trivial or useless. When you listen to Twitter using hashtags, however, it does’t matter if you have 174,456 followers, own a cable channel or play for the Suns. (Don’t worry, Shaq. Love to see you tweeting.) If someone is’t talking about the topic you’re searching for, it won’t matter. You’ve filtered them out.

If you like the Food Network, tune in to #foodie or #cooking. Or #recipe. If you’re a sports fan from New England and watch NESN, try #RedSox. Or try #NASCAR. Plenty of fans to go around. If you follow politics, you might have found #election interesting last November. You certainly will in 2010. True conservatives on Twitter (#TCOT) isn’t exactly like watching Fox News, though it’s a fair bet that there’s some crossover. President Obama’s name itself (#Obama) is a channel these days, especially during the “non-State of the Union” (#nsotu) earlier this year.

It’s safe to say that there are as many channels on Twitter as there are on cable. Not all of them have as much content, of course, but if Twitter continues to grow, each channel will fill with conversation. Twitter allows us all to create our very own channels and then seed them with even smaller categories.

Creative and clever users — of which there are no shortage — have created Twitter #channels from the ether. Check out #HARO, #journchat, #GNO or #FollowFriday for well-known examples. Others are sure to come, whether they’re generated by natural disasters (#earthquake), terrorist attacks (#Mumbai), acts of televised heroism (#flight1549), sports events (#KentuckyDerby) or national holidays (#July4).

Twitter, for the moment, is offering the best real-time search of all of these conversations. If you want a snapshot of what the world is talking about, just check what’s trending on search.twitter.com. Or, if the noise about whatever has the world’s focus is not of interest, slice the conversation into precisely the vertical topic you care about, whether it’s #Enterprise2.0, #Olympics or #butterflies. You’ll find both signal and, most likely, a conversation with a group of people who are interested in the same subject, often bearing news about the area.

Many brands have awoken to the fact that Twitter has become a pre-eminent market for conversations about them. Some, like @ComcastCares, have forged new customer service models. Others, like #Dell or #Zappos, are even profiting from their engagement. As many online analysts have noted, however, each channel can fill up with noise, rendering the listener unable to find that useful signal.

As Stacy Higginbotham quipped at GigaOm, Twitter “jumped the shark for digerati at SXSW” because the channel for the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin (#SXSW) became jammed with banal status updates, not information. She linked to Dan Terdiman’s story at CNET, where he wrote at length about Twitter saturation at SXSW.

The challenge posed for listeners at such events will be to tune their dials more carefully, either by creating groups in Tweetdeck or by refining Twitter’s advanced search capabilities. Connie Reece demonstrates how to do the latter in Twitter lessons from Mumbai.

Google’s success has shown that an audience that is searching for information, particularly about products, services or vendors, is in the best frame of mind to be advertised to for the given search term.

That could well be the Twitter bird’s golden egg. Some observers believe “real-time search is probably one of Twitter’s most valuable features.” There was endless speculation this past week that Google would buy Twitter, creating a “Twoogle,” precisely because of this real-time search capability.

Time will reveal how — or if — Twitter find a way to monetize those conversations. In the meantime, I need to go. There’s a good NCAA college basketball tournament game to tune in shortly at “UConn OR Michigan State.”

*Over the years, that’s proven not to be true: Twitter has an internal weighting system for users and tweets. Popular users and tweets show up at the top of search.

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Happy April Fools Day online! #AprilFools is fun in 2009.

Organic Air!

Organic Air!

I had a fun time last night watching websites roll out April Fools jokes.

This morning, I saw many more go live. Fun stuff, for the most part. You can see the hoaxes, pranks and faux sites go up , more or less in real-time, by watching the AprilFools hashtag on Twitter. Here’s what I found:

I stopped tracking once I arrived in the office. I didn’t need to: @TechCrunch posted an EPIC list of 2009 #AprilFools hoaxes: http://is.gd/q24M | Stellar work, Michael.

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