Monthly Archives: June 2009

Does RT = spam? Unlikely. A retweet is social media currency.

Two small cans of Spam. One is closed and the ...
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I’m still working through my notes and interviews from the past week’s Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston. Many people, ideas and presentations will stay with me —  I look forward to writing another article and several blog posts today and tomorrow — but I wanted to make sure I captured one particular moment that actually irked me: The statement by a member of a panel in a session on Twitter that a RT is spam.

Apparently, @IsaacGarcia is determined to hold onto that position in the face of substantial counter opinion. I’m left to speculate how much he has used or read about Twitter; I gather from his comments on the panel that he has used the medium to find customers for his company and sell the product. The irony of that use is that by searching for mentions of his brand or looking for potential prospects and replying to them, he is in fact engaging in unsolicited commercial messaging.

I believe there’s a word for that.

Humor aside, I did reflect for a while on Garcia’s contention, which he tweeted during the panel: “How is recvng RTs about a topic/person that I didn’t choose to Follow not spam? Am recvng unsolicited info from the originator.” Isaac isn’t an obtuse man; Central Desktop was used by the Obama campaign to manage field operations in Texas.n, as Josh Catone blogged in ReadWriteWeb.

So where’s the disconnect? I wrote about the retweet last November for WhatIs.com, in “Buzzword Alert: The retweet (RT) is the FWD of 2008.” To retweet is to repost the tweet of another Twitter user using your own account.

It would probably be helpful to review what spam IS again, other than a fatty breakfast meat that’s likely to survive a nuclear winter. Wikipedia (currently) calls “Spam the abuse of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages.” CNET reported that, in 2009, spam makes up 90% of all email. If anything, that’s actually down from the 95% estimate I read a few years ago. That may be a result of shutting down ISPs that allow sending spam; it’s not likely, at least in this pundit’s eyes, to be a result of the CANN-SPAM Act, which created standards for sending commercial email. To be compliant, you must have a way for users to unsubscribe and do so if asked.

Twitter, of course, makes subscribing and unsubscribing from efforts rather easy — follow or unfollow. There are many technical hiccups that sometimes hinder that process, but by and large that’s the way it works. I choose to subscribe to your tweets. If don’t like something about the experience, I stop listening.

Fortunately, I’ve been gifted by thousands of smart, savvy followers, and when I asked them all if a RT is spam, I received 11 immediate @replies, followed by a few more. I’ll share their thoughts, as I believe they speak eloquently in defense of the role of the retweet.

First, my friend and colleague on the Touchbase blog, Leslie Poston, offered her perspective:

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geechee_girl: some RT = spam, blogged em on Uptown Uncorked last week

Leslie clearly has had it with some of the hijinks that have been going on Twitter, including a basic lack of netiquette and yes, some genuine spam. In “Retweeting Etiquette, RT Spam, RT Flash Mobs, RT Linkbait,” Leslie points out many of the issues around the convention that have sprung up as Twitter has exploded in popularity and the usual shady netizens have moved in. The post is worth reading, but, in the frame of my question, her concern is around retweeting spam, not that RT itself constitutes it.

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sleddd: RT not really spam, more sharing information. Like a phone tree or saying hey check this out to the people who do follow you. RTs, DMs, replies, as well as general tweets are what help make social media social.

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stales: RT=spam? No, not at all. When you “follow”, you’re giving that tweeter the right to pass on ANY info.. regardless of source

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chrisbechtel: a Retweet is not spam – it is a share of something the sharer deems potentially valuable to their community.

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pmhesse: a RT is about sharing information with your friends that you found valuable, informative, or entertaining.

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eric_andersen: I couldn’t possibly follow all of the original sources of info/links I’m interested in; rely on others to RT. IMHO sharing info via retweets is part of the “lifeblood” of Twitter; without sharing much appeal of the medium is lost.

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faseidl: It *may* be spam, but in general I would say false. See my comment on that question on this post: http://bit.ly/Wg7lp

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craighuff: some of us find RTed information valuable and welcome it.

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saccades: RT can “reflect the” light of a bright idea

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turquoisefish
: a RT from me is something I liked, found interesting, or wanted 2 share.

Here’s my version: A retweet is social media currency. It’s a validation of the tweet you are passing on and a stamp that you have not changed it. I use PRT, for partial retweet, if I have to edit for length.

I use via or HT for “hat tip” if I pass along  someone’s link but write my own text, which provides proper attribution. The HT has been a convention of blogging for over a decade; there’s no sense in changing the netiquette simply because the blog is smaller. If Ben Parr is correct in his assessment of the trend, we’ll soon be seeing RS on Facebook, as people reshare information in that real-time environment.
In many ways, reshare is a much better word, as it captures the essence of the action: passing along information that we thought was worthwhile, funny, useful or otherwise worth seeing. It’s precisely the sort of action, in other words, that makes someone want to follow another person on Twitter or not.

As any longtime of Twitter knows, there is in fact plenty of spam on Twitter. There’s even a @spam account to report it to. #hashtags spam has become a problem, given that whenever a topic becomes trending on Twitter, spammer hop on and advertise whatever the scheme of the day might be. Nastier folk lurk there too, twishing for unsuspecting users.

Even reputable companies have engaged in it, as Mashable noted yesterday, when Habitat Used Iran Twitter Spam to Pimp Furniture.‎

(Habitat has since apologised for its Twitter ‘hashtag spam.’)

Patrick LaForge, a long-time user of Twitter and director of the copy desks for the New York Times, had the last word in my @reply stream. I tend to take his view as definitive on the subject. (The emphasis below is mine.)

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palafo: If you don’t like my tweets, don’t follow. Only spam is follow-spam and reply-spam. “RT” is ugly/confusing but quick.

In other words, it’s not that there isn’t spam on Twitter — it’s just not the RT.
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Takeaways from Day 1 of #140Conf: The real-time Web disrupts the media

Newspapers & Twitter panel

Newspapers & Twitter panel

Kudos to Jeff Pulver and his staff for creating what turned out to be an extraordinary day of discussion and learning, not to mention more than a little music and humor.

Following is a digest of some of my favorite moments, as tweeted. I already blogged about the extraordinary discussion that took place between Ann Curry, Robert Scoble and Rick Sanchez: “RickSanchezCNN was listening to #CNNfail: Did Twitter change CNN coverage?

Aaron Strout also liveblogged the 140 Conference and @stevegarfield has added many #140conf pics on Flickr.

I will note, and indeed tweeted, that I was surprised that no one on the Twitter for business panel talked about when NOT to use Twitter, given the legal or compliance issues in regulated industries. I’ll be writing more about that later this trip.

After all, collecting links and ideas from the day from a conference about Twitter from Twitter makes sense, no? I remain sad that I missed the keynotes by @JeffPulver, @Jack, @FredWilson and @TimOReilly that started the day but know that I’ll be able to watch them later and that the hundreds of other attendees here will summarize those words and insights perfectly well for the rest of the Web.

On TV

“Twitter is not cost-prohibitive. @JimmyFallon has 1.3 million followers. He tweeted a Zack Morris pic before the show. That became a trending term before the show aired.”-@GavinPurcell

On Newspapers

Twitter is changing newspapers, both in their relationship to readers and within the newsroom. Editors and writers are collaborating more on news or events, in real-time. As Patrick LaForge (@palafo) said during the panel when he was watching Twitter, he saw a tweet come in that “There’s a plane in the Hudson.” The Village Voice has created a private account to coordinate coverage.

Journalists are receiving tips and sharing news with their followers, engaging in so-called “process journalism.”

On Digital Journalism

JohnAByrne of BusinessWeek shared that perspective, noting that “now journalism” — reporting on news as it breaks and evolves on the real-time Web, is enabled and extended by Twitter. Reporters now use Twitter to report, share & discuss news. The extension of news gathering and sharing into these digital platforms changes it from a product to a process. Indeed, Byrne believes that “Twitter as a collaborative and engagement tool is essential to any kind of forward-thinking journalism.”

A journalist from the Middle East, @moeed, of http://aljazeera.net, stated that “Micro reporting has transformed how we do reporting, particularly in crisis situations, like war.” He shared a number of innovative digital platforms that are enabling Al Jazeera to both disseminate information and to leverage the distributed eyes, ears and phones of people scattered across a region.

On Music

Chris (@1000TimesYes) of http://RollingStone.com and the @VillageVoice) is reviewing 1000 records on Twitter in 2009. Michael brought down the house, too. He was both hilarious & darkly poetic in bemoaning the death of the music critic.Crowdsourcing killed punk rock,” in his view, along with many other alternative or indie genres.

On Love, Microsyntax, @CNNBrk, Kodak & Power

Panels and speeches also included the following, all of which you can find commentary and quotes from or about on #140conf:

  • a love letter to Twitter from @pistachio
  • @stoweboyd on his microsyntax nonproject at Microsyntax.org
  • @imajes on the story behind @CNNBRK (he created a script that posted CNN email alerts into Twitter)
  • @JeffreyHayzlett on Kodak and Twitter, which included a crowdsourced term: “twanker” for a Twitterers that show bad form
  • @ajkeen on Twitter and power (a contrarian’s take to be sure)

Sessions to come include panels on Twitter cewebrity wtih @adventuregirl @ijustine @juliaroy and @chrisbrogan, Twitter for social good, which includes @drew & @twestival.

On the real-time Web

This was aa tremendous day. The conversation that has been unfolding on the tension between information about events coming in over the real-time Web and so-called “old media” organizations that seek to uphold journalistic standards honed over decades is fascinating. It follows on the blog up…er, blow up between TechCrunch and the New York Times regarding process vs product journalism earlier this month. For journalists, getting the story right, with corroboration, attribution and validity is crucial. Finding a way to do that in the context of the torrent of real-time news will be a central challenge of newsrooms in the month to come.

These are tough questions, debated by the world’s best thinkers on digital journalism and technology. My Twitter conversation with Jason Pontin yesterday lingers: what are the opportunities for distributed, “open source” journalism? Twitter and blogs from #IranElection are a novel source. And as Jason pointed out, we know that there’s misinformation and rumors there; how can journalists do real reporting on Twitter?

Journalists are filing links to pictures and video, which helps — harder to fake the latter — but there are real challenges. As Jason tweeted, “reporting requires verification from at least three sources, posted or printed in an authoritative, independent publication. If I were editing #iranelection stories, I’d want: who is the open source? What conflicting interests? Cross-verification? Open source journalism, appropriately handled, could provide verification.”

It’s possible some technologists in today’s audience or  in Silicon Valley, India, Israel or home from MIT for the summer might find a way to provide all of that. For now, I’m looking forward to learning more from the Web luminaries here at the 140 Characters Conference.

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@RichSanchezCNN was listening to #CNNFail: Did Twitter change CNN coverage?

I’m still mulling over an extraordinary panel on newsgathering held here in New York City this morning. One panel stands out, however, and no doubt will continue to for years to come.

It’s not just that I had the chance to meet Ann Curry, who was passionate, thoughtful and deeply insightful.

'll always remember @AnnCurry reading @zittrain in the @NYTimes on #IranElection to @Scobleizer & me at #140conf

I'll always remember Ann Curry reading @zittrain 's quote on Twitter's impact on the election in Iran in the New York Times to Robert Scoble (and me) at the 140 Characters Conference

How can I not admire a television journalist who spoke with such passion and conviction about journalism, facts and getting it right?

She noted with considerable gravitas that she took her responsibility to “never Twitter something that is wrong” seriously.

Curry suggested to citizen journalists covering global stories that “I want you to shoot that story like it’s your sister, brother or mother.”

She also offered a perspective I can appreciate, based upon my own experience:

“My followers are my own newspaper.”

Aside from Curry’s comments, all of which I hope become available online as soon at the conference videographers can manage it, there’s another story to tell.

Last Saturday, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez noticed something happening on Twitter.

That’s nothing new: @RickSanchezCNN has in many ways bet his show, even career, on his integration with social media.

His use has paid off, according to the remarks Sanchez made at JeffPulver’s 140 Characters Conference, and not just in terms of his 95,000 followers: social media, particularly Twitter, has pushed CNN to cover the existence of fraud or overall validity of the elections in Iran.

After his comments on the panel, Sanchez described to me and others how his email about #CNNFail on Twitter went up to the highest levels of the network. And, after the network’s business, PR and marketing staff was pulled in, coverage the next day shifted.

In other words, just as the audience here in New York grew restive after hearing Sanchez and Robert Scoble talk about #CNNfail and asked to hear from Curry, CNN’s online audience on Twitter pushed the network to cover the news differently.

I wasn’t watching CNN on either day — I was focused on tracking Twitter, YouTube and other online sources — but I’m now incredibly curious about how Sunday’s broadcasts on CNN were different.

I do know that Sanchez said to me that CNN stayed with Ahmadinejad’s speech on Sunday much longer than they would have otherwise.

During the panel, Sanchez that “at no time did CNN drop the ball” — based upon his remarks following, however,  I have to wonder whether there was an appreciation in the C-suite at CNN that the online backlash on Twitter was a hint that Amanpour reporting live from Tehran wasn’t capturing the whole scene, and that US citizens were hungry for more information about what was happening on the streets and rooftaps of Iran.

I know now that, on some subtle level, there were changes — and that’s a win for all of those in the US who wanted CNN to cover events in Iran more closely. There’s a long road for newspapers and cable news networks to travel yet as they adjust to the real-time Web and its audience gathering information and publicly critiquing coverage decisions of network.

Even digital natives are still working out the standards for validation, attribution and information sharing. Old school publishers and broadcasters, by and large, are behind. It could be that the events in the Middle East this weekend could change that.

Sanchez was honest about the economic realities there, including the competition with Fox. Unfortunately, given the existance of a profit motive and ratings driven by celebrity stories and natural disasters, there are real barriers to the cable news networks shifting their airtime to just serious news stories.

In a public company, after all, ratings rule when shareholder value must be maximized.

Ann Curry suggested another, more sobering root cause: “It’s hard to get Americans to care about international issues.”

If journalists can frame, analyze and convey the stories of our collective humanity, whether it’s in Darfur, North Korea, Iran, China or some other global spot, perhaps that will change. Nick Kristof won a Pulitzer for his coverage in the New York Times.

Here’s hoping others follow in his footsteps.


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Top 50 Twitter Acronyms, Abbreviations and Initialisms

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

This past January,  I wrote up the “Top 15 Twitter acronyms” for @pistachio‘s Touchbase blog. As readers rightly pointed out, many were abbreviations or initialisms — hence the title for this post. I followed that up with a “Top 10 NSFW Twitter Abbreviations.” This list combines the two and includes some key additions, like HT, RE and FML. If you have others you think I missed, add ‘em in the comments.

@
Reply to [username]

AFAIK
As Far as I Know

b/c
Because

BFN
Bye For now

BR
Best Regards

BTW
By the Way

DM
Direct Message. d username sends one.

EM
Email

FB
Facebook

FF
Usually #FF for Follow Friday. #FollowFriday is supposed to work better than it does. If you #FF someone, take the characters to explain why.

FFS
For F–k’s Sake

FML
F–k My Life

FTF
Face To Face. Also, F2F. Or the Fair Trade Federation. Many other options.

FTL
For The Loss

FTW
For The Win

FWD
Forward

FWIW
For What It’s Worth

HT
Hat tip

HTH
Hope That Helps

IMHO
In My Humble Opinion

IMO
In My Opinion

IRL
In Real Life

JV
Joint Venture

J/K
Just Kidding

LI
LinkedIn

LMAO
Laughing My Ass Off

LMK
Let Me Know

LOL
Laughing Out Loud

MT
Modified Tweet

NSFW
Not Safe For Work

OH
Overheard

OMFG
Oh My F–king God

OMG
Oh My God

PRT
Partial Retweet (at the start of a tweet). Sometimes “Please Retweet” Old School: Party

RE
In reply to. As in, use RE for @replies on Twitter. Used in front of the @ to ensure all followers can see the conversation. Further ontext: “Community, @replies, #fixreplies and Change

RR
Re-Run

RT
Retweet

RTF
Read The FAQ. RTFF shows up too. RTF also stands for Rich Text File.

RTFM
Read The F-ing Manual

RTHX
Thanks For The ReTweet

SNAFU
Situation Normal All F–ked Up

SOB
Son Of a Bitch

STFU
Shut The F–k Up

TMB
Tweet Me Back

TMI
Too Much Information

via
My one cheat: “via” is not an abbreviation or acronym. It simply means that a tweet is from @username, though in some cases it may mean that it’s also an exact retweet. Tricky, this online user-defined lingo and twitribution is.

WTF
What The F–k

WTH
What The Hell

YMMV
Your Mileage May Vary

YW
You’re Welcome

BONUS:

Since this list was first published, some of these have become more popular and others have emerged. RT is still – by far – the most frequent acronym. New additions are added below, along with many suggestions in the comments.

TIL
Today I learned.

NB
Nota Bene. Make sure to read the comments, where there are many great additions.

ICYMI
In Case You Missed IT [HT @BrianStelter]

Update: Justin Kownacki thinks we should stop saying “in case you missed it” on Twitter. (That includes ICYMI, too.) I agree.

CX
Correction

RTQ
Read The Question or Retweet Question

STFW
Search The F —ing Web

TL
Timeline

TL;DR
Too long; Didn’t Read.

TT
Translated Tweet.

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RLRT: Real Life Retweet. To repeat on Twitter what someone said in person.

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IT innovation in Massachusetts: MIT-style business plan competition

Another day, another opportunity to meet Deval Patrick and report on innovation and technology in the Commonwealth.

Actually, it wasn’t just another day: I livestreamed the governor’s announcement of the MassChallenge Venture Funds Competition. His twitter account @MassGovernor picked it up and shared it with the rest of the Commonwealth.

That was, as they say, nifty. I embedded his speech below; Patrick begins speaking twenty minutes in.

If you listen carefully, you’ll even hear me ask a question about how the Commonwealth will use Mass.gov to make the bidding process open and transparent. Patrick noted my “little camera” and asked one of the VCs involved to come speak at the podium — the Governor was online media-savvy today.

I wrote about the details of the MVFC over on the TotalCIO blog at TechTarget’s ITKnowledgeExchange: “Massachusetts launches MassChallenge Venture Funds Competition

The rest of the day? Well, clearly there’s plenty of passion, desire and insight in the local tech community about how innovation can be fostered, nurtured and funded here in Massachusetts.

I heard about the state of the Mass. IT economy, as described by researchers at the UMass Donahue Institute.

Good data points: The composition of Mass. IT industry is shifting. Hardware/networking shrinking, software/IT services growing. There are more than 176,000 IT workers in Massachusetts, making the industry second only to healthcare. The IT execs surveyed put business costs (71%) at the top of their list of challenges, followed by IT infrastructure (57%). Lck of collaboration in R&D was also cited as an issue.

I heard more substantive evidence of IT’s enabling effect on other industries, including mobile, marketing and robotics, not to mention productivity in general.

I heard, from Akamai’s CEO, that that company exists because of “pure, academic research,” funded by DARPA, that an entrepreneur thought could be made profitable. (Current market cap: 3.84 billion [Yahoo Finance])

I saw, yet again, how well thoughtful event planers can prepare for online participation and use free, open tools to engage participants in real life and extend the discussion onto the Web, capturing the insights and resources shared in a persistent way.

The organizers used one of the large screens to pull in the twitterstream, bringing the online conversation back into meatspace.

There was also a useful collaborative discussion tool for the Communications Breakout Session: @Google Moderator: http://bit.ly/wNinM

I learned about STEM, as referenced by @Google‘s @SteveVintner: http://stemedcoalition.org

I discovered http://theventurecafe.com, located at http://cictr.com, and read a Boston Globe story about it: http://bit.ly/BjGwg

I heard about a digital marketing organization in San Francisco that is working towards creating partnerships between schools and corporations: @SFBig & http://sfbig.com/education

I even had the microphone for a minute and advocated that attendees consider working towards more mentorship, co-op programs and show students how technologists and IT execs worked towards a path to success. I noted the course described by David Brooks in a recent NYTimes OpEd piece on “Genius”: http://bit.ly/11bkVM |

And, of course, that aforementioned livestream netcasted the session on scaling large organizations to the online audience.

I’ve embedded “a dialogue about growing Massachusetts enterprises to scale” below.

You can read much of the discussion on Twitter at the #innovateMAtech hashtag.

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Compliance Week thoughts, takeaways, memories [new articles]

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I’m still working though two intense days in Washington, D.C. last week.

I met John Kerry on the way home.

I took thousands of words of notes and tweeted up a storm at @ITCompliance.

I published three articles and have at least as many yet to come. And I ate some of the best crab bisque and fried chicken of my life, as Georgia Brown’s.

I’ll be posting more of my coverage as it comes.

For now, here are the first articles, on increasing regulation, enforcement and Harvey Pitt‘s views on SOX & risk management, respectively.

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Framing problems with ow.ly: Why I won’t click, RT or use your links

I’ve had it. I see ow.ly links all over Twitter and I’m not going to take it anymore.

What’s the issue? Framing and search engine optimization (SEO).

I just read through a comment thread on “The Day I Decided to be Evil [URL Shorteners]” at SiliconAngle.com on whether we should use URL shorteners at all.

I’m on the “yes” side of this argument, both because I would be horrifically hypocritical (I’ve shared thousands of shortened links on Twitter) and because microblogging virtually requires the use of shorteners to work as a means to share and spread data, links, pictures and other forms of media.

So there’s that, in the interests of disclosure.

My post comes late to the SEO debate and, to be frank, there are others who are much better equipped to argue the point. Fortunately, since this is the Web, I can point you in the right direction:

The authority on the subject is absolutely Danny Sullivan, who posted Which URL shortening service should you use? last month. What’s the nut of the SEO issue? The kind of redirect used. As Sullivan writes:

”A top issue to me, and many others, is that a URL shortening service does a “301 redirect” to the full URL. That number stands for the code a web server issues to a browser (or search engine) when a URL is requested.

A 301 redirect says that the URL requested (the short URL) has “permanently” moved to the long address. Since it’s a permanent redirect, search engines finding links to the short URLs will credit all those links to the long URL (see the SEO: Redirects & Moving Sites section of the Search Engine Land members library for more about redirection).

In contrast, a 302 redirect is a “temporary” one. If that’s issued, search engines assume that the short URL is the “real” URL and just temporarily being pointed elsewhere. That means link credit does not get passed on to the long URL.

In short, if you’re hoping that links you tweet will generate link credit for your web site, you want a service that issues a 301 redirect. Also keep in mind that while 301s might be issued today, a shortening service could shift to 302 directs at any time (and if they do, I hope scorn gets poured upon them).

Ok, so there’s the SEO background and issues at hand. So which does ow.ly use? I tried Rex Swain’s “Rex Swain’s HTTP Viewer” tool, linked to from Danny’s post, on the following link: http://ow.ly/cB3E

Here’s what I received:

HTTP/1.1•200•OK(CR)(LF)
Date:•Sat,•06•Jun•2009

Sure looks like a 200, not a 301 redirect, right? That would imply that A.J. Ghergich of AuthorityDomains was wrong when he wrote that ow.ly uses 301 redirects. When I tried the HTTP Status Codes Checker tool provided by SEOConsultants.com, however, I received two different server responses:

#1 Server Response: http://ow.ly/cB3E
HTTP Status Code: HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently

And:

#2 Server Response: http://www.engadget.com/2009/06/06/40-second-toothbrush-complicates-horrifies/
HTTP Status Code: HTTP/1.1 200 OK

So that looks like both! Ah, confusion. Hootsuite certainly thinks that it’s doing it right, as evidenced by the following statement on their blog:

”Ow.ly links won’t harm SEO because they’re designed to allow Google and other search engine spiders access to the content without stealing any Google juice.”

Color me unconvinced. I think I’ll stick with bit.ly, which I know uses the correct redirect every time.

UPDATE: I asked Danny Sullivan in October (on Twitter, no less) what he thought of ow.ly. Sullivan tweeted that “any shortener that frames is bad for SEO as you don’t get credit [link to his URL shortener post] standalones doing this feel more evil to me.” Further, he replied that “su.pr, diggbar & facebook all frame. not so bad as designed to do from within their systems. not that i like it much still.”

As Jennifer Van Grove (@jbruin) points out on Mashable in “HootSuite 2.0: Get More Twitter Tabs, Columns and Stats,” the HootSuite platform itself has continued to improve and offer easier management of everything from “profile feed options (like mentions, DMs, pending tweets), multiple keyword tracking (up to 3 keywords per column), search terms, and groups.” That’s a compelling offering. As she writes, “ow.ly links via HootSuite to track click-throughs will also love that stats are more detailed. So, summary stats on links are supplemented with individual tweet statistics showing total clicks and user rating.”

That’s long been one of the more attractive features of ow.ly for publishers, given the need for them to prove ROI, measure audience feedback and test different compositions of microcontent. That said, bit.ly offers similar features without the burden of that bar.

In other words, I think Web publishers who use Hootsuite are getting good value, especially considering that the cost is precisely zero.

I do, however, think they risk damaging their brand equity and irking users with the social bar – and that there’s a larger ethical issue around the framing that the ow.ly bar creates, including potential violations to terms of service and copyright. If you read Malcolm Coles, “Ow.ly and Hootsuite are in widespread breach of newspaper and other sites’ TOCs,” you’ll gather that he does as well.

Hootsuite itself writes the following:

“Generate money from your tweets! Add your Google Adsense code to enable ads on your ow.ly links. We’ll show your ads half the time, and our ads half the time.”

Also of note: when I clicked the “Learn more” link below the Adsense copy, I ended up at a 404 page with the following URL: http://blog.hootsuite.com/monetized-twitter-yes-we-did

Of course, thanks to Google, you can still view the page in cache:
http://74.125.47.132/search?q=cache:SbJvI1CM3XIJ:blog.hootsuite.com/monetized-twitter-yes-we-did/+http://blog.hootsuite.com/monetized-twitter-yes-we-did/&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a

Following is a quote from the post, entitled in a decidedly Yoda-esque fashion: “Monetized Twitter: Yes We Did.”

“Got a link that prompts a re-tweet? As your ow.ly link gets passed from person to person, so does the featured ad! If your link is retweeted by enough people, it can continue to make you money.

Ever wonder how Twitter’s getting monetized? We’ve just shown you. It’s easy to configure, it’s easy to share, and it easily integrates with Twitter.

Note: So that we can keep HootSuite as a free service for our users, there is a 50% chance that your ad will appear in a link, and a 50% chance that one of our ads will appear.

Got that? As the link to the third party’s content is passed along – content that the user (who shortened it) and Hootsuite (the shortener) did not create – both of those parties will earn money by framing it with ads.

It’s worth observing that Hootsuite does provides an option NOT to include Adsense in Settings, simply by leaving the field unoccupied: “(leave empty to disable AdSense)”

Also crucial to note is that the updated, slimmer version of Hootsuite’s social bar does not appear to play well with Google Adsense, though the precise reason for the issue isn’t clear.

According to Hootsuite, “We are currently experiencing issues with AdSense integration. Your ads may not be displayed. We are in communication with Google about this issue, and we will keep our users updated.”

I should note that I’m not a lawyer, but a quick read of Google’s Adsense policies would seem to put ow.ly in violation:

Copyrighted Material: AdSense publishers may not display Google ads on webpages with content protected by copyright law unless they have the necessary legal rights to display that content. Please see our DMCA policy for more information.”

Framing another site’s content with a bar that contains advertising to other parties would appear to do precisely that.

It could be a formatting issue, it could be something else entirely – I wonder whether Google’s notoriously savvy legal team has seen this issue.

If any publishers do decide to use ow.ly, I believe they would be well-advised to do so.

At least one lawyer shares that view. In the comments section of Greg Lambert’s post on GeekLawBlog, Product Review: HootSuite & OW.LY – Do The Benefits Outweigh The Problems?, Doug Cornelius posted a strong opinion, albeit one filtered by his standard lawyerly disclaimer:

Incarnation of Satan may be a bit much, but definitely a spawn of Satan.

I am not a copyright expert, but it seems to me that framing is a copyright violation. (There was the TotalNews case, but it was settled before we could could get some law on this. Infer what you want from TotalNew stopping the framing as part of the undisclosed settlement.) I expect that this feature of Ow.ly won’t last long, once the lawyers start sniffing around.

Even if it is not illegal, it robs websites of traffic. You, like me, put up blog posts because we feel like saying something. We don’t sell ads, we don’t have sponsors and nobody pays us to write. All I (and I assume you) want in return is some page hits and the occasional comment. We want to know that someone is listening and that we are not just talking to ourselves.

Ow.ly seems to rob us the page hits so I would not know that you viewed my page or where you came from. I don’t ask for much, but it is nice to know that you stopped by and who sent you. Ow.ly takes that away.

Don’t get me started on the adsense feature of ow.ly. If I wanted ads associated with my site, I would put them there. I don’t want someone framing my content with a Viagra ad.

Lambert himself expresses considerable reservation:

The Whole “OW.LY” Thing….

Alright, this is the big one. I barely got my first test Tweet out on HootSuite when someone called me out for “annoying” if not “illegal” framing of web content. Now, I confess that I didn’t realize what OW.LY was doing until after I had sent out the Tweet, so I was pretty ignorant of the drawbacks of using OW.LY as my URL shrinker. At first glance, the frame is a little annoying, but also a little useful. So, I had a nice little discussion with Doug Cornelius about the benefits. Whereas I thought HootSuite’s ability to gather statistics and feedback could be a benefit to the person Tweeting the link — Doug thought it was something close to the incarnation of Satan himself (okay, I’m being a little over dramatic on Doug’s response… but, not that far off!)

After looking at the positives and the negatives, I decided that framing of other people’s content really isn’t a great idea. It is annoying for one, and it borders on the unethical for another. I would ask the folks at HootSuite to give the users of their product an option to use a non-framing version of OW.LY that would still gather the metrics of who did the click-thru, without annoying the hell out of them!!

As for the putting Google Adsense code on OW.LY to generate revenue from your Tweets, I’d have to say that would not be something that I would do, or recommend. Some may argue that people would not have gone to these websites if it were not for your Tweets, but I’d have to say that there seems to be a certain sliminess about that type of revenue generating that I do not like.

There are other reasons to be concerned, as content publisher. As Espen Antonsen writes on cloudave.com in “The Problem with URL Shorteners: Ow.ly server errors,” your audience may be confronted with a server error by the shortener, even if the end resource is live. I should note that has nothing to do with SEO or framing issues, but it’s worth considering:

“If you currently click on a ow.ly shortened URL you will be shown a server error page at ow.ly – not the URL you or the publisher intended you to see. Proponents of these services have so far ignored the main problem; trusting a third party. I guess they see the problem now when potential visitors to their site are stopped by a server error on someone else’s site.

The question of trust in this regard is especially important because these services has no working business model. Also any developer can create such a service in less than an hour making the barriers of entry for this service extremely low. Expect to see URL shortener services changing their tactics: Digg launched their already much hated DiggBar last week. This service unlike most other url shortener services wraps the actual landing page in a frame and adds a top-frame bar with Digg information. Ow.ly is also now doing this (unsure if this feature is new to this service). The problem for site owners is that they have no control over how these services will change. DiggBar is already “stealing” link-juice by having a digg-shortened link on Delicious instead of the original url. Also DiggBar and Ow.ly responds with a frameset (200 http status code) instead of a redirect (301 http status code). This can result in a lower pagerank as Google will not see the link from “Site X” to “Site Y” but instead from Digg.com to “Site Y”. In my view URL shorteners are just plain evil. They add an extra unnecessary layer on the web.”

Angie Haggstrom, of ProfessionalWebContent.com, expressed similar reservations to Cornelius in the comments of that post:

“After one of my readers complained about me using HootSuite’s ow.ly links (he thought the framing raised some copyright issues), I asked HootSuite about giving me the option to remove it.

They responded that the ability to move the frame will be an option in their “premium” account, meaning that you will have to pay for it.

By the way, the HootSuite tool bar has been in place as long as I have been using it, which is for 3 months.”

“The other beef with services such as Ow.ly that many haven’t mentioned is the fact that they are making money off content that doesn’t belong to them. Google Adsense for example. Shouldn’t web owners get a cut? At least those who do not want to share their content?”

So where does this leave me?

The Hootsuite blog states that it offers an opt-out, that doesn’t fix the ad framing issue:

“One click opt-out. We recognize everyone is different. So, if you or your users happen not to like it? Not a problem. One click and anyone can opt-out of ever seeing an Ow.ly social bar again.”

That doesn’t do it for me: I won’t be using ow.ly.

As I’ve previously stated, I will not share or retweet ow.ly links.

I’ll look for another provider that is sharing the same news.

If it’s original content from that publisher, I’ll navigate to the source and re-shorten the link, if the story is compelling enough to do so.

Thankfully, I can shorten URLs using http://bit.ly and Twittelator Pro, simply replacing “http” with “twit” in mobile Safari on my iPhone, though it’s obviously onerous to do so.

I hope that Hootsuite will simply permanently remove the Adsense feature. After all, it’s not working now.

And I hope that I’m wrong about the SEO issue – though as I wrote, it appears ow.ly has a 200, not a 301 redirect. That’s something Hootsuite can and should fix soon.

The social bar isn’t likely to go away, just like the social bars from LinkedIn, Facebook and Digg. It’s not hard to anticipate scenarios where content publishers raise copyright concerns should third-party advertising end up in those bars as well, a future that may well be coming given the considerable pressures to monetize these platforms and social networks.

In the meantime, we as users and publishers can choose not to use them and encourage reforms in their technical underpinnings.

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