Category Archives: social bookmarking

Yahoo Research: 50% of tweets consumed are generated by 20,000 elite users

New research from research on Twitter found that 50% of tweets consumed are generated by 20K elite users. Based upon the more than 37,000 tweets I’ve posted over four years of tweeting, it’s a virtual lock that I’m one of them. Of particular interest was the “significant homophily” that the researchers found within categories. I’ve tried hard to escape that effect after reading Ethan Zuckerman’s post on homophily, serendipity and xenophilia nearly three years ago.

FULL PAPER: Twitter flow

Abstract:

We study several longstanding questions in media communications research, in the context of the microblogging service Twitter, regarding the production, flow, and consumption of information. To do so, we exploit a recently introduced feature of Twitter—known as Twitter lists—to distinguish between elite users, by which we mean specifically celebrities, bloggers, and representatives of media outlets and other formal organizations, and ordinary users. Based on this classification, we find a striking concentration of attention on Twitter—roughly 50% of tweets consumed are generated by just 20K elite users—where the media produces the most information, but celebrities are the most followed. We also find significant homophily within categories: celebrities listen to celebrities, while bloggers listen to bloggers etc; however, bloggers in general rebroadcast more information than the other categories. Next we re-examine the classical “two-step flow” theory of communications, finding considerable support for it on Twitter, but also some interesting differences. Third, we find that URLs broadcast by different categories of users or containing different types of content exhibit systematically different lifespans. And finally, we examine the attention paid by the different user categories to different news topics.

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What’s next for del.icio.us? Not shutting down, says @Delicious

Yesterday, a leaked screenshot from an internal Yahoo! product meeting created widespread throughout much of the Web: delicious, the social bookmarking giant, appeared in the “sunset” category. There are petitions to save it, offers to buy it, a movement to to open source it and even a suggestion that it should be moved into the Library of Congress.

Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote a beautiful euology on ReadWriteWeb, RIP delicious: you were so beautiful to me.

A day later, delicious has responded. Spoiler: they’re not shutting down. The statement on what’s next for delicious from the blog is posted in full below.

Many of you have read the news stories about Delicious that began appearing yesterday. We’re genuinely sorry to have these stories appear with so little context for our loyal users. While we can’t answer each of your questions individually, we wanted to address what we can at this stage and we promise to keep you posted as future plans get finalized.

Is Delicious being shut down? And should I be worried about my data?

- No, we are not shutting down Delicious. While we have determined that there is not a strategic fit at Yahoo!, we believe there is a ideal home for Delicious outside of the company where it can be resourced to the level where it can be competitive.

What is Yahoo! going to do with Delicious?

- We’re actively thinking about the future of Delicious and we believe there is a home outside the company that would make more sense for the service and our users. We’re in the process of exploring a variety of options and talking to companies right now. And we’ll share our plans with you as soon as we can.

What if I want to get my bookmarks out of Delicious right away?

- As noted above, there’s no reason to panic. We are maintaining Delicious and encourage you to keep using it. That said, we have export options if you so choose. Additionally, many services provide the ability to import Delicious links and tags.

We can only imagine how upsetting the news coverage over the past 24 hours has been to many of you. Speaking for our team, we were very disappointed by the way that this appeared in the press. We’ll let you know more as things develop.
-cyeh · Chris

I’m looking forward to learning what happens next for delicious; there appear to be a number of options that might be palatable to long-time users, particularly the developer community. While my usage took a nose dive over the past two years, I’d like to be able to keep using my 2353 bookmarks there and the service in general.

I’m particularly curious about whether delicious could up in the Library of Congress. If billions of tweets are worth storing, why not this vast collection of collectively curated hyperlinks?

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Why don’t more tweets get @replies or retweets?

As Jennifer Van Grove wrote at Mashable yesterday, “research shows that 71% of all tweets produce no reaction — in replies or retweets — which suggests an overwhelming majority of our tweets fall on deaf ears.”

Sysomos, maker of social media analysis tools, looked at 1.2 billion tweets over a two-month period to analyze what happens after we publish our tweets to Twitter. Its research shows that 71% of all tweets produce no reaction — in the form of replies or retweets — which suggests that an overwhelming majority of our tweets fall on deaf ears.

Sysomos findings also highlight that retweets are especially hard to come by — only 6% of all tweets produce a retweet (the other 23% solicit replies).

I’ll admit, this doesn’t shock me, based upon my experience over the years.

Many of my tweets are retweeted but then I have above-average reach at @digiphile and engaged followers.

I know I’m an outlier in many respects there, and that the community that I follow and interact with likely is as well.

This research backs that anecdotal observation up: people are consuming information rather than actively interacting with it. But my own experience doesn’t gibe with that greater truth, and that’s why I chimed in, even though I know it may expose me to more of my friend Jack Loftus‘ withering snark. (If you don’t read him at Gizmodo you’re missing out.)

Why Don’t People @Reply more?

So what’s going on? I have a couple of theories. The first is that @replies are much like comments. Most people don’t make either. Even though social networking has shifted many, many more people into a content production role through making status updates to Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare (and now perhaps LinkedIn), the 90-9-1 rule or 1% rule still appears to matter most of the social Web. Participation inequality is not a new phenomenon.

That scope of that online history suggests that the behaviors of yesteryear aren’t completely subsumed by the explosion of a more social Web. Twitter and Facebook do appear to have diminished long form blogging activity or comments on posts, as netizens have moved their meta commentary to external social networks. And even there, recent Forrester research suggest that social networking users are creating less content.

In other words, it’s not that Facebook or Twitter sucks, it’s that human behavior is at issue.

It’s not that Twitter or its employees or developers per se are at fault, though you can see where, for example, Quora or Vark are expressly designed to create question and answer threads.

It’s that, for better or worse, the culture of the people using Twitter is expressed in how they use it, including the choice to reply, RT or otherwise engage.

If the service is going to grow into an “information utility” and become a meaningful venue with respect to citizen engagement with government, the evolution of #NewTwitter may need to add better mechanisms to encourage that interaction.

So is Twitter useful?

As Tom Webster pointed out at his blog [Hat tip to @Ed]:

As a researcher, if I were writing this headline, I would have written it thusly: “Nearly 3 in 10 Tweets Provoke A Reaction.”

I follow about 3,000 people on Twitter. If we assume that this lot posts five tweets per week (a conservative figure), that’s 15,000 tweets I could see in a given week, were I to never peel my eyes away from Tweetdeck. The Sysomos data suggests that of those 15,000 tweets, 4,350 were replied to or at least retweeted. See, I think that’s actually a big number.

In other words, 29% of tweets do get a response. That’s better than the direct mail or email marketing, as far as I know. I don’t expect a response from every tweet, though I’ve been guilty of that expectation in past years. That’s why I often ask the same question more than once now, or tweet stories again, or why I’ll syndicate a given post, video or picture into multiple networks.

I continue to find Twitter a useful tool for my profession. While inbound Web traffic from Twitter is negligible when compared to Google, Facebook, StumpleUpon or even Fark, I’ve found it useful for sourcing, sentiment analysis, Q&A, a directory, a direct line to officials and executives, and of course for distributing my writing. Twitter may not be essential in the same sense that a cellphone, camera, notebook and an Internet connection are in my work but I’ve found it to be a valuable complement to those tools. I’ve definitely sourced stories, gathered advice or recommendations through crowdsourcing questions there, with far less effort than more traditional means.

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Strong ties, weak ties, social software and online friendship

Relationships are hard. Friendships take time to build, even if annealed in the heat of a moment. Often they’re situational, forged in school, work, church, or sporting teams, and may fade over time if not renewed regularly.

Online social networking can change that, to a certain extent, but asking people with whom you have weak ties to continually renew them asks a lot. Those with strong ties may tolerate it and continue to follow new accounts, accept requests, correct links or the like. Or even a Like. Until we have an interoperable social graph that can be saved, exported and imported between social networks, we’re wedded to our investments in sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and whatever is coming next, whether it’s Diaspora, Foursquare, Ping or Twitcher. The relationships we build in those networks are the social ties that find, as Professor McAfee put it.

To ground that risk in recent events, my colleague in tech journalism, George Hulme, accidentally deleted his Twitter account this month and has had to ask people to follow the new one. Tough row to hoe, though all of the social capital he’s amassed means he’s already back to 583 follows and 42 lists.

People with weaker ties are unlikely to reconnect unless their interest is sufficiently strong based upon the perceived value of the reconnection. Social karma derives in part from the strength of that past relationship.

I think that’s variably true on the Web, at work or on private social networks. The value of link, follow or fan differs from network to network, as does its permanence. To stop following people on Twitter is much different than to unfriend someone or Facebook or delink on LinkedIn, for instance. In a workplace, where enterprise social software is deployed it could be a huge issue.

These technologies allow us to enrich our networks with many important weaker ties, although sometimes at the cost of investing in reinforcing the stronger ones.

In that vein, I’m looking forward to a family celebration tomorrow where the social circle is as wide as the dinner table, deep as a lifetime and the tweets come from the trees around the patio.

Here’s to being better friends.

UPDATE: Shaun Dakin shared some research in the comments from Paul Adams, a usability researcher at Google, that’s relevant. The Real Life Social Network v2.

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On the failure of Quit Facebook Day, Social Utility and Privacy

"How to split up the US" by Pete Warden

At 10:19 PM EST tonight, the organizers of Quit Facebook Day reported that all of 33,313 people had dropped out of the Facebook universe. That figure represents a tiny fraction of Facebook’s 400 million users.

That miniscule percentage does not represent all of the people that have quit or deactivated their accounts in the past month, but it certainly implies that there hasn’t been a widespread movement to leave the social networking giant.

I’ve been a Facebook user since 2006. I never had the “college experience” of having an electronic Facebook  but found it instantly useful as a means to stay in touch with family, friends, classmates and former colleagues.

It was, clearly, just what its creators said: a social utility. I didn’t care for Facemail much – and still don’t – but many features, like IM, the newsfeed, photos, people search and video are powerful methods for augmenting Facebook’s users to communicate with one another.

Facebook has become the Information Age’s White Pages, for good or ill, extending the service it provided Harvard students with contact details for one another back in 2004 to hundreds of millions around the world.

The changes to privacy and publicy from the past six months, however, fundamentally shifted the reality of using the platform for many users, particularly those who had trusted the site with sensitive information about their lives, friends or other affiliations. For those who never shared information that could be damaging, the shift to a public default meant little. For people with more to lose by virtue of the nature of the cultures they live within, gender or health status, such changes have much greater significance if revealed to a school, parent, employer or government.

By and large, research cited by digital ethnographers like danah boyd shows that many people remain ignorant of how public their updates are. And people care about their online reputation in 2010, given that every organizational gatekeeper or first date is rather likely to Google you.

Recent amendments to the privacy policy and user interface notwithstanding, concerns that those who have the most to lose are not being considered persist amongst privacy advocates. Reports of account deletions, page takedowns or harassment in other countries, with limited recourse for users, also reflect uncertainty over the future of the Internet’s #1 site. Recent shifts to Community pages have also resulted in consternation on the part of both brands and government, though Facebook’s spokesman promises that such features are in development and will be improved.

I have not quit Facebook. I continue to find it useful as a social utility, as before, applying Facebook as a “people browser” for those with whom I want or need to stay connected. I use LinkedIn as a business utility and Twitter as an information utility. I doubt those use cases will change for me personally this year, although I’m watching carefully to see how the most recent privacy controls are implemented.

Recent decisions of Facebook’s management around privacy and personalization may bring its operations under regulation by the FTC, as is already the case with privacy commissioners in Europe or Canada. If consumer harm due to management actions were proven by any of those entities, it would significant implications for the innovation in this sector, although it might also cause developers to build privacy into such platforms from the outset.

As government entities continue to create pages, they will likely be obligated or even required to archive conversations there using Facebook API or other tools. After all, there’s substantial utility to measuring and analyzing the interactions there for those that wish to understand public reaction to policy, candidates or initiatives. If the terms of service are not clearly described to those interaction with government employees, additional layers of complexity around privacy and the rights of consumers will also be in play. And problems in Facebookistan, as Rebecca Mackinnon writes, extend abroad to exposing at-risk members of society to abuse, deleting activist accounts and taking down Pages.

There’s much more to electronic privacy than social networking, not matter how large Facebook becomes. Putting online privacy in perspective is essential. And I tend to agree with danah boyd’s position that quitting Facebook is not enough, especially for those of us in the tech media that have some degree of influence in informing the public and holding the social networking giant’s management to the standards they and law set for ethics and business practices.

But, fundamentally, human relationships are about trust. If we cannot trust that the manner in which we connect, filter and share information with one another will not change with the business needs of a platform, our relationships will be damaged. We have only to look at the statistics on jobs lost, applications denied and romances sunk through virtual actions to understand how those consequences may play out in our offline lives.

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Using social media for better journalism: @Sreenet at #ONADC

“I used to say “justify every pixel,” said Sree Sreenivasan. “Now I say earn every reader.”

Sreenivasan, a dean of student affairs and professor at the Columbia Journalism School, went beyond “what Jeff Jarvis calls the blog boy dance,” offering up more than an hour of cogent advice, perspective and tips on social media to a packed classroom populated by members of the DC Online News Association at Georgetown’s campus in Virginia.

Where once he used to go around newsrooms to talk about email, then Google and blogs, now he’s moved to new tools of digital journalism grounded in a reciprocal relationship between the audience and the reporter. After all, Sreenivasan had to tailor his talk to the audience, a collection of writers, editors and producers already steeped in the tools of digital journalism, moving quickly beyond listing Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to the tools and services that that enable journalists to use those social media platforms improve their reporting, editing and careers.

“The best people find the things that work for them and skip the rest,” said Sreenivasan. Services need to be useful, relevant and extend the journalist’s work. Quoting a student, now at the Wall Street Journal, Sreenivasan observed that you “can have greatest content in world but will die on the vine if we don’t have a way for our readers to find it.” He classified the utility of social media for journalists into four broad categories:

  • tracking trends on a given beat
  • connecting with the audience, where ever it is online
  • putting that audience to work, aka crowdsourcing
  • building and curating the journalists personal brand

“Tools should fit into workflow and life flow,” he said. “All journalists should be early testers and late adopters.” In that context, he shared three other social media tools he’s tried but does not use: Google Wave, Google Buzz and Foursquare. Sreenivaan also offered Second Life as as an example, quipped that “I have twins; I have no time for first life!”

The new Listener-in-Chief

One group that undoubtedly needs to keep up with new tools and platforms is the burgeoning class of social media editors. Sreenivasan watches the newly-minted “listeners-in-chief” closely, maintaining a list of social media editors on Twitter and analyzing how they’re using the social Web to advance the editorial mission of their mastheads.

He showed the ONA audience a tool new to many in the room, TagHive.com, that showed which tags were trending for a group. What’s trending for social media editors? This morning, it was “news, love, work, today, great, people, awesome and thanks.” A good-natured group, at least as evidenced by language.

Sreenivasan also answered a question I posed that is of great personal interest: Is it ethical to friend sources on social networking platforms?

The simple answer is yes, in his opinion, but with many a caveat and tweaks to privacy settings. Sreenivasan described the experiences of people in NGOs, activists and other sources whose work has been impaired by associations on social media. To protect yourself and sources, he recommended that Facebook users untag themselves, practicing “security by obscurity,” and use lists. As an example of what can go wrong, he pointed to WhatTheFacebook.com.

Where should journalists turn next for information? Follow @sreenet on Twitter and browse through the resources in his social media guide, which he referenced in the four videos I’ve embedded in this post. He’s a constant source of relevant news, great writing and good tips.

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Tech delegation explores Siberia, looks for connection through digital diplomacy [#RusTechDel]

Delegations from the State Department to Russia haven’t generally been accompanied by  great fanfare. In an information age where a growing social layer for the Internet provides unprecedented means for people to share their experiences online, the progress of the “innovation delegation” through Moscow and Siberia has been marked by a steady progression of tweets, online video and photos.

This is, after all,  a group of “geek luminaries” that has considerable reach online and into popular culture. Unsurprisingly, the member of the tech delegation that’s attracted both the attention of mainstream media in the US and fans abroad is Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher brought with him more than 4.5 million followers as Twitter’s most-followed user (@aplusk) and, perhaps even more crucially, an iPhone equipped with a video camera and a uStream account.

The delegation is led by Jared Cohen of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning and Howard Solomon of the National Security Council. US Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra joined them in Moscow. They  are also traveling with:

“We’re trying to look at how Russia can utilize its population as a health resource, as an education resource, as an anti-corruption resource, as an anti-trafficking resource,” said Cohen, as quoted at Wired’s Epicenter blog.

According to Wired:

“the group hopes to emerge with clear deliverables. Women in remote areas could receive information — either online or using the SMS feature on their cellphones — on how to have healthy pregnancies. And in order to prevent Russian cellphone companies from being pressured into divulging the names and locations of those who report human-trafficking violations by SMS, the complaints could be cleaned and anonymized outside of the country, according to Cohen.

“The State Department is not bringing these people over as CEOs,” Cohen added. “John Donahoe is the CEO of eBay, but he’s also an expert on e-commerce and building platforms that move large sums of money in ways that aren’t corrupt, so he’s an expert on ‘e-anti-corruption.’”

The success of the mission hit at least one roadblock: Moscow traffic.

Despite tweeting about people, the ballet, the Kremlin, food and one another, the tech delegation was quiet about missing a meeting with Russia’s communications minister — and six Russian tech companies.

Other visits, at least viewed from through Kutcher’s livestream and Cohen’s able narration, have been more productive. Twitter gained another high profile user, after Jack helped Donahoe sign up on Twitter.


[http://www.flickr.com/photos/edyson/ / CC BY-NC 2.0]

Sometimes the best record of an event is in pictures of the delegation’s progress. Three of the pictures in this post  are from Esther Dyson’s Flickr photostream. While the tweets of delegation tell a tale, as do reactions from Russian students and the rest of the online audience, her pictures and captions is the most eloquent storytelling I’ve encountered to date.

Search engines and science

What’s the fastest growing search engine in the world? Apparently  Yandex.ru, as the delegates learned when they visited Yandex.ru headquarters. The Russian search engine has the fastest rate of growth in the world, according to Comscore. After we met on Twitter, Nick Wilsdon also shared statistics on Russia’s top social networksVKontakte.ru & Odnoklassniki.ru.

Students and social media

As with students elsewhere,  Russian students are using phones and social networking to exchange information. Warrior shared a picture of the students gathered at Novosibirsk on Twitter, tweeting about an “energizing chat w/ univ students, topics ranged from talent, innov., corruptin, beer pong.”

Given the return of state control of domestic television networks in Russia, the Internet’s role as a vital means of communication and global news has perhaps never been as acute.


What else will come of the “innovation delegation?”

Veterans of the Cold War might wonder why the U.S. or its entrepreneurs are offering advice or a forum to a former opponent. Even if the “missile gap” is a remnant of the past, Russian and U.S. relations haven’t been exactly sunny over the decades.

It may be that this delegation is a physical expression of the hopes that Hillary Clinton expressed in her speech on Internet freedom. And, in fact,  Jared Cohen tweeted the State Department’s  innovation delegation is  “an example of 21st century statecraft driven by Hillary Clinton.”

But putting concerns about aiding Russian industry aside, creating the conditions that make Silicon Valley or NYC fertile grounds for tech entrepreneurship won’t be easy. “We’re developing joint projects w/Russia on education, anti-trafficking, health, e-gov, anti-corruption using tech,” Cohen tweeted earlier today.

“Novosibirsk is Russia’s 4th largest city,” tweeted Cohen, “less than 100yrs old, Russia’s hub of innovation, & just northeast of India in middle of Siberia. [The] challenge in Siberia is not lack of innovation, but rather avenues for entrepreneurs to attract start-up capital.”

Giving young Russian entrepreneurs confidence about both patents and ownership of intellectual property would help, as would mentors. “I’ve been interested in Russia, working in computer science, engineering, mathematics for a long time,” said Dorsey in Novosibirsk. “Russia has been a major part of the story. I’ve found that there’s a real desire to create projects and an entrepreneurial spirit but not enough face to face discussion.”

Dorsey pointed out that the U.S. tech community regularly has meetups in Silicon Valley and New York City where the largest companies constantly invite people to come in. “When you have that supportive culture, it’s very easy to take risks,” he said. In Russia, Dorsey observed, “There’s not this desire, or a structure, or momentum, to get together and talk about what we want to create together. If you bring people who can fund this from the beginning, you start building angel networks, which are the basis for all innovation in the US these days.”

Desire, control of intellectual property and a tech community would be an incremental change on a larger continuum. As Fraser Cameron wrote in a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has called for a number of reforms, including a return to elections and freedom.

Cameron points out that Putin “failed to encourage investment in new industries, technologies or infrastructure.” In that context, will access to Western angel investors or social media matter?

Or, to reiterate the questions I asked to the delegation last night:

What uses of tech do Russians admire in the US? Where could new ICT help there now? How important is free, open speech to stimulating a culture of innovation? What about the use of open source tech? (Listen in for answers in Kutcher’s archived streams.)

Kutcher (above, in his own Twitpic) evidently has gained some perspective, at least on the impact of state involvement. “My perception of Russia and Russian technologists was always based on Russia’s ability and interest in scientific achievement,” he said. “The one thing I’ve found since we’ve been here, without Russian government controlling the room, is that it becomes a much more vibrant, expressive room. My perception of control levels and the reality were two different things.”

Donahoe, former head of Bain & Company, had different considerations. He said that while he saw potential to expand eBay into Russia, it would be on the condition: that law enforcement and the Russian government cooperate on anti-cybercrime.

Donahoe was impressed by a number of experiences, particularly in a new view of Siberia. “There’s a wealth of talent, real opportunity to build on a tech center,” he said. “I’m truck by the talent of Russian engineers. They should continue to play a leadership role in the World Wide Web, as they have continued to do with Google, Paypal and  Skype.”

On techno-utopianism and digital diplomacy


[Photo Credit: Jarod Liebman]

The ability of social media platforms to provide a platform for conversations was repeatedly shown in 2009, particularly in Iran’s elections. As Jack said to ABC News, “when you can see more of what’s happening you can really see more of the opposition is arguing about and take those arguments head on and have a conversation about them.”

The same communication tools can and have, however, been used in “digital dictatorships,” as Evgeny Morosov wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday. Rita J. King’s considered rebuttal in the “The Evolution of Revolution,” pointing out where digital diplomacy has had effect.

Cohen’s own involvement in the Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM) conferences would seem to extend from a similar belief in the potential for 21st Century statecraft.

Some of the most important interactions, after all, are likely to always be in person. As Jack tweeted, “having lunch together is so much more important to creating something than a business meeting -@edyson.”

The role of ICT



[Yuri Marin of Samizdal.ru, a self-publishing/printing site in Novosibirsk. Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edyson/ / CC BY-NC 2.0]

As I listened to the discussions with Russian technologists about what could be done to improve innovation, particularly for civic gain, I thought of a long post that MIT Professor Andrew McAfee posted earlier this month on information and communication technologies (ICT).

As he wrote in “The Oxygen of Bandwidth, or How I Spent My Winter Vacation,” “researchers report that people in the developing world are willing to skip meals in order to buy more bandwidth.”

McAfee’s advice for helping the people of the developing world is simple: “Help them acquire technology that lets them help themselves, and that lets others help them. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: give them the ICT tools, and they will finish the job.”

Mitigating the dangers of journalism in Russia isn’t likely any time soon., but given Russia’s technological base, many of its engineers, students and scientists are equipped with the ability to create such tools already.

Whether this trip will create avenues for better communication, investment in startups or anti-corruption is an open question. It’s one of many that the delegates themselves will no doubt continue to answer in the days ahead.

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